Some jobs suck. They just do. Your manager is a jerk, the work isn’t fulfilling. I’ve been there. That’s not one of those “yeah, I’ve been there.” I’ve ACTUALLY been there. I’ve been a cog in the wheel of the industrial complex, spinning freely and ineffectually through space. I’ve had jobs where there’s been NO clear business plan other than “we should sell things and make money” and even worse, I’ve worked for the government where they don’t actually sell things AND they don’t make money. But there’s something that I’ve done at every single job I’ve ever had that has made the difference in my ability to show up and do the work every day; own something.
One of the least rewarding jobs I’ve ever had was with a large national stationary supply company. Let’s call them… Staples. Here’s the thing. I worked with people that I liked, FOR people that I liked, selling things I liked, but it was still just a boring job. Why? In businesses like this, you really feel like all parts are interchangeable. You feel as though if you just died one day, the big issue would be finding the right sized red shirt for your replacement. It’s not a job that resonates with the entrepreneurial spirit. Unless you make it resonate with the entrepreneurial spirit.
One day I went to my boss and said, “I want to try something.” Our “overstock”, the section above the shelves where we keep all the extra stock were always very loosely organized. I asked to create a much more strict and specific system that would eliminate situations where you lost a sale because you couldn’t find a product. My manager said sure because honestly, I don’t think he cared and he probably knew that I wouldn’t shut up about it if he didn’t and so that’s what I did. Next up, I asked if each member of the computer department could be given a specific section of the department that was their job to REALLY know and care for. We’d clean our section and KNOW our section, inside and out. I asked for software and in the first month that I “took over” software, we saw a significant 55% increase in software sales.
The point is not that I’m incredible at selling software. The point is that people are good at things if they feel important and valued. I became great at selling software because that was MINE. It was MY thing. It was MY department. The problem is that many companies don’t really seem to care about how engaged you are. So I guess you’re out of luck…
OR you could decide to take ownership yourself. Most people just plug away, head down. Occasionally, they might suggest something but if they meet any resistance whatsoever, they just fold onto themselves and give up. Don’t. If you want to own something, DO IT. Go to your boss. Tell them you have a better way to do something and you want to own it. Your boss cares about two things. One of these things makes sense. Can you do this work without sacrificing your work? If you’re already dissatisfied with your job, there’s a good chance that you’re not being used enough and as such, you’ll be fine. If you’re REALLY overworked, then anything you come up with is likely going to streamline tasks and activities to help you manage your work, and so the answer is that you’re probably still fine. But it’s that other question that will surprise you.
The other question that your boss is going to ask, and the one they care about even more than that other one, is, “am I going to have to lift a finger to help with this.” Your boss probably fits into one of two categories. They’re either lazy or overworked. Most bosses are, until you get to a certain level. They either have task after task heaped onto them until they are crushed under the weight of it all or they’re lazy and they’re trying to avoid work at all cost. In either case, their primary concern is “am I going to have to do something.” Start by assuring them that they will never have to deal with this. This is YOUR task, not theirs. This is YOUR baby.
Take ownership of things that you see around you that could be done better. Does your company have terrible website copy? Offer to write better. Is your company’s social media presence embarrassing? Own it. Make it better. Do employees have no idea what to do when they start with your company? Offer to create an onboarding and orientation process. YOU KNOW your company’s pain points. YOU KNOW what they are terrible at. You have two choices. You can either plug along, hating every moment of your job OR you can decide that YOU are going to be the one to change things. It is actually, literally up to you.