What might seem like a harmless request (“Hey, Joe, do you have a minute?”) can quickly turn out to be a horrible drain on your time, energy, and productivity.
The situation is often a conundrum: If you say no, you’re being a selfish jerk who’s not a team player. But, if you say yes, then you can become an abused door mat. The trick is to avoid those situations in the first place.
In sales, a prime area where you’re at great risk of getting sucked in occurs with customer service issues. There are typically customer service reps whose job it is to answer questions and concerns. But once you get involved, it can be difficult to extricate yourself without a mess. Your kind offer to help could snowball into clients sidestepping customer service reps and calling you directly as their personal go-to person. The longer that persists, the more difficult it can be to say, “That’s not my job.” It’s pretty much like walking in quicksand.
Sales managers in particular must be diligent to manage the team and not take on special cases. There is often an urge to be a “super rep” as opposed to a manager or coach, which doesn’t work well. Sales managers should resist the temptation to take over and should position sales reps to lead. If you attend a sales meeting with clients or prospects, be very clear about why you’re there and that your sales reps will take the lead going forward. Otherwise, once they see you, they’ll expect you to remain involved and see the project through to completion.
Being one of those über helpful people who can’t say no can limit your career. Your core job can suffer if you succumb to too many distractions. Good intentions don’t count — people will notice when your job doesn’t get done. Some people thrive on chaos and having lots on the go. Like empty nesters, they don’t know what to do with themselves when the distractions are gone. How about focusing on your core job? No one will feel bad for a workplace martyr who takes on too much or likes to get involved.
Are there exceptions? Yes, such as requests to help with internal development projects, which might legitimately require your expertise to contribute to something strategic for the team or organization. But in these cases, you should have the approval of your boss and know when a conflict for your time comes up and which project takes priority.
Five Questions to Consider Before You Say Yes to Non-core Work
You need to use good judgment when deciding (or reluctantly agreeing) to venture outside your core responsibilities. Here are five questions to consider when faced with helping someone else or saying “no.”
1. Are you better off coaching?
Yes, it’s often easier to do something yourself rather than take the time to teach or coach someone else. But in doing so, you’re enabling them and holding them back while allowing yourself to be distracted. Such simple requests can lead to a Groundhog Day scenario that can be difficult to escape from. Look for opportunities to coach and develop others rather than doing things yourself.
2. Will your primary accountabilities suffer?
Before you say yes to someone else, consider whether or not your own assignments, commitments, and goals can still get done on time and with the same attention to detail. You’ll not likely get forgiveness if you fail to achieve your targets, so be wary of nonessential tasks and requests that can hurt your performance, productivity, reputation, and rewards.
3. How will this affect your impact on the business?
In addition to the previous question, there’s a larger aspect to ponder: Where is your time best spent? There may come a time when someone needs your help on something that contributes to the greater good of the team or company than you currently provide. And, the help you provide could be a stepping stone toward a promotion or broader responsibilities. If you think there’s a case to be made for saying yes, then talk about it with your manager to make it official.
4. Do you have an exit strategy?
The famous quote from Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part III comes to mind: “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in!” Before saying yes, be very clear about how much you are willing to do or for how long. “I’ll listen in on the call or attend the meeting so I can give you my honest assessment of the situation, but don’t expect to staff me on the project or attend future meetings.”
5. Will you get credit, recognition, or a reward for this extracurricular work?
Suppose you do have time, can help, and are successful in balancing your own work and that which you’ve been asked to pitch in on. A one-time favor is one thing, but when it becomes a habit, you’ll regret not being rewarded or recognized for your efforts. If it’s something you truly want to do, then work out a change with your manager wherein you take on the additional responsibilities and are paid for them. If you don’t, you’ll likely feel abused and undervalued, which hurts your attitude and performance.