The employee invokes the job description card to determine his tasks and what he must do within the organization. These cards sometimes contain the standards which he is evaluated accordingly. Does an exemption of some employees from those prior tasks help improve their performance? How does this affect the organization performance in general?
In some countries, the composition of the ministries includes ministers without portfolio, so that they do not have specific tasks and are not responsible for particular ministries, but they are assigned to follow specific files or to assist other ministers in carrying out the tasks that require a great effort and focus.
Today we see that the presence of a number of employees without portfolio in the organizations contribute to the completion of some tasks effectively, as well as helping to meet the requirements of the stage such as delighting the dealers and the good responsive to the variables. If we want to summarize the advantages of the employee without portfolio, we can provide the following:
Optimal utilization of the employee possibilities
Today’s work environment is characterized by continuous changes and successive developments, which requires the organization and the employees to be able to keep up with this change. Thus, the pre-defined tasks for the employee need to be regularly reviewed and updated at short intervals. That puts pressure on those who carry out these tasks, especially in the large organizations. Susan Heathfield, a human resources expert, says managing and updating job descriptions is a challenge, especially if they are associated with the employee’s assessment, his reward package, and his financial advantages. In addition, defining the employee’s tasks in advance keeps him within the limits of his required tasks and weakens his passion for innovation and recreation, thus preventing him indirectly from using the exceptional skills he has, especially if they enable him to accomplish tasks not mentioned in the description. Tim Baker, the author of “The End of the Job Description“, agrees with this view of the predefined job descriptions saying that they force the employee to reject the new tasks and consider them none of his business.
Freedom from the ascendancy of the administrative subordination
A lot of managers try to encourage, engage and empower the employees to urge them to provide the best. In contrast, there are some managers who use their positions to control and dominate their subordinates. They follow very old methods of management based on intimidation and threats. In the meantime, the employee without portfolio will be in a better position if he is forced to deal with such managers, as he performs various tasks in multiple work units within the organization on temporarily. That makes his relationship with the managers less severe and protects him from the power of the negative managers.
Displacement of the prior stress on the employee
There is no doubt that the determination of prior expectations for employees puts them under pressure to achieve them. In spite of the widespread practice of developing detailed work assignments and measures of employee performance, number of researchers called for the necessity to think carefully before setting performance targets for the employee, as they create a stressful work environment and a low level of trust between the employees and the managers. The employees sometimes are also motivated to manipulate data to achieve their goals. In contrast, when the employee focuses on one assignment and a new job, he is freed from comparison with the previous results or concern about achieving future targets which may not be realistic. All he has to do is to demonstrate his ability to improve the current situation in his new assignment and thus to create a positive impact in the organization.
Preparing efficient employees of multiple experiences
After the great trend, in the past few decades, towards specialization and the emergence of many branches of fine specialties in various disciplines, the modern trend claims that the various experiences are one of the key success factors in some professional disciplines, especially in the fields of management, business and humanities. This stems from the divergence and interconnection of these fields, and the need for extensive knowledge to carry out the required tasks properly. This trend has been translated into a number of administrative practices which have recently witnessed popularity such as the comprehensive employee or the unified window, where the dealers can get a wide range of services from one employee without having to visit a number of offices and service delivery points. Similarly, in the practice of administrative recycling, some organizations conduct periodic shifts of their employees between departments for gathering the experiences. In addition, the employee without portfolio naturally acquires various organizational experiences during performing his duties and qualifies him to carry out successful functional tasks in most of the organization’s work units if it is decided to convert him to a traditional employee.
In spite of the advantages mentioned which the organization can acquire by appointing employees without portfolio, there are a set of caveats that must be taken into account to reach the desired benefit such as:
Selecting the suitable employees
There is a set of qualities and skills that the candidate should have to be a successful, employee without portfolio. He should be self-disciplined and act responsibly; especially he will not be directly observed like the traditional employee. He should also have self-confidence and the ability to communicate effectively with the various administrative levels in the organization. In addition, he should have specific professional experiences and miscellaneous knowledge because of the different assignments which may be assigned to him, not to mention the need to own love of knowledge and curiosity towards knowledge, and a desire for learning and self-development. The employee enjoys performing this role within the organization if he is one of change lovers and has a tendency towards renewal.
Follow-up and evaluation
The traditional job description and the regular performance measures do not apply to the employee without portfolio. However, this does not mean that he is beyond the scope of Follow-up and evaluation. The follow-up of this employee’s work varies according to the task he carries out. He is the initiator to develop a vision or a plan for performing his current task. The one who tasked him with that assignment should discuss and approve the proposed plan with him so that the evaluation is based on the tasks adopted during the evaluation period and how successful he is in achieving them. This evaluation method usually takes different forms according to the type of the task assigned. For example, Ahmad is a communications engineer working for a technology company within the field of telecommunications in the UAE. He was shocked when the Human Resources Department rejected the result of his annual assessment, which was set and approved by his direct manager after his consultation. Ahmad got an excellent grading as a result of implementing the tasks assigned to him throughout the year, but the reason for rejection was the lack of evidence to justify the assessment result of Ahmad. The attempt of Ahmad and his manager to find the required evidence failed because the majority of businesses that he excelled in their performance were different from what was written in his job description and performance measures and input into the performance management system. The manager hired Ahmad to perform non-routine tasks, such as training a group of engineers who had been appointed within the company’s new branch in Europe and his participation as a representative of the company in a joint national project with a group of organizations approved without prior planning. Ahmad worked most of the year as an employee without portfolio but his position was not adapted with the applicable traditional system for employee assessment.
The employee without portfolio is not a consultant
Most organizations utilize consultants in different specialties. Here, the work of the consultant should not be confused with the work of the employee without portfolio. The consultant is usually competent in a particular field and his work is usually confined to expressing opinions and completing studies. However, the employee plays different roles, as he may complete an office work, conduct a study, support a work team, or complete requirements for creating a particular department, and other tasks that are highly diverse. The employee also has greater experience in the internal work within the organization and the system of prevailing organizational values and culture. This qualifies him for more efficiently performance. Carter McNamara, the founder of Consultants Development Institute, says in his book (Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development), “The internal expert in the organization has greater flexibility and is able to pump more resources for the success of the work required compared to the consultant who is committed to a pre-agreed range.”
Finally, the distinguished organizations are characterized by boldness and going to places not previously visited. This gives them the ability to regenerate and sustain in the superior performance. Applying the concept of employee without portfolio on a select group of organization employees contributes to accomplishing the stumbling businesses and helps the employees to achieve their own functional careers.
* I wrote and published this article in Harvard Business Review Arabic.