Several years ago when I was working in New York, a colleague asked me to take over his position on a cross-functional committee. I definitely hesitated, as I was near the beginning of my career and was working crazy hours and churning out work product like there was no tomorrow so that I could prove myself to my boss.
However, the colleague convinced me that the committee would require no effort at all. All I would have to do is show up at the meetings once a quarter and contribute my ideas there. This seemed acceptable and I wanted to come across as can-do, so I signed on. Well, imagine my surprise when the committee turned out to be a ton of work. My role actually involved coordinating the schedules of half a dozen people, hosting regular conference calls, planning events, and responding to a near-constant stream of e-mails. At one point, the committee took more of my time than my actual job.
For the next year, I was stuck in a position into which I felt I’d been duped, and I was not happy about it. I was resentful, and I blamed the colleague who’d recruited me. In fact, I vowed never to trust him again.
If you are going to ask a colleague or report to do something – whether it’s mandatory or not – please be honest about the commitment required. It is better to realistically set expectations and have the person express reservations or turn down the task on the front end than to trick them into accepting a job they may not be qualified or otherwise in a position to do effectively. This will not be good for your organization, or for your relationship with the colleague/report.
Keep in mind, also, that when you talk through the job requirements, you should mention more than the bare minimum. For instance, maybe my colleague thought I could get away with merely showing up to the quarterly committee meetings, but he should have known me better than that. Once I agree to do something, I give it my all. You should assume that your colleague/report will be the same way and not undersell the task.
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