No Task Too Small? When Should You Push for Better Assignments?

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Christopher A. Adams 5 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #144587

    A couple weeks ago, I asked a question on behalf of an emerging leader who is navigating a new organization. Since that got some solid responses, I thought I’d ask another question on this person’s behalf. Here’s the scenario based on an email message to me:

    I personally believe that there is no task too small to fulfill. If the small tasks were the majority of my job, then I would see that as a problem and I would speak to my supervisor or HR rep. However, in my position I think I am supposed to demonstrate dedication to completing tasks with excellence, no matter how big or small…but some of my peers see it as “beneath them.”

    What do you think?

    Should you do whatever you’re told and quietly wait for better assignments?

    Or should you actively ask for better, more challenging work even if it is perceived by your supervisor as annoying or arrogant?

  • #144617

    No easy answers here, as usual, but it comes down the same, elusive ideas that surround the whole “soft skills” discussion found elsewhere in this week’s issue. Two components that have always worked for me and the folks I’ve encountered along the way are:

    1. Work you believe in (and thus never feels like work)

    2. Co-workers with whom you can get along (certainly falls into the soft skill category)

    Whether I was part of a newspaper staff, a military unit, a construction crew, or in my own classroom, these two components were the prime determinants of what I could tolerate and for how long.

    It’s like this: Getting coffee for a group of people with whom I believe we can make the world a better place is a noble task I could do for free for a long time. Getting coffee every day for superiors who don’t know how else to use me, and who don’t seem to have any purpose or direction is something I could only do once, and not very happily even then, no matter how much the job paid.

  • #144615

    Betsy Cuthbertson

    Stop asking. It denotes passivity; sounds like E.L. is still in college waiting for the professor to say what’s next.

    maybe the manager is overtaxed, does not have the capacity to make the best use of emerging leader’s skills, isn’t clear on what those skills are…whatever. The emerging leader does not appear to be leading but, instead, appears from this contruct to be passively seeking for something to be assigned, approval from higher-ups, rescue from outsiders. Going to HR!?? If the emerging leader truly is one, in addition to doing tasks as assigned, E.L. should start recognizing improvements, unmet needs, innovations, inventions within the assignment area.Do them and prove value and improve career prospects…and satisfaction.

  • #144613

    Doug Tharp


    Right on the money. Do those minor tasks you’re asked to do and find something meaningful that needs to be done and make it happen. If you truely want to lead, then you must take initiative and tackle something that shows you can add real value.

  • #144611

    I would find a person who is in the position I want to Aspire to in that organization and start cultivating that person as my mentor. Mentors can open doors that are often “closed” to those of us who are new.
    Additionally look about “with eyes and ears open” and see who is the “person who is really in charge.”
    Surprisingly more often than not the person with the institutional knowledge (not the gossip) is the person to cultivate and ask for advice…….But always remember Mentors and “go to persons” unless their name is GOD still suffers as we all do from FOC (Feet of Clay).
    Example: In a position that I was in no one wanted the task of organizing and running a group of temporary workers during the summer months.
    I used that as a stepping stone in order to obtain more leverage in the organization and became the “subject matter expert” in recruitment, training and customer service excellence……and took a failing operation made it successful and profitable. That operation now runs each summer pays for itself and has enabled the organization add new facilities and improve others.

  • #144609

    Carol Davison

    You NEVER want to be thought of as annoying or arrogant. Nor should you wait quietly.

    Do as Rampulstilskin did, spin straw into gold. A coworker asked what happened at the meeting, I wrote up notes, put them on the shared drive, emailed the location to all and asked for input. I also said to check 24 hours after meetings for the notes because I wasn’t going to clutter up our emails accounts unnecessarily with items posted on the shared drive. By doing so I set up an sop for communicating what happens at meetings I can’t attend.

    Volunteer for “junk” assignments like CFC fund raiser and use it as an opportunity to influence, network, work the organization, show your team leadering, etc.

    Watch to see what your boss has trouble doing and do it for him/her, and “submit it for their consideration”. Like your perforamnce plan, mid year, individual development plan, evaluation, award, etc. OH! Employees are normally harder on themselves in this endevaor then their supervisors are. Remember that even Superman was only faster than a speeding bullet at the outstanding level. Leave room to exceed the standards.

    I work in HR. Exaclty what did you expect me to do for you?

  • #144607


    I would do the task. It’s important to establish a rapport and credibility with a supervisor. If a supervisor cannot trust you to execute the small assignments, you are not likely to get the larger ones. Let the supervisor know you believe you are ready and willing to perform more challenging assignments or projects. Don’t wait to be asked to do something. Be creatve. Offer to take as much as you can off the boss’s shoulders and do it well.

