August 2019

How can I show my team I’m capable of growth and innovation beyond the limits of my job description?

Dear Leah M.

I'm on a team that often tells me, "That's not your role!" or "This is the way we do things." How can I show them I’m capable of growth and innovation beyond the limits of my job description?

Stay in Your Lane Leslie

Dear Leslie,  

I’m going to give you two answers – because my advice differs depending on how long you’ve been at your organization.

Situation 1: You’re the new kid on the block. Let me tell you – I’ve been there! I recall starting new jobs, arriving gung-ho, energetic, and bursting with new ideas. When chances arose for me to suggest a different way of doing something, a new software program we could try or something I learned recently, I would get the same reactions you're getting. "Good idea, but that's just not how we want to do it." “That sounds interesting, but we don't have time to try something new right now." Or, my fave, "Nice idea – but people around here will never go for changing things up like that." Slowly, my bubble burst until I just stopped suggesting things. Maybe this is where you are right now? 

If so, patience is key. People who have been in an organization for a longer time can play a vital role in using their institutional knowledge and memory to balance out 'new energy.' I know, I know *cue eye roll*. But it’s true – having institutional history and experience is really valuable. Spend some more time listening and asking questions, and you may discover why certain things should stay the same, and where there are real and genuinely new opportunities for innovation.

In the meantime, look for a mentor at your organization - outside of your immediate team - who you both respect and feel has that institutional knowledge already. That person might be a better sounding board than your current team – and they can help you channel your innovative spirit into ideas that get the green light. 

Situation 2: You have put in your time but keep hitting roadblocks.  Maybe it's finally getting on your nerves that your team clings to the status quo. Maybe there are even some egos in the room you are navigating. If you're going to push your ideas for change or put your skillset front and center without giving everyone an organization-wide heart attack, try to start with something small and be chill about it.

Quietly use the innovation yourself or help out others if you can, and when good results come in let them shine for themselves. Build social capital slowly over time by going the extra mile without asking for credit for it first. Work behind the scenes to deliver stellar work products, and when they ask you how you pulled it off – tell them you tried something new!

Good luck, Stay-in-Your-Lane-Leslie. Drive safe and don't get caught on organizational cruise control.



Leah M. 

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