The job box

How do you define yourself? When you introduce yourself and people ask what you do, what do you say?

If you're like most people, you give them your job title and your place of employment.

"I'm a Product Designer at Apple"
"I'm a Marketing Manager at Accenture"
"I'm a Business Analyst at Deloitte"

We tend to think of ourselves in terms of the job titles we hold and the companies we work for.

But aren't we more than that?

What differentiates you from every other Product Designer, Marketing Manager, or Business Analyst?

This overly simplified way of looking at who we are and what we bring to the table keeps us from being as effective or valuable in our roles as we could be.

I work as an engineering leader at Ramsey Solutions.

This week, I met with a group of other engineering leaders at the company and we discussed among other things the role of an engineer on our squads.

We were all in agreement that we do not want our engineers to work their tickets and then fold their hands and wait for more work to come their way.

We've been trying to embrace SVPG's concept of empowered teams as described in the books Inspired(paid) and Empowered(paid).

We expect our engineers to understand how their work fits into the objectives that their squad and the broader organization are going after.

We expect our engineers to lean in and help QA get work over the line, sit in customer interviews, or sit with the product designers and work with them to come up with the best possible solution.

Reflecting on that conversation, I thought back on my own work this past week.

I helped onboard a new team member, interviewed a potential new Test Engineer, reviewed code, worked with one of our global teams to make sure we're working well together around our shared deployment pipeline, coached team members in group and 1-on-1 settings, participated in business unit leadership meetings and even stood up a mobile app prototype for one of our personalities.

Just because my title says "Director of Engineering", it doesn't mean I should never venture outside of my lane.

I have responsibilities that fall squarely on the Director of Engineering to be sure and those can't be abdicated.

That being said, if there is a way for me to add value and it's in my power to do it, I embrace the opportunity regardless of whether it's in my job description - and I expect my team to do the same!

I wonder how much potential value is left unrealized on our teams because we're afraid to let people venture out of their assigned areas.

So what, do we turn everybody loose to do whatever they want?

Not exactly. I'm a huge advocate for bringing clarity and focus to our teams and team members.

It has a stabilizing effect and done right, it empowers team members to venture outside of their lanes.

"How's that?" you ask.

If a squad understands the key problem(s) they're responsible for solving, it's much easier for any team member to pitch in wherever they're able, regardless of the role they were hired to do, knowing that their effort is helping to move the team in the right direction.

Don't get me wrong. They are still responsible to do the work that only they can do. That IS in fact why they were hired.

Thing is, more often than not team members feel like they can't contribute their ideas, solutions, or work in areas they weren't hired to contribute in.

That's nonsense.

If a team member is only contributing inside that little box that defines their role, their contributions will be significantly limited.

When a team is made up of people who all take ownership of the outcomes of their collective work, they experience far more satisfaction in their work and ultimately produce better results.

We have a hard time getting ourselves out of the box we've been put into (or put ourselves into).

But we spend far too much time investing in our day jobs and careers to do it trapped in a tiny box!

If you happen to work for a company that doesn't reward (or allow) that sort of initiative and thinking, maybe find someplace else to work.

Focus on adding value. Figure out how you can help move things forward and unlock all of that untapped potential you've been keeping under wraps!

Imagine what could happen if we removed the artificial constraints we've put up around ourselves and the people we work with.

Imagine what we could do!

Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong

If you're enjoying the content, consider subscribing!
It's free and you'll get automatically notified whenever anything new gets published.