It’s Not In My Job Description

Posted on April 18, 2016 by Robert Ringer


Some time ago, I spoke at a wealth-building convention in Florida. About ten days before leaving, I contacted my publisher and told the head of the company that it would be a good idea to contact Barnes & Noble and have them sell copies of my new book at the event.

He agreed and said he would put his in-house PR person (“Ms. Uptite”) on it right away. Having already had one too many experiences with Ms. Uptite’s “arrogance of the ignorant” attitude, I was a bit apprehensive about her handling the matter, but my publisher assured me that everything would be fine.

Within a day, Ms. Uptite reported that she had spoken to the manager of a nearby Barnes & Noble store, and that the woman had told her she would be happy to sell my new book at the conference. She assured Ms. Uptite that she would order a large supply of the book right away.

A few days later, I checked with Ms. Uptite to confirm that Barnes & Noble had ordered the books, and she assured me that everything was “under control.” Having been through more than my share of assurances in the past that proved to be nothing more than hollow words, I called the Barnes & Noble manager directly two days before I left for Florida to make certain the books had arrived.

Unfortunately, all I got was a voice mail, so I left word. No return call. The day before I left, I called again. Same result. It was beginning to have the aroma of 7,238 other “under control” experiences I’ve had over the years, which gave me a very uncomfortable feeling.

Persistently, I took the trouble to call yet again the morning I left for Florida, but once more got nothing but a voice mail on the other end of the line. After my plane landed, you guessed it — my relentless nature prompted me to call the manager of Barnes & Noble on the way to the hotel. By this time, you already know the result.

Nevertheless, I compulsively called one last time from my hotel room before going to bed. By now, I felt as though I knew the manager of Barnes & Noble just by virtue of listening to her recorded message so many times.

When I arrived at the conference the next day, the manager not only was there, but was all set up to sell books outside the room where I was going to be speaking. One problem: She didn’t have a single copy of my book with her.

Why? If you’re over thirty and have the slightest bit of business experience under your belt, you’ve heard it all many times before. She had given instructions to someone else in her store to place the order, but there apparently had been “some kind of mix up.” Which is a euphemism for, The order was never placed.”

I’ve heard so much of this kind of “Gee, sorry” talk over the years that it all tends to sound like “blah, blah, blah” to me.

When I returned home, I let the hierarchy at my publisher’s office know that, as usual, Ms. Uptite had failed to follow through and make certain that her instructions were carried out. Like most people who never get very far in life, Ms. Uptite doesn’t have a clue as to the importance of follow through.

The desire and ability to follow through — to double-check, triple-check, and, in summation, do whatever it takes to make things happen — is one of the most glaring separators between winners and losers. Losers love to delegate, and usually do so with style and grace. But they have absolutely no idea how much more is involved in successful delegation than merely directing someone to do something.

The latter is only half (or less) of the battle. Checking back on one’s delegation to make certain it gets done — and done correctly — is every bit as important as the initial instructions.

When her boss confronted Ms. Uptite with the fact that not only did my book not arrive in Florida on time, but it was never even ordered, she was humble, embarrassed, and apologetic, right? Are you kidding? She went ballistic! Her position was that, having told the woman at Barnes & Noble to order the books, she had done her job. To her, going the extra mile was a jogging term.

She then went on a tirade, making a big issue over the fact that getting books to a speech location in Florida wasn’t part of her “job description” anyway. I guess I’m just old fashioned, but to me everyone’s job description is to do whatever it takes to please both his employer and his employer’s customers. If this isn’t the description of your job that you hold in your mind, you’re probably not going to go very far in your organization or in life in general.

Business, and to a great extent most of life, is about giving people more than you promised, quicker than you promised, easier than you promised. The only way you’ll ever make any money with an official job description is if you manufacture toilet paper with “JOB DESCRIPTION” printed on every sheet.

