1. What are you paid to do?
In other words, what is it that you were taken on to accomplish? What is it that you are supposed to be doing? Most people answer this question with some form of their job description or objectives.
2. What is it that you actually do?
When I ask this second question in my workshops people often say that they spend most of their time on low-value tasks like reading and answering emails, completing reports, attending poorly run meetings, etc. To what extent does what you actually do meet the description of what you are paid to do?
3. What is it that you would love to do?
There are several ways that you might answer this question. You might mention an entirely different employer or line of work. You might suggest a different role in the same organization. Or you might list some things you would love to do in your current job but you do not have the time or freedom to undertake.
The third question is the one that should start you thinking. If there are things that desperately need doing in the company then why not take them on? Free some of your time from the dull stuff under question 2 and take the initiative. Most people are too constrained to do this. They know that there all sorts of real issues and problems that need to be fixed but they coast along doing what they have always done. They wait for instructions. They are frightened that by breaking the rules, taking responsibility and doing something daring and unusual they will risk losing their job.
Well, here is the thing. To be noticed and to succeed in an organization you sometimes have to lose your fear of losing your job. Very often if you do something remarkable and unexpected people will be thrilled and will applaud you. Occasionally you will be reprimanded — and in extreme cases you might be fired. But you know what? If your employer does not appreciate you showing some initiative then you are better off out of there.
Hewlett-Packard has an award called the Medal of Defiance which is given to an employee who broke the rules in order to achieve something remarkable. They might have cut across all sorts of procedures in order to solve a problem for a customer or to get a project back on track. The Medal of Defiance is a signal that people are empowered to take responsibility and make decisions.
You might say, “Our company is not like that; we have to do everything by the book.” But I am prepared to bet that if I asked your CEO whether he or she would like to see employees take more initiatives, decisions and even calculated risks in order to achieve the corporate goals then they would answer with a resounding yes.
You know that somebody needs to sort things out. Take the initiative. Stand out from the crowd. Lose your fear of losing your job.
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