How to Make Yourself Indispensable to Your Team
How to Make Yourself Indispensable to Your Team
When I got my first job right out of college I thought to myself, “Great, now I have one less thing to worry about, let’s get to work!”. Getting the job was the easy part, but I quickly realized that no one’s position is guaranteed or secure per se, in terms of being entitled to it; you have to make a case for why you belong there in that role, at that job, and the case isn't a one time presentation - it's a daily showcase of your impact, your character, and your skillset. Staying at a job, growing within the position, and making a lasting impression is truly the challenge one must consider within any role they take on, regardless of the company, industry or longevity of the position. But as I soon discovered, there WERE certain individuals at my company who seemed to be fairly critical pieces of the overall employment puzzle, as was evidenced by the way they presented themselves and (more importantly) they way other stakeholders communicated with, related to, and valued their contributions. So I set out on a short journey of discovery into what made some people more indispendable than others in the workplace, and quickly discovered that there are many ways you can become incredibly valuable on your team, but maybe not in the ways you think. So today I want to focus on the three that I founnd to be surprisingly easy and monumentally helpful,... and are key to the idea of being the team member others (including bosses sometimes) look to and count on, time and time again.
1 | Sharpen Your Skillset
In this day and age of multi-tasking and competing priorities, we focus on trying to be a good at a lot of things, but we have a hard time being truly great at one thing. Deliberate practice at its core is practicing your skills with 100% of your focus, concentration, and effort. This isn’t something you have to practice 24 hours a day, but you should spend about 30-60 minutes of your workday doing it. By doing this, you become the subject matter expert on your job duty or skill and it’ll make it very hard for people to do what you do at your proficiency. We only get good at something through repetition and deliberate practice; do you think when Lebron scores during the opening game that was the first time he touched the ball that day? Deliberate practice keeps us from getting rusty; keep your skills sharp and don’t lose your competitive edge! And thing thing about practicing regularly is, it doesn't matter who you are or what you do. A long time ago, I knew a bartender who spent 20 minutes before each shift flipping plastic bottles over and over again in arial acrobatics overbecause he wanted to impress the guests and give them a great mixology experience (and the tips didn't hurt either)! There’s nothing wrong with multi-tasking or taking on challenges outside the box, just keep that practice in the back of your mind.
2 | Find Regular Feedback
Just because you do something well, doesn’t mean you can’t improve it. Asking for feedback from your boss or your co-workers isn’t a lack of confidence or a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of willingness to improve and better yourself, especially since most fields are constantly evolving these days, and fragmenting into specialties that many people must hone and re-hone their areas of expertise around. A boss would rather someone ask what they can do better, rather than someone doing perfectly fine and not raising the bar in any way. Confrontation can be awkward for a lot of people, so your co-worker may be holding their tongue unless you ask them directly, but you'd be surprised what your cube-mate might tell you if you ask them how you can aid them in some critical role or process, by doing it better (or maybe just differently). One time at an agency that had many Fortune 500 clients, a marketing specialist simply sent a two line email to a client asking if there was anything she could do to format her data input spreadsheets better, or in a way that the client could spend less time filling out. The client was so thrilled by this simple request (and her subsequent edit of the spreadsheet) that they re-signed with the agency on a multi-year agreement, making her the new MVP of the company and (eventually) contributing to a promotion and a salary increase. The email to 30 seconds to write and the edits took maybe 30 minutes, but by showing concern and care for her performance, she opened up a line of dialogue with other critical stakeholders and provided great transparency and service in the work she was accomplishing, with a payoff that well worth the meager investment of time and effort. Don't get me wrong, you will never be a true master of your job because your job (just like everyone's) is always changing. But by seeking to continually improve your skills, you show a work ethic to be the best at what you do, and that's something the culture of character rewards over and over again, in so many ways.
3 | Keep Your Word
During the busy hustle and bustle of the work day it’s easy to have a task fall through the cracks that you had all the purpose and willpower of following through with. We conveniently label people who fail to keep their word, with euphemisms like 'flaky' or 'scatterbrained', but the truth is that people who say they will do something, but never get around to it are just plain unreliable - and that's the reputation that sticks with them. Keeping your word on everything is difficult, but communicating every step of the way even if it doesn’t happen will make the difference in the eyes of your co-workers or boss. When given a task, establish the expectation and timeline for the new activity - even if it's long and involved. Is this something that needs to be done today, next week, or a month from now? By setting that expectation, you can arrange it into your time and make sure it gets followed through. Do your regular tasks within the established time frames, and only take on more if you can keep your word. It’s better to say no and manage expectations strictly, rather than string someone along and have them disappointed (or worse yet tank a project where the task you contributed had critical dependencies or things that hinged on its completion). There’s been times where I get so caught up with 'putting out a fire' or some new 'top level directive' from my boss, that I can’t help my co-worker with their task that I promised I would help with, but I let them know before they can’t do it either and they appreciate that rather than me waiting till the last minute. If you aren’t busy and you just completely forgot, that’s a different story and your co-worker will be able to see right through that, so don't flake out! Instead, make your word count. Your colleagues will thank you for it and your reputation will gleam!
So What Does It Mean?
Okay, so I fibbed a little bit. When it comes to absolute job security, being truly indispensable at your job is a goal that’s ambitious but unrealistic; everyone at the end of the day is replaceable. But by practicing your skills deliberately, seeking regular feedback, and keeping your word on your duties and tasks, you make yourself an employee that everyone can rely on and look up to and whose value shines through everything you do. You want your presence at work to be of value. So be more than a butt in a seat! Take the time to get better at your job every day and others will notice. No job or position is ever guaranteed, so always be the best employee you can be and never get complacent in your role. You have 8 hours in a work day; make that time count.