This is a framework for understanding, describing, and performing your job duties, roles, and responsibilities. You can use this as a template to create a useful job description that you would actually use while you are in a job.
It divides a job into three categories: activities, outputs, and outcomes. To be successful in your job, it is useful to understand the difference between these, and to achieve an optimal balance spending appropriate time and energy on each.
This article is written for multiple audiences — people who are primarily in maker (direct contributor) roles as well as those primarily in leadership and management roles. The ratios of time spent on activities, outputs, and outcomes as well as the types of items in each varies based on your particular job. You should determine in collaboration with your organization how your job should be defined and described in terms of these.
Ask yourself this question: After being hired in a job, do you ever refer to your HR job description to guide you or to check if you are doing what your job is described as?
I prefer to use this framework rather than the commonly seen job descriptions. Most job descriptions are not real descriptions — they are job advertisements to get candidates to apply to. After the employee is hired, they rarely, if ever look at their job description. Conventional job descriptions are usually a formality to check certain HR, legal, or compliance boxes. The commonplace job description is like the marketing ad for a product. This is meant to be the summary version of the owner’s manual. For examples of longer handbooks for jobs, you can view my previous articles 90 Day Plan for a CTO in a New Job and How to be an effective CTO.
You can’t magically drive results. To meet your company’s objectives and key results (OKRs), you must spend time on activities and produce outputs. I link to more information on OKRs later in this article in the outcomes section.
Activities are the things you spend time doing in your job. Certain activities may be doing the work of creating deliverables, but others may not deliver tangible outputs. Some activities may directly lead to measurable business results, but others may not.
Activities can be beneficial to the organization or they could be busywork of low value. It is better to spend more time on activities that lead to outcomes — or at least to outputs — than on activities that can’t be confidently tied to valuable business results.
Always to know its clear purpose before engaging in an activity. For example, attending a meeting is an activity. If you do not have a clear and valuable purpose for why you are attending a meeting, you are likely wasting your and others’ time.
Here are some examples of activities.
Reading and answering emails and slack messages. Being responsive
Attending (preferably participating in) meetings
Talking 1:1 with colleagues to build good professional working relationships
Interacting with team members and colleagues to uplift their morale
Mentoring and coaching others
Organizing working sessions, meetings, and presentations
Reviewing the work output of others
Soliciting input from other teams
Providing substantial and insightful feedback provided on work, documents and plans created by others
Leading by example. Demonstrating leadership, management, and ethical behavior
Demonstrating expertise or deep experience in one or more areas
Interviewing job candidates
Collaborating with others and helping them with their work
The activities in the above examples by themselves are often insufficient. You could have a very busy day at work every day, and yet accomplish little in terms of valuable and meaningful results. Imagine a car stuck in sand, spinning its wheels but not moving forward or a wild animal in a zoo enclosure pacing back and forth yet accomplishing little beyond getting light exercise.
When I ask someone how their work is these days, and they reply “busy, very busy,” I’m usually unimpressed. It implies that their schedule is busy and it is likely not by their own choice. Unless you work in extraordinary circumstances — as a hospital ER or are an active duty soldier engaged in a war — that response likely signals your schedule is completely out of your control — a sign of weakness and poor prioritization. When the first word that comes to someone’s mind in describing their work is “busy,” it is a sign that they are far more focused on activities than results. If you had to describe your work in one phrase, I’d prefer hearing words like “exciting,” “meaningful,” or “challenging“.
Outputs are the tangible deliverables you create or co-create. Outputs are maker’s work. Your team’s outputs do not count as your own unless you had a significant hands-on part in creating them as a maker, not just as a manager.
While outcomes are the most valuable part of any job in any organization that cares about results, outputs are the most easily measured and attributable to you. Examining your outputs is one way for your company to know about the value you personally add. Good outcomes usually result from teamwork. Because outputs are tangible and can be reviewed by others, their examination leads to your management being able to continually better align your work to the organization’s desired results.
Creating outputs on a regular basis also helps you avoid failing the lottery test:
Below are some examples of outputs. To be considered outputs, these must exist in a tangle form as physical and/or digital product. For example: documents, presentations, spreadsheets, diagrams, videos, software code, or physical objects. Drafts and prototypes are acceptable.
a vision, strategy, plan, recommendations, and works of thought leadership
written down plans
proposals, business cases
status reports with evidence of material work you did or progress you made
multimedia, videos, photos, artworks
digital and/or physical products
As a general best practice, you should not create most of your outputs in isolation. You should share early drafts and prototypes of your work and ask for input and feedback. Your colleagues should have clear idea what you are working on and why. Stanford Professor Baba Shiv’s Art of the Imperfect Pitch is another reason to share early versions of your work.
