Boundaries

I heard Hank Paulson, when he still was the Treasury Secretary, give an interview to CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo about a week back. Paulson was questioned mostly on the economic crisis gripping the US in general and Wall Street in particular and it was only towards the end that Maria came down to asking questions about Paulson’s general belief about business (you can read the transcript here, but sadly this does not include the section I refer to in this post, which was moved to the “Closing Bell” section).

Asked about advice he usually had for people who work for him, Paulson made a remarkable statement. He said – “I ask them (his people) to not become restrictive in their work and to define their roles expansively”. The statement struck me as profound because I have seen so many people succeed just by the way they handled boundaries. Only the naive would expect roles to not come with boundaries, explicit or implicit. The ambitious follows what Paulson mentioned – they either create an expansive definition of their roles when the existing definition is not explicit or – should the limits be explicitly mentioned – push the boundaries when they hit against it. The I’m-happy-the-way-I-am-thank-you s on the other hand create a narrow definition of their jobs perhaps to just hedge against failure (and have their egos take a beating).

An expansive job definition immediately sends out a positive message and prepares the person for assuming either more responsibilities (horizontal expansion) or higher level responsibilities (vertical expansion).

In Product Management I have seen many define their roles restrictively – “I am only the functional specs guy so if you need to enhance the workflow design, ummm, I guess I am not the right person”. Death knell. On the other hand – “you know what, I know my functional specs specifies this to be the workflow but what the heck, I know the alpha clients reasonably so why don’t we set up a call with them to see if there is a better way to get this done”. Skin in the game – now we are talking.

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