Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That's Not My Job

One of the most frustrating phrases I hear come out of people's mouths is "that's not my job". 

I work in startups, and the concept of what is and isn't your job is very flexible. So when you hear "that's not my job", it usually translates to "boy, that really doesn't sound very fun" or "boy I don't think I can do that".

There are two types of things that tend to cause choruses of "that's not my job":
  • Boring, dull or inconvenient tasks. Tonight there was a scheduled power outage in the building. So we stayed to bring the servers back up. I'm not in IT, but you know what, it's my job to get machines up so we can get emails running through and tests started.
  • Tasks with a high risk of public failure. You see this with perfectionists and new, nervous managers a lot.* If they think that they will likely fail, they'll avoid the task. How? "That's not my job."
This type of negative assertion really gets under my skin because it's not helpful. Saying that it isn't my job doesn't help me figure out who's job it is. And now we have a task that needs to get done and we don't know who can or should or will do it. Golly, we haven't accomplished much!

Let's turn this negative assertion around. We now have a declaration about what my job is not. Great. What exactly is my job?

My job is to help the company get to its goals - revenue, profit, exit. Does it help us get to those goals? Then it's my job.

* Disclaimer: Not all new managers are like this. Promise!

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