There are three reasons people say “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job” –they don’t feel empowered to make decisions, they think they’re being unfairly compensated for the challenges at hand, or they aren’t particularly motivated (read lazy).
“That’s not my job” (aka, I don’t do things that are outside of my job description) is a mindset, and if someone has it, I’d suggest not hiring that person. People who think they should only have to do what’s on their job description aren’t utility players, and your organization is likely too lean to afford employees who only want to perform in a narrow box.
“That’s not my job” can also be an outcome of leaders and managers who can’t let go and let employees take risks and make decisions. If that’s your management style, hire people who will follow directions and don’t want to create new things and solve problems. Problem solvers will be frustrated if they only get to follow instructions.
Here are six steps to steer clear of “that’s not my job” syndrome and advance your career, regardless of your current role in your organization:
- Never say the words “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job.” Even if it’s true.
- If you don’t have the latitude to solve certain problems, ask the people you work for how they want you to handle those types of issues when you see or hear about them. That’s a subtle way to provide feedback that you don’t have the latitude you need to solve certain problems.
- When you see an impending train wreck, say something. I see lots of very capable employees see the train wreck coming, comment to themselves or others who can’t do anything about the problem (aka gossip), and then nod knowingly when the *&#@ hits the fan. Don’t be that person. Look out for your organization and the people you work with.
- If you see a broken or lacking process, raise the issue with someone who can do something about it, and offer to take a stab at fixing the problem. One of managers’ biggest complaints is employees who dump and run – “I’ve identified a problem. I’m leaving it for you to fix.”
- Go out of your way to do the right thing, even if you are uncomfortable or don’t want to. If it’s easier to email someone, but you know the right thing to do is to pick up the phone, pick up the phone. If an internal or external customer expresses concern and you can’t solve the problem, find someone who can. There are lots of ways to make an impact.
- Ask more questions. Find a non-judgmental way to ask, “Why do we do this this way?” “Have we considered…?” “Would you be open to trying…?” Status quo can be the right thing and what’s necessary. It can also be the death of organizations.
Make stuff happen. Don’t pass the buck. And if you are going to pass the buck, don’t announce it. It only makes you look disempowered and uncommitted.
Our company got a shipment of products this week that were partially defective. When I called our vendor to tell him about the defective products, he sighed knowingly. He knew part of our order was imperfect and waited for me to find the problems versus telling me himself.
I love surprise gifts, trips, and discounts. But I don’t like surprise errors and your internal and external customers don’t either.
Everyone makes mistakes at work. Making a mistake is not necessarily a problem. It’s how you deal with the error that matters more. Letting those who are impacted by a mistake be surprised damages your reputation and working relationships much more than coming clean as soon as you realize the error. Rather than waiting to get caught, tell your customers about mistakes and work together to make things right.
Here are a few ways to tell people you made a mistake, while saving face:
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #1: When you realize you’ve made a mistake, pick up the phone and tell the person live, as soon as you know. Don’t wait.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #2: Apologize and work with your customer to develop a solution. Be part of the process. Don’t leave your internal or external customer holding the bag.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #3: Don’t give a bunch of reasons or justifications for what happened. It sounds like excuse management and no one cares. Your customers just want to know how you’re going to solve the problem.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #4: Say something like, “I realized we sent you a report with incorrect information. I’m so sorry. I’d like to work with you to make this right. Here are a couple of ideas of what we can do… Would any of these suggestions work for you?”
Or you could say, “I realized parts of your order are imperfect. I’m so sorry. Here’s how we’d like to make things right. Are these solutions satisfactory to you?”
Or consider saying something like, “I’ve realized we can’t fulfill your order by the date we promised. I’m so sorry. Here’s what I suggest we do to get you what you need in a timely way. Does this work for you?”
We all make mistakes. How you handle mistakes determines how your internal and external customers view you and how much they trust you. Come clean quickly. Take responsibility. Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for a mistake. Help make things right. And you’ll likely preserve your reputation and business relationships.
If an employee quits and the manager is surprised, shame on the manager. Employee turnover – literal turnover (he quits and leaves the building) or figurative turnover (he quits but continues to come in everyday and do his minimal best) – are extremely predictable.
Most employees need only a handful of things to be satisfied and productive at work. The key is getting employees to tell you what those things are. And they might just tell you, if you ask.
