Problem at Work? Think DIY, Not BOSS

By Cathy Goodwin

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The New York TImes publishes a column, The Workologist, nearly every week. Yesterday’s Workologist colum refers to controlling “chaos” in a firm. Read the article here.

The questioner is a “customer service specialist,” which seems to be a form of receptionist. When people visit her company, she’s their first contact. (We’re not told if the writer is male or female so I’m guessing to avoid the awkward s/he.)

Most readers of this blog will be higher level managers, executives and professionals. But the story lets me demonstrate a point: you need to be your own problem-solver.

In this column, the questioner writes that she has trouble doing her job and giving the company a good image because …

“For example, I am often not informed of expected guests, including V.I.P.s. I have to ask for a driver’s license, add their names to our visitor log and ask whom they are visiting. I’m sure they do not appreciate this cumbersome procedure, which could be minimized if I’d had advance warning.

Similar snags occur when caterers come and I don’t know who ordered the food and where it goes, or when two groups want to use a conference room at the same time.”

So far, the writer says, she’s gone to her boss, who encouraged her to look at the calendar.

The problem is, nobody updates the calendar. She tried to catch the attention of her boss’s boss, who was (or, more likely, claimed to be) on the way to a meeting.

The Workologist suggests the writer do a better job of communicating the problem and suggest a solution. Emphasize the benefit to the company. Suggest a memo from “on high.”

It’s good generic advice to present your boss with a solution and with the company’s welfare in mind. But there’s an even stronger option.

Beyond Generic Advice?

When you’ve got a problem, ask yourself, “Does anybody care? Who’s affected?” Then go to that person directly.

In this case, I suspect the VIP visitors don’t mind a brief, courteous exchange as they get added to a visitor log. They may even expect this type of interacion.

If they don’t seem annoyed, why spend time on it? If they do, you can politely call the executive they’re visiting, after the fact. Even better, if the executive has an assistant, work with him instead.

“When the investment banking rep came, he seemed annoyed that we weren’t expecting him. If you’ll give me a heads-up, or put it on the calendar, I can roll out the red carpet next time.”

And then stop. It’s not your problem anymore, unless you’re being blamed for making them go through this process. If you are being blamed, and nobody will fix the problem, you’ve got a bigger problem and you may need a new job.

The people who order food might be even more receptive, as they’re the ones eating cold pizza. After they’ve had a chance to eat, you could suggest to them – non-threatening, just informationally -- “If you let me know it’s coming, I’ll give you a shout as soon as they walk in the door!”

You might have to repeat the advice once or twice, but after that, forget it. You’ve done what you can.

Empowerment by DIY

When you fail to provide a solution, or provide a solution that requires action from your boss (like “write a memo”) you’re turning to someone else. Unfortunately, the image of a kid turning to a parent comes to mind, subconsciously, and you lose credibility.

Once you take charge, you become empowered.

I belong to a coworking space, IndyHall, which embraces the value of “Just Do It.” (Actually they add another word not suitable for a G-rated blog.)

A couple years ago, I was working away when a young lady began carrying on a phone conversation in a very loud voice. A few people murmured comments via the internal chat line. The front desk “point man” (we don’t have a manager – just a point man and a den mother) refused to get involved.

So (being the most noise-sensitive) I finally got up the nerve to say, “Excuse me, the phone conversation is distracting. The conference rooms are empty if you’d like to go there.”

The young lady just said, “Oh, sorry,” and moved. She wasn’t offended. She never, ever talked on the phone again while at her desk.

So I’d say to the letter writer, “Take matters into your own hands. If people get offended or criticize you for being uppity, and you know you’re being polite and humble, you might want to question your company’s culture.”

And start spending your time on more important things, such as what’s your next career move and how can you make it happen.


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