Monday, August 15, 2011

4 Ways to Eliminate "That's Not My Job" Thinking

How many times have you heard someone say, “That’s not my job”?

As we moved from the craftsman era to specialized, functional silos of modern management over the last century, it has become more and more common to say “That’s not my job”. That thinking is supported by our specialized, functional silo based job descriptions. And it is easily seen in our work behaviors in both manufacturing and service industries.

It is easy to step over a piece of trash at work, thinking “That’s not my job” because we have a janitorial crew to do this task.

It is easy to let a defect go down the line, thinking “That’s not my job” because it the inspector’s job to catch it.

It is easy to let patients or family members to get lost finding their way around our hospital or clinics, thinking “That’s not my job” because that’s somebody else’s job, even if I don’t know who that somebody else is.

Faced with this problem, we could easily blame it on the new generation as being “lazy” or “apathetic”. Or we could say that people are overburdened and overwhelmed with years of downsizing. Maybe we fall in the same trap and think that “it’s not my job” to change our culture.

In the kaizen way, we must eliminate “That’s not my job” thinking and replace it with “How can I improve it?” and “How can I help?” thinking. In a lean transformation, there is no “That’s not my job” thinking anymore.

As Lean leaders, we must embrace this culture change in thinking and here are a few simple ways:

Lead by example: If we want our employees to take responsibility, we need to also take responsibility. When you see a piece of trash on the floor or hallways, always pick it up yourself. Never step over a piece of trash. If you see an undesirable condition, don’t turn a blind eye. Stop the process, and fix it. Before long, people will see you walking the talk and it will become part of expected behavior.

Brainstorm and Document: What does it mean in your place of work to eliminate “That’s not my job” thinking? You may know what the means in your mind but you cannot expect everyone to know what you have in mind. And there are probably many behaviors that you haven’t thought about that would make a big impact in your business to eliminate “That’s not my job” thinking. Brainstorm with your group to discuss the new ways to act and document them. Share the list.

Training: Make it a theme in your daily huddle meetings. Improve your new employee orientation training process by adding a complete section on expected behaviors. Teach people to recognized opportunities to serve our customers and practice them. Try role playing as part of this training.

Tell Stories: In meetings and newsletters, tell the stories of employees where they improved or helped beyond that “old way of thinking”. Maybe an employee saw a family looking lost and learned that they wanted to know where the Hospital cafeteria was located. Instead of telling them the directions, the employee said, “I’ll take you there, follow me. It's my pleasure, I have the time to help you” even if the employee would be late for a meeting as a result. Praise the employee for their action instead of punishing them for being late.

These are just a few simple ways but these ways are hard to do. Be prepared, it will take hard work and sustained effort to make this cultural shift.

As you eliminate “That’s not my job” thinking, more opportunities for improvement will become visible, teamwork is strengthened, processes will improve and customer satisfaction levels will increase. The best part is that it does not cost a lot of money to eliminate “That’s not my job” thinking.


Anonymous said...

Came here from reddit. I work for a manufacturing firm and really liked your article. Just wanted to raise a genuine concern that you must be aware of. Sometimes, proactive actions are perceived by others as 'hostile' action on their territory. If you point out a shortcoming or improvement area in some 'other department', or even take action on it, people get all defensive and even ask you to 'mend your own house first'. What people management technique do you think would be most effective in such a case?

Mike Wroblewski said...

Great question! Many people, myself included, can be defensive to outsiders pointing out problems in my area or making changes without my input. And as a Lean consultant, I'm now one of them. I found the simplest and best approach is to help others see the opportunities for improvement by asking questions instead of telling them. Then help them to solve it themselves. This takes finesse to do it right and I don't always succeed.