“Make yourself indispensable” is one of those career bromides you often hear when you’re first starting out, but how many people really do make themselves indispensable to their organization? It may sound trite, but indispensable people usually don’t get sacked, and departments that add value rarely get cut.
Take a hard look at what you do at work. If your day consists of doing things by rote, the same way over and over, your days may be numbered. If you’ve become an order taker, what makes you think you won’t get replaced by another faster, cheaper order taker? If you constantly rely on others to do the hard thinking that goes into creating value for your organization, what good are you?
It’s sad when I see senior employees acting like new-hires—just as clueless about the organization’s business model and goals as when they first arrived on the scene. They may “know” more about their specific job, but unfortunately they know very little about the organization that is signing their paycheck.
Being in the PR business, I am often told, “It’s your job to get us publicity.” Actually, it’s not. My job is to understand the organization’s value proposition, determine how its stakeholders perceive that value and recommend strategies for improving it. Value that can be translated into greater customer engagement and ultimately sales, memberships or lobbying victories.
Years ago, I hired a media company to place articles and radio spots for us all around the country. I was able to show that we had been read and listened to by millions of people. Only one problem—the key stakeholders in the organization never heard any of the spots we did or saw our newspaper articles. We soon abandoned the effort and started to focus more on engagements tailored to specific markets. While we had fewer placements, I would say they were of higher quality and certainly more prominent in the markets that mattered to us. And surprise, the value was greater for the organization.
So how can you add value—and at the same time ensure job security and maybe even a promotion?
If you have gotten into an “I-just-do-my-job” rut, then you’ve got to get out of that first. Morale may be low, but you need to rise above it and adopt a solutions-based approach to work. Step outside your silo and see what’s going on. Prove that you can be a team player, but also demonstrate that you’ve got good, practical ideas that address real problems.
One thing you can do is ask the leaders of your organization some penetrating questions that indicate that you’ve got some gray matter upstairs. Then follow through.
What keeps you up at night?
What are our competitors doing that we’re not?
What would you like to change about our business culture, and how can I help you do that?
What key values about our company need to be known to our customers and the public? Can I help communicate those?
Sometimes just taking initiative can pay dividends. That can range from volunteering to do something that you’ve never done before to making a suggestion that might not be popular or seems counter-intuitive. But if you’ve researched your suggestion, what’s the harm? Risk-taking is part of the equation.
In the PR world, the better practitioners are those who take a keen interest in their client’s business strategy. They want to understand the client’s vision and help drive business in that direction. They are less tacticians and more leaders.
And, after all, isn’t exhibiting leadership what “being indispensable” is all about?