Certain types of employees, more so than others, tend to jump into projects outside their normal jobs. I classify these people into three groups: helpers, experts, and rogues.
Helpers get pulled away from their regular work because they are genuinely open and tend to be good at solving problems. And they usually have a hard time saying no. Inevitably, people are always asking them for help.
Experts are always getting asked to field a question or take a look at something because they usually know the answers. These types are more likely to suddenly find themselves tangled up in a project they didn't intend to become involved in, rather than actively seek out new projects.
Rogues are drawn away from their work because they become intrigued by some interesting idea or initiative. Often these ideas are their own, but they can also from some other rogue on the team or in the organization.
In my experience, if there is someone chronically explaining to their boss why their work is falling behind, they are probably a helper, an expert, or a rogue. And their work is usually behind because they were busy doing something that really should have taken a backseat to their regular work.
Getting helpers, experts, and rogues back on track
If you're a boss to one of these types, you might be tempted to say, "Stop doing all that other work and do your job!" But at the same time, you know that being a helper, expert, or rogue can be a positive thing. Those people end up doing some pretty interesting stuff--often the very things that make them go-to people in the first place.
Instead of shutting them down, you can assist the helper, expert, or rogue to own what they do. Make their particular tendency part of your ongoing dialogue with them. Stay aligned with them at every step of their workload and how they are managing their competing priorities. You can help them by setting clear ground rules for how to make time for their side work--without getting distracted from their primary responsibilities.
For example, discuss how much time--as their boss--you are comfortable with them using their skills as helpers, experts, or rogues. What criteria could help them decide whether an outside project is something they should do or not? Are there certain people you want them to avoid, or others they should go out of their way to serve?
With a time budget and clear guidelines, you can help these people document all their extra work in a time log. Then you can give them proper credit, or if the work they're doing turns out to be of no value from your perspective, you can shut it down.
What if you realize you are a helper, expert, or rogue? Again, it's best to own it instead of risking having your side operations continually shut down. Use your ongoing dialogue with your boss to get help with addressing your tendency, as outlined earlier. If it turns out that your boss deems the extra work you do of no value to the organization, then you'll need to seriously consider what that means for you. If you're convinced your boss is wrong, be prepared to make a business case for what you do.
Post based on content fromThe Art of Being Indispensable at Work.