‘If we feel there’s some of us, our fingerprints in the work that we do, and we’re able to make a difference in the work that we do, and it’s aligned to what’s important to us, we’re more likely to be engaged.’
Rob Baker helps companies and individuals with ‘job crafting’, finding ways of personalizing their work so it ‘fits’ the individual’s strengths and interests more closely. And of course when it came to writing the book about it, he took a route that suited his OWN way of working perfectly: using a Trello board to build a table of contents, share it with others, and gradually refine both his own thinking and the structure of the book as he wrote. He also got clear up front on his ‘writing budget’ and used his experience as a runner to help manage the days when sitting down and writing was the last thing he wanted to do.
It’s a simple but quite brilliant approach, and it might just be one you can personalize for yourself.
(Oh, and how do you feel about that ‘z’ in ‘Personalization’? We talk about that too….)
Book website: http://tailoredthinking.co.uk/personalizationatwork
Rob’s website: http://tailoredthinking.co.uk/
Rob on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BakerRJM
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
This Book Means Business – the mentorship programme: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/this-book-means-business-mentorship/
The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge wait list: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Rob Baker, who is the founder and director of Tailored Thinking, an evidence-based positive psychology wellbeing and HR consultancy. Prior to that, he held a number of senior HR leadership roles at the University of Melbourne and University of Sheffield, as well as consultancy positions at RBT, Connect, and PWC. Rob’s work, ideas, and research on how people can personalise work and bring their whole best selves to the workplace has been presented at academic and professional conferences around the world, and he’s the author of Personalization at Work: How HR Can Use Job Crafting to Drive Performance, Engagement and Wellbeing, which is publishing in March 2020. Welcome to the show, Rob.
Rob Baker: Hi, thanks so much for having me.
Alison Jones: It’s really, really good to have you here. We should just start with job crafting, shouldn’t we? It’s such a great phrase. What is job crafting, Rob? Tell us.
Rob Baker: Job crafting. So if you think about good work like a semi-tailored suit, where the basic structure and design is there, so you can’t change the colours, you can’t change the texture of the suit. But what you can do with a semi-tailored suit is change the dimensions and tweak it, so it’s a benefit for yourself in terms of your style and your dimensions. And job crafting is the same thing. So the fact that what we do through job crafting is to personalise your job ever so slightly so it’s better aligned to your strengths, your passions, your talents, and your interests. There’s loads of compelling and really interesting research that shows that when we take these proactive steps to personalise our work and approach to our jobs, that it has a number of kind of positive outcomes, such as wellbeing related to personal growth, and also performance.
Alison Jones: It’s quite an interesting metaphor, actually, isn’t it? Because we know when something is off the peg and doesn’t particularly fit you very well, you don’t feel great in it. But if something is tailored for you, it can make you feel a lot better about yourself.
Rob Baker: Absolutely. And I think for me, taking that step further, it’s actually around, actually if an individual, the power of job crafting, or part of the power of job crafting, is that people do it themselves. It’s not even just allowing someone else to personalise it for you. It’s actually you personalising it for yourself. You’re building your job in a way that you want to. If we do that, if we feel there’s some of us, our fingerprints in the work that we do, and we’re able to make a difference in the work that we do, and it’s aligned to what’s important to us, we’re more likely to be engaged and enjoy that job and to stay in that job as well. Which, for organisations that I work with in an HR capacity, is something that they’re all striving to do, in terms of create an exceptional workplace where people want to stay there, feel they can do great work, and do it in a way that reflects their skills, their expertise, and their passions and interests.
Alison Jones: It is quite a trade-off, isn’t it? Because I can imagine that when you allow someone to craft their job, there’s some complexity in that, there’s some overhead, there’s some downside to the organisation. But I guess your argument is that the upside of engagement and retention and all the rest of it just outweighs that hugely.
Rob Baker: Yes, absolutely. I think there are probably even challenges about this in terms of the trade-offs, effectively. I think there are opportunities to do win-win scenarios with job crafting. When I speak to leaders, one of the first things when I talk about job crafting, if no one’s raised within five minutes the alarm bells saying, “Well, how can we allow people just to redesign their jobs? There’ll be anarchy here.” If no one’s raised that, I will prompt it a little bit, because everyone’s thinking it, to be honest with you.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s the elephant in the room.
