Your most important knowledge work job skill

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jul 16

Cube Rules is all about working in cubes and wanting to provide our best work to us and our team.

Yet, despite all the work we do, we are dissatisfied and so is our team. We sense never-ending work on a task or project with no end in site. We hit the treadmill of work rather than the upbeat employee engagement of accomplishment.

How can this happen?

Knowledge work is different from previous work. At my summer job in college, I worked in a paper mill where, in one shift, we produced 750 cases of diapers, 12 boxes to a case and 12 diapers to a box. 108,000 diapers later, I was done for the day.

Knowledge work isn’t the same. Instead, it requires critical job skills about the work.

What’s your most important job skill about knowledge work?

The most important job skill is this: defining “done.”

Famously, Tom Peters says we need to define our work to succeed in knowledge work. I agree with this, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Simply defining the work doesn’t make your team happy with your work, nor your manager. Nor you.

Neither does defining and doing the work make you, your team or manager happy.

Why? Because there is no sense of accomplishment.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, you can work to complete your task or project and, when you do, the goal posts have moved. What was great as a task completion is no longer complete because we need to have a second iteration. And another. And another after that.

So it is that a person can work, for example, on the same set of business requirements for an entire year and it will look as if the needs are never done. After all, being “done” means set this aside and move on to the next, right?

Not so much.

When one is dealing with a “living” document or process, it means constantly changing. From an accomplishment perspective, “constantly changing” sucks.

This is where the critical skill of defining “done” controls your accomplishment satisfaction. This is how one person can work on a set of business requirements for a year and is dissatisfied and another can be fully engaged in the work.

Your confidence and feeling of success comes from your accomplishments. You tout your accomplishments by defining “done.”

My next members-only post will examine what boundaries define done — and how defining done helps you and your manager have the same work expectations.

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