Building Personal Value in the Workplace
We may all find ourselves one day asking, “How can I advance around here?”. The answer may not be what you think. Sometimes, advancement comes in the form of a higher rung on the career ladder, a shiny new title, or a bold increase in pay. Some of us might even crave [shudder] more responsibility. Frankly, none of those by themselves are guaranteed to bring more value to your employer.
Finding a way to bring additional value to your company can be a strong motivator for career advancement. What kinds of things bring value? There are three things you can start doing immediately that get noticed when done right.
Become a Subject-Matter Expert (SME)
Don’t be fooled; there are areas in each company that lack a good SME. You just need to find these areas of opportunity. The key is being observant.
- Is there something you just seem to have a knack for over others?
- Is there an area that regularly has issues or needs improvement?
- Is there a team that lacks great leadership?
- Is there a software system that nobody has done training on?
- Is there a topic that everyone says, “I hate doing/supporting x”?
- Is there some other spooky, dark corner that nobody dares touch?
Once you’ve found that area or team, learn it well. Spend time in it to build your confidence. Get involved with it. Advocate for it. Help it be more successful.
Share Your Knowledge
Teachers are arguably the most valuable individuals. One person alone can possess an ability, but if that person can teach their ability to others, they’ve immediately increased their capacity. If you can teach, you can lead, and if you can lead, you can inspire.
There are some misguided employees that think the only way to advance is to prove that they are the sole person capable of knowing something. This usually ends one of two ways- they’ll either succumb to burnout for having to deal with every single situation related to their special knowledge, or they’ll get exposed while trying to keep up the façade.
Don’t hoard knowledge. This may portray arrogance or insecurity. It is not at all inspiring to co-workers or employers.
Teamwork requires trust; a team cannot exist without it. By trusting a team member to do their job well, not only will you show them that you are rooting for them, you will also free up some time that you might normally take to “helicopter” over them. You may also relieve some of your own unnecessary anxiety.
Your level of trust reflects your level of respect – respect that the employee can handle themselves and make good decisions about the job entrusted to them. When you don’t trust an employee to do their own job, you are undermining or disrespecting their manager/leader and perhaps the entire team.
Being trustworthy is similar, but you are in the position of “employee” mentioned above. Know your space by continuously refining your skillset: research the latest best-practice information on your role; seize all the training opportunities you can. When tasked with something, be accountable, and exercise excellence. Don’t let anyone suspect you would drop the ball. If the outcome of your task looks bleak, go to your manager or project manager early on to discuss the best options for mitigation. Do the job you have been entrusted with, do it well, and those “watching” will take note.
A co-worker once shared a story about their father with me:
“My dad was an auto mechanic when I was really young, before the days of computerized cars. He owned a junkyard/auto repair shop. When we’d go into gas stations or other auto repair places in town, I always noticed that they would have signs that specifically said they did not take on transmission work, while a sign in my dad’s place specifically called out that he specialized in transmissions. I asked him why the other places in town wouldn’t work on transmissions, and he said transmissions are often very tricky, very difficult to work on, and most places didn’t have anyone that had the skills to do it right. I asked him why he had his sign that said he does do transmission work, and he told me that he decided to learn all he could about transmissions for the reason that everywhere else refused to. It didn’t matter to him that it was tricky or more difficult, he just truly enjoyed working on cars, any cars, any part. Learning about transmissions and becoming skilled in it was no different to him than learning any other part of the car. Since other businesses refused transmission work, he thought it would be a way to bring in some business he might not otherwise attract, by stating that he will work on transmissions, and then backing it up by making sure he was skillful at it.”
Early in my career, I noticed one of my company’s home-grown software products was plagued with issues and user satisfaction was very low. It was a product that few individuals worked in, and I knew nothing about. Regulatory information dictated how the software should function, but these documents were somewhat difficult to interpret into working software. Without being asked, I began learning the software product and reading hundreds of pages of regulatory documentation. It took a few weeks, including evenings, but I eventually gained enough confidence and courage to approach the IT manager.
I still remember apprehensively knocking on their door and stating, “I believe I can help make it better.” The IT manager trusted me, gave me the chance, and it worked in everyone’s favor. Issues were resolved, user satisfaction rose, and trust between IT and business stakeholders was restored. Since that time, other business analysts have been trained on the product and know it far better than me.
That experience offered a great sense of accomplishment and value, and subsequently taught me to look for more of those opportunities.