When do you say 'No, that's not my job any longer'?

"I was promoted last month to director of engineering, and now I'm doing all the work I did before, plus the director work. I can't get it all done!" -- New engineering director

"I know I shouldn't support that product anymore, but we always have, and I don't want to disappoint the customers" -- Software engineering director

"Well, they haven't announced my promotion, so no one knows about it. I'm just working 80 hours a week until they do, until I can stop doing the work I did before." -- New director of product management

"You're telling me to think strategically, but now that I'm the VP of development, I don't have time to think, let alone think strategically." -- New vice president of product development

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Johanna Rothman
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Johanna Rothman consults on managing high-tech product development, focusing on project management, risk management and people management. You can reach her at jr@jrothman.com or by visiting www.jrothman.com.


You've been promoted. You have more responsibility than you had before. Why are you still doing the work you did before?

Many of us get stuck in a positive feedback loop, doing the work we enjoy, feel successful at and are good at. We take on more responsibility to do more work. But we keep the old work we've been doing, and for a while, we can do it all. Then we acquire even more responsibility, and we can't be successful any longer.

Here are some suggestions for deciding what you should do:

Does this job really need to be done any longer? Just like those boxes you pack when you move, there's lots of junk that shouldn't come along with a promotion at all. Some of it loses its meaning when you take the new job; some of it loses its meaning when jobs are changed; some of it lost its meaning somewhere along the way; some of it never had meaning. You're the person who best knows if something needs to be done; your successor will take some time to find out that it's not needed.

Don't delegate work that shouldn't be done in the first place, so decide on that first. If you're not sure if something really matters, use this test: Don't do it. That will help you see if the work needs to be done.

Can you delegate this task to someone else? Even if you don't have someone else yet, could someone do this task, or does it require only your talents and capabilities, especially given your new role? You have options of hiring or outsourcing the work.

David, a product manager, was attempting to manage three new product-development efforts, develop and run training classes for the just-released product, develop marketing campaigns for the next product, and provide customer support for an old product. David had a difficult time seeing which tasks were strategically important for him to do and which could be delegated to someone else. His company had a hiring freeze, so hiring people wasn't an option. It was time to reconsider which pieces of his job were required for his success and the success of the company.

Is this task/role/job strategically important to the company and to your success at the company? Maybe the job doesn't have to be done anymore at all. I've seen numerous cases of people who disagreed with their company's decision to retire products. They kept working on the products, supporting the products and those products' customers, to the detriment of the new product development.

In David's case, the strategically important work was the new product development: keeping the projects focused and developing marketing campaigns for the upcoming release. The support and training work took time away from his strategically important work. He could have hired an external trainer to give the training classes. If he had trained the salespeople, they might have been able to do the necessary product support. As a side benefit, the salespeople would be more likely to strengthen their customer relationships.

Assess what you have time to do. Your company pays you to do your best job, not your worst job. If you're tired or drained by working on things that don't add value to your company, then you're not doing your job. You are doing your company (and yourself) a favor by saying, "Here's what I have time to do. Let's prioritize this work and decide what I should let drop on the floor." It can be scary the first time you say this to your manager. You may find your experience to be like my own: My managers have appreciated knowing what I wasn't going to do, rather than being surprised that it wasn't done or that it wasn't done well.

David decided that his sanity was more important than his job, and made a list of everything he was willing to do, in order of priority. When he presented his list to his manager, the manager was surprised: "I had no idea you were doing half of these things. Of course you shouldn't do those." David was pleasantly surprised.

Sometimes, you don't think you have a choice in how you create your job. If you are a knowledge worker, you have a choice -- that's what your company pays you for. If you don't think you have choices and you feel trapped, think of your job as a design problem, and make sure you've considered at least three options. That way, you can design the most appropriate job for now.

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