Rob Baker: Yes, absolutely. And I think what I do is with people is say, “A, Let’s test this to see what happens,” but B, when I get people to job craft in sessions with people and work with organisations, and this is what I’ve covered in the book, there’s three guiding principles that I find useful. So one is incentive, saying if you’re going to craft or personalise your role, think about how it aligns to the organization’s objectives, the purpose of that organisation. Does it support it or not?
Secondly, to what extent is your job crafting going to impact on your colleagues? So there’s no good saying, “I’m just not going to do this piece of work because I don’t like doing it,” if someone else has had to pick it up. Because effectively you’re going to create problems for your colleagues. And then lastly, how’s this going to impact on you as an individual? Because we’re very good at adding to our jobs and adding, volunteering for a new project or learning a new skill, which is great, but we also need to cut the time and energy to be able to do that and deliver all our work as well.
So I get people to reflect on actually how’s this going to make a difference to you as an individual. And I find those three themes, together with an idea of saying start small, think about what you can do maybe 10 minutes a day, 50 minutes a day, or an hour a week, it actually starts to assuage some of those concerns that leaders have about the approach. So your comment about, there needs to be some quid pro quo about job crafting, I think there are ways that people can do it that aligns to that organisational aims and ambitions.
Alison Jones: Yes. Yes. Well, as you know, I think it’s a great thing, and I’m sure that actually challenging people to do that, the terms of engagement is going to be incredible. A you said, it’s just that that sense that this is my job, actually, rather than the job I have to do. This is now my job and I’ve taken ownership of it, which is fantastic.
Rob Baker: Yes, absolutely. And one of the things that I’ve been recently doing some work in with a tech company that’s got about 200 people, but it’s growing quite quickly, and I think they are all across the whole of the UK. So I’m speaking to you in Durham, I was doing some work with a company in Newcastle. And one of the things they’re saying is that job crafting enables their software engineers to create a job in a way that actually they want to stay, stay and keep that job rather than move to another alternative position where… everyone can easily match salaries or get a free breakfast or whatever the latest perk or trend is. But actually creating an environment where people thought it’s a job that they can really excel in, that’s actually quite a special commodity and something they’ll think twice about giving up.
Alison Jones: Yes. And that phrase, job crafting, just talk us through that a little bit, because it’s an ace phrase. Where did that come from, and how did the book come about come to that?
Rob Baker: It’s a good phrase, it was by accident, actually. So it was first coined by two researchers, Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton in 2001. And they were doing some studying with some hospital cleaners in a university hospital. And they found that these cleaners were, in terms of their engagement scores, their initial research was around engagement and how it could have motivated people in their jobs, and they found that these cleaners came in two different groups. One group were very engaged and motivated by their jobs, and others were less so. So they thought, “This is really interesting. Let’s interview these people.” And they found that the cleaners described their jobs and the actual physical activities of the jobs very differently. So one group described they’re of very low status, they were mopping and cleaning various fluids up, and didn’t enjoy what they were doing. And no guessing what they did in terms of the engagement categories.
And the second category was saying, “Actually we provide a sterile and clean environment, which is fundamental to the patient’s recovery.” And some of the behaviours that these people did, such as they move paintings and pictures around the corridors of the hospital when they were cleaning them to create a more stimulating environment. They would maybe look out for family members who looked a bit lost when they were walking around the maze and corridors and took them back to the car park. So looking for opportunities for connections. So these people actually were doing their roles in a very different way to the other cleaners. But they derived some benefit from it. Not only were they performing better, but they enjoyed their job more.
And the researchers called it job crafting. But I asked them about this, I interviewed for the book and Amy Wrzesniewski, who was the first came up with the term. And she said actually it was a sticking plaster of a term. They were going to call it potentially job architecture or something else, but the crafting just stuck and they just left it on there. And they go, it’s stayed and there’s now been 130 peer review papers about this concept. So it’s funny how badges and labels do matter, but sometimes you think there’s a lot of intent behind it but there’s not, actually. It was literally just a sticking plaster. They couldn’t think of anything better. But they left it to it and it stuck.
