Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 49;   December 8, 2010: When It's Just Not Your Job

When It's Just Not Your Job

by

Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
Post-War Lionel Trains

Postwar toy Lionel trains and accessories. Between 1900 and the late 1950s, Lionel toy trains were the leading toy trains in the United States. But by the late 1960s, though still retaining leadership in toy trains, Lionel, and the market, were in full decline. Entering bankruptcy in 1967, Lionel sold its product dies and eventually its brand name. This story of decline in some ways paralleled the decline of U.S. passenger railroads, to which it was probably linked. Certainly management issues were a factor, but the decline of U.S. passenger rail was likely the underlying cause of Lionel's decline. However mightily Lionel employees at the time strived to save the company, there was little they could do, given management's failure to find a survival strategy. Many employees today are in analogous situations, but probably few realize the full scope of the threat. Photo (cc) Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky.

Imagine working in a very poorly run organization. Suppose it's losing market share, management doesn't deal with incompetents, backstabbing is rife, or supervisors use performance reviews as tools of abuse. Problems are so prevalent that good people leave. If they can't leave, they give up and wait until they can.

Vanished long ago is the pride you once took in outstanding performance. Now, each day provides a fresh stream of frustrations as you try to work around behavioral or procedural obstacles.

It's beyond physically tiring. Your soul is tired. But sleep doesn't come easily. When morning mercifully ends another difficult night, another difficult day begins. Weekends once provided relief, but six months ago, your boss started expecting six-day weeks "just for the time being." You don't know when that might end, if ever.

It's all so fixable, if only they would replace this supervisor or that, terminate these people or those, get a new marketing VP who knows something about marketing, or a CEO who can actually spell "CEO." Or cancel those three projects, which everyone knew were wrongheaded at the start and which are now consuming resources so badly needed elsewhere.

Then one day, you suddenly realize that fixing this mess is just not your job. It isn't your job to determine who should be terminated, or whether a new is CEO is needed, or how to manipulate some slacker who doesn't even report to you, into doing something constructive that might help unblock you. You realize that if you can't work because others refuse to work, your responsibility ends.

At first you feel relief, but relief turns to uneasiness, as you ask yourself, "Where does my responsibility end? Is it OK to do nothing just because someone else is doing nothing?"

It's a puzzle, but it has a solution. Here are three guidelines to help you find the limits of your responsibility.

Know the definition of your own job
It's difficult to know where your responsibility ends if your own job description is unclear. Review your job description with your supervisor to clarify it or to align it with your actual job.
Refrain from supervising other people's subordinates
It's not your It's not your job to correct
substandard performance on
the part of people who aren't
your direct reports
job to correct substandard performance on the part of people who aren't your direct reports. If the performance in question affects your own efforts, consider reporting it to your own supervisor or to the responsible supervisor.
Refrain from doing other people's jobs
Occasionally you might be asked to cover for someone who's temporarily unavailable. That's fine on a short-term basis, for a defined interval. But it isn't your job to do other people's jobs unbidden or indefinitely. Learn to let that go.

If the organization is dysfunctional enough, even these tactics might be impossible or unwise. Leaving or waiting to leave might actually be the best alternatives. Go to top Top  Next issue: What Enough to Do Is Like  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendUuDDQxzSmhZthltner@ChachNvwboeuzUOueKtMoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A time ManagerTime Management in a Hurry
Many of us own books on time management. Here are five tips on time management for those of us who don't have time to read the time management books we've already bought.
A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaThe Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
Space Shuttle Columbia during the launch of its final missionHow to Reject Expert Opinion: II
When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, and they receive opinions from recognized experts, those opinions sometimes conflict with the group's own preferences. What tactics do groups use to reject the opinions of people with relevant expertise?
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United StatesSpeak for Influence
Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
Bull moose sparring in Grand Teton National ParkContextual Causes of Conflict: I
When destructive conflict erupts, we usually hold responsible only the people directly involved. But the choices of others, and general circumstances, can be the real causes of destructive conflict.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbreniSytaQOIbzOZXuREner@ChacmAszAItsvaEPqChloCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.