“Other duties as assigned” (why it’s a good way to work)

I had a streak of bad luck at one point in my career.  Three of the companies I worked for either went out of business or closed the office of where I was working.  I was the William H Macy of business.  I could have been hired as a cooler for competitors.

After the third company went down and the job went away, I wanted to take a little bit of a mental break and just do some temp work until I figured out what was next.  So I was assigned to a small company to do data entry.  About a week into that, I started asking questions.  Why were the forms all hand-written?  What about a web form? Wait, you don’t have a web site?  Well, why not? And who the heck is managing the network?  And shouldn’t you have a single point of contact for general questions?

All of that question-asking led to a full-time position building the company’s web presence and setting some communication infrastructure that’s still in place today.

I share this story not because I want to brag about my mad skillz and the fact that I landed on my feet.  I share it to illustrate that I landed on my feet as a result of asking questions that were outside of my assigned responsibilities.taking out the trash

All too often, I hear employees use the phrase, “It’s not in my job description.”  Or I encounter managers who want a copy of the job description to prove to an employee that there is a task or behavior that they should be doing.  And it sticks in my craw a bit because I find it SO limiting…and it’s so indicative of where a company’s culture currently is.  Employees who think they aren’t responsible for the success of the company will limit themselves to the specifics of their job.  Managers who can’t explain how an employee’s actions contribute to the overall success of an organization rely on job descriptions to “prove it”.  It handicaps both parties…and hinders the business.

There’s a reason that other duties as assigned is included in job descriptions – because there are times when the unexpected happens and the business needs its employees to step up and do some things that are outside of their normal day-to-day.  No business can promise exactly what your daily routine will look like (maybe some manufacturing jobs can get close, but there are still variables).  The company needs some flexibility to succeed in an ever-changing business environment.

Other duties as assigned should be the way you approach your job every single day.  Yes, there are actual job responsibilities you need to complete (duh).  But this phrase is a license for innovation!  You are responsible for adding value – if you can add value outside of your ‘job box’, you will be successful.  For those of you who complain you’re getting burned out or want more development, here’s the phrase for inspiration.  Look around you and find a problem to solve.  If you’re always complaining that one department doesn’t seem to talk to another, call a meeting with the offending parties and see what you can do to help.  Maybe it’s not “technically” your job…but if you see a way to add value by doing it, by all means – do it!

Now, there is some risk inherent in performing other duties all willy-nilly, so here are a couple of suggestions on how you might do it successfully:

  • Tie your other duties to a business need: It’s harder to fault an employee when you’re helping the business achieve its goals.
  • Target pain points: The others will thank you.
  • Don’t make it all about you: Sometimes the problem/pain point you’re solving benefits you…but what would benefit others?
  • Let people know what you’re doing: No one likes an end-around.  Keep your manager up to speed on what you’re doing and why.

So when you’re tempted to grumble or make fun of other duties as assigned, change your mindset.  You may just land on your feet.

Got an example of a time when an “other duties as assigned” mindset helped you?  Share in the comments!

If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.
― Jeff Bezos

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