Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Employee Engagement: "It's Not in My Job Description"

For me, the sentence, "It's not in my job description", is a huge red flag.

It's a sure sign someone is not a team player.  It's a sign someone is a taker, not a giver. It's a sign someone is self-centered, putting their importance ahead of others.

I think I've said before how influential summer jobs can be, and today I'd like to share with you why I feel so strongly about the phrase in the title of this post.

Between my second and third years in university, I worked in the drill squad of the world famous Fort Henry Guard, based in Kingston, Ontario.

One of the unofficial mottoes of the Guard was "Remain Flexible".  The meaning of this was that, at any time, you could be asked to be a sentry, on gun drill, tour guide or cleaning up. Duties for sentry duty or gun drills were assigned each day, but sometimes we had more visitors than expected, which meant you had to be prepared to take on some new assignments.

While this may have been just a summer job, I think these principles hold true in any well-run organization.

In larger organizations, we tend to be slotted into narrowly defined roles and responsibilities that make it hard to be as flexible as we were at Old Fort Henry.  In smaller organizations, the ability to be functional in job roles outside your core responsibilities is vital.

At one company, our purchasing manager lost both parents within weeks of each other.  She was overwhelmed not only with the loss, but also the responsibilities of attending to both their estates.  As a result, she found it difficult to keep up with her job responsibilities, and purchasing was an area in which we were extremely thin on manpower.

While this was happening, we were also having quality issues with a company that supplied a critical laminated material for one of our products.  They were unable to identify for us whether the issues was the result of a fault in the lamination process or a defective batch of material. We knew we needed to find an alternate supplier for this lamination, and the process for finding one was normally managed by purchasing.

Because of the quality issue, we were prevented from manufacturing a product for one of our key customers, who were anxious to know when we would be able to re-commence supply.  They needed answers, not excuses.

I offered to take the lead on finding alternative suppliers because, in the end, it was a customer-driven issue: we had a customer who could not market their product because we were unable to supply a critical component.  So, while my job role was sales, handling a purchasing issue was also a way of solving a supply chain issue for a customer.

The more I researched companies who made one of the materials in the lamination we purchased, the more I came to realize there were literally only a handful of companies in the world who had the capabilities of making the material used, let alone being able to meet our specifications.  (Our customer thought there would be hundreds of companies who made this material and changing suppliers could be done in a couple of weeks). We were fortunate that two of those suppliers were located within a half-day's drive of our plant, so I visited them both to get a better understanding of the challenges in making the material we needed.

One of these suppliers analyzed samples of the lamination we used - both past and current - and determined that the incumbent had, despite protests otherwise, switched recipes and companies they purchased their materials from.  We now had scientific evidence to support our allegations there had been material substitutions.

A few weeks later, when our purchasing manager returned from bereavement leave, I took her to meet the company we felt represented the best opportunity to supply the lamination we needed.  This gave her a chance to see the plant as well as meet the executive team and allowed me an opportunity to transition the supplier search back to her so she could begin qualification trials.

Taking on a task normally done by purchasing gave me some insights into the challenge purchasing people face in searching for and selecting suppliers.  Given the circumstances, it helped forge a stronger relationship between sales and purchasing While helping the company respond to a customer in need.

When I left this company, the purchasing manager was the first person to come into my office and give me a hug and tell me how much they'd miss me.  I was really touched by this and it is a moment I will never forget.

I hope you can see that, in this situation, the roles of sales and purchasing were very strongly interdependent. Had we stuck to our job roles, we might still have solved the supply chain issue for our customer, but at the cost of several weeks being unable to supply them. Blurring the lines between sales and purchasing in this case demonstrated that our company really required a team effort to survive - and thrive.

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