Staff in a Box

Many organizations see their employees as merely cogs in a giant machine. Cogs typically fit in just one place, have one use and can be easily replaced if they get worn out. While this might seem reasonable- after all, everyone was hired to do a specific job, it isn’t a very good way to manage your staff.

Putting staff into pre-determined boxes and not allowing them to stray far from their job descriptions absolutely kills creativity and morale. It also signals to others within the organization that certain people are not worth listening to. Staff members who try to take on new duties or share ideas that aren’t necessarily in their normal job realm are admonished to ‘stay in their lane’ and just do the job they’re being paid to do.

Good managers encourage their staff to grow and learn additional skills. They also listen to new ideas and are receptive to them. After all, a good idea is a good idea regardless of where it comes from- even when it comes from the janitor, as Frito Lay found out to its delight.

Richard Montanez is an immigrant who spoke and read little English. When he applied for a job at Frito Lay, his wife had to fill out his application. He was hired in as a janitor, but he had bigger aspirations. After a mishap resulted in some irregular Cheetos that had no cheese mix on them, he seized the opportunity to do some experimenting and came up with a recipe for spicier Cheetos. Since Frito Lay’s CEO had encouraged all staff members with new ideas to come forward, Richard called up the CEO and explained his idea. After recovering from the shock that a janitor had actually called him up with an idea, he invited Richard to present the idea to the board of directors. Richard put a ton of effort into mocking up a prototype bag and planning his presentation. The board was amazed and impressed. Ignoring the fact that he was “just a janitor”, they greenlit his idea and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were Born. They were a sensation, quickly becoming one of Frito Lay’s biggest sellers. Richard’s career skyrocketed and he was promoted into management. Imagine if Frito Lay had ignored Richard’s idea because he was “just a janitor”? They would have lost out on a multi-million dollar idea.

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Whose Job is it Anyway?!?

Most organizations like talking about how they recognize the value that each employee brings to their operations. The truth is, very few of them actually do, especially when it comes to longtime staff members. Often an organization will assign and re-assign various tasks due to business requirements but neglect to actually update position descriptions to keep pace with the changes. After all, an update might trigger a raise or reclassification and most organizations want to avoid that at all costs. Most employees will choose not to push the issue since getting extra work is probably a better option than being downsized.

While the short term benefit to the organization is that it is getting more advanced work at no extra cost, this attitude can backfire in the long run. Added work with no extra compensation or recognition can result in stressed employees at best. Worst case scenario? A revolving door of high turnover. A situation in which longtime employees run for the exits can bring catastrophic consequences for the company.

Since the company stubbornly chose not to acknowledge or compensate a runaway employee for the extra assigned work she was required to do, chances are that merely hiring someone who satisfies the requirements of the official position description won’t result in a successful hire. After all, many of the tasks required by the position were never recorded or written down. How is Human Resources supposed to know that hiring someone who meets the official qualifications will not actually result in getting someone who can accomplish the extra tasks that had been unofficially attached to the job?

This situation is made worse by the fact that most organizations will refuse to acknowledge the extra work a departing employee did even after he has left. So they stubbornly keep trying to recruit for the position using the official position description which just sets up the new hire for failure. Meanwhile, the other employees forced to pick up the slack will begin heading for the exits as well.

Despite the fact that time has consistently shown that the best policy is to compensate employees fairly and acknowledge their contributions to the organization, most workplaces will still try to push new tasks on their employees without corresponding increases in compensation for the short term benefits. It’s a great way to run an organization if your only concern is the bottom line in the short run, but it’s a shortsighted way to run a truly successful organization.