Three common mistakes in job design (and how startups can avoid them!)

Job or work design is not at the sexy end of doing business. In fact, it’s probably not something you’ve ever given much thought to.

But, alas, you can’t do it alone and you need others to help you scale.

Spending a few moments designing the work that needs to be done and the capabilities needed to do it, will mean it’s a whole lot easier for you to make the right talent decisions for your precious start up.

To understand a little more about work design in the startup context, we chatted to Michelle Fotheringham, Founder of Werkling, and explored some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Having a fixed capability mix

In this world of constant change and disruption, assuming that you need the same skillset five days a week for 52 weeks a year sounds a little crazy, right?

Yes, your team will learn and develop in their roles and will be able to stretch in different directions but what’s needed today isn’t always what’s needed tomorrow …. this is even more so in a startup environment. Priorities shift and your talent must be able to adjust accordingly.

Advice: Consider the work that is essential to the core of your business. This may include operational functions or technical capability. This type of work lends itself perfectly to the traditional and more static employment model, those you want internal to your business. The capability that you need some of the time, or as needed, lends itself perfectly to the on-demand talent model (ie. freelancers, independent contractors, professional gig workers).

Mistake #2: Bucketing differing levels of complexity together

This is a common one. Startups frequently advertise for Marketing Lead roles that involve everything from go-to-market strategy (that takes a fair bit of experience!) to posting social media content (most entry level marketers can do that). They then plug the salary in the middle somewhere, post the ad and hope for the best.

The reality is that you will wind up with someone who doesn’t quite have enough experience at the more strategic end or someone who is going to become quickly bored by the work at the more execution end. Guess what… these activities don’t have to be done by the ONE person! Gasp.

Advice: Look at the range of activity across the area of work. Consider what is at the more strategic or complex end and what is at the more operational end. Quite often the more day-to-day activity is needed….. day-to-day…. and may lend itself nicely to a part time or full time role. The more strategic activity is often needed upfront during the design and build phase, and is required less frequently over time. This can lend itself to on-demand talent, particularly those who might work on retainer or at an affordable hourly rate. If you don’t know the type of work well enough to determine what is more or less complex, reach out to clever cookies in your network or book a free Micro Consult.

Mistake #3: Hiring a jack of all trades

People who know a little bit about everyone are perfect at a point in time as you fumble through your early days. As your startup grows, you will need folk who really know their stuff and you’ll need to consider how you bring in more specialised talent.

For example, you are at the point where you need some HR expertise (poor Gary has been doing his best but is, at the end of the day, an accountant). You’ve got a growing team but surely not enough to justify a HR role. When do you need a HR person anyway?

Advice: Just because you have a need for a specialist capability, it doesn’t mean that you need to employ someone. It also doesn’t mean that you need to go out and engage a super fancy consulting agency! There are plenty of specialists who work across a number of different organisations who, for example, might work one day a week for you but be contactable over five days. Perfect! Overtime, you will continue to grow and potentially bring these roles in house.


Both employees and on-demand talent have their place within the startup environment and founders are now more strategically exploring the talent solution best meets the needs of their growing business. As for our final advice… be creative, ask others for help and find a trusted source of talent.

If you would like to talk about your work design and talent strategy, or find trusted on-demand talent, book in a free Micro Consult.

A free work design tool is also available on Werkling’s members-only Business Member Hub pages so sign up (free!) to download.