An employee’s first few weeks at a new job often involve a lot of training. Managers tell employees what they need to do and hopefully why they need to do those things. I recommend balancing telling with asking.
Effective management involves asking the seven questions below during the interview process, after an employee starts, and again 90-days to six months into the job.
Effective management question number one: “What brought you to this company? Why did you accept this job? What are you hoping the job will provide?” Ask one of these three questions. Pick the one you like best.
Effective management question number two: “What would make you leave this job? What are your career deal breakers, things you just can’t tolerate at work?” Ask either of these questions.
Effective management question number three: “What type of work, skills, and/or areas of our business do you want to learn more about?”
Effective management question number four: “Tell me about the best manager you ever had. What made him/her the best manager?” This will tell you what the employee needs from you as a manager and is a much better question than, “What do you need from me as your manager?” That is a hard question to answer. Telling you the best manager s/he ever had is easy.
Effective management question number five: “Tell me about the worst manager you ever had? What made him/her the worst manager?”
Effective management question number six: “What are your pet peeves at work? What will frustrate you?” Why find out the hard way what frustrates employees when it’s so easy to ask. This question demonstrates that you want your employees to be happy and that you will flex your own preferences, when possible, to meet employees’ needs.
Effective management question number seven: “How do you feel about being contacted via cell phone or text outside of business hours? How do you feel about receiving emails during the evenings and weekends?”
If you’ve participated in one of our effective management trainings and received a box of Candor Questions for Managers, you know I could go on. But these seven questions are a good start.
Regardless of age, gender, or work and educational background, all employees have a few things in common. Employees want to:
• Work for someone who takes an interest in and knows them
• Feel valued and appreciated for their contributions
• Be part of and contribute to something greater than themselves
• Feel respected as a person. Managers respect their time, expertise, and needs
Taking the time to get to know employees throughout your working relationship accomplishes many employee needs.
If you have long time employees, it’s never too late to ask these questions. Regardless of for how long employees have worked for you, they’ll appreciate you asking. There is no need to feel that employees will raise an eyebrow and wonder why you’re asking now. They’ll just be happy you’re asking. You can simply say, “I realized that I’ve never overtly asked these questions. I just assume I know. But I don’t want to do that. You’re too valuable to me and to the organization. During our next one-on-one meeting I’d like to ask you these questions and you can ask me anything you’d like.”
If you have a manager who will never ask you these questions, provide him/her the information. Don’t wait to be asked. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Tell your manager, “There are a few things about myself I want to share with you. I think this information will make me easier to manage and will help ensure I do great work for the organization for a long time.”
Managers, the better your relationship with your employees and the more you know about what your employees need from you, the organization, and the job, the easier employees are to engage, retain, and manage. Stop guessing and start asking.
There’s when things end and then there’s when we physically leave, and the two rarely coincide. Sometimes it takes six months, a year, or even longer for our body to catch up with our brain.
Knowing when to leave a job, a relationship, and even a party is a skill. If you’re unhappy at work, have asked for what you want, and know you can’t it where you are, develop an exit strategy and act on it quickly.
When you’re checked out, people know. Unhappiness shows up in our performance, attitude, and body language. And quitting and staying is bad for your career, reputation, and business relationships.
If you’re unhappy at work and are ready to make a change, there are a few actions you should take to keep your reputation intact while you make a transition:
- Make sure you’ve fully investigated your options at your current place of work before deciding to move on. Share your desires in a positive way, with people who can help you get what you want. Saying, “I’d really like to do _________, or I’d really like to work in the ______ department” will get you much further than saying, “I’m underutilized, undercompensated, and unappreciated.”
- Do your job and do it well. Don’t go missing in action.
- Only commit to things you know you can and will do, and keep your commitments.
- Confide in people about your unhappiness and future plans who are outside your current place of work. People talk. Assume anything you tell someone at work will be told to someone else.
- Take at least one action every day towards getting what you want. It can be easy to get into a rut when job hunting. Stay in action.
If you’re unhappy at work, it’s probably time for a change – either within or outside your company. Ask for what you want in a positive way. Do a great job on a daily basis, regardless of how you feel. Confide in people outside of your workplace. And take one action every day towards getting what you want.
Know when to go.
At the end of presentations, attendees often approach me and say something like, “People tell me my communication style is really direct and that it can be off putting. I don’t know what to do about this.” Or they say, “People say I’m really quiet and hard to read. They have a difficult time getting to know me.”
