Riddell: Controlling your own destiny
September 20, 2016
Our last column dealing with a company's need to strategically balance employee costs with critical experience elicited a number of comments, the majority of which fell into two categories. The first category of broad response was centered around those that had been the unfortunate target or victim of stupid cost reduction management. What was disturbingly noticeable was listening to the amount of ongoing energy these valuable employees had to expend in their attempt to protect or justify their positions. The net result was that every single one eventually decided that their best course of action for employment survival was to leave on their own accord. While certainly the best course of action for their personal sanity, you can't help but wonder just how long it took for their former companies to realize the magnitude of their loss.
The second category, and perhaps more germane for today's readers, has to do with proactive prevention. That is, "What steps should I, a valuable and strategic contributor, be taking to ensure that my manager clearly understands my value to the company?" Now the first reaction, of course, might very well be to assume that any competent manager would automatically recognize this value. This is, of course, true assuming the existence of competency. This assumption, however, is very often a serious mistake. The title alone of "manager," "director," or whatever is not a guarantee of managerial competence. Competency in management must be earned, proven, and sustained. Therefore, for the employee concerned about his or her manager truly understanding the value of his or her contribution, it is highly recommended that they take personal responsibility for this transfer of insight.
The first step in taking responsibility for this transfer is to first understand the value. Simply believing that because you have been with the company for say, five years, and this alone is of value and importance to your manager is simply not going to work. Rather, you need to think through just what specific insights and activities these five years have afforded to you that directly or indirectly translates into value for the customer and, ultimately, the company. This pertinent value can be as broad or as narrow as the dictates of the particular business, but if you are to be considered a valuable employee, it has to be there. Some examples might be a thorough understanding and working relationship with important vendors, it could be an historic perspective of inventory swings, it could be some subtle but important nuances associated with customer preferences. Whatever or wherever the value is, you need to be acutely aware of it.
The second step is making sure that your manager is aware of this pertinent value you bring to the job and that he or she also agrees that this is, in fact, a pertinent value. While a conversation along these lines is a good starting point, you need to make sure that the highlights of this important conversation are further documented and, where possible, quantified. Your goal is to make your manager realize that losing you, for whatever reason, would certainly hamper his or her ability to do their job well. Said differently, by managing upwards, your valuable competence will enhance their career path.
Taking charge of influencing the direction of one's employment is not readily embraced by most employees. That is perhaps why many suffer lives and careers of silent desperation and dissatisfaction and connect it all under an umbrella of victimization. So do yourself and your company a favor and spend a little time thinking through just what it is you bring to the party. You are always better off controlling your own destiny rather than letting someone else do it.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.