I know a young lawyer who is early in what should be a successful career, and I asked him recently how he was doing at his firm. His concise answer summed up what I think is a great way to look at one’s value to an organization at any time in one’s career. It went something like this: “I’m not the smartest person at the firm, I didn’t go to one of the elite law schools like many of my peers, and I don’t have material business or client ‘connections’, but I make sure I’m easy to work with, I eagerly jump in to assist wherever I can, and when I am given a project with a deadline, I usually complete the assignment early and without any issues. So while I may not be the best lawyer, I’m building a solid reputation within my firm as a great colleague. So I’d say I’m doing pretty well.”
I don’t know about you, but in my business, employees with that kind of attitude are worth whatever you are paying them and more. Why? Because at the end of the day, what every business craves is a job done efficiently, a job done properly, and a job done without drama. In short, what you’re paying for, and therefore expecting, is a quality outcome.
As a consumer, think about some of the purchases you routinely make, whether it be cellular service, a haircut, car insurance, medical services, etc. How often are we swayed by how glitzy or funny the advertising is, how attractive the storefront is, how impressive the provider’s credentials are? How important are these factors when the product or service doesn’t ultimately meet with the expectation that was set? Not much, because for most of us, what really matters is the outcome. Shiny objects may get us through the door the first time, but consistency, predictability and reliability are what keep us coming back.
Now let’s consider this same question from an employer’s perspective. The most important purchases you make are not the raw materials or equipment procured from your supply chain. Rather it’s your ‘purchase’ of your employees. These are the real assets of your business. If you hire the right employees, they will in turn make the right supply chain decisions (as well as all other business decisions they are tasked with.)
So what’s the message? For employers, we all need to be smarter about how we hire. We need to focus our assessments less on how impressive the candidate appears to be on paper, and more on determining how likely the candidate is to consistently produce a high quality outcome, and just as importantly, how likely is the candidate to fit within your culture. Stated differently, if pre-employment assessment is done really well, you should be able to determine, with a high level of probability, if the candidate will be successful in your organization – before you hire them. The only question post-hiring should be ‘how high can they go?’
As for employees, the message is far clearer, and ultimately more valuable. Businesses need to deliver predictable, hassle-free outcomes for their customers to be successful over the long haul. Your ability to successfully contribute to that process, at whatever level, is the difference between being an overlooked clock-puncher and a fast-rising superstar.
For those aspiring to be recognized within their organizations for their efforts, I recommend three simple rules:
1) Be easy to work with. It’s probably best to sum this thought up via a paraphrasing of the Golden Rule – “treat others as you would want to be treated”. While everyone comes to the workplace with different educational backgrounds, financial backgrounds, religious backgrounds, family structure backgrounds, etc., once they walk through the organization’s doors, they are teammates, all striving together toward the same goal. No one’s ‘better’ than anyone else, even though someone may have more responsibility. Treat them that way. Be a good colleague. And for goodness sake, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I don’t always remember the please part myself, but I go out of my way to make sure I say thank you in every business communication I send. Gratitude never goes out of style. I’ll let others judge if I am easy to work with, but I’ll die trying to be.
2) Offer assistance. Go out of your way to develop a reputation for being helpful. By sticking your neck out, not everything you’ll do will be fun, but much of it will be, and you’ll likely learn new skills and develop new relationships. You’ll build a network of trusted advocates for your work throughout the organization. That kind of reputational capital is worth its weight in gold.
3) Be reliable. Live up to your commitments, and never give anyone reason to doubt that an assignment you’ve been given will be delivered late or in less than a quality manner. Provide brief interim progress reports to let people know how you are tracking on your assignments. Double check your work to make sure it is error-free. And when you submit your work, don’t make a big deal about doing what you are paid to do. Be humble. If the work you submit is consistently completed in a quality manner, people will notice.
There’s a saying in service businesses that you are only as good as your last job. And for many businesses (and people) that’s true. But for those who commit to these three simple rules over time, you will find that the risk associated with a rare slip-up will be substantially reduced due to the reputational capital you’ve created, and the reward you will reap for being a quality outcome-based professional will be worth it.