Mission Creep: Hey, Who Changed My Job Responsibilities?

While mission creep can happen with specific assignments, it often happens with your overall job.

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Michael Wade
At some point in your career, you'll encounter mission creep.

Sometimes, it's more like mission leap. You take on a project, and then ugly things quickly surface—matters that those charming souls who lured you into the task failed to mention. What initially seemed like a simple matter becomes a poisonous swamp.

As bad as mission leap is, at least it seizes your attention. You know that you're swatting snakes and gators. Mission creep, however, can be just as dangerous but much harder to detect. You take on an assignment and don't notice as it slowly shifts into an entirely different and more complicated world. An obvious challenge is that the resources and personnel dedicated to the original mission may be inadequate for the new one. The political support may also be missing. You're working on a project that has ceased to exist, but you're still responsible for the scope of its new incarnation.

One of the most common forms of mission creep, however, is not a project at all. It's your overall job. The usual job description is an obsolete and cryptic outline of a position that perhaps once—but probably never—existed. Periodic reviews with your supervisor about your current mission and responsibilities may seem unnecessary, but they will prevent misplaced priorities and communication glitches. After all, when you and upper management discuss your job, you want to be sure that you're talking about the same job. Peter Drucker once observed that the key to effective management is doing a number of simple things well. One of those simple things is knowing your job responsibilities.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.