If you’ve been given the same feedback repeatedly, or know you create a first impression that may be challenging to others, set expectations and tell people about your communication style when you begin working with them. Don’t wait until they feel offended, confused, or frustrated. Simply tell people when you meet them, “I’ve been told that I’m too direct and how I provide feedback can be off putting. Anything I say is to be helpful. If I ever offend you or provide too much information, I hope you’ll tell me.” Or you could say something like, “I’m told that I’m quiet and it’s hard to get to know me. I’m more open than I may appear. If you want to know anything about me, feel free to ask.”
People will make decisions about and judge you. There is nothing you can do about this. But you can practice what I call, ‘get there first.’ Set people’s expectations about your communication style and what you’re like to work with, and then ask people to speak freely when they aren’t getting something they need.
The root of frustration and upset is violated expectations. People may not be aware of their expectations of you or be able to articulate them, but if they didn’t have certain expectations, they wouldn’t be upset when you acted differently than how they (possibly unconsciously) expected.
I’m a proponent of anticipating challenges and talking about them before problems arise. If you know something about your behavior is off putting to others, why not be upfront about it.
When people interview to work for me, I set clear expectations about my communication style and what I’m like to work with. I tell them all the things I think they’ll like about working for me and all the things I suspect they won’t. I tell them the feedback I’ve received from past employees and things I’m working alter. People often nod their heads and say, “no problem,” which, of course, may not be true. They won’t know how my style will impact them until they begin working with me. But when I do the things I warned them would likely be annoying, we can more easily talk about those behaviors, than if I had said nothing.
Talk about your communication style when projects and relationships begin. Replace judgment and damaged relationships with dialogue.
People are too afraid to tell the truth at work. We’re afraid that if we give honest performance feedback, people will get upset. They will. We’re afraid that if we say what we think, we’ll get marginalized, put in a corner, never to be given cool work again. That’s unlikely.
We tiptoe around the people we work with, afraid to hurt people’s feelings and rock the boat. This doesn’t work. Without honesty in the workplace, performance won’t improve and problems won’t get solved.
Here are five ways to increase honesty in the workplace:
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #1: Overtly tell employees that it’s acceptable, safe, and expected that they will make mistakes. If people are afraid to make mistakes, they’ll never risk trying anything new.
Create an award for the person who failed while trying to do something new. And present the award very publicly, sending the message that it’s ok to fail.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #2: Set the expectation when you hire and onboard new employees that they will receive regular and balanced (positive and negative) performance feedback. Tell candidates and new employees that giving and receiving honest feedback is part of your organization’s values and culture, and if employees don’t want to give and receive this type of feedback, they shouldn’t work for your company.
When you interview employees, ask about a time they received negative feedback and what they did with that information. People who can’t answer this question aren’t self-aware or open to feedback. Don’t hire them.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #3: Create safe places and occasions to give regular feedback. Ensure managers and employees meet one-on-one at least monthly to discuss performance. Give teams a chance to openly talk about how projects are going. Debrief significant projects and pieces of work by asking what did and didn’t work. And ensure managers are asking for employees’ feedback on what the manager can do differently to make work an easier place to be. Feedback goes both ways – up and down. Managers earn the right to give feedback when they’re open to receiving it.
While you’re going to ask for feedback, it doesn’t mean that you’re a dumping ground. It’s perfectly ok to tell employees what you want feedback about and what you don’t. If you made a decision and aren’t looking for input, don’t ask for input on that subject. If you receive unsolicited and unwelcomed feedback, say “no thank you.” A feedback-rich culture doesn’t mean you accept feedback on every topic all the time. It’s ok to set boundaries.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #4: Don’t be daunted by people’s negative reaction to feedback. No one likes to be told s/he is wrong and no one wants his/her competence called into question, as a result, becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is normal and natural. Not becoming defensive is not the norm. People might tell you you’re wrong, turn red, cry, yell, or go silent and pretend you don’t exist for a period of weeks. But everyone will survive. Try not to hire people who won’t talk to you for weeks after receiving feedback. Those folks need to grow up.
Increase honesty in the workplace tip #5: Remind people over and over and over that honest feedback is what allows employees and organizations to grow, evolve, and thrive. Not telling the truth creates stagnation and will ultimately lead to individual and organizational failure. The more you give and receive feedback, the more comfortable employees will be with the process.