  • #144605

    David Dejewski

    I’m big on taking initiative – very important for promotion. Set up a human network so you’re not being a cowboy or over doing it, but look for holes and fill them – then communicate.

    There is an exception to every rule. If you find yourself in an environment where taking initiative is not encouraged, or if you find that taking initiative is ignored or punished, then in my opinion, it may be time to move on.

    The relationship between employee and supervisor needs to be healthy. If it’s not, you may find another environment more rewarding.

  • #144603


    I see this as an issue of AND, not OR… although I’ve had many co-workers not only refuse to do the ‘menial’ tasks, but have openly mocked me for taking those tasks on. I think it’s important in terms of being seen as a ‘team player’ that you’re willing to step in and get things done… and that should only be perceived as a good thing within your agency, but it kind of depends upon what the culture is where you are – as an example, I have a regular meeting and report I prepare for said meeting. I always used to also prepare some coffee as a courtesy prior to that meeting, even after a colleague said it was a very bad idea. I didn’t mind, and continued to do so, until I started to sense a shift in the perception of the managers around me, such that it became kind of an expectation or my ‘duty’ as a lower ranking employee. At which point I stopped making the coffee, because it went from being helpful to being ‘the girl who makes our coffee’ – and that felt very different, in a really not good way…

    I agree with Christopher Adams’ comment regarding purpose!

    So, to my way of thinking, do the ‘menial’ jobs, but also ask in what other ways you can be useful… some of my favorite ‘special projects as assigned’ have literally come from presenting myself to a manager I admired and asking her in what way I could be of service to lighten her work burden. Doing the extras along with putting your willingness to step up out there combine for more experience and broader, more high profile assignments! 🙂

  • #144601


    @Rosalee, I am glad you stopped the coffee gig. Better to be appreciated for our professional contributions.

  • #144599

    David Dejewski

    Being prior military, whether or not you do a task you’ve been asked to do – no matter how trivial it may appear – isn’t a question. It’s an assumption that you will do what is asked. My suggestion is to take initiative above and beyond a given task.

    As a supervisor of many people and organizations over the years, I’ve had people working for me that I just didn’t know what to do with. Sometimes, they didn’t have the foundation they needed to take on additional responsibility. Sometimes I didn’t have a project in my portfolio that lent itself to an individual’s talent. Employees or managers who repeatedly showed up asking me what they should do next were frankly a drag – though I would do what I had to to not let them know that.

    I’m not a fan of micro-management. I tried not to hire people who needed that level of supervision, but as a government employee, we don’t always get the luxury of choosing who works for us.

    I’d rather have an employee show up with a problem, a solution, and a desire to take point, than an employee who simply showed up with a willingness to do more. The former shows that a person has thought through an issue and understands context. The latter shows a happy camper who may not have any idea where they are or what the organization is doing. Often, they wanted to please me – which misses the point of their employment.

    Don’t do things just to please someone in the hope that they will bestow something great upon you. Just get the job done, communicate, and be part of the team moving the ball forward. When necessary, don’t be afraid to step up and take the lead.

  • #144597

    Erica Schachtell

    This is a tough one, to be sure. It is political at a level or two above you, and no one tells you what the rules are there. It’s like being the only one in a room who hears the sounds of the doorway, and hence the only one who’s moving in that direction, but blindfolded, with a long tail, and lots of rocking chairs. So go forth, you brave initiative-taker !! and don’t be surprised to hear yourself say “ouch” a few times.

  • #144595

    Jack Shipley

    Carrying the water is no problem for me. But I have always made it painfully clear to my employers that I do not want to be bored. I look for, and welcome, more assignments.

  • #144593

    It’s important that you show initiative. But, it’s equally important that you show your initiative in the right way. By “right” I mean in a way that is receptive to responsible management. This is what i have done; and it worked.

    After finishing this mundane job, i needed to signal completion with an “all clear” email. At the end of the email, I said;

    “I look forward to more challenging assignments”

    This paved the way for future discussion and, ultimately, higher level assignments.

  • #144591


    Doing small assignments can prepare you for possibly bigger assignments. Depending on the environment and task, if you are diligent and consistent with fulfilling the minor tasks you may demonstrate your organizational and intellectual capacity. Possibly, those task may open up new avenue for you to formulate and express new ideas. Asking for more challenging work may be a sensitive issue, depending on the type or place of employment and therefore should be at the discretion of the individual.

  • #144589

    Deborah Button

    I love the blog and the posts.

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