It’s a mess

Function and person

The function-harmonisation turns into a mess. Which is logical, as it’s a hodgepodge of regulations and agreements. Behind every exception there’s a story and the whole has nothing to do with tasks and functions. And so, the consultant can explain to a room full of employees how exactly the harmonisation is going to be organised. The director listens along at the back of the room. 

The usefulness of job descriptions

A job description is useful. Using language, it defines the structure and boundaries of what an employee is expected to do. There are numerous styles to describe jobs. Nowadays, organisations mainly prefer generic job descriptions, to create some room for manoeuvre. 

The second objective of a job description is to set out the conditions of employment. The employment conditions are directly linked to a function. Meaning that you don’t have to keep renegotiating with every individual employee. 

That’s all, at least at surface level.   

Identification with functions

Beneath this, something else happens. The more unsafe the culture in an organisation, the stronger people will start to identify with their job. They become their function. And once this happens, the entire function-system becomes undermined. Changes in function, during harmonisation for instance, effect the individual at a personal level. Employees who’ve identified with their function are more vulnerable when it comes to integrity, for example when it comes to accepting gifts.

Many organisations have guidelines regarding accepting gifts. But while the guidelines assume that the gift is given to the function, the employee experiences the gift as being for him personally. A crucial distinction, that can lead to very different decisions. 

It’s quite simple to track down this identification and bring it from below the surface to surface level. If you suspect that a member of staff identifies with his function, then ask who’s doing the talking. The function or the person? To help someone stop identifying, you can ask: “If someone else, not you, with the same function had to make a decision or give advice about this, what would that person say?”.   

Resolving the difficulties of functions

If you have to deal with difficulties related to functions, as described in the introductory paragraph, it’s useful to first make visible the distinction beneath the surface between function and person. This will make the set-up on the surface much easier. The techniques from organisation constellations are suitable for this and easy to use.

The consultant asks the employees in the room to imagine that their function is standing in front of them. “What is possible, and what not, when your function is standing in front of you?” the consultant asks. The second step is turned around: “And what if your function is stood behind you? Then, what’s possible and not possible?” And: “For the kind of work you do, what is more powerful? Putting your function in front of you, or behind you?” 

The director listens, fascinated.

They seem strange questions, apparently unanswerable. But this group of financials sense exactly what it’s about. The questions and ensuing discussion expose the – unconscious – distinction between function and person. Which places the harmonisation process in a completely different context. From now on it can again be about the functions themselves. 

Siets Bakker