Periodically give yourself a pep talk about being honest with your employees. Letting someone linger in a job in which s/he cannot be successful is not kind, it’s cruel. To talk about people when they’re not present, versus giving candid feedback directly, is also unkind.
We all need to man or woman up. Tell employees that everyone in the organization is expected to tell the truth and to do so directly, kindly, and tactfully. Likewise, everyone is expected to be open to receiving feedback graciously. Over time people will become more comfortable speaking up and receiving all types of input. And if you want a feedback-rich culture, the people who can’t or won’t speak candidly, aren’t the right fit for your organization.
I read a quote a few months ago that struck me – “It’s so hard to change yourself, what makes you think you can change someone else?” This seems so true. And yet, how much energy do we invest trying or at least hoping other people will change? We want our not-so-forthcoming managers to give regular and helpful feedback, our homebody selves to enjoy crowds and large parties, our not-so-affectionate partner to become a cuddler.
People are who and (largely) how they are. Even with lots of effort, coaching, and even counseling, it’s hard to change.
As someone who leads a training and development company, it feels risky to write this. I’m concerned that my words will be misunderstood. So I want to be sure I’m clear. People can learn new skills. Managers can learn to coach and give feedback. People at all levels and in all roles can learn to communicate differently. Everyone can learn to use new technology. But we don’t fundamentally change who and how we are. People who hate to public speak aren’t likely to wake up tomorrow clambering to give presentations to a thousand people. People who don’t like crowds aren’t likely to want to spend every weekend at large sporting events.
What I’m really trying to say is, stop trying to get something from someone who can’t give it to you. If you work for someone who never provides feedback, no matter how often you ask, get input from someone else. Lots of people can provide you with helpful information if you ask for it and make it safe to tell you the truth. If you partner or best friend isn’t social, ask someone else to go to events with you. If you’re chastising yourself for not being more athletic, accept that you like to read, and buy yourself a new book.
Instead of trying to get something from someone who can’t give it to you, get what you can from that relationship and get the rest of your needs met elsewhere. And tell others to do the same. I had someone working for me a few years ago who was extremely sensitive and didn’t do well receiving feedback. I tried to accommodate her needs and preferences, softening my messages, picking my battles, and in the end, giving less and less feedback. And it was exhausting. Eventually I said to her, “I’m not the right manager for you and this is the not right company for you. It’s not a good fit. You won’t be happy here, and I want you to be happy. Let’s help you find another home.”
I’m not telling you to get a new job. I’m telling you to be realistic in your expectations of yourself and others. The most powerful thing you can do is to be yourself and let others be themselves. And if you don’t like how or who someone is, hang out with someone else.
Most of us wait to give negative feedback until it’s the right time, aka the recipient won’t get upset. Or we wait, hoping the situation will resolve itself. If something is really an issue, the likelihood of either happening is pretty slim. The right time to give feedback is shortly after something happens. I’ll offer up the 24-guideline and the one-week rule. Wait 24-hours to give feedback, if you’re upset. But don’t wait longer than a week.
The purpose of giving positive or negative feedback (I like the words upgrade feedback) is to motivate someone to replicate or change a behavior. That’s it. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. If you wait longer than a week to give either positive or upgrade feedback, the person isn’t likely to remember the situation you’re referencing and the purpose of giving feedback – to change or replicate a behavior – will be lost.
Here are four practices to make negative (upgrade) feedback conversations shorter, less painful, and more useful:
Giving feedback practice one: Agree to give and receive feedback at the onset of relationships. Do this with everyone you work with – direct supervisors, direct reports, peers, internal and external customers, and vendors. If we’ve done How to Say Anything to Anyone training for your organization or you’ve read the book, you got the specific language to have this conversation.
Giving feedback practice two: Prepare for feedback conversations by writing down what you plan to say and then delivering the feedback to a neutral person. Ask that person to tell you what she heard and what her expectations would be, based on what you said. Confide in someone either at your level or above at work or someone outside of work, to keep the gossip to a minimum. Ask for confidentiality.
Giving feedback practice three: Tell a neutral person about your situation, and ask what she would say to address the situation. Everyone but you will do a better job at giving feedback. Feedback conversations become hard when we’re emotionally involved. The guy working at the 7-11 will do a better job than you. Seriously. It’s our emotions and concern about the other person’s reaction that makes feedback conversations challenging.