Alison Jones: And it stuck, I think, because it’s resonant, it’s easy to remember. It’s all that good stuff that you actually look for in a book title. So it’s always worth going around your day and looking at the literature and so on with an eye to that, isn’t it?
Rob Baker: Oh yes, absolutely. And when I first came across it I was doing studies, my masters in positive psychology in Australia. And I was looking out for, interested in finding what some of these research ideas that hadn’t been applied in practice. Because I was looking to test and bring these out to life. And job crafting immediately appealed to me. And it was something that you immediately could have, when you describe it to them and they know what it is, it does exactly what it says on the tin. So it’s a great phrase. And I’ve had some good feedback, as you say, in terms of the title of the book as well, because people are interested in it as to what it means.
Alison Jones: Yes. And tell us a little bit about … Now, I happen to know how you went about putting this book together, and I just think it’s fascinating. So you’ve got your concept, and you’ve lived and breathed the whole personalization at work thing and you know what it is you want to say. Talk us through how you went from that idea of the book to actually putting it together into a table of contents, and the tools that you used to do that.
Rob Baker: Yes, sure. I think it’s funny, you laughed and said you know how you did this. I thought this is what everyone did as well. So I appreciate this may not be different than other people. So I use Trello, so I use a Trello board, which is like a Kanban board, for those that know. So Trello’s a specific software that-
Alison Jones: Yes, just interjecting here, so we love Trello. We do, I have my own Trello board for my to-do’s, and we as a team have Trello. And I’ve introduced it to so many people. It is fantastic. I will put the link up on the show notes, actually, because it is a brilliant bit of software for pretty much anything that needs doing. Sorry, carry on.
Rob Baker: No, I think it’s a good plug. I would get behind that quite strongly as well. So I think Trello is really helpful. So it enables you to basically put cards down under certain categories. So what I did with the book is I just wrote out the key different chapters that I wanted to and sections that I wanted to have within the book. And then I would, underneath those, I would have a card associated with each key theme or paragraph. So in terms of introduction to job crafting was one with one chapter, and then behind it was the origins of job crafting. So I’d share that story that I just spoke to you about, where job crafting came from in the first study.
And I found that quite helpful in terms of quite visual for myself, in terms of looking at it. It’s the equivalent, I suppose, of having lots of Post-It notes elsewhere, but it was also really good way for me to, when I found articles or other kind of material that I wanted to include, I could just very quickly add it to the bottom of that relevant chapter really, really quickly using the software. And I could do this on my phone as well on the computer, so a very easy way of keeping record of the different articles you want to reference, or the material to reference.
And then when you’re coming to write, it just was all there in and very clearly laid out. And for me that works really well. And also within Trello you can share that with you. So when you and I can discuss this, I shared it with you, I shared my Trello board with you so you could see the frameworks, the bones of the book. And I did that with the publishers as well, and they found that quite helpful just to understand what I was aiming to do….
Alison Jones: And did you do that lovely thing of archiving or moving things as you did them? Was there a little endorphin hit as you completed things, or did you just leave them there?
Rob Baker: No, no, no, I do for my day-to-day, in terms of my to-do list. I do do the, move it from to-do, into doing, and then done, those notes, I do do that on a day-to-day basis. But I didn’t with my book, I just kept the outline as it was. And it’s probably still quite messy, actually. I haven’t gone back to it recently, but it was actually quite scrappy and not perfect, but I quite like that as well, because it just reflects my thinking, and I gradually refined it as I was writing it. So the more refined version is the text. And I was quite happy to have the bones, the structure, the messiness in Trello.
Alison Jones: Yes, and I just think it’s such a smart idea, because as you say, you can share it with people, you can move things around quite easily, you can append things, you can annotate. And you don’t get the Post-Its falling off the walls. It doesn’t have quite the same visual impact as a wall full of Post-It notes. There’s something visceral about that that will never be replaced. But in terms of practicality it’s pretty good, isn’t it?
