A few weeks ago, I rented a board room for a leadership meeting in a quaint, classy hotel. Just before the meeting I made a quick visit to the nearest restroom, where someone emerged just as I approached.
Upon entering, I noticed paper towels tossed on the floor, and a few of them even shoved between the wall and the handrail. Although not disastrous, I was surprised to find any mess at all in this nice hotel.
While I doubt she made the mess (at least I hope not!), I couldn’t help but think about why she wouldn’t take the 30 seconds to clean it up. How do you think she might respond if asked?
Perhaps with a phrase we’ve all likely heard at one time or another: “It’s not my job.”
When employees feel disengaged at work – which Gallup tells us upwards of 70 percent do – they don’t see a point in going the extra mile. They may believe any extra efforts will usurp their already-limited time and energy, go unnoticed, and result in the same 2 percent raise everyone else in the company - including the "bare minimums" - receives. Why bother?
Whether overt or suspected, this “it’s not my job” mentality provides a real challenge for leaders. Many of my executive clients have sought coaching with good hearts and fantastic questions:
How can I help my employees feel more engaged?
How can I support them in purposeful work?
How can I create a culture where people feel happy to go above and beyond – even amid a frozen budget?
Approaching the situation with these kinds of questions is the place to start. Hundreds of sound strategies exist and, although there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, the best solutions remove the outdated “carrot and stick” methodology from the equation and instead explore vision, purpose, and making work meaningful.
They also require a dual focus: on leaders and on individual employees. Leaders set the tone, and everyone contributes to (or pulls away from) the culture being cultivated.
I recommend two excellent books to prompt ideas for both perspectives in navigating the “it’s not my job” syndrome. The Leadership Challenge, now a classic in the field, supports leaders in fostering a positive, from-the-heart culture. My favorite chapter, Inspire A Shared Vision, stresses the importance of gaining the support and enthusiasm of all employees toward a compelling vision – which can help bring a sense of purpose to even the most mundane tasks (i.e., picking up garbage, even if you aren't the one who dropped it).
Career Distinction helps individual employees decide who they are and how they want to be, developing their own personal brand. Perhaps ironically, one way to establish that standout brand involves doing those above-and-beyond tasks! Arruda & Dixson offer numerous other strategies, however, along with a free downloadable workbook to allow readers to reinforce their learning with applied action.
Reading a couple of books won’t magically prompt everyone to pick up the stray paper towels on the bathroom floor, of course. But implementing the principles you learn, and modeling the behavior you wish to see, will go a long way toward establishing an above-and-beyond culture from which everyone – leaders, employees, customers, and the bottom line – benefits.
How would you address the “it’s not my job” syndrome? Join the conversation of solutions by commenting below.
Dr. Christi Hegstad develops confident, strengths-based leaders who make a meaningful difference. Learn more about her coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.
The Leadership Challenge, 3rd Edition, by James Kouzes & Barry Posner (Jossey-Bass, 2002). Career Distinction by William Arruda & Kirsten Dixson (John Wiley & Sons, 2007).