I can’t stress enough that to be considered your outputs they need to be authored or significantly co-authored by you. Even if your job role is strategist, planner, or thought leader, you still need to write down (or make a video of, if that’s your thing) your strategy, plans and thoughts. Writing down ideas also helps refine and evolve them. On that note, while slide presentations have their value and place in specific situations, they should never be a substitute for a well thought out document. To quote the famous and successful founder and CEO of Amazon:
“The reason writing a ‘good’ four page memo is harder than ‘writing’ a 20-page PowerPoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what.”
Outcomes are the results. These are the most valuable and important part of your job. The activities you engage in and the outputs you produce should be towards these results. I recommend the OKR framework that I mentioned near the beginning of this article. Here is a link to a comprehensive guide to objectives and key results.
Below are some examples of types of results. Results should be measurable (preferably with numbers), directly lead to objectives being met, and of real, high value.
meeting or exceeding revenue, profit, and/or growth targets
delivering products and services to customers that meet their needs or delight them
process changes in operations and/or product areas resulting in savings of time and/or money
culture improvements shown to increase employee morale, productivity, and retention
other measurable improvements that can be directly or indirectly attributed to your work
better collaboration or relationships among distinct teams leading to quicker and higher quality product delivery
Next Steps and An Alternative To This
To illustrate how to use this framework, I’ll share an example of a job description using this as a template at a future date and update this article. If you try this out and would like to share yours, Tweet it to me at @rajivpant and I’ll include a link to it from this article.
An alternative to this framework I’ve provided is Holacracy‘s system of describing a job a different trio: purpose, accountabilities, and domains. I plan to incorporate some lessons from those into this system in future and will update this article.
To avoid the cycle of often being too busy yet not accomplishing the goals to your organization’s and your satisfaction, consider describing your job using this framework to create a quick user’s guide for your job.
Once you have drafted an actionable job description you can refer to periodically, use it to guide your work. You should review your actual work (your calendar, deliverables, and results) along with your job description on a regular basis, making changes to your actual work or to the description, as appropriate.
Such a living handbook is also immensely valuable to the next person in your job (when you are are in your next even greater job.)
In this age of fake news spreading virally over social media, the recent Harvard Neiman Lab article (link below) is an excellent read.
As I am quoted in the article, “The way to combat deepfakes is to augment humans with artificial intelligence tools.” Humans alone, or technologies alone are ineffective at defeating this growing problem. However, humans augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) technology can be a formidable defense against fake news.
Imagine a fake video clip or photograph that shows a person doing something they didn’t. AI alone may not be able to detect that the video or photo is fake, but AI combined with a human detective — an investigative journalist — can research and examine real world knowledge and information beyond the reach of the AI and determine that it is fake.
The investigative journalist could uncover and confirm from other sources that the person shown in the video or photo couldn’t have been in it because of contradictory real world information. For example, the subject may not have been alive when the video claims to be shot, or have been of a different age, or looked remarkably different in other videos and photos from the same time period.
Here is an example of how to respectfully decline a meeting to make time to work on a higher priority.
We occasionally find ourselves in meetings when our time could be better spent doing something else of greater value. I previously wrote about how to respond to and politely decline meeting invitations. This post is about declining a meeting you have previously accepted and communicating that in advance to all participants because some of them may be expecting you to attend. This sometimes happens with recurring meetings where you need to participate in some but not all instances. Sometimes you previously accepted a meeting, but things have changed since that no longer require your participation.
I recommend that you do daily and weekly reviews of your upcoming meetings and consider which ones you should decline to make better use of your time.
This initiative is important to me. I was part of the kick off and subsequent discussions, and this project is on a good track. I will skip this upcoming meeting because I don’t need to personally contribute in, nor make decisions in this next meeting.
I trust [named colleagues] — who I have preciously discussed with — to represent my interests in this meeting. I will follow up with them afterwards, if necessary.
I will use the time to focus on [another project] that needs my attention.
HOWEVER: If I am missing something and y’all do need me to personally attend this meeting — let me know and I will participate.
Many books on leadership are like fairy tales: Inspiring, but misleading about leadership that is actually effective in our real world. Real leadership — i.e. leadership based on evidence and science, and thus statistically more likely be effective in practice — is less commonly found in leadership teachings. Instead, what we often hear is “feel good leadership” that sounds good, but is often ineffective, or worse, counterproductive at worst.
