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? rbrenqXzcsytRjqpndfOIner@ChacMYXolYEgrDScSprOoCanyon.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 tugboat at workBecome a Tugboat Captain
If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
A 19th century shipwright's mast broad axDouble Your Downsizing Damage
Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing. If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance of your company's downsizers.
Mascot in duck costumeNames and Faces
Most of us feel recognized, respected, and acknowledged when others use our names. And many of us have difficulty remembering the names of others, especially those we don't know well. How can we get better at connecting names and faces?
Mohandas GhandiNo Tangles
When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere. How does this happen?
A piece of chocolate cakeEgo Depletion and Priority Setting
Setting priorities for tasks is tricky when we find the tasks unappealing, because we have limited energy for self-control. Here are some strategies for limiting these effects on priority setting.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Jolly RogerComing August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenqnEELDKsklwBcGMYner@ChacWDsHoLHmHRiVovsroCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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

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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.