Your entire working life is based on a myth. It all began when you arrived for your interview.
After you answered a few questions about your background and experience, the interviewer likely gave you a job description that laid out the tasks and functions you would provide for the organization.
When you were hired, you got the job and the title to match it. Your company provided training, orientation and other additional tools to help you carry out the functions of your job effectively.
You told new colleagues the name of your position and explained a few of your most prominent tasks. Likewise, when you asked team members what they did, you heard the same superficial rundown: title, function and a few basic tasks.
From this point on, the myth was firmly set in place. All expectations about your contribution to the organization were based on your job description, title and the day-to-day tasks and activities they required.
You’re more than a job title
This sequence of events describes the typical experience most people live through every day at work. But you know that something’s wrong with this picture. What the team and organization need from you do not always align with your job description.
Your day-to-day tasks and activities are often not the most important things you could be doing. And actually fulfilling your responsibilities can be quite hard when faced with everyday obstacles and unexpected challenges (such as difficult coworkers.)
The truth is that your job description lies, or at least it only tells part of the story. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)
We’re all working two jobs. As we politely get down to the business of fulfilling the tasks and activities in our primary job descriptions, we incessantly bump up against the real challenges of our “job within the job.”
And yet, there’s no common language to describe this hidden side of work, so we don’t speak about it. And because we don’t speak about it, we’re not given support to address it. This is the ferocious cycle that ensues, from A to D and back again:
A. You’re hired and paid to do a job.
B. You’re only given a partial picture of what’s needed to succeed.
C. You’re on your own to understand the missing pieces and figure out your path to success.
D. You will not be compensated any differently if you succeed, but you could face consequences if you fail to meet the job’s demands.
The hidden curriculum of work
In today’s competitive landscape, standing out, getting ahead of the change curve and staying relevant at work requires going beyond your job description. You must look for opportunities to improve your learning and performance as you confront the hidden demands of work.
These two factors — the need for continuous learning and performance and the presence of performance barriers — form what I call the hidden curriculum of work. A hidden curriculum exists anytime there are two simultaneous challenges where one is visible, clear and understood and the other is concealed, ambiguous and undefined.
For example, professional athletes master the fundamentals of their sport and excel at the highest level on the court or field of play, but they still have to learn how to deal with wealth, fame and many other challenges and distractions that come with professional sports.
When children start school, they must master the educational standards of their curriculum, but reading, math and science lessons don’t prepare them for the peer pressure, social dynamics and developmental challenges they inevitably face in school.
Dig deep to reveal your job’s hidden curriculum
The hidden curriculum of work is different for everyone, but you can start exposing the half-truth of your standard job description by discovering your “job within the job.” As a first step, ask these six core questions to understand the hidden side of your own work:
- What single statement best describes your role?
- What tasks and activities absorb most of your time?
- What challenges prevent your best work?
- What single statement reveals your vital purpose to the organization?
- Which of your contributions have the greatest value to the organization?
- What are the hidden challenges of delivering this value?
By using this framework, you can quickly and accurately drill down to the meaningful purpose and value you should deliver. You’ll also know exactly how to navigate the hidden curriculum of work to increase your chances of a long and successful career.
Jesse Sostrin is the author of Beyond the Job Description. He writes, speaks and consults at the intersection of individual and organizational success. Follow him @jessesostrin and visit his site here.