Rob Baker: I think you’re right. And I have tried a few of the Post-It notes and things, and they fell off, as you were saying. But there is something nice and quite tactile about writing. And I certainly recognise that, but it was a very pragmatic approach to me, a halfway house in terms of doing things. And I could combine things such as articles, photos, and my own thoughts, and it was just a really quick way of doing it. I’m someone who unfortunately has the book worrying in the back of my head all the time for the last six or seven months I’ve been writing it, and lots of ideas would spark out in lots of different places, and it was just a great way of capturing them. And then being comfortable that I’ve got somewhere safe that I can go back to it.
Alison Jones: And actually-
Rob Baker: There’s nothing worse than thinking, “I’ve got to hold onto this good idea somehow,” when you’re doing your shopping or going for a run or something, and having no way of keeping hold of it, other than just hoping for dear life you’re not going to forget it, which is something I’m prone to do.
Alison Jones: The ideas come when you’re shopping or on a run, don’t they?
Rob Baker: Exactly. Absolutely. Yes, yes, absolutely.
Alison Jones: The only thing about Trello, of course, is that you can capture it, but it forces you to put it somewhere. You can’t just make a note and then go, “What the hell am I going to do with that?” You actually have to decide on the fly which card you’re going to append it to. So that helps, doesn’t it, when it actually comes to write?
Rob Baker: Oh yes, absolutely. And the fact you can move the card around was very helpful, because initially some of the sections moved from one chapter to another. And I could just very easily just change that as well, and that was a really quick and easy thing to do. And I think you have to be able to do that. It’s very helpful and very appropriate. So if people haven’t used Trello and they’re interested in the Post-It note for maybe doing an electronic version, I find it a really good idea that you can explore.
Alison Jones: Yes, and I’m not an affiliate for Trello, but I sometimes feel I should be. Yes. And tell us what surprised you about the process. So you had your brilliant planning thing, and that took you through the writing as well, but is there anything that surprised you in the writing, or now that I think you’re deep in the throes of production, you’re in proof stage at the moment, aren’t you? Just tell us a little bit about how that process has been.
Rob Baker: It’s surprising for me, how hard it was actually, if I’m honest. So in terms of how much a grind it was going to be. I kind of half knew it, but I was still seduced by these images you see of people sitting in front of typewriters or things and things just effortlessly flowing. And it certainly wasn’t my experience.
Alison Jones: I don’t think it’s most people’s experience.
Rob Baker: I know. But I liked the idea, I was seduced into that fact. So I think I found that kind of experience quite difficult. But it was very familiar to me as a runner, and I think I’ve briefly spoken to you about this, Alison, I know that you run. And the fact that when I was training for marathons or other distance running events that I did, there was times where I didn’t enjoy the running. So in terms of, I didn’t enjoy running day to day every day, but I knew I had to go training to get fitter. And I was sure the run I was going to do was making me fit and not making me injured or whatever. But every week I would, when I completed my training log, I’d feel satisfied of having done that.
And I had very, very similar feelings to the writing, is that the last thing, some days, I want to do was actually sit down and write. But I knew that if I did write I’d feel better for it. And actually it was contributing in terms of the process. And so it was just a very familiar feeling of, “I need to do this, I don’t want to do this.”
Alison Jones: “But I know I’ll feel better when I’ve done it.”
Rob Baker: Yes, exactly. That’s exactly right. And the closest I can get to it, it was very similar to being in the depths of marathon training or other training. You’re just tired, and the last thing you want to do is put your trainers on and run. And the same thing for me in terms of writing. So I’m not trying to put everyone off here in terms of this podcast, in terms of writing, but I think it’s being realistic about what it’s going to actually look like in real life and trying to fit it in. And I had a baby, a book, and a business to do and write the book in six months, and they were all quite challenging, and they don’t necessarily make perfect bedfellows.
Alison Jones: And you can’t drop any of them.
Rob Baker: No, you can’t. Yes, generally not, no. And again, but sometimes actually that idea of necessity is helpful. So in terms of, so I’ve got to do these things, just means that you find the time for these, for the activities that matter to you. And I think in terms of the writing process, I was clear in advance that I really wanted to write the book. So I knew that I was passionate enough to push through the time to when I struggled and found it a bit more challenging. I think that’s important.