It goes without saying that Ms. Uptite, in rights-oriented New York, was allowed to get away with the temper tantrum she threw in the publisher’s office, which is unfortunate for her. If my publisher had really cared about Ms. Uptite, he would have given her a spanking (better yet, a caning), then sat her down and acquainted her with the facts of life.

He would have displayed a great deal of compassion by explaining to her that if she goes through life using her official job description as a shield against creating value for others, twenty years from now she’s going to be pretty much what she is today — a loser fixated on demanding her rights and reading her job description with the same fervor that many people display when reading holy scripture.

The humanitarian side of me prompts me to pass along a bit of down-home wisdom to Ms. Uptite that could set her on the path to success almost overnight if only she would embrace it:

If you always do what you’ve always done,
You’ll always be what you’ve always been.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

45 responses to “It’s Not In My Job Description”

  1. Nasdaq7 says:

    There's nothing as frustrating as knowing communication in companies are terrible. You can be as nice and polite it doesn't help, the level of competence of some employees in some companies is so poor, their abilities to pull through, to deliver for both customers, the managers and top managers is really poor. In this case you can be sure they hired someone that has no passion for the business. These employees see business as a mere ladder to success, a mere race to the top and they regard it as having achieving success as long as they can put and push both customers and co-workers aside. It is extremely frustrating dealing with such companies, I just write the companies entirely off – whether that is the right decision or not I don't know, but I can understand anyone's frustration having to deal with such employees that usually wants to be promoted based on their "great experience and leadership", meanwhile they showed absolutely no initiative or creativity or passion in doing business. Eventually an entire business consists of such people, such people hire others precisely like themselves. And there's no communication to top managers because it is blocked by Ms. Uptite and friends.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      And that is MOST companies, unfortunately. They all give lip service to customer service, but few deliver, and then they place the burden on the customer to make sure they get it right. They have rewards programs and the like, and yet the quality of service keeps declining (as prices increase, but of course, that has a different cause). I try to write companies off that perform poorly, but there are SO MANY of them, that one would end up doing without a product or service, and sometimes that is the BEST choice. On top of that, many places have employees wanting a "tip" and they don't even deliver the minimum of service. My "tip" is this: DO YOUR JOB!

      • Phil says:

        The worst might be cell phone companies. There could easily be a law (since we have so many regulations anyway) that says that a person who holds for more than 5 minutes should be allowed to break any long-term contract in which he or she has entered with the company. Only take a paradigm shift. The companies have all of the legislation bought and paid for already, but it should be considered a breach of their duties under the service contract not to attend to the customer's needs.

        I generally despise regulation but in this case it might well make sense.

  2. ◄Dave► says:

    Recycled? I don't recall when and where; but you have shared this anecdote before. ◄Dave►

    • Nasdaq7 says:

      It is the story about McDonalds. I think.

    • Scott theczech says:

      Yep, that's how truths are imparted and reinforced albeit with different parables (illustrations)

      • ◄Dave► says:

        Nope. It was the same specific story, about his speaking engagement and the missing books. The more I think about it, he may have recounted it in one of his audio offerings, which I purchased here many years ago. ◄Dave►

        • Gary Waltrip says:

          I remember reading it before, too. So what? It's a great story with an important point.

          • ◄Dave► says:

            "So what?"

            I was not criticizing or complaining, just a bit surprised… Now that I see that he is not participating here in the comment section like he usually does, it was probably a "best of…" while he is engaged elsewhere. ◄Dave►

  3. Paul says:

    I spend 60% of my day making sure people do what they said they were going to do. One of my favorite lines is "Hey, it's me again". I believe it irritates them into doing their job just so they don't have to hear from me again.

  4. Rocketman says:

    Having my own set of experiences like this happen over the years I can say that you post is 100% right on. If I had been the head of the publishing company and found this out I would have gotten her into my office and fired her on the spot.

  5. Troy says:

    Ever read Atlas Shrugged?….I'm just saying…

  6. Wil says:

    Try dealing with AT&T.

