After having worked as a manager for more than 20 years, there are few phrases I dislike more than “that isn’t my job.” Granted, well-defined roles and areas of authority are important for organizational workflow and overall effectiveness. However, any time we are called upon to help beyond what is normally expected, there is usually a reason for it.
Maybe I think you could add value because of your background. Maybe I’m assessing whether you could play a larger role in the future. Maybe I’m just stuck, need a helping hand, and I thought of you. In every case, I try to take the time to explain my reasoning as I make my request, because good team members only get better and become leaders by understanding the why.
To be clear, I don’t mind being asked: “Am I the best person for this?” or even “Why are you thinking about me for this?” In fact, the mere question could open my eyes to an important hurdle that I need to clear, so that I don’t make a resourcing mistake. Ultimately, if the why isn’t sufficient to justify your involvement, you should still give it your all in execution. Respectfully disagreeing with managerial decisions while fully committing to execution is necessary in a healthy organization. By that same token, total commitment to organizational objectives despite a disagreement is critical.
“It’s not my job” is a special kind of disagreement, because it doesn’t offer any feedback on the requested task. It simply discounts it out of hand because it isn’t in the person’s job description. In theory, a job description outlines a role’s optimal path. However, in practice, for businesses to meet new challenges and grow, they often have to reinvent themselves on the fly. This means that the job description we cobbled together three months ago when we hired you, and the associated organizational chart, might not keep pace with our future needs.
The overarching job of every single person in a company is to foster its success and long-term sustainability. Since what it takes to be successful changes rapidly, the tasks to get to the finish line will too. Being a willing participant in that change is critical for everyone’s success.
However unintentionally, “it’s not my job” signals that the staff member is unwilling to be a team player or to take on the challenge of a stretch goal. As a manager, I want to attract and retain people who wanttheir jobs to grow and change. Every new challenge that comes up in an organization represents an opportunity for someone to showcase their ability to problem solve. Helping me to navigate challenges is the best way to move up, because you are demonstrating the depth and breadth of your skills, your resourcefulness, and your capacity to resolve problems beyond your mere job description.
Senior executives tend to move up the ranks because they are able to consistently identify new challenges and proactively overcome them. The surest path to becoming one of these folks at MB&A is by being willing and able to take on and succeed in handling any project that comes your way.
Quite simply, the five words that are music to my ears are “I can do that job.”
PS: If you have real doubts about being able to do the job, your best option is to make that known. Blind acceptance of challenges you know you aren’t up for isn’t what I’m looking for here. There is a big difference between “That isn’t my job” and “I’m not sure I can do that job.”