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In our consulting practice, we often facilitate large group events that bring whole organizations or divisions together. Participants are seated at round tables of six people each. Because we work with a lot of software, engineering, and manufacturing teams, it’s an environment that is dominated by men; there are often only one or two women at each table.
With each activity, we ask the groups to select a recorder to write notes on the flip charts that are at each table. Because the participants are 16-20% women, you would expect that women are selected as the recorder no more than 20% of the time. Right?
Wrong. No matter where we are working in the world, women end up taking notes about 85% of the time.
Why? The reason is historic. Traditionally, women have been expected to take on caretaker and administrative support roles, so it seems natural for a woman to volunteer or be volunteered for this role. Most of us don’t think to question it.
In the workplace, these sorts of responsibilities are called “non-promotable tasks.” Leaders don’t move up a rung on the ladder because they take good meeting notes, remember to unload the dishwasher in the breakroom, or keep the paper stocked in the copy machine. Other common non-promotable tasks: planning holiday parties or birthday celebrations and cleaning up after them; filling in for a colleague who is on vacation; serving as a representative on an unimportant committee; and taking on other tasks that are needed but not high-profile.
Traditionally, these tasks have fallen to women, both because they volunteered (48% more often than men), and also because the men around them assumed the women would do it.
Lesson #1: Men, step it up. Lead by doing your fair share of the non-promotable tasks.
Lesson #2: Leaders, create a fair process for rotating these tasks.
Lesson #3: Leaders, build cultures of shared responsibility. Non-promotable tasks aren’t going away: they are often a large part of what makes work fun, functional, and meaningful. To find a sustainable solution that is fair to all, we need to address this issue at the level of the organization’s culture.
Creating a culture of shared responsibility
If you’ve read our column before, you know we use the “find it, flip it, elevate it” process of addressing problems. If our problem is non-promotable tasks aren’t being shared evenly, we can flip it to say that what we want is a fair distribution of tasks. We can elevate that to say, “we want a culture of shared responsibility.” That means we want to know that everyone will pull their weight when it comes to non-promotable tasks. We can do our share willingly, because we know our colleagues will as well. That seems fair, right?
Shaping a culture in one direction involves making adjustments to the building blocks of culture. We’ve identified 10 building blocks in our previous columns. Here, we’ll use just four to illustrate.
Hire for culture fit: If you want teammates who value shared responsibility and will take on their portion of the non-promotable tasks, then add a question like this to your hiring interviews: “Can you share an example of when you’ve contributed to the community life of your workplace, outside of the specific responsibilities of your role?”
Develop people for culture and performance: There are some people on your team who need help identifying ways they can share responsibility. Assign them to a committee, ask them to take on kitchen duty every Friday, or request that they be on the holiday party clean up team. Be direct and make your request clear.
Others may need permission to focus more on performance; for these people, make it clear that non-promotable tasks should only take up X percentage of their time. Recommend they recruit a partner for rotating responsibilities, or that they take a year off the party planning committee.
Build these conversations into your check-in meetings and your annual goal setting processes. “Demonstrates shared responsibility” can become a metric on your scorecard. This is important, because once it’s part of the expectations and competencies for your team members, you can move to the next step.
Recognize, reward, and promote for culture: Celebrate those who are great at lending a hand; celebrations don’t have to be big: an email of appreciation with the next-level leader copied, a shout-out at a staff meeting, or an invitation to take the afternoon off in appreciation for the extra hours worked. People who excel should also be recognized during annual performance reviews, and it should be included as a factor in promotions they receive.
The inverse needs to be true as well: do you have a team member who isn’t pulling his or her weight? Write that into performance reviews, include it in development plans, and “dock points” when considering this person for a promotion. It may be an indication that the person isn’t a team player; that sort of behavior becomes toxic in a culture, especially as the individual moves toward leadership roles.
Communicate consistently and authentically: Finally, for your culture of shared responsibility to stick, the leaders (including you) have to walk the talk. You can’t put yourself on a planning committee then skip the meetings. You can’t say you value shared responsibility then promote Selfish Stan over equally qualified candidates who are better community contributors.
Why this matters
You probably don’t need us to connect the dots, but just in case: creating a culture of shared responsibility matters for your team. It’s fairer for everyone. Rather than taking advantage of the kindness of a few teammates, a culture of shared responsibility says it is everyone’s job to serve the team. That is about more than just getting the breakroom refrigerator cleaned out; it’s about having each other’s back, sharing each other’s burdens, and moving the organization forward faster, together.
At the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, we’re believers in the importance of collaborative work environments. (See here for information on leading collaborative change, for example.) In these environments, people feel more respected and heard, are more engaged, deliver better results, and stay with your company longer. That’s worth focusing on.
July 8, 2019 at 02:45PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs