Whose Job Is It Anyway?

| | General Leadership

A few weeks ago I was talking with a dentist about the challenges of running an office. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you work in a huge company or a small office, wherever there are people trying to work together there is inevitably an issue I will call “whose job is it?”. The even more personal version of this issue is “but that’s not my job”. It arises when something isn’t getting done that everyone knows needs to be done.

In my conversation with the dentist we talked about the basics like “whose job is it to take out the garbage?”. He asked, “how does such a simple and easy thing get so complicated?” I’ll suggest it gets complicated the minute we think it’s supposed to be someone else’s job.

So whose job is it to take out the garbage? How about the person who sees that the garbage can is full?

Defining our job descriptions can certainly be helpful, but I think we have gone overboard. Trying to identify all the tasks that define our jobs these days is virtually impossible. And all too often it gets in the way of getting the job at hand done. In the case of my friend the dentist the buck always stops with him anyway. Every job is his job as long as it doesn’t get done by someone else.

Where does the buck stop where you work? What might be possible if we all started to think like we owned the place?


Enter A Comment

Joe Williams   |   16 March 2009   |   Reply

Nice straight forward post, Susan.

Your question, “Whose job is it anyway?” has one answer for me: it’s all of our jobs. This points toward a collective “we” focus vice an individual “I” focus, which for me is one of the hallmarks of a team versus a group. When we all chip in, we all win.

Henie   |   17 March 2009   |   Reply

I agree! Instead of even asking “whose job is it anyway” if only we realized that we live in a ‘collective world’ where we all need each other’s help.

I say, if you have to ask whose job is it anyway, then know instantly that the job is indeed yours! :~)

“IT’S NOT MY JOB is a poor excuse not to get things done!” ~Henie~

Jay   |   17 March 2009   |   Reply

I find this to be true in many aspects of our lives including personal relationships. They say that one of the top 5 reasons for fights and divorce is distribution of house chores. In the corporate world I found it impossible to get anyone to go outside their comfort levels and help out on something that was not their job because they worried if they messed up it would reflect on them badly. We in all facets need to help each other- it is the only way we will survive!

Chuck Musciano   |   17 March 2009   |   Reply

Little questions tend to expose big answers. This is one of those questions.

If your team answers along the lines of “it’s all of us,” you are doing the right things as a leader and building a solid team culture. If the answer runs to bureaucratic answers that explain the details of the garbage schedule, you have big problems.

Problem ownership drives the core attitude of any customer service organization. Since we all serve some customer, somewhere, problem ownership is the foundation of everything we do.

Good post!

prissyperfection   |   17 March 2009   |   Reply

“That’s not my job” has always been a huge peeve of mine. Whenever I hear it, it makes me cringe. And people who feel that they are a part of the organization, moving toward something everybody wants, seldom say it.

I guess the trick is for leaders to develop and perpetuate a culture of “all hands to the wheel”. But I think it is more easily achieved in environments where there are fewer people.

Large organizations seem to promote a culture of entitlement,(often unwittingly) especially those that are unionized. “That’s not my job” then sadly becomes a common “catchall” and commitment to the work becomes questionable.

This post is a great reminder that doing something in service of something bigger is never trivial, even if it includes taking out the garbage.

Richard Reeve   |   17 March 2009   |   Reply

My finest lesson was in middle school, my first job caddying at the local country club. The golf pro used to come out to the fence where we gathered and before any of the members would arrive, he would bend over and start picking up the cigarette butts. The older guys would quickly follow suit, teaching us newer guys the ropes. Every Saturday and Sunday morning began that way. To this day, I often bend down to pick up the errant piece of scrap paper at work because of that lesson.

Jerry Roberts   |   17 March 2009   |   Reply

The late Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, was known to visit both company-owned and franchisee stores early in the morning prior to opening (before the advent of 24-hour operations). If he saw trash in the parking lot, he would pick it up and deposit it in the nearest receptable.

As the story goes he was doing this one morning at one of the McD outlets when a young worker went to the store manager and said, “There’s an old man walking around the parking lot, picking up garbage. He’s been out there for about 20 minutes.”

The manager and the young man walked over to the window and looked out, with the worker saying, “That’s him. Should we at least offer him a breakfast?”

The manager didn’t reply for a moment, until the old man turned around and he could see it was the company CEO and Chairman — and then his jaw dropped.

He left the worker and charged out the door, approached Kroc and nearly ripped his arm off trying to get the trash out of his hands, stumbling over an explanation of why it hadn’t been picked up.

Needless to say, there was no question as to whose job it was from that point forward, as the lot was policed several times a day, and again at closing time.

Job descriptions are intended to be a general idea of duties, not a contractual agreement with strict limitations. No job is beneath me. If it needs to get done and I’m not occupied, then I should do it. We all should do it. It says the right things about the individual and the team.

Paula Wilbert   |   18 March 2009   |   Reply

As Jay mentioned above, this question pops up in our personal lives as well as the workplace. The family unit and weekly chores is another example where “It’s not my job” can cause too much discussion and not enough action! Our household used to have weekly rotating chores (trash, vacuum etc.) for our three children that were delineated on the calendar. This provided structure while they were young, but my husband and I recently did away with the practice because we thought we were creating unionized workers, instead of family teamwork. We still have found the perfect solution, but it is clear that the concept of teamwork needs to be instilled in our children so they’ll learn to be a collective part of a greater whole in the future work place and world.

Susan Mazza   |   18 March 2009   |   Reply

Thank you for all of your insightful comments and rich anecdotes. Really helps to bring this topic alive.

Sue James from Australia (her site is http://bjseminars.com.au/ and twitter handle is @SueJ1) pointed me to this TED talk by Barry Shwartz called The Real Crisis – We Stopped Being Wise that takes a more in depth look at the topic I touched on here

The link is…
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talk /barry_schwartz_on_our_loss_of_wisdom.html

@JuergenB (blog is http://polymash.com/) commented on twitter: “Interesting to see this in multicultural firms, BIG issue to define jobs to a “T” in the EU, less in APAC and US” – reminds us it is not just a US phenomenon

JuergenB   |   18 March 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan:

Thank you. Really enjoyed reading your post and the stories from all that commented add such richness…

To expand on the aspect of cultural diversity I would add this: Employee behavior is often influenced by a combination of regional, corporate and team culture.

But I fortunately find that strong team values can, and usually do, override corporate, and also regional culture. In the EU, well defined and specific job definitions/ scope are considered an important baseline. But as long as these are acknowledged, and employees are valued for their leadership and commitment, they are happy to step outside these bounds.

And what better way to ignite and encourage these values than through random acts of leadership!

sliloh   |   20 March 2009   |   Reply

My attitude was always we are all a team, wherever it is. I remember while working in a VA hospital eye clinic though, the people who only would do ‘their’ job. I did all of it, the nurses jobs, the clerks jobs, my job, not to mention carrying the visual field techs job for months while he was ill. I never understood that attitude really, when we should have all been working together to care for the patients. Apparently I was a team of one :p


Liara Covert   |   22 March 2009   |   Reply

Another perspective is that each person’s job only involves taking steps to become more discerning of the self. This does not involve designating other people’s jobs in the physical world. As one learns to listen attentively and read one’s entire mental, physical and emotional body, then the signs are apparent. This exercise need not absorb all your attention but it does offer perspective and empowers yo uto release tension and misplaced resistance.

Al B.   |   29 April 2009   |   Reply

Great Post!! Interesting feedback