Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
“That’s not my job” …an inevitable response when a ‘somebody’ is asked to do something that requires their effort and which they believe they don’t have to do, don’t won’t do, or can’t do. This familiar cry is often said with such impunity that the requester may well feel that they are in the wrong…but who is wrong and who has been wronged?
Both parties are taken aback; the requester may wilt away and take the request somewhere else with umbrage and annoyance, or challenge the rebuttal. The requested, feeling threatened, reacts defensively be it right or wrong. Conflict results but the sad fact is that the disputed work in question is delayed. ‘
That’s not my job” syndrome is a result of ineffective communication, capability constraints, and a lack of commitment. This statement of denial results in a stand-off; parties gather their thoughts and position themselves while anger germinates in their isolation. If the work is to be done then anger must be put aside so that a sensible decision can be made to follow a pragmatic course of bargaining to reconcile who will do the job, and who will pay for it. Unfortunately, depression may well be experienced by one or both parties on this journey.
Communication, or rather its lack, is the root cause of many project failures. When project managers communicate ineffectively and are vague as to who is responsible for an element of work then there will be confusion and there will be failures in delivery.
When we refer to the people and parties undertaking a project as Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody or merely, ‘them’ or ‘they’ then there will be a problem of specific task ownership and which ‘body’ it’s delegated to. A project’s Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) should identify all of the work to be executed in a hierarchical decomposition. Great, but how often is a project organisation established using a hierarchy of where people sit in the pecking order rather than an ‘Organisational Breakdown Structure’ (OBS) mapped against the WBS.
An OBS can obviate misunderstandings as to who should be doing the work. And, when coupled with a Time Breakdown Structure (or schedule) and Cost Breakdown Structure (or budget) there is an effective indication of when work has to be delivered and at what cost. But how often do we end up in a situation whereby Everybody thinks that, although Anybody can do the work, Somebody refuses to do it and hasn’t priced for it, and Nobody will volunteer.
Capability lies with both organisations and individuals alike and requires the ability, skills and capacity to deal with the work at hand. Organisations, for whatever reason, are expected to grow but their resources may be well stretched as management ego and expectation exceeds physical reality. Unfortunately, overpromising and underdelivering are commonplace, this is not to decry those dreaming entrepreneurs who promise to push accepted boundaries, but ‘dreams’ are ‘dreams’ and projects require tangible results within that iron triangle of quality, cost and time!
A prospective deliverer promises the “A Team”; fantastic we anticipate, but how often do we get a “B” or “C” team. The “A-Team” fantasy exists in the warm glow of tender proposals and quickly disappears in the cold light of project execution; project managers have to play the hand they are dealt. Individuals can have a similar approach; “lies, damn lies and resumes” goes the HR mantra. Reportedly, 80% of resumes contain ‘irregularities’ or ‘mis-statements’ and many people profess to having a degree but don’t. CEO’s around the globe have been sacked for such fabrication and despite a belief that such terminological inexactitudes are merely ‘white lies’ such representations are just plain fraud!
One entrepreneur has advocated: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”. This may be an entrepreneurial approach and gives people a chance to shine but if that person’s ego is bigger than their ability such ‘ambition’ is based upon hope and gambling and their enthusiasm is the only collateral. Individuals who believe (or hope) they will be ‘competent’ may well prove to be ‘incompetent’ as are those who engage them; but to who’s account is such ‘incompetence’ assigned.
Then there’s that essential factor in carrying out any work, commitment. Some individuals may only work within their Job Description and be obstinate and obstructive in an inflexible and less than utilitarian approach to work. They will also be able to avoid that HR catch-all in a JD of ‘and other duties as directed/required’. Some people may also have an element of shop steward in them and add, ‘it’s also outside my pay scale’ hinting that more remuneration might be an incentivisation.
Downright laziness can be one reason for a cry of, ‘that’s not my job’, particularly when there is a belief that there will be a ‘capable somebody’ who will volunteer and burn a bit of midnight oil for the greater good. This human dynamic needs confrontation as laziness never delivered a project; laziness can plague a project and undermine the morale of those ‘capable somebodies’. Organisations, as well as individuals, can also suffer from commitment issues. These can include higher priority work as dictated by a more vociferous and demanding client, misrepresentation as to their real capability, unfortunate overpromising and an inability to explain underdelivery, or even financial instability. Lack of commitment results in assertions of ‘that’s not my job’ while effort is spent finding excuses despite the facts and their contracts.
Conclusions & Cures
If an element of work has not been identified or communicated in unambiguous and specific terms then we only have ourselves to blame when we hear, ‘that’s not my job’. If we take a pragmatic approach to correct our mistake, and can find both the moral fortitude and cash/budget to alleviate matters, then any conflict can be obviated without too much grief.
However, and when the boot is on the other foot, if the commitment or capability to do work is lacking then recourse to contract formality is one’s best course of action. In a formal contract a quick and accurate reference to commitments rather than protracted debate and positioning may be applied. Timely notices will allow the requester to procure the works elsewhere and contra-charge accordingly…time spent arguing is almost always wasted and is costly.
“That’s not my job” can also be a cry for help for a want of training or empowerment. In an environment of trust such speaking up is not a crime and may provide opportunities for change and coaching. Rather than accepting ‘it’s not my job’ a recourse to training and ‘fitting’ a proverbial square peg into a more amenable hole is possible; of course, just ‘moving on’ ‘or letting go’ are also possibilities. Organisations who are committed to doing ‘the work’ will train their people and acquire the skills by caring for their people and changing accordingly.
“That’s not my job” is not a one-sided coin and leaders must look at the other two sides in concluding as to the proper course of action and what must change…that’s their job!
UK Chartered Engineer & Chartered Geologist with over thirty-five years’ international experience in multicultural environments on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro, hydro, airports, tunnels, roads and bridges. Skills include project management, contract administration & procurement, and design & construction management skills as Client, Consultant, and Contractor.