Task Swapping: The Story Behind ‘Gimme That Escalation’
In one of the recent training sessions, a guy came forward and expressed what he had written on his wish list.
“I would love to have more escalation calls.”
This statement set off these confused looks and reactions among everyone in the room.
“Did he just say what he meant to say? ‘I want more *escalation* calls?”
“That sounds terrible. Why?”
Everyone was shocked that the guy wanted more escalation calls. So of course, they had to ask him for further explanation.
He easily explained it. He’s the “deepest subject-matter expert in the whole organization on this topic." He’s confident that he can be the last person the customer has to talk to about this issue.
“I know that they can be so irate and can give up any time, but I know I'm gonna resolve it. If anyone can, it's me. Their frustration ends with my call back, and that feels very rewarding.”
His awareness and certainty that he has the resolution and knowledge to turn things around fires up his love for doing escalations. And for that, we have named this concept in his honor.
Open Meaningful Conversations About Task Swapping
The guy’s gimme that escalation statement opened up a whole conversation with others in the room. If you guessed that his teammates instantly offered him their own escalation calls, that’s not far-fetched at all. But expecting him to accept all escalations may not be realistic since of course, he actually has to get some other stuff done.
While the guy got more escalations after the conversation, he also freed up his plate with tasks that were on his “minus one” list. Obviously, he was able to achieve the “plus one, minus one” balance, thanks to some good thinking and meaningful conversation.
Opening up about what you want more of — though oftentimes surprising many in the room — can create a shift in the tasks. This proves that indeed one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
What Is Task Swapping
It's simply the idea of exchanging job responsibilities with someone else on your team. Often, small task swaps can be done without permission. For example, one person makes a PowerPoint deck for a teammate. In return, he makes a pivot table in Excel. It's a way to match tasks with a person's strengths and interests.
Trash Tasks and Treasured Tasks
How can we expand this concept further so it’s easier to apply? Consider the following as fun exercises for you as an individual or as a manager.
As an individual: Discover other people’s “trash” tasks
- Gather information. As you step through a normal work week, listen for what people are kvetching, complaining, or procrastinating about. This is not to suggest that you join in the water cooler talk or negative office conversations. Your goal is to capture as much information as you can for this little internal research project - you're listening for things they don't like that sound fun to you.
- Look out for “magic” moments. Most likely as you listen, you’ll find some “aha” moments. You discover that certain things people complain about are not bad at all. It could be stuff you actually like doing. You’ll find that what others consider an area of weakness or difficulty might be an energizing area of expertise for you. As you look out for these moments, compare and take notes. You might find some "task swaps" you can do immediately because one person's Trash Task is another person's Treasured Task.
Love It or Loathe It?
As a manager: Discover your team’s “loathe” list and shift tasks when possible
Imagine if you knew what each of your team members’ trash tasks were, especially their top list. Knowing this could be really important because you are able to spot whether the “loathe” list includes tasks they have to do every day. You get an insight into the team’s "de-motivation tasks."
In reality, it might not be that easy to shift responsibilities around, as tasks that people hate still need to get accomplished. But in a lot of workplaces, the assignments are not homogeneous, so you might have some power to be able to switch things around. Perhaps you could take something off the plate of a top performer in your team who may be losing interest in their job as they have to do what they loathe on a daily basis.
Do task swapping for the "loathe it" list. Even if you can't remove the loathsome items (a.k.a. Trash Tasks), you can reframe that task to feel less soul-sucking. For example, when a sales team member mentioned how much he loathed expense reports, his manager couldn't remove it. However, his manager knows how important relationships are to this team member.
When it became clear that his late reports were causing pain to teammate in accounting, he stopped turning them in late. It made the task more meaningful. It wasn't important to him to do the report. It was important to him to show mutual respect for his teammate.
Time And Trust Are Key To Task Swapping
Opening up a conversation with your team members about the tasks they hate require a lot of trust. That's why you can't do strengths just as a one-time offsite team building and expect it to create all the magic things in the world. It takes meaningful conversation over time, up to that point they are comfortable enough to say, “Sure, I'm going to give it my number one, A+ best, but I actually hate this job duty.”
The ‘Gimme That ________’ Exercise
On the flip side, this exercise can prove powerful for the whole team, as it opens some cool opportunities. When assigning projects to your team members, consider these:
- Their strengths. For each team member, find and assign to them one thing that lives in their strengths zone, especially if it's not in the strengths zone of everyone else. What is it that they love and makes them come alive?
- Their expertise. Think about the projects that tend to get assigned at work. Those who are good at certain skills or knowledge areas tend to be the go-to people on that topic. But they may not like it at all. For example, a woman in one of our virtual training classes recently lamented how she's known as the "team secretary." She's good at notes. She's thorough. But she doesn't want to be assigned as a note taker (ever!).
Unfortunately, her Responsibility strength cast her in that light after she did the "trash task" in order to not let balls drop on the team. Now everyone sees her in that light, and it sucks the life out of her. So as you're doing the "Gimme That [_____]" conversation, be sure to ask for areas where their subject matter expertise also feels energizing. Sometimes you're good at things you don't like, and it would be draining to get more. We call these "laundry tasks" - you're good at them, they have to be done, but you don't like them. And you surely don't want more of them.
- Their development plan. If you’re the type of manager who puts considerable thought on what a person hopes to develop, as expressed in their individual development plan, be on the lookout for a relevant opportunity or project for them. Development plans are underutilized for strengths development because they often focus on subject matter expertise. Make your IDP full of potential task swapping ideas next year.
In addition to knowledge, skills, and experience areas, think of their natural talents: how they naturally think or act or feel. If you can add this area, which describes "how" they get things done, you can help them develop an area that helps them achieve high performance, regardless of the task involved.
Sometimes, however, it can be pretty difficult when you’re finding an opportunity for them based on expertise and career goals. Let’s say a team member wants a very specific project, and you happen to have just one project like that and it’s already assigned to another person. This leaves you with very little choice as a leader.
As a team leader, what do you do?
"Gimme That" Conversation to Assign Future Projects
Here’s your challenge: approach the development conversation in terms of talent themes.
As we know, talent themes are about how they get things done. So, here’s what you can do to facilitate useful task swapping on the team.
- Ask each person to think about their talent themes.
- Let them come to you with 3 examples of projects that call on how they think/feel/operate in the world.
Check out these “gimme that ________” examples:
1) Gimme that situation. (Includer talent):
“Okay, next time you're assigning projects and it’s important for you to find someone who will thoroughly listen to all of the requirements of each stakeholder, will deeply care what each person has to say, and wants every voice of every department to be represented -- call on me for that kind of assignment.”
2) Gimme that dilemma. (Deliberative talent):
“Hey, next time you're assigning a project and you need someone to look at the downstream risks of a decision, or someone who can think seven or eight steps ahead about all the things that could go wrong so that we don't step in the potholes -- I'd love it if you'd consider me for those responsibilities.”
3) Gimme that complex problem. (Restorative talent):
“Next time you're assigning projects and you have one that seems like a big, hairy problem, I hope you'll consider me. I love to roll up my sleeves and just really get into all of the ways to solve a complicated problem.”
With this approach, what they provide could allow you more space and flexibility in assigning projects. Rather than being role-based, they're based on how each person likes to work - how they like to think. This helps each person show up at their best.
Key Takeaway For Task Swapping
It’s important that you get your team to communicate their wish list of work and projects that align with their strengths. This will help you look for opportunities and assignments where they can apply those easy buttons every day on the job and give their best.
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Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she’s home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents “CLIPS” (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)–you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She’d like to think she’s one.