3 Ways to Make Yourself Absolutely Indispensable at Work
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The best piece of career advice we’ve ever received is this: “Make yourself indispensable. After that, you can do whatever you want.” That may be a bit of an over-exaggeration, but there’s a lot of truth and wisdom in there, too. If you want to keep your job – and climb the ladder to the top of the leadership pyramid – you need to be irreplaceable, mission critical, core to the operation. But how do you do it? A group of experienced women and men in business share the secret of success: the 3 ways to make yourself absolutely indispensable at work. Life hack: this works at home, too.
what is the secret to longevity and leverage at work?
If there’s a Holy Grail in the world of work, for a long time it would have been this: what is the secret to success in keeping a job you love for as long as you want it? Authoring your own exit at a time of your choosing, with tearful goodbyes and gratitude all around. Oh, and lots of great raises along the way. What’s the magic secret to success at work, particularly for women and people of color in the world of business?
Two words, dear reader: become indispensable. If you can achieve that rarified plane, you’re golden. But how do you do it?
It’s not easy (because it it was, everyone would already be doing it). Imagine how many Harvard Business Review articles, advice books, podcasts and speeches have been generated on this topic?
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Despite all the ink spilled and expert opinions aired, though, as managers, board members and bosses, we continue to see people making a lot of the same mistakes. Overplaying their hands. Being insufficiently engaged or less competent than they should be. Exhibiting open resentment at their lack of progress, but not showing a lot of energy about understanding what’s behind it. Ugh!!!
focus on controlling what we can control
Let’s stipulate up front that lots of disappointments and frustrations at work have NOTHING to do with how we behave – as employees or as managers. One of the secrets to success is focusing on what we can control and not flailing around fussing over things that we have no ability to change.
In that spirit, one thing we can control is how we show up at work: how competent we are in our roles. And also what kind of attitude we exhibit about our competency. Mastering those two things might take real work – but if we can do it, we have a much better shot at living our professional dreams.
how can you make yourself indispensable at work?
A group of experienced men and women in business convened to brainstorm about this pressing topic. Entrepreneurs, board members and corporate C-Suite members all had a point of view.
Here’s our consensus view. The secret to success at making yourself indispensable at work involves a simple two-step process.
First, ask yourself two simple questions:
1. Are you incredibly good at your current role, or only OK?
This has to be an honest self-evaluation, based on objective data: your performance evaluation, feedback from your boss, peers and subordinates, the trajectory of your compensation, and any other indisputable evidence of how your company thinks you’re doing in your current role. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 based on your performance (if you give yourself an 8 or higher, you should be able to produce proof that you’re considered to be in the top 20% of your peer group).
how to give and get feedback at work most effectively
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2. Are you really high-maintenance, or extremely easy to manage?
Again, be brutally honest: does your boss, team, or peer group view you as difficult in any way? Hyper-sensitive, prickly, unorganized, emotional, flaky, or in constant need of praise? Look in the mirror. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 based on your required level of maintenance at work.
Second, based on those ratings, place yourself in one of these four categories:
A. High Performer (>8) – High Maintenance (>8). The Diva.
You are incredibly talented, best-of-breed, even. Your performance in your current role is stellar, and people gravitate to you because of your talent and track record. But you’re difficult – you need a lot of stoking, praise and bespoke treatment at the office. Or you’re ornery. You have sharp elbows. You’re moody. Or arrogant. You talk too much. Or you’re a recluse.
To make yourself indispensable, you need to: be vigilant that your stellar performance doesn’t flag (if it does, you’re toast). Also be sure that your demands and temperament don’t ever cross a line into the abusive, the unethical, the illegal or the intolerable (if it does, you’re definitely toast).
B. High Performer (>8) – Low Maintenance (<4). The Dream.
You, dear reader, are the employee that everyone dreams of. You have already made yourself indispensable. Yay for you! Keep up the great work!
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C. Average Performer (5-7) – Low Maintenance (<4). The Backbone.
You acknowledge that your performance in your role is not earth-shattering. But you’re good at what you do, and you’re really easy to work with – dependable, no temper tantrums, no crazy expectations about your compensation. You’re a person to whom others gravitate because you’re level-headed, sensible, and steady.
You’ve probably built up a good store of institutional memory. And you have a calming influence on the more high-strung people around you. You are the backbone on which every organization is built, and upon which bosses rely.
To make yourself indispensable, you need to: hold in place, and decide if you want to aim higher. Are there things you know you should do to up your performance? If so, quietly set about getting those things done. You might be surprised by how far you can go.
D. Average Performer (5-7) – High Maintenance (>8). The Nightmare.
Dear reader, if you are in this category, or even hovering near it, you need to take immediate action, because you are definitely high on the list for termination at the next opportunity.
Whether you think it’s fair or not, you’re draining a lot of energy with your demands, and you’re not delivering results that make you a good long-term investment for your boss and your team.
To make yourself indispensable, you need to: Immediately reduce your maintenance requirements. As one boss told a team member who was in this category “you need to act as if you’re running for mayor.” Be accommodating, team-spirited and generous. Bring doughnuts if you have to. Before it’s too late. After that, you can work on upping your performance – it’s never too late to live the dream.
the secret to making yourself indispensable: be a diva, a dream or the backbone.
how to become indispensable at work
The great news about what happens after you become indispensable? You get to ask for a raise, or a promotion, or a new project. Do what you have to do to get there, and the world is yours. Just promise us that once you’ve arrived, you’ll use your powers wisely, dear reader.
join our community
For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier Newsletter here. And see luxury in a new light.