Winning the little battles

There are those little tasks and those little side projects that people ask you to ‘help’ with or even lead. They don’t completely fall into your job description but there is some overlap.

You’re probably maxed out as it is, most of us are. If I went around my office and asked everyone who they thought was the most overworked they would first think to themselves; “I’m the most over worked”…then they would give some other answer as to who I might agree is over worked.

So it happens; you’re asked by someone (most likely someone paid more than you or with more tenure) if you can ‘make a widget’ (for the sake of discussion).

The first thing to understand is why they are asking you because there is a reason buried somewhere, it’s not random. Here are the main reasons you get asked to do the little things:

Someone thinks it’s your job
Maybe you made a widget before or your team makes them. Maybe you have never made them and this person has no idea how widgets are made and their best guess is that you can do it…I’m sure you’ll be able to connect the dots. This situation is a good check point on what you think your job is versus what your¬†colleagues¬†think your job is. This is usually the main reason you get asked to do things you don’t really want to do and may not fall in your job description.

Someone is panicked
Take this as a compliment when someone is panicked and is looking for anyone who can make or help them make a widget and they look to you. This means they trust your wisdom and the relationship you have. They might not have much reason to believe you or your team can make widgets but they know you’ll understand their situation and are probably an asset.

Someone thinks you can rise to it
This is the most positive reason someone asks you to step outside your main path of¬†responsibility. This is usually a leader that thinks you can grow into making widgets and wants to take a chance on you. You’ll know right away when this is the reason because you will be asked to do something you really want to do but it wasn’t your job until now. I’m not going to talk about this one anymore because it’s a no brainer…DO IT!

So now you have been asked to do something that doesn’t fall in your job description and that:

  • You don’t have time to do
  • You may not want to do (because it’s a lame task)
  • Doesn’t fall in your job description

So what are you to do? What are the options in this situation?

I think you have three main options in this situation and I base all of them on not just being an answer for this one time but rather something that sets you up to better handle the next one.

Selective incompetence

You can give the task a try and do a poor job and in the future you won’t be asked to do it again. Remember when you did this as a kid with your chores? Not the most mature path to take but it will solve this issue for you.

Clarify your job description

In some instances it may be better for you and your¬†organization¬†to understand what it is you do and are good at and to make sure you stay in that zone. At the time of the ask is a great time to gain clarity on your role. We all want to stay in our sweet spot as much as we can and likewise we want our teams to function in their sweet spots. This is usually most people’s instinctual response but not always the right one. If you keep getting similar requests from people maybe it’s not them that misunderstand what your job¬†description¬†is.

Hit a home run

This may come as a surprise to you but a viable response to the ask is to take it and knock it out of the park. Yes, take the ‘opportunity’ to blow some minds.This puts the control of this situation in your hands next time it happens. This means that you will have the credibility to say no because you now have the track record to say things like: “we don’t have time/budget to make this widget” and everyone will believe you because you are now the expert. This is my first thought when I’m asked if I can do something outside my realm; How can I use this to increase my credibility and influence and in turn free myself up to focus on my sweet spot?

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Vince Marotte is a communicator, futurist, speaker and consultant. He dwells in creative spaces and lives with ideas. Never satisfied with the status quo, he is always looking for a better way to do things. He recently wrote Context and Voice—communication design in our new media culture and also contributes regularly to Outreach Magazine.

6 thoughts on “Winning the little battles”

  1. Ok I'll bite… But the next post has to be 'how to get your real job done when you are spending all your time making that widget.'

    1. That's easy, be awesome at your job!

      Until you get to a point where you don't have a boss the main battle is to keep yourself in you sweet spot.

      I can probably think up another post

  2. I love what you said: "This means that you will have the credibility to say NO because you now have the track record to say things like: “we don’t have time/budget to make this widget” and everyone will believe you because you are now the expert."

    I think this is why doing the "right" thing is always the best thing, because even when it makes life more difficult in the short term, it always makes us win out in the end.

    To be clear, I think some of the other responses could be right too. Depending on the situation.

    Anyway, good words. I'm mulling over them this morning. Thanks for the post.

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