  7. Theresa says:

    What an enjoyable read this one was Mr. Ringer! I could totally relate — especially to the "7,238 other “under control” experiences I’ve had over the years" — except instead of the words "under control" our Mr. or Ms. Uptites used the words "no problem!".

    We always knew we were in trouble the minute we heard those words.

  8. During all my three careers, "Go the extra mile" was one of my mantras. And by doing that, I received great recommendations to use in gaining my next step "up". I saw my father doing that, and he often spoke of it. Who gets taught what in the home, I wonder. ( I don't know the title of Mr. Ringer's new book, but I will see if Google has it right now.)

  9. Rock says:

    Dealing with AT&T is one of the worst experiences that I have ever experienced!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Al S. says:

    wow. that she still has a job is amazing to me. I spent the last 30 years of my working life in sales. it was all about service, and as you said, underpromise, over deliver, on time, as specified. made enough to "retire" at 55.

    the young woman you describe is a pathetic little creature who will eventually marry, make some poor sods life miserable and ruin her children. and never understand why she is so despised.

  11. Bob Stutts says:

    RJR, love your column, in this share early the culpability with Ms idiot's boss early-with calls to him, vs the Barnes and Noble, letting him know HE'S on the hook, not just his worthless employee – then, with a similar result – its HIS job, not her's, that's on the line let him manage (or fail to do so) and hold him to the flame. As it is now, he get's to pass on his ineptitude… Cheers, love what you do!

  12. jim zoucha says:

    Hey Robert, GREAT sales post!
    Not only scourging the twit-to-blame, but informing all of us that there's another RJR literary feast-to-be-had!!
    Don't tell the twit, but she made you another million sales! She'll want a bonus!
    On to google!

  13. Scott theczech says:

    Thank you Robert! While it is tempting for me to look outward regarding these truths, it helps me look inward again and again as I strive to improve.

  14. Error says:

    As the blogger behind Ask a Manager, Alison Green functions as the Dear Abby of the workplace, answering readers’ questions daily on career, job search, and management issues.

  15. Paul Herring says:

    Thanks for your article, Robert. Yes, in Australia we experience the same issues you do. It does seem that many people just do the minimum that their jobs require and no more. It's frustrating, exasperating and nearly insufferable to have to deal with people like that. Knowing that you effectively have to handle everything, including their responsibilities, to arrive at the desired outcome is very enervating. And yet they continue to hold down their jobs, some of which are fairly responsible with a pay rate that says so.

    Still, when you meet someone who is gracious, helpful and who goes out of their way to finalise a project it's a good idea to acknowledge their worth and let them know it first hand. What a good outcome all round when that happens.

  16. clark says:

    thinking COMCAST ?

  17. JOSEPH says:

    I was laughing when I read this story, although I know it was not funny for you, because I've worked in 3 family businesses and I cannot tell you how many times I've heard someone say to me or one of my family members that it was not part of their job description. I know I've given specific instructions to someone and then I check up and see if it was done, and if it was not immediately I tell the person to get it done and get done right away. What I've I realized about people like this is that THEY DON'T CARE. As a family what we have learned from this is that after we hire someone if they are not doing what they are supposed to do because in their words "it's not part of their job description" , simply, WE FIRE THEM. People like this just don't care. On the positive side we have hired people who go beyond their job description they are treated with a lot of respect and they are compensated well for their hard word.

  18. JJM says:

    Ms. Uptight already knows that value and merit is a much more difficult road to take for advancement and is less likely to succeed than working her way up socially and politically. Why? First a corporation has to notice the value has been created. Then it has to recognize who created it. Then it has to risk moving the person from the position where he is creating a lot of value to a higher level position where his employment may not be so lucrative. Corporations will give such a person something to work on to keep him chasing the carrot. Whatever little flaw they can find they'll use that end.