Few books open our eyes by revealing truths hiding in plain sight. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is one. Leadership B.S. by Jeff Pfeffer is another.
Many books, lessons, and word-of-mouth teachings about leadership are misleading, misrepresentative of real world experience, and based on feel-good ideals. There are five reasons why several things we are taught about leadership and management are wrong.
Lack of Rigor — Many leadership lessons based on someone’s experience are not based on a systematic analysis of complete data, comprehensive understanding of circumstances, and other available options at the time. What worked for the winner may be simply chance (luck), weakness of the opposition, or insufficiently acknowledged help from others. ·
Before and After — The behaviors that lead a person to a powerful leadership position are often not the same as the good qualities the person assumes later in life after they are already successful. Take the case of Bill Gates, who as a competitive businessman was a different person from the kind, caring philanthropist he is today.
Delusion — Human beings have a positive, good impressions of ourselves that are often not accurate. Studies have shown that about 80% of people believe they are better car drivers than average, better looking than average, and better human beings than others. The Overconfidence effect and above average effect are well documented. How a successful leader feels they act (morally) is often quite different from what they actually do based on observation.
Deception — Human beings, especially successful ones, lie, mislead, and often don’t give away their coveted secrets that given them their competitive edge. There is plenty of scientific evidence that lying is a common daily habit.
Leaving a Legacy — Many leadership books and articles are written to make the author look good, to build a good reputation and brand for the leader, and to make money. They are not primarily written for the purpose of making other people successful, even if the author thinks so. This could be due to delusion, deception, or a bit of both.
For the above reasons, my friend Jeff Pfeffer and I sometimes say that most leadership books and products should be labeled like packs of cigarettes: “Warning: This information will make you feel good in the short term, but is likely to be harmful to your effectiveness, career, and well-being.”
So how should you minimize your time and effort wasted learning ineffective leadership and management methods that are likely to backfire?
I highly recommend reading the excellent book Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University. It was finalist for the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year and Best business book of the week selected by Inc.com. This book will help you identify real and effective leadership and management lessons based on evidence that are more likely to work than platitudes.
Disclosure: In the acknowledgements section of this book, Professor Pfeffer writes:
This book was inspired in part by my interactions with Rajiv Pant. It was Rajiv who first used the phrase “feel-good leadership literature.” It was Rajiv who provided some of the stories and examples incorporated in this book. But mostly it was Rajiv Pant who helped me see how much damage was occurring because of the current incarnation of the leadership industry. Rajiv’s support and friendship mean a great deal, not only for this book but in my life.
Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time (pp. 221-222). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
This version 3 includes software engineering & architecture, quality assurance & test engineering, data science & engineering, infrastructure & systems engineering, product & product management, and design & user experience. This version moves “chief” and “head of” type titles to the discretionary column, keeping only four main levels (contributor, manager, director, and vice president) with three sub-levels designating seniority within each.
This is presented in a Google Sheet embedded below with tabs containing areas like engineering and product. I’m also providing a direct link to to the Google Sheet you can copy and edit for use in your own organization.
Check out the blog post by Very, the product development partner I worked with in my previous job at Thrive Global to design, build and launch multiple Mobile, Web, and Voice-controlled products from ideation to go live in 12 weeks!
Thrive Global was created to end the stress epidemic. Founded by Arianna Huffington, the comprehensive platform tackles burnout — a widespread barrier to productivity and success. By delivering sustainable, science-based solutions, Thrive Global enhances wellbeing and performance, so that people can move from surviving to thriving.
This isn’t something I thought I’d be writing – if you read my recent piece on Thrive Journal, you’d know how excited I was to join Thrive Global. I’d long admired Arianna, and when we met it was immediately clear that we share so much: mission, values, a dedication to science-based approaches – along with a lot of common friends and even our foreign accents. And I wrote about the twist of fate – several twists, in fact, that it took to bring me to Thrive.
And now life has thrown me another twist, which is that I’ve just accepted a job as Chief Product & Technology Officer at The Wall Street Journal. It was an emotionally difficult decision – when I joined Thrive I felt then, and still do, that living my life by the Thrive principles and helping others do the same was my calling.
