June 16, 2009 | Harvard Business Publishing
Por: Steven Demaio
I’ve always been the kind of person who says yes to new work-related challenges, frequently out of pure enthusiasm for the opportunities. Sometimes it makes sense to say no, of course, but in a tough economic climate yes is often the necessary response to organizational shifts that happen in the wake of layoffs and restructuring. No matter what the economic conditions, there’s an art to taking on a new responsibility. During my years of saying yes, I’ve practiced that art a lot. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Don’t just talk with your predecessor — interview her. If you have access to the person who used to do what you’re about to start doing, sit down and have a meaningful dialogue. Don’t merely ask for information and materials; inquire about the essence of the responsibility: What are the stakeholders really looking for? What’s the best way to feel fulfilled by the work? If you can’t connect with your predecessor or if the work is brand new, interview the person who created or bestowed the responsibility. I’ve found that if you do this properly, the main conversation takes about an hour of very substantive talk, with a couple of shorter follow-ups.
2. Give the new work its proper physical space. Before you dive deeply into the details, allot your new responsibility its own electronic folders, space in your file drawers, section of your cubicle wall, or whatever else is required. Spatial integration is vital to overall integration.
3. Look for overlap with your existing duties. If you treat a new responsibility as simply additive, chances are you’ll feel swamped. Even if the new work is very different from your current work, opportunities to kill two birds with one stone are likely to exist, certainly in terms of scheduling and probably much more than that. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing tasks that tap similar parts of your brain back to back (see my previous post, “The Art of the Self-Imposed Deadline”).
4. Delegate for efficiency. Each time I assume a new responsibility, I find that there are discrete components that colleagues can do better — and that they are often happy to take these on because they appreciate that I’ve already stepped up to the plate. If your decision to delegate is based on the merits — i.e., on finding efficiencies and improving quality — most people will respect that and act accordingly. Coworkers are very good at telling the difference between sharing responsibilities intelligently and simply unloading work.
5. Check in with yourself. Soon after taking on a new responsibility, be sure to take time every week to assess the effect that the new work is having on your other duties, on your feeling of professional fulfillment, and on your work/life balance. Use what you discover to update your decisions about overlap and delegation, even about your physical space. If something needs to change, it’s best to identify that early rather than after processes are deeply entrenched.
What are your techniques for assuming a new responsibility smoothly?