    IME when promotion time comes around someone like Ms. Uptight will be the lead candidate. Why? To promote someone who goes the extra mile means losing the person who does the work and does it well to being a manager leaving someone like Ms. Uptight to do the work. Ms. Uptight however has made herself well liked by not annoying others to do their jobs, been friendly with managers and co-workers, and will get the manager job done minimally well and the work will still get done and done well by those who were passed over. Now ideally there should be no fits like the one described and if she can manage to deflect responsibility more calmly her road upwards will be quicker and easier than working hard creating value.

  19. Sean Baltz says:

    I agree with everything Mr. Ringer said in this writing. What is the name of the new book? I want a copy for I have read and will continue to read everything Mr. Ringer ever writes.

  20. Avery says:

    Robert, YOU DROPPED THE BALL!! If you knew she was incompetent then you should have done more to make sure your books arrived on time. Her boss should have been in the loop. Emails should have been sent daily. I have been a "student" of your since the mid 1980's. I only say this because I have learned from the master – YOU!!

    If you had delegated this task to your employee and they produced this result, I doubt they would still be employed.

    Had you followed your own advice, this column would have been about the various ways you made sure the desired outcome was achieved.

    I wrote this out of respect and admiration for all you have taught me.

  21. JohhnyTwoSheds says:

    I used to be a city manager – one big, unending migraine headache – and this article rally hit home. Not only did I have union-protected employees assiduously following the "rules" to the letter (call "malicious compliance") when it came to job description contents, but I have corrupt politicians (but alas, I repeat myself) intervening and fouling this up even more. Anyway…

    A government agency hired an efficiency expert to improve operations. This efficiency expert asked one clerk what he was doing. "Nothing," the first clerk answered. He then asked a second clerk what HE has doing. "Nothing," the second clerk answered. The efficiency expert exclaimed, "AHA!…duplication!"

    Once, as city manager, I was talking to the city manager from a town about 10 miles away…we'll call this town "East Overshoe". I asked her, "about how many employees do you have having working for you in East Overshoe?" She answered, "about half of them, on a good day!'

    I'm sure there are similar humorous stories in the private sector as well!

  22. Rick D'Amico says:

    Would this be anything like our County Recorder complaining to a reporter that the reason there was such a long wait for people to vote in our Presidental Primary is because "they showed up at the polls!"

    • JohhnyTwoSheds says:

      Consider this…25% of all Americans are functionally illiterate; yet, we are told, the unemployment rate is 5%. Those 20% extra illiterate people must be working somewhere. Three guesses who they are working for?

  23. Marisol says:

    Great story!

    I encounter at work almost everyday.. Liked the humoristic part of the toilet paper ” job ” description”.


    • JohhnyTwoSheds says:

      Apparently, "and other duties as assigned" must include surfing the net, sleeping, and otherwise wasting tim.

  24. Perhaps this woman is smarter than you think. She may be following these words of wisdom (from "The "Murphy's Law" books):

    "If you do a job too well, you will get stuck with it."
    — Slous's Law

    "Accomplishing the impossible means only that the boss will add it to your regular duties."
    — Larson's Bureaucratic Principle

    "The more crap you put with, the more crap you are going to get."
    — Chandler's Law

    If you have something to do, and put it off long enough, chances are that someone else will do it for you.
    — Clyde's Law

    • JohhnyTwoSheds says:

      Ernie, these laws are funny! They all seem to correlate with the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Order into disorder, randomness and chaos. Won't you join me in watching Western civilization slide off the shelve, down past mediocrity, and into the toilet of history, as we devolve back to the stone age? I mean, there's nothing we can do about it anyway (other than to try to avoid the negative consequences of others' mistakes) – so I look at it as a kind of massive Three Stooges on steroids kind of thing.

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      I promise you she was not smarter than I thought she was. Just a simple matter of laziness and incompetence.

  25. cspkeynes says:

    Robert : Out of curiosity , did you in any way communicate to your publisher what the consequences would follow if your request was not handled timely and properly . ?

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      No – I decided it wasn't worth the aggravation. Sometimes I'd rather suck it up and just keep the peace.