Alison Jones: And when you’d finished, and suddenly this book that’s just been your constant companion with that love-hate relationship and it’s just yours, suddenly that goes off to the copy editor and then lots of project managers are involved, typesetters. That’s quite a jolt, isn’t it? How did you experience that?
Rob Baker: I found it a big jolt. And I think it’s a cliché to say that you don’t want to share it with people and you need to get feedback. But I genuinely thought the first time I sent the chapter, first chapters off for my copy editor, sorry, for my production editor, that they were going to come back and say, “Sorry Rob, but we’ve made a mistake here.”
Alison Jones: “We’ve wasted your time,” that’s terrible.
Rob Baker: Exactly, this is it. “How can I phrase this email?” I felt quite embarrassed for the person to have to write this email to me back saying, “Terribly sorry, there’s been a mistake.” I’m sure other people feel that, and that was generally how I felt. And I got very positive feedback from them, which is really nice. But I didn’t quite believe it. So the first thing, I found that a struggle. And I think that sounds a very familiar story from everyone. Not everyone, but a lot of people I interview. I found that it was very different having the PDF proof versions of the document now to… it looks like a book, whereas previously they had all the work I’d done in a Word document. And there’s something tactilely different when I’m looking at it and feeling it. It doesn’t quite feel like mine, as it were. It feels like a joint, more of a collaborative exercise now that it’s been set out as a PDF, now that it’s been set out to be printed as a book. It just feels different, and my relationship with that book has actually changed a little bit.
I can be a bit more critical with things but less attached to it at the same time as well, which I wasn’t the Word document. I could almost remember where I was when I wrote different paragraphs or different sentences in different places and locations. And I felt a really close connection to it. It was actually a bit of time in terms of production process. It’s been healthy, and seeing it in a kind of different format has been helpful in terms of being a bit more objective in terms of the final proof copy.
Alison Jones: That’s a really interesting insight, isn’t it? You say the Word document is entirely yours, you created it, but there’s some transmutation that happens when it becomes a proof and other people have had their fingerprints on it as well, and it’s been crafted. Ha, ha.
Rob Baker: Yes, exactly, exactly. And I feel there’s more of a joint ownership about it. That’s something I celebrate and I enjoy, I welcome, actually. But it’s been something, I wasn’t expecting that as well, and it feels sometimes a bit like they would say, you don’t know how sausages are made, and you shouldn’t. But same with books, this has given me an adventure. It’s been really fascinating to actually understand the machinations of how a book’s brought together and how it looks.
Alison Jones: And it does, it takes a village, doesn’t it? Did you find yourself reading it now and going, “Huh, this is really good. Who wrote this?”
Rob Baker: I’d like to think in time that I will…
Alison Jones: In due time.
Rob Baker: But no, I must admit it was less painful going through the latter version than it was the first version, when I looked through it. And I must have a shout-out in to my wife. I think there’s lots of different ways you can demonstrate love and commitment in a relationship, and one of them is to sit down and read your partner’s book in nine hours straight, pretty much, to give it a final review. And that’s what she did to do another look at it, someone detached and independent. And I was really grateful, appreciative with that. So that’s another thing that I’ve been fortunate to see through the process.
Alison Jones: My husband wouldn’t read my book.
Rob Baker: I’m making no comment, I’m making no comment, Alison.
Alison Jones: Now, I always ask people for their best tip for a first-time business book author. And I suspect you’re going to find it hard to beat the Trello tip, but is there anything else that you’d say to someone who’s listening who’s maybe a bit further down the line than you, in terms of not having started yet quite?
Rob Baker: I think two, a couple of things. I think for me the first one is that if you are listening to this podcast and you think you can write it, but you’re curious about it, just do it. So I think the first thing is actually just commit. If you’re interested and you’re listening to these things as I was, probably a good signal that you’re interested in the process. And I propose putting a proposal together as my test for seeing, actually, whether I was serious enough about the book. I thought if I could put a proposal together, which I did with your help and support as well, and it was something that I knew that actually I could commit to doing the book.