Working with the team at Thrive has been everything I thought it would be, and has only deepened my passion for the mission. And personally, it’s been especially rewarding working with Arianna. We hit it off right away and that’s only continued since. I’ve learned so much from her that I’ll take with me in my life ahead. Most of all, her incredible ability to connect warmly and authentically with everybody around her — not just about their work, but about their lives away from the office. You don’t just join the team, you become part of a family. And that’s why this was such an emotional decision.
But this role at The Wall Street Journal is no ordinary opportunity, and I certainly wouldn’t be leaving if it were. There were several considerations: this is a newly created position and represents the culmination of what I’ve been working towards my entire career. It’s also a chance to reunite with several former co-workers who have remained dear friends. In the end, after a lot of persuasion, and an opportunity too good to refuse, I decided to make the move.
I’m excited, but also sad to leave. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built at Thrive Global. In three months we launched a media platform, a behavior change platform, an e-learning site, an e-commerce site and a number of specialty apps, including for Android, iOS, Amazon Alexa, and Chrome.
I am incredibly grateful not only for what I’ve learned but also for the friendships I’ve built and that I know will continue. And I’m especially grateful to Arianna for bringing me into Thrive and into her extended family. If I’ve learned one thing from this experience it’s that we never know what twists of fate the future may bring, but what I do know is that incorporating our Thrive principles into my daily life and my work at The Wall Street Journal will make both me and my colleagues healthier, happier and more productive.
Sometimes in life, we reach a new starting line where we sense that everything we have experienced and done so far has been preparing us for this next step. When I met Arianna Huffington and we talked about her new venture, Thrive Global, I immediately knew I wanted Thrive to be the next chapter in my life. Before I tell you why, let me give you some background.
Since I left The New York Times, I’ve been through a learning journey in my professional and personal life. I joined a promising startup full-time pledging 20% of my equity to charity. When the venture funding I had hoped for didn’t materialize, I transitioned to an advisory role and continue to root for their success. I co-founded a consulting business which led to a client asking me to join full-time to build their team in New York City. In a twist of fate, soon after I joined and hired some exceptional talent, the company had a change in ownership and asked us all to move to Los Angeles. While the relocation offer was compelling, I couldn’t bear the thought of being so far away from Fitz Raj, my 4-year-old son. My (now former) wife Julie and I had recently separated. If you think persuading your spouse to move the family across the country is hard, imagine trying to convince your ex-spouse. Yes, I tried because LA offers great opportunities in her line of work. No, she politely declined.
If you think persuading your spouse to move the family across the country is hard, imagine trying to convince your ex-spouse.
So, I decided to return to my consulting practice in NYC. While I was consulting, two well-known, highly-respected companies asked me to join them full-time. While I was mulling over whether to join one of them as CTO & chief product officer or to continue building my consulting business, I was invited to a party. It was there I met Arianna for the first time and we talked about Thrive. It was the professional equivalent of love at first sight.
We found numerous connections we had in common: mission, shared values, the scientific evidence based approach, former colleagues, friends, and foreign accents. Arianna had even spent some time studying at Santiniketan Visva-Bharati University in India, where my grandmother Jayanti Devi Pant had studied for her advanced degrees under Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. (My grandma was reasonably fluent in eleven languages, a family record I can only surpass if I count programming languages.)
Meeting Arianna and discussing Thrive was the professional equivalent of love at first sight.
What makes a great match? Why do we work?
When you seek to join an organization, you should look for three things:
Do you support the organization’s mission?
Do you have the skills, experience, and knowledge to help the organization succeed?
Do you fit into the organization’s and your team’s culture?
They are three dimensions to help determine the location where you should be. In Thrive Global, my answer to all these is a strong yes, and I also found spiritual connections that transcend them.
Even before I learned about the company Thrive Global, I have passionately believed in the practical wisdom that Arianna’s works present, practice and teach. Having had my own wake up calls, I’ve worked to incorporate some of these lessons in my life and work, and I’ve championed them to colleagues, friends, and family.
In her book, Arianna describes coincidences as “life’s secret door to wonder”. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer referred to coincidences as “wonderful pre-established harmony.”
Two months later, I received another message from Melanie: “Hi Rajiv! So great to see you last week! I read again about [Arianna Huffington’s] new venture and thought of you. Looks so interesting and I’m sure she can use your help!” This time she included a link to an NYTimes article about Thrive.
A few days later, an invite to a speakeasy-themed party showed up in my Inbox. What caught my cybersecurity-enthusiast brain’s attention was it said you needed a password to get in.
During our interviews at Arianna’s home, I also had conversations with her coworkers, family, and friends. She greatly values a personal connection in additional to professional experience. After all, as a CEO, she needs people she can rely on.
