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Managing to Make a Difference by Larry Sternberg

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Chapter 26Solicit Volunteers for Unpopular Tasks

A management seminar participant said there were tasks in his department that nobody wanted to do. “What,” he asked, “do you do with those?” The reaction of his fellow participants was immediate and surprisingly consistent. Almost all of them were in the same situation, and almost all were dissatisfied with the obvious solutions, which include:

  1. Saying to the employee, “I know it is not your favorite thing, but it is part of your job. Every job has things you would rather not do.”
  2. Rotating the undesired tasks among the team members, thus equitably distributing the burden.
  3. Including the boss in the rotation.
  4. Drawing straws.
  5. Paying an incentive for those tasks.

Nobody reported great success with these solutions. However, there were a couple of participants who had discovered an alternative approach. The first was a controller, whose broad responsibilities included both accounting and nonaccounting functions. There were several tasks widely considered undesirable by his staff. One day, out of the blue, he got the idea to make a list of all tasks for which his team was responsible. He posted the list and asked his people to sign their names by the tasks they most liked to do. That was his solution.

He was shocked that even the undesirable tasks had names by them. He mentioned in particular the task of wrapping packages. He was absolutely certain that nobody liked doing that. But there were two employees who were really good at it ...

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