Personable and enthusiastic about her work, it took me months to uncover the problem. Calling Cheryl to my office for a quick question, I inquired why the information I needed wasn't in the file. "Oh," responded Cheryl, "I haven't done the filing yet."
Thinking she misunderstood what I needed, I explained that what I was looking for was from four months ago. "Yeah, that filing's not done yet," she said matter-of-factly.
It turns out Cheryl didn't like to file. So she'd ignored that aspect of her job, working on the growing pile, stacked unobtrusively in the supply closet, for just five to ten minutes a day. By the end of our discussion, I realized it wasn't just filing Cheryl was ignoring. Several tasks were minimally touched.
Cheryl did what many who are not winning at working do. They intentionally dawdle, procrastinate or ignore the parts of their work they don't like. They choose their to-dos, not by what needs to get done, but by what they feel like doing that day.
Personal desire, not business needs, dictate their cherry-picking approach to a job description. And then they wonder why they're bored, don't get a big increase, or are not offered the best assignments.
As a new manager at the time, I didn't get it. As a seasoned manager twenty years later I still don't. You see, work is much like Henry Ford's adage: you can have "any color, as long as it's black." There's not much choice on the basic model of job responsibilities. You've been hired to do what needs to be done. So like it, or not, that's why your job exists. There's no smorgasbord option to the work you're commissioned to complete.
But here's what many people miss about job responsibilities -- they're only the start. You can cherry-pick the best and most desirable work and choose what's fun and interesting to you. People who are winning at working do it all the time. That's because they understand discretionary effort and cherry-picking are options they can explore after the work they've been hired to do is done, and done well.
So instead of procrastinating, they get through their work, so they can tap into the best new assignments. Instead of putting off what they dislike to do, they get it out of the way. And instead of wasting time with least important to-dos, they prioritize their work around the needs of the business and tackle the more difficult responsibilities, impacting results and contributing to the organization.
People who are winning at working make a different choice than Cheryl did. Recognizing that the path to more interesting and challenging work comes by doing the job they've been hired to do exceptionally well first, they do that.
Like J.P. Morgan said, "You can't pick cherries with your back to the tree." People who are winning at working never turn their back on their job responsibilities. Instead, they help grow a bigger tree. They know that higher pay, promotional opportunities, discretionary work endeavors and assignment cherry-picking follow strong performance and accountability.
Nan Russell is the award-winning author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books, January 2008), and nationally syndicated radio host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on webtalkradio.net. Nan has spent over twenty years in management, including as a Vice President with QVC. Today she is the founder and president of MountainWorks Communications, as well as an author, speaker and consultant. Visit www.nanrussell.com or contact Nan at firstname.lastname@example.org.© 2011 Nan Russell
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