That’s one thing, and if I can be cheeky and just squeeze another one in, was around actually being really clear about your writing budget. So one of the things that I … And this, again related from my running experiences, that when I was setting out my training plans and thinking about what was achievable, I was very clear about where I could fit in my training within my day-to-day life. And similarly with a book, I always try to be realistic about saying I’m not going to have perfect days of eight hours straight, where I could just sit and write and do nothing else. I was realistic about the fact that I had to be snatching 50 minutes here, 50 minutes there, and planning my day and planning my week to maximise those opportunities. So having that writing budget and being realistic about what that is probably something I found particularly useful.
Alison Jones: That’s a great phrase, ‘writing budget’. I’ve never heard that one before. I’m going to steal that. Is that all right?
Rob Baker: Absolutely. You can steal it, came from someone I stole it from, sources talking about training budget, so yes, steal away.
Alison Jones: Yes, that’s excellent. Job crafting has done the rounds, hasn’t it? So you’ll find this cropping up in a blog at some point. And would you recommend a book for us, Rob? Is there a book that you’ve found particularly helpful? It could be a business book, it could be any kind of book, really, that’s in this process of setting your business up and writing the book and so on, you found useful?
Rob Baker: Yes, so I think a book that I reflect on that changed my thinking, it’s not a business book per se, although you’ve interviewed him, he’s written a business book. So Dan Coyle wrote a book on the Culture Code, which is really good and a really enjoyable book. But the book he wrote before that was called The Talent Code. And The Talent Code was focused on around actually how people develop skills and expertise in different disciplines, and the extent to which it’s born and innate, and to what extent can it be grown and developed. And very much he came on the side, in terms of the evidence and having spoken to experts, that actually we can all nurture our talents in different areas.
And I think that from someone who works in HR, where we talk about talents and who has got talent and who hasn’t got, and who is talented and who hasn’t got talent, it was something that really changed and challenged my perceptions about actually to what extent are we enabling people, giving them the opportunities to grow and develop in the confidence that they can do it. So I thought that was a really good book. So Dan Coyle’s brilliant, everything he’s written I’ve really enjoyed.
Alison Jones: Yes, he’s brilliant, isn’t he?
Rob Baker: The Talent Code’s really good.
Alison Jones: And I haven’t read that, you’re right, Culture Code I absolutely loved, so I should go back and read Talent Code as well. Thank you, that’s a great recommendation, Rob. And if they want to find out more about you more about personalization at work, where should they go?
Rob Baker: So my website is tailoredthinking.co.uk, and there’s also a website for the book, which is personalizationatwork.com. And that can be with a Z or an S for personalization. I stole both domain names, just to be on the safe side.
Alison Jones: Yes. That Z thing is an absolute pain, isn’t it? We use that z our house style, I don’t know, at Kogan Page is it S or Z?
Rob Baker: No, they’re Z as well, and I had to re-school myself in that whole process.
Alison Jones: Some people just can’t bring themselves to do it, but yes. Apparently it’s an older spelling than the S.
Rob Baker: It is, that’s what I said. I’ve put that in my…..
Alison Jones: Oh, I must have read it in your book. It is, it’s a huge thing, isn’t it? Of course you must have had that kind of, “Actually, am I going to even use this word?” Given that you have to nail your colours to the mast up front on the title page.
Rob Baker: Well, it’s funny enough, but I did get challenged. I was in Australia, and so we were saying, in Australia they do use the Z more so than the S. And so actually one of the questions about, the audience were saying, “Why have you spelled it like that? You’re from the UK.” And I had to explain it to them. So people do notice and it just picks up.
Alison Jones: Z is acceptable in the UK, whereas S is not acceptable in American English-speaking areas, just in case anybody’s wondering what the heck we’re going on about. But there are a lot of people in the UK who just, it’s like nails down a chalkboard when you use a Z in personalization or something. So yes, we have to just get over ourselves, really, and get on with it. Because it’s a global world and you want to be published everywhere.
Rob Baker: You have to.
Alison Jones: Yes. It was so much fun talking to you, Rob. Thank you so much for your time today.
Rob Baker: No problem at all. It’s been a real pleasure, and thanks, just to say personally, for the podcast and all the contributions that you’ve had, because I really benefit from them and enjoyed them.
Alison Jones: Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you. Good to hear.