I was just reading Emma Hinchliffe‘s article in the Fortune Broadsheet about “non-promotable work”  – a task that is important to the organization but doesn’t advance an individual’s career.  And how much work on a team advances the goals of the organization, is visible and/or requires specialized skills?

The rest is what academics Laurie Weingart and Lise Vesterlund call “non-promotable work.”  They say, “the category is broader than typical office housework like taking meeting notes or planning a going-away party; at a for-profit organization, it can include handling a low-revenue-generating client or creating slides for someone else to present in a meeting.”

Weingart and Vesterlund, alongside Brenda Peyser and Linda Babcock, are the authors of the new book The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work.  In 2010, a group of professors noticed that non-promotable tasks, like organizing committees, were eating into the time they had for their promotable work of research and teaching. They set about figuring out how to say “no” to non-promotable tasks—and then sought to understand why they had to.

Here’s the interesting part according to Hinchliffe:

“They found that women are 44% more likely to be asked by male managers to perform non-promotable tasks, and 50% more likely to say yes. Women and men have internalized a ‘shared expectation’ that women will be the ones to take on these jobs. In a mixed-gender group, women volunteered to take meeting notes much more frequently than men; in single-gender groups, women and men volunteered at the same rate. ‘It’s not that men don’t know how to volunteer,’ says Vesterlund. ‘They just don’t do it when women are in the group.’ At one professional services firm, women took on 200 more hours of non-promotable work a year. That’s 200 hours those women didn’t spend on work that could advance their own careers.”

Here’s the part where I want you to pause and think about your own team.  What tasks are “non-promotable tasks” and who tends to do them?

The solution, Hinchliffe says, “isn’t to eliminate non-promotable work entirely. Some might provide value to an individual other than the potential for career advancement. (Think of time spent mentoring younger colleagues or supporting employee resource groups.) Instead, managers and organizations must restructure how this work is distributed and valued. Managers can stop asking for volunteers and, instead, assign tasks on rotating schedules. Senior executives can also reevaluate their own non-promotable work, which could be promotable work to a more junior member of the organization. Lastly, businesses can make non-promotable work promotable. Tying executive compensation to ESG or diversity goals is one recent real-world example. If organizations don’t, they risk missing out on their strongest assets.”

I’ve never thought about this concept of “non-promotable work” but now that I am aware of it, we need to be more intentional as to make sure both promotable AND non-promotable tasks are spread out more evenly while helping each team member leverage their strengths, working genius, and personal and professional goals.

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I have a few dozen books on my bookshelf about critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making.  My latest read, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters by Steven Pinker is now sitting next to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

Why?  Because both of these are hugely informative yet dense books to read.  After I read one chapter, I would have to set it down to ponder and navel gaze as to my own rationality.  Would I come to the same conclusion as the author or not?  How does that apply to me and my own dose of rationality?

Despite its density, the book makes sense to me.  Pinker is a professor of Psychology at Harvard University who has a course entitled “Rationality.”  I think this is a textbook that covers much of his material, along with interesting exercises, insightful anecdotes, and fascinating footnotes about what is rational and what is prejudice or bias wrapped up as rationality.

A key theme of the book is that

“None of us, thinking alone, is rational enough to consistently come to sound conclusions: rationality emerges from a community of reasoners who spot each other’s fallacies.”

And that is also the power of teamwork when done well!

While much of the book reiterates the other dozens of books on my bookshelf, I found the LAST chapter to be the most interesting and hopeful: “Why Rationality Matters” where Pinker states, “exercising our godlike reason…can lead to a better life and better world.”  Amen to that, but good luck.


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A client recently asked me if there was a way to create a “quick strategic plan.”  He wanted to bring his executive team together to get clarity and alignment on what they needed to do in the next year or so – and he didn’t want to take a long time nor make it into a massive science project! Continue reading