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When I have been working with young people who perhaps are not as familiar as they could be with what it means to be an employee, I say to them, you’ve got two jobs here. One is to get the task done that I ask you to get done, that I need to get done. And the second thing is to be a great employee.
Being a Great Employee
They look at me slightly askance and invite me to explain what it means to be a great employee?
For junior people it is doing all those other things that make it easier to be managed.
Whether it’s doing your timesheets, sorting out your holiday entitlement, keeping your desk tidy, updating your computer and any of those administrative minutiae that don’t matter to you but really matter to ‘them’. These hygiene factors make it easier for other people to employ you.
As you become more senior, making yourself invaluable to your employer, takes on other significant dimensions.
Invaluable to your Boss
The first is making sure that you are supporting the people above you, to make them as effective and make them look as good as possible. You may have come across the term ‘upwardly manage’. Part of your success is to support your boss to be successful, and often that means actively managing them: drawing to their attention the things that need to be done; coming to them with issues and solutions rather than just problems; thinking ahead on their behalf.
For example, you know what the budget cycle is and they are probably incredibly busy. If you can come to them in good time and bring them your thoughts on what might go into the budget, then they may well delegate you some additional responsibility for preparing budgets
If you see that a particular client relationship is at risk and you come to them, not only to point out why it’s at risk, but also with a plan for how to recover it, you will start to become invaluable to your boss.
To be invaluable to your boss you need to understand what really matters to them. But what really matters to them may not be completely aligned, either to what matters to you, or to what matters to the wider organization.
You must recognize that there’s always the balancing act of those three elements. It’s like a three-legged stool: what is invaluable to you, what’s invaluable to your boss and what’s invaluable to the organisation. If you over-emphasise one element then you will put the others at risk.
Beyond your Boss – your Team
You need to identify other individuals beyond your immediate boss. Very often being invaluable is what you do for your team, what you do for your peers and what you do beyond your immediate scope of responsibility.
Do your team see you as championing them whenever you can? Are you seen as somebody who’s an advocate and supporter for your team?
To be invaluable to your team, they need to believe that you are there for them as much as for you. There are some interesting insights within the Adaptability Quotient framework (AQai.io) where they measure an individual’s belief that they are supported within that team. A key indicator is the extent to which they are supported by their direct line manager or boss.
Consider being invaluable to your peers. Do you see competition with your peers as a zero-sum game? Do you believe every benefit for one of your peers represents a matching disbenefit to you. Or, do you see this as an opportunity to build more value for everybody within your peer group?
If you see it as a zero-sum game, then you are going to be drawn into competitive politics that will mean that your performance will be recognised more by your ability to manipulate others than by your active contribution. Sooner or later, you will be found out.
If you see becoming invaluable as by way of building strength amongst your peers with an attitude of mutual support, then you risk being betrayed by the manipulation of others. However, you will also create a different kind of environment around you and the peer group that you’re part of will be seen as a group from which future leaders can be drawn.
Being Invaluable more Widely
This may be the contribution you make to your profession, to sector groups, to other divisions. It may be contributions on cross-cutting initiatives that cover more than one dimension of your workplace.
As you reflect on the wide variety of opportunities we have explored, it could feel overwhelming. My recommendation is to write down a list of specific opportunities you have in front of you. Rank your priorities, and then be intentional: step by step move the dial on those things that you believe will most make you invaluable to your employer
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.