Like most CEOs, Arianna looks for competence, skills, experience, knowledge, and cultural fit when interviewing candidates. However, I found that for critical roles, she also looks for a spiritual kind of personal connection: Someone who shares her values, but also brings complementary traits; Someone she can trust, but who also has the courage to disagree with her. Someone who is kind at heart, but one you don’t want to mess with. I fit right in.
Working with her for four months has upheld what I had initially felt about Arianna’s leadership style. She sets a high bar, demands excellence, and does not hesitate to be direct and tough but she respects, empowers, and supports teammates who earn her trust. She respects and defers to others’ expertise. As a fellow human being and as a friend, she genuinely cares about the well-being of other people. Despite being a well-respected and well-liked celebrity CEO with power, I’ve experienced firsthand that she has both the humbleness and courage to apologize to someone in her team.
I met Arianna on a Thursday evening. Following intense conversations about work and life and reference checks over the next three days, I started full-time at Thrive the following Monday before either side had signed any papers. Genuine trust beats legal contracts any day of the week, twice on a Sunday. Yes, my longtime employment attorney couldn’t believe it either.
I met Arianna for the first time on a Thursday evening and started as CTO at Thrive the following Monday.
I feel that I serendipitously found the job that is my calling. After all, the party where I met Arianna required the password ‘Intentional Serendipity’ to get in.
Genuine trust beats legal contracts any day of the week, twice on a Sunday.
It seemed the ancient Greek and Hindu Gods had rigged the decision in both Thrive’s and my favor. Which reminds of something Arianna said to me quoting the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”
“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” – Rumi
Besides serendipity, there are rational reasons why I feel Thrive is my calling.
5 Reasons why Thrive Global connects with me
Feel – I’ve felt passionate about this mission since long before I had heard of Thrive. My family, friends, and I personally experience the problems in this world that Thrive aims to solve. I’ve always wanted to work in a job where we aim to help anyone and everyone, not a select demographic. Thrive fits the bill.
Improve – During the past year, I faced tough challenges in my personal and professional life. Thrive principles are the way for me to improve using behavior change science. Continuous personal development is necessary to be able to thrive in life and work. Application of behavioral, social, and cognitive science is necessary to bridge the knowing-doing gap.
Learn directly from Arianna. She accomplished multiple great successes while facing life’s challenges and imperfections.
Evangelize – Be a public face and spokesperson for something I deeply care about: Thrive Global’s concepts and the science supporting them.
Grow professionally in and beyond product, technology, and design. Master organizational culture, well-being, and productivity. Gain the most effective, science-backed skills to manage organizations, teams, and myself.
Application of behavioral, social, and cognitive science is necessary to bridge the knowing-doing gap.
As an engineer, I have a strong preference for data, and Thrive’s scientific approach with evidence based learning resonates with me.
As a technologist, I am concerned that we are more worried about recharging our devices, than recharging ourselves.
That brings me to what organizations should do to succeed. There must be a clear, well-known, and good primary reason behind every product, service, and project.
3 ‘M’s: Why we do projects at Thrive Global
Mission: Thrive Global’s mission is to end the epidemic of stress and burnout by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance both well-being and performance.
Money: To be successful in its mission, Thrive needs to make substantial and recurring revenues and be profitable.
Marketing: To achieve the first two, Thrive needs to continuously become increasingly well-known, widely-respected, and highly influential.
All work should primarily support one of the 3 ‘M’s: mission, money, or marketing.
Where we go from here
Practicing what one preaches is often hard. I have a long way to go in my own journey and won’t pretend I have already incorporated the practice of most of the Thrive principles in my own life. If it were that simple, you wouldn’t need Thrive Global as a company. Everyone could just buy Arianna’s book and need nothing more.
There are no shortcuts to success, but there are microsteps.
In the book, Arianna writes “The second truth is that we’re all going to veer away from that place [of being centered] again and again. That’s the nature of life. […] The question is how quickly we can get back to that centered place of wisdom, harmony, and strength.”
As Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
There are no shortcuts to success, but there are microsteps.
One thing that stood out in working with Rajiv was his ability to mentor and coach people at all levels. He does not overlook the people side of things and took great care in developing the careers of those working for him. He was very accessible to the entire technology org and genuinely interested in what was working well on my team and others so that he could look to apply those things elsewhere rather than blindly dictating a path forward.
As Executive Director of Technology, Content Management at The New York Times, Luke reported to Rajiv.