Among many different types of people that I have faced during my career, there’s one category I find the most challenging: people who are just interested in keeping their jobs.
You might ask: how can that be more challenging then working with incompetent or evil people? Or aggressive and stupid ones? It is so simply because of the fact that the latter categories are something that you have to solve (either you quit the job or they do) while the „job keepers“ can last for years. Even decades.
The most important characteristics of „job keepers“ are:
They only do the things that can’t cause any trouble for them – zero risk taking
They invent administration and procedures just to make themselves 100% safe
They resist any change but in a silent and hidden way that you can’t fight back
They only manage up – they are only interested in the opinion of those that are superior and that can decide if they will stay in the company.
But to be fair: we should also show some understanding for these people. First of all, many of them are very nice and good people. Some of them even knowledgeable experts. People that you would hang out with. Good parents and partners. Good friends.
Secondly, as I will explain more in detail in another post, job keepers being mostly (but not exclusively) middle aged workers are sometimes stacked in the corporate structures not by their mistake.
And, at the end of the day, we can’t all be progressive, ambitious, risk takers, leaders…
So what’s the best way to deal with this? How to work with people who are interested in just being safe?
I can share my personal experience and tips that might be useful for you.
Don’t touch the hard core compliance topics; don’t even try to go there. They will always resist, because being uncompliant, even with ridiculously small issues, is the basis of contract termination. They will not be able to sleep if they do something that is not by the book. They would prefer for a company to lose millions then to take a different path and try to save a situation.
There is a second layer of not-so-sensitive issues that they will not touch and you need them to be solved. Offer them your guarantee that the responsibility is all yours. If needed – put it in writing and send it in an e-mail. It’s a miracle what one e-mail saying: I’m taking all the responsibility might do. It’s almost like a confession in a Catholic church. Now, you might say: why would I do this and jeopardize my own position? Because, you ARE a progressive leader, a person who wants things to be done and is ready to take risks. Otherwise, why are you reading this post at all? You should have closed this window after I named you the most challenging person to work with.
From my experience, taking those small or even bigger risks on your own account, just to make people move a bit and get things done – will pay off. And rarely, if ever, will you find yourself in trouble. At the end of the day, every company needs things to be done. Almost every company.
The other thing you can do is to change over 50% of people who are risk adverse. Why over 50%? Because if you bring new people who are not in the „I’m just waiting for my retirement“ mode, yet they are minority, the job keepers will promptly explain to them how they should behave. So, the job keepers have to become minority.
I have witnessed many restructurings and reorganizations. Change management projects and transformations of the companies. You name it – I was part of it. They were unsuccessful in most cases. Why? Because the cuts were not deep enough. Do over 50% or do not touch anything. Let’s call this 50% rule for my future posts.
Now, just in order not to confuse things any further. Not every situation or company asks for either of those measures to be taken. But many industries are going through severe changes. And they can’t afford “job keepers” – at least not as a majority. Also, there is a fine line between taking over responsibility and risk, and being a business cowboy in the Wild Wild West that does things in a non-acceptable way, treating people and business disrespectfully. That’s why you need to practice walking on this thin line. You can start with minor issues, before you apply this principle to major events and major risks you are facing.
It might be that risk taking is something that is written in your DNA. But, how you take your risks and how you motivate your team to take risks is a skill that you can learn and practice.
Cheers! I’ll be back soon… Summer is my season of contemplation and inspiration.