Giving feedback practice four: Agree to do a weekly debrief with the people you work closely with, and follow through. Answer the questions – what went well this week from a work perspective and what would we do differently if we could. Answer the same questions about your working relationship. Giving feedback about your relationship will be hard at first. It will be easier the more you do it. Be sure to say “thank you” for the feedback, regardless of what you really want to say. One of the reasons giving negative feedback is so hard, is we wait too long. Shorter, more frequent conversations are better than long, infrequent discussions.
Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Follow the suggestions above and remind yourself that the purpose of giving feedback is to be helpful. If you were doing the wrong work, you’d want to know. And others do too.
There is way too much guessing at work. You may find yourself thinking, “I’m going to miss this deadline. I wonder what the consequences will be?” Or perhaps, “She said she wanted input on this project. I wonder if she really meant that, and how much feedback is ok to provide?” Or maybe, “He asked for a proposal. Is he expecting something elaborate, or will a one-pager do?”
We often don’t know what others are expecting from us, so we guess. The problem with guessing is that we may do more work than we actually need to, and not in the way the other person wants it. Even worse, when we don’t work according to others’ expectations, they aren’t likely to tell us. Instead, they tell others and make decisions about us that aren’t positive.
I’m a fan of asking lots and lots of questions, preferably at the beginning of anything new. Anticipate all that can happen, get in front of breakdowns, and set clear expectations by asking questions. The people who participate in training with me get an entire box of questions to ask. And the homework is to go ask more questions of the people they work most closely with. Asking questions will always be easier than recovering from violated and often unstated expectations.
If you want fewer breakdowns and frustrations at work, ask the following questions of the people you work with:
Managing up question one: What do you want to do, on this project, and what do you want me to do?
Managing up question two: What does a good job look like?
Managing up question three: What will be different in the organization when this project is finished?
Managing up question four: How would I frustrate you and not even know it?
Managing up question five: How often do you want to receive updates from me?
Managing up question six: Do you want to receive all the details or just big picture information?
Managing up question seven: Do you want to receive the information in bullet form or paragraphs?
It’s never too late to ask questions like these. It’s ideal to ask the question at the beginning of a piece of work. But asking in the middle or even towards the end is fine too. People will appreciate that you asked, whenever you ask.
Ask more. Assume less. Suffering is optional at work.
Want to know why people get defensive when you give feedback and why they often don’t change their behavior? Because what you’re giving them isn’t actually feedback.
“You’re awesome to work with” isn’t feedback. Neither is “You did a great job.” “Your work isn’t thorough” isn’t either. Neither is, “You were inappropriate.”
Most of what we consider feedback isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, unhelpful language that leaves people wondering what they need to do more, better, or differently.
There are only two reasons to give feedback – to encourage someone to either change or replicate a behavior. Unfortunately, most of the ‘information’ we give is too vague to help people do either.
When you give coach or give feedback, you serve as someone’s GPS. Like the GPS on your phone, you need to be so specific the person knows precisely what to change or replicate. If you were driving and your GPS said, “Good job” or “I think you’re off track,” you’d throw the GPS out the window and get a map.
If you give someone what you consider feedback and he says, “I don’t know what you mean, can I have an example?” you’ll know you weren’t helpful.
Here are six tips for giving helpful feedback:
Giving feedback tip one: Write down what you plan to say, then strip out half the words. Shorter feedback with fewer words is better.
Giving feedback tip two: Practice what you plan to say out loud. Have you noticed that what you ‘practice’ in your head is typically not what comes out of your mouth?
Giving feedback tip three: Before having the ‘real’ conversations, give the feedback to an independent, third party and ask her to tell you what she heard. Ensure who you talk with will maintain confidentiality. Your organization doesn’t need more gossip.
Giving feedback tip four: Tell someone else about the conversation you need to have, and ask him what he would say. Anyone not emotionally involved in the situation will do a better job than you will. Again, ensure confidentiality.
Giving feedback tip five: Ask the feedback recipient what he heard you say. Asking, “Does that make sense?” is an ineffective question. “Do you have any questions?” isn’t any better.
Giving feedback tip six: Give one to three examples of what the person did or didn’t do, during the conversation. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to provide feedback, and anything you say will evoke defensiveness rather than behavior change.
Giving feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Be so specific that your feedback could be used as driving directions. The purpose of feedback is to be helpful.