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Advice from the Gemba: When Someone Says "That's Not My Job"

by Gavin Martin, Kelly Moore & Dale Savage
June 22, 2016

Advice from the Gemba: When Someone Says "That's Not My Job"

by Gavin Martin, Kelly Moore & Dale Savage
June 22, 2016 | Comments (1)

What's the best course of action when somebody refuses to do new standardized work because “it’s not his or her job?” Three lean practitioners weigh in with their thoughts, drawn straight from their experiences at the gemba:


Dale Savage (Area Supervisor, IMI Engineering):

It’s important to get buy-in from the associates. It all has to do with ownership. Usually if someone responds like that it's because they haven't felt like they have been listened to or been given ownership of the process in the past.

If that is who is being asked to do the new standard operating procedure (SOP), then you have to help them understand the purpose of having standard work. They have to know that the SOP is the standard that will be used to train and audit by. If the SOP is not correct then there are going to be issues in the future. Therefore, as the expert on the process, the associate is being asked to complete the new SOP so nothing is missed and it is correct. In addition, it is a part of everyone's job to make sure the SOP's are kept up to date and accurate. No one wants someone else who doesn't know the job telling them how they have to do it.


Gavin Martin (President, Professional Scientific and Technology Services LLC):

That's a pregnant question. I would ask them what their job is and how they know what their job is. I would ask them how they feel about contributing to defining their job. Is their job dictated to them, or do they want the freedom to be able to help refine what they do? That's going to give me an indication of their orientation.

Are they task-oriented, or are they outcome-based? So, if they're interested in redefining their job and contributing to the solution, that's one path. If, instead, they say, "It's not my job. Go talk to someone else because they're the ones who command me," that's a completely different conversation. I'd probably go talk to that commander.


Kelly Moore (North America Continuous Improvement Lead, Syngenta Crop Protection):

If it were clear that the employee knew their job had changed I would probe their understanding of why this change is necessary. If the employee doesn’t believe in the basic “why” of this work, then this becomes a tough situation. 

We had a very real situation a few years back where our company’s generic competition was fierce and was threatening market share. The site where I worked had no direct interactions with customers so although the workers knew these facts, the situation seemed far away from us. So the reasons “why” we needed to change didn’t seem to affect us. I explained that the competition was pounding on our back door, on our land, and once they got into our house, we would be done. I appealed to the team to fight to keep them out of our house and explained that this new way (of working) was one of the ways we were reinforcing the door. Bringing the “why” to a very tangible, very personal message helped employees believe in the why.

In addition, I might ask the employee to explain what about the job isn’t his. I’m hoping that some steps in the job are new and some are old. If that is the case, I focus on the new steps. I go through these steps with the individual, preferably actually doing them. Wherever possible, I point out the similarities to the old way trying to minimize the change. I offer reassurance it will take everyone a while to get comfortable with the new standard and that he will be a pro again shortly. Clarifying the how to do the job and how he will be successful may take away this tricky form of resistance.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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1 Comment | Post a Comment
Cindy Legorreta June 23, 2016

As a longtime building superintendent here on Union Square in NYC, and in the process of thinking about founding a small non profit which recycles clothing, books. food, and small applianaces, then repurposing them for others in need, the whole "not my job" idea is faintly absurd. One of the strongest linchpins in this process is always to roll up your sleeves, dig in and become involved. Something I have been taking as gospel for years. I will say, however that mine is a small, volunteer based group as of now; thus parameters are less well defined and those in the link at any point are willing to accept that approach as 'why'..because it works, and furthers the mission and intent of what we do. 

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