It’s in your paygrade

Liz Guthridge Posted by Liz Guthridge, Managing Director, Connect Consulting Group.

Liz Guthridge is a coach, consultant and facilitator who helps leaders turn their blue-sky ideas into greener-pasture actions. She uses applied neuroscience, behavior design and mindful communications. 


It’s in your paygrade

“That’s above my paygrade.”

That excuse—which I’ve already heard multiple times this year—is so last century.

The reasons for saying “that’s above my paygrade” are varied. For example, individuals may prefer staying quiet and not speaking up because they want to avoid:

  • ruffling the feathers of those in power
  • adding more work to their already overloaded plate
  • getting involved in sticky issues that could trap them in an uncomfortable situation or countless other reasons.

Whatever, using this excuse is an unproductive—and even precarious way to work—especially in our VUCA world.

In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, the ground is constantly shifting under our feet. It’s next to impossible to find firm footing.

Consider all the acquisitions, divestitures, new technology, cyber-attacks, new product launches, emerging competitors, customers’ changing tastes, new geopolitical hotspots, psychopathic acts, weather-related disasters, etc.

“If you stand still, you’ll fall behind,” as one of my clients often reminds her staff.

With so much change afoot, it helps to question everything—especially if you see signs that something may not be all that effective. What worked three months ago may be outdated today—depending on the degree to which you’re disrupting your business or feeling the effects of others’ disruptive actions.

No one may have the answers…yet.

However, you can work with others to figure out the best possible course of action to start immediately. Later—which could be hours, days or months from now—you can alter your approach to fit changing circumstances.

But what if you don’t like to question things, especially authority, head on?

First of all, don’t think of it as playing the “gotcha” game. Your goal is not to put anyone on the spot. Nor is it to make any individual, including yourself, feel uncomfortable.

Instead, think of it as providing a community service to your organization, a la the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign of the US Department of Homeland Security.

The idea in this campaign is that “it takes a community to protect a community.” Especially after 9/11, individuals who are alert can safeguard their communities against potential dangers and keep not only their communities, but also the United States safe.

Inside an organization, if you see something that no longer is working it’s better to question it as soon as possible rather than expect somebody else—at any level—to notice and speak up. Individuals in so many organizations are running fast and furious, often not as tightly focused as they need to be, so it’s easy to miss signals.

Just think about the iconic companies that are either in the graveyard or gasping possibly their last breaths, such as Blockbuster, Pan Am and Radio Shack to name a few.

Here are three helpful yet unpretentious questions you can ask:

  • When’s the last time we reviewed our practice/policy/procedures on X, Y or Z?
  • Have we looked at ___________ since our competitor launched _____________?
  • If we could hit a pause button and then reboot, what do you think we’d do?

These three questions are a form of thinking questions. They’re designed to help an individual stop, reflect and focus on the topic under consideration.

As I learned from David Rock and my NeuroLeadership training, in which he taught us about the power of thinking questions, questions like these help individuals slow down, quiet their brain and ponder an issue more deeply.

In our crazy, busy world today, these questions are a gift—especially if they’re related to the organization’s strategy or customers.

The challenge is that so many of us are so frantic that it’s hard to slow down.

So before you broach the topic, you may want to ask permission. This is a low-threat way to signal to someone that you want to start a conversation at the convenience of the other person.

For example, you could say to an individual: “Is it okay if I ask you about something I’ve noticed/been thinking about/been concerned about.”

By doing this, you’re demonstrating that you’re awake on the job, taking the initiative.

Leaders generally appreciate working with individuals who take the initiative and aren’t sleepwalking through life.

In my experience, they’re interested in what you have to say or ask rather than what your current paygrade is.

However, if you prefer to be passive rather than active in our VUCA world, be aware that you may be disrupted at any time, which is another story and blog post…

How prepared are you to say something if you see something in your organization?