Job Titles and Responsibilities (Image provided by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Your New Job Title

Congrats! You did it! You finally have that new job title you’ve been working so hard towards! Let’s be honest with each other here–you were working hard for the title, not because you just wanted to see your company flourish with all the hard work you were putting in. Of course that wasn’t bad or anything, it was just a nice side effect of you getting your new job title. Some great things happened once you received your new job title too! Your responsibilities shifted so now nobody can come after you when your pesky clients are complaining about your sales process, when your code won’t compile into your finished product, or when employees are having conflicts in the workplace.

You’re literally only responsible for the two new tasks that you have attached to your job title! Besides, why would the company keep all your colleagues around if you were supposed to be doing some of their work too? That’s just ridiculous, right? Besides, if you ever had to do anything outside of your assigned responsibilities, you’d become inefficient!

I should also congratulate you for the first steps in creating the negative culture that may bring your company to its knees. With that outlook, you’re going to be the poison to your company culture, and you’ll slowly kill off any employees that actually wanted to see a successful company. The entitlement will start oozing out of every employee within the organization, barriers between tasks will start shooting up, and your company will grind to a halt when anything outside of process happens.

Because you won’t pick up the slack for Jane’s work when she’s getting overloaded because it’s not attached to your job title is the same reason John isn’t going to help you out when you need it. It’s going to be the same reason Bill isn’t helping the new co-ops who started (because he’s a received a Director of Technical Management Lead position of product-X-part-B now, and interns are basically insects to him) and Bridgette isn’t doing anything to help her team lead resolve conflicts within her team.

Congratulations on starting the vicious cycle that will kill off the business and the culture that once made it great.

Why Have Job Titles Then?

Job titles do serve a purpose and that purpose is sure as hell not to limit you. Plain and simple, your job title and the tasks associated with it tell other people that you’re responsible for something. That does not imply the inverse. Think about it this way: if you were to assume that everything always worked as planned and things were perfect, it wouldn’t make any sense to put more resources towards something than what you’d need. Sure, maybe you need two people to manage the on-boarding process for your interns so there’s some overlap in task, or four people to manage selling your product, but you wouldn’t assign six people to do a three person job. It just wouldn’t make sense! Because of that, we have job titles and associated tasks that go along with them so we know what we’re responsible for. So if everything is going flawlessly and managing the new marketing interns isn’t part of my responsibilities but reaching out to customers or building software is, I’ll stick to my role.

You don’t live in a dream world. Surprise.

Things are almost never perfect. If they are, then you’re lucky, but unfortunately it probably won’t last. There are too many unknowns to always plan perfectly and sometimes things just come up. This is where your job title and position really shine. If we know that Ted is the manager of XYZ and he has responsibilities A, B, and C, then when the pressure starts building on the company he should be cracking down on those things. You wouldn’t expect Ted to be off trying to take on some extra work in a high-risk low-return option in the company if he’s under pressure to get his main responsibilities done. If it starts to become overwhelming, we can hopefully allocate more resources over to help out with Ted’s tasks because it’s starting to become unmanageable for one person. Maybe it means injecting more resources (by hiring more awesome people like Ted) or by temporarily (or even permanently) shifting some responsibilities of others to take on stuff Ted once solely managed.

For now, at the end of the day those responsibilities belong to Ted. He’s part of the company because he’s taken on the role that needs to fulfill those responsibilities. If he’s having trouble keeping up, it’s also his responsibility to let his manager or leader know that he’s running into roadblocks that keep him from effectively getting the job done. If they’re any good, they’ll listen, and if they’re amazing, they’ll hopefully notice it before Ted sees it.

Job Titles Should Not Imply Limits

So, a job title indicates what one is responsible for. You’ll notice I didn’t say that those tasks are the only thing a person is responsible for though, and that’s certainly on purpose. If you want to be part of a successful company, you need to realize that putting up barriers and acting on entitlement isn’t going to get you there. Let’s revisit my Ted example.

So the pressure is building, and Ted is strapped for time. He’s been able to keep on top of responsibilities A and B, but C is definitely falling behind compared to the others. And guess what? Ted’s just caught the flu so he’s going to be out of commission for the next week or so. So what do your job responsibilities look like now that Ted is out of the picture?

If you’re like the person I was mocking in the opening paragraphs, this is where things really start to go sour. You have some critical parts of your business that are falling behind and your superstar resource isn’t able to take care of one of his three responsibilities. Unfortunately, John, Jane, Bill, and Bridgette all took on the same mentality and they’re sticking to their own responsibilities. Because Ted will figure it out… or someone else will… Right? Or someone else won’t, I suppose, since by now everyone else is adopting this exact same mindset. That type of company culture is sure looking great right about now, isn’t it! Just about as great as Ted’s responsibility C is looking.

The alternative is that you don’t let your job titles create barriers. Sure, Ted is responsible for A, B, and C. He’s been able to help Bridgette and Bill out when he had a bit of down time and they were getting swamped by some large orders from a new promising client. Ted knew that it was a key deal though so he dug in with them and helped where he could. He kept on top of his own responsibilities, but he put in some extra hours to make sure Bill and Bridgette would nail those orders. And you know what? Jane saw that Ted was putting in some extra time and how much it was able to help the business after he helped Bill and Bridgette. The next time Jane saw John falling a bit behind on his coding tasks, she decided she’d come in early for a few days and help him meet the deadline for the feature he was working on.

In the end everyone did what they had to as per their job titles, but nobody let their job titles hold them back from helping make the company successful.

Summary

There are pros and cons to job titles. If you can see the big picture and you’re aimed at being part of a successful company, you’re not going to let your job title hold you back from doing great things and helping where you’re needed. Everyone in the company should have a common goal of making awesome products or services for the customers, and sometimes that means putting in some extra effort where you’re not required to based on your job title. The alternative is a pretty grim path to take, especially as more employees start to adopt that mind set.

Some advice to stay on the right track:

  • Take care of your own responsibilities first. Getting your hands in everything all at once and all the time might mean that you can’t get your own responsibilities taken care of.
  • Don’t let your job title restrict you. If you can help someone out and keep on top of your own tasks, then offer a hand!
  • Remember that things almost never go 100% according to plan, so plan for the unexpected.
  • If you have a set of skills that carry over well to someone else’s position, consider meeting up and seeing how you can help out.
  • Keep in mind that the efficiency of your company is only as good as all of the components working together. If some part of it is hurting, the whole company feels it.

Do what you’re required to based on your job title, and then do some more. Being helpful won’t hurt you.