The employee and manager relationship should be a two-way street. Both should benefit from each other in order to have a productive and healthy workplace. In order to learn more about how both employees and managers can work together to mutually achieve success, I spoke to Jesse Sostrin. Sostrin is the author of Beyond the Job Description: How Managers and Employees Can Navigate the True Demands of the Job. He is the Founder and President of Sostrin Consulting, a leadership and organization development practice, and the Vice President of Workforce, Leadership & Organization Development at Wilshire Health & Community Services. In this brief interview, Sostrin talks about the hidden curriculum of work, tips for employees who want to stand out, how managers can better communicate their expectations to employees and more.
Dan Schawbel: Can you describe what the hidden curriculum of work is?
Jesse Sostrin: In today’s competitive landscape, standing out, getting ahead of the change curve, and staying relevant at work comes from the ability to go beyond your job description and continuously 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 the many other challenges and distractions that come with professional sports.
And, when children enter school, they have to master the educational standards in their curriculum. . . but, reading, math, and science lessons do not prepare them for the peer pressure, social dynamics, and developmental challenges of youth that they inevitably face. In the same way, there is a hidden curriculum of work® that we all encounter.
Dan: What are some tips for standing out at work and get noticed by management?
Jesse: Once you learn how to see the hidden curriculum of work® you can delve into the true demands of your position. By working through a series of prompts you can discover your “job-within-the-job,” which is a more accurate picture of your reality at work.
As you move past the “tasks and activities” in your standard job description, you begin to focus on the learning and performance outcomes that deliver greater value to your team and organization. I refer to people who add increasing value as Future-Proof because it is an essential way of working that allows people to get noticed by management for the “right” reasons. Specifically, Future-Proof people can be identified by the following outcome-driven characteristics:
- They not only perform the duties outlined in their standard job description well, but they define their “job-within-the-job” and fulfill those demands too;
- They are able to determine what is necessary and important while observing and adjusting to the changing conditions around them;
- They see the challenges and obstacles they face each day as teaching moments that hold clues to potential improvements; and
- They use this cycle of continuous learning and performance to stay ahead of the change curve.
Dan: What are some of the challenges with looking beyond your job description? What if your manager thinks you’re stepping on their toes?
Jesse: Engaging with your manager to establish clarity around your priorities creates a dynamic where their leadership is a pace-setting driver for your efforts to go beyond the job description. This reduces the potential for negative judgments that a manager could make about your intentions (i.e. going above and beyond is simply grandstanding and a means to challenge their value as a leader). Another important factor in successfully managing up is the willingness to consistently ask for clarification and support. One unfortunate blind spot for many new and established professionals is a defensive routine whereby people hesitate to ask questions and request support due to a desire to appear competent and prepared. This can lead to a gap in critical information and essential support, as well as a missed opportunity to strengthen a more open and collaborative manager-employee relationship.
Dan: How can managers better communicate their expectations to their employees so they are both on the same page?
Jesse: The value of using a common framework for identifying and navigating the hidden curriculum of work® is that it can be used up, down, and across the organization chart. When managers communicate their performance expectations clearly and within the “realistic context” of the challenges their direct reports face, they increase their credibility. Questions to jumpstart this process can include:
- How well do I understand the “job-within-the-job” of my key reports?
- How well do they understand their “job-within-the-job”—including both the value that they contribute and the hidden challenges they face?
- What might change in their quality of performance and in our working relationships if I took the time to help them expose their hidden curriculum of work®?
Dan: How can employees and their managers both stay relevant, especially as market needs and demands change rapidly?
Jesse: The path toward staying relevant goes through an unambiguous set of performance competencies. Discovering the “job-within-the-job” and navigating the challenges of the hidden curriculum of work® are the first two steps. By doing these over time, ancillary skills and abilities emerge and help to sustain progress for both managers and individual contributors. Some of these secondary competencies include:
- Developing the mental flexibility needed to adapt to constant change and ambiguity;
- Identifying clear learning goals associated with their highest priorities;
- Staying persistent through challenges and remaining resilient in the face of adversity; and
- Leveraging the connection between individual performance, team contribution, and organizational impact.