This is not my job!

Culture Shock, the journal of an expat (1/6)

Moments after buzzing me out through the back, our doorman (or porteiro, as we call them here in Brazil) sluggishly gets up from his post, and steps outside to retrieve empty garbage bins from the sidewalk. Tonight they amount to an odd number, which means Ari is making an extra trip to pick up one leftover bin. He seems to dread each step.

Well, I'm now coming back from walking the dog and one of my hands is free. I just picked up after my dog, so I don't feel the cleanest individual... But I'm a tenant. That's not my job! I don't really have to touch this garbage bin, and Ari doesn't expect me to do it either.

But hey, it feels to me like the obvious thing to do, so I decide to grab the extra garbage bin and save Ari the additional trip as I walk back towards the building. Whatever.

Here's the twist... as I do things below my pay grade around the office here in Brazil, I seem to be losing leverage. I noticed employees responded quicker to requests from the tougher, more distanced executives. I'm perceived as more flexible. Repeatedly I was told by colleagues not to grab coffee for a visitor because the maid would do it. I'm not supposed to go to the post office either. Even my subordinates had the receptionist make calls for them.

Before you get me wrong, I should clarify that the great majority of Brazilians are doers. It's really in their nature. But that seems to change at some point, as they climb higher up in the chain of command.

Our personal brand is a big topic nowadays, and I don't need to tell you people are watching your actions more than they are listening to what you say. So what happens when you decide to not limit yourself to a job description?

Create efficiency

The low-hanging fruit of savings. If you can do more than just your expected role know that you are contributing to the organization's efficiency. It's important that this behavior is recognized as positive, and compensated when possible.

Proliferate initiative

A "this is not my job" attitude is contagious, but the contrary is also true. When coworkers pitch in to help each other they create a culture of pro-activity. The organization's overall objective becomes more important than my personal goals. So the team reaches their results faster.

Create the unexpected

I value creativity a lot, and have noticed much of it comes unexpectedly... but it doesn't help when my brain is turned off by routine. Stepping into someone else's shoes might help us see the same problem (and solution) from a different perspective.

Do the obvious

In this day and age, being known for having common sense can be a tremendous differential. If you used the last packet of sugar, just replenish it for goodness sake. Don't expect anyone else to do it for you.

During my time as country manager for a US-based company in Brazil, I discovered these additional benefits also resulted from doing more than what was in my job description:

1) Brings you closer to employees: especially if you are an expat.

When I came to a culture where upper management was too distant from the day-to-day of their subordinates, or at least perceived as so, going a few steps down my designated role helped me build rapport.

2) Allows you to find problems with the process.

The concept of an Undercover Boss has been portrayed on TV before, but a simple job rotation schedule helped me just as well in identifying issues with complicated processes, in addition to discovering untapped potential among our human resources.

Note: In Brazil, you must watch for "desvio de função" (deviation of agreed role), as labor legislation can sting. Check with your local human resources team.

Nick was raised in Brazil before moving to the United States where he went to school and started his career in marketing. He returned to South America on a 2-year contract as Country Manager for a US-based company ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (2015-2016).

tags: corporate culture, expat, brazil, cross-functional teams, cross-training, job rotation.