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What’s more important to job satisfaction: work language or work level? “It depends.”

Forrest ChristianCareers 1 Comment

TL;DR: If you’re a Normie, go for work level. If you’re a work weirdo, find work language natives.

My last post on how your work language can make or break how you are seen at work hit a nerve with a few of you. There were a lot of questions sent privately about how it all works. Others sent me comments as they used the ideas to reflect on their own careers.

Ken Shepard, whose career has spanned decades now, with seemingly no end in sight, pointed out in a comment how he felt better fit with non-profit than he had in industry. It’s not that he wasn’t good at it: it’s that he feels more comfortable in the ways that the non-profits approach and talk about work. (He’s now the head of the Global Organizational Design Society, the premier society for work-levels professionals, which you should check out.)

Another consultant pointed out that, for him, being in a team where he shared a work language with the others was more important to job satisfaction than getting all the work stratum right. And he’s totally right about his life.

Both blokes are experts in Requisite Organization, and Ken was trained by Elliott Jaques himself. They understand how powerful getting worklevels right is.

(In case you’re new, or you haven’t been paying attention the 5,000 times I’ve brought this up, getting worklevels right is so powerful that the “company” town around the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter saw a 30% coincidental drop in domestic violence complaints when reorganized and got everyone a Real Boss. That would make it the number one intervention to prevent male-on-female domestic violence. By a lot. There’s a lot to this work-levels stuff, so much that Jaques made most of his career out of it, Brown used it in his efforts to make his factories safe for democracy, and companies like General Electric, Toyota, Rio Tinto, and Microsoft have used parts of it when they were rising.)

So…. which one is it? Should I look for a Real Boss, one who can unpack a “stratum” more complexity than I can, who can think out farther that I can? Or should I look for a team that “speaks my language”?

As always with things that are deeply true, “it depends”.

(If you’ve started a drinking game based on how often I say that, well, there you go. Again. I am not responsible for your alcoholism.)

If you are an accountant, you already work in a team where everyone speaks that same language as you do. Ditto for most professions. They all have one dominate thinking style. If you’re comfortable with others in that profession, by all means pursue a Real Boss. Because you already solved the language problem. And already have that sanctimonious sneer down your nose at people who don’t think like you.

But if you’ve read this far, or, heck, bothered to read past the first of my digressions, you’re unlikely to be a Real Professional. More a “jack of all trades”, and, if truth is told, master of a more than a couple, if we go by your performance. You do these amazing things that others can’t, and it’s not all about you being being higher Mode.

(Man, that’s more jargon, so skip ahead if you’ve heard this. It turns out that all of us grow over time in how much complexity we can unpack. If we plot how much complexity you can unpack over time, we get these “trajectory” bands, with different people growing on different trajectories. “High mode” individuals are on steep and high trajectories, as if they have been fired from some type of extreme canon that instead of hitting the net, fires you out of circus tent and into the parking lot. At the Walmart. In the town next door.)

If you’re one of these people, it’s more like needing to get out of 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, and into Hogwarts. Because being somewhere where someone is actively trying to kill you every year but everyone “speaks your language” is better than living with people who only want to squash you but don’t. You really need to seek the right worklevel because it’s not as salient.

Once you get there, you will definitely want to find a Real Boss, if you choose to work in a hierarchy. But you have to get there first.


Comments 1

  1. Instead of either – or, perhaps it’s rank order. Elliott said first use cognitive complexity, then skilled knowledge, then do they value the work and last any serious personality quirk.

    Perhaps each of us needs to learn their own criteria ranking as early in their career as possible.

    My own ranking I discovered in my own career path

    Attending Antioch, a college with a coop program gave me experience in 10 3-month jobs over five years. We wrote papers reflecting on many aspects of our work experience. The program helped immensely in developing my values, choice criteria, and work skills.

    – Sector – Public sector and then non-profit – organizations with missions that I personally wanted to support. This has to do with value fit. I tried a few private sector roles but couldn’t commit to making better widgets at a cheaper price to make more profit. Not my idea of a better society.
    – I searched and interviewed for high-quality bosses – so that’s level
    – Paying for my own personal development at NTL – learning how to appreciate differences and to communicate across differences.
    – And as I moved into V, designing and establishing my own business.

    Investing in personal therapy over the years helped me make these career choices with some grace.

    I imagine others have different stories – given that we have such different backgrounds.

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