Some years ago I received a distress phone call from a former participant in one of my trainings. Even though she had been chosen to participate in this training based on her potential to grow into a leadership position, she found herself passed over time and time again. Not surprisingly, her frustration came out in negative behaviors. Once seen as a super star employee, she found herself perceived by others as uncooperative and difficult. At the time of our phone call, she had been put on probation and was at risk of losing her job. Her voice a bit shaky, she asked me, “What can I do? I love working here and my job. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” I asked her one simple question, “Does your manager see you as ‘value-added’?” She said, “I don’t know. What do you mean by value-added?” I responded, “If you left your job today, would your manager and others say that they are glad to see you go, or would you leave a huge hole that would be hard to fill? Is your performance contributing to the attainment of the departmental or organizational goals? Or, are you making it more difficult for them to be successful?” Appearing a bit shocked, she now very quickly admitted that she, by her recent actions, had reduced her value to the organization. She concluded that she was not value-added. In fact, as we talked, she saw that she had actually become a subtraction equation.
In team training, we describe that equation as 1 + 1 < 2. Here, when all the resources are pooled, departments or organizations actually end up with less than the sum of the parts. Issues such as unresolved conflict, inefficiencies, withheld information, etc. can cause failures, lost customers and missed deadlines in this type of environment. Often unknowingly, people can become a liability rather than an asset to organizations – like our case above.
Sometimes, individuals don’t end up taking away from the organizational success; they simply meet what is expected of them. Are they value-added? Yes. They add the value that is minimally asked of them. That equation looks like: 1 + 1 = 2. When all the resources are pooled, the department or organization gets what is expected for adequate performance. In fact, many 1 + 1 = 2 organizations create a culture where risk is discouraged and exceptional performance is stifled, often, by peer pressure. Performance is consistent and stable. Ironically, individuals in a 1 + 1 =2 are adding value, but at its lowest degree.
However, the organization in our story above was not just striving to maintain; they could no longer be tolerant of a 1 + 1 < 2 environment. In order to distinguish themselves in the market place and gain a competitive advantage, they were going to have to be an organization where 1 + 1 > 2 – a dynamic, innovative, creative and flexible environment of exceptional performance. Their resources had to pool to create something that was greater than the sum of its parts to survive.
If accepted, the individual in our case study had the opportunity not only to retain her job, but to distinguish herself as an employee that could exemplify the new workplace they were trying to create. Here are some ideas I shared with her and others that changed her equation:
1. Conduct a job analysis. Look at the job or position and determine how it adds value to the department and organization. Define acceptable and exceptional performance. Determine what competencies are needed for exceptional performance. Explore what part the position plays in meeting departmental goals and organizational strategic objectives. Some may argue with starting here and think, “Why waste time? Just start producing.” However, understanding the job responsibilities and how the job fits into the organizational objectives is critical. Unknowingly, one could put a lot of energy into the wrong tasks or interactions and miss the key value to the job. That alone could lead to feelings of disappointment and frustration, particularly, if one is working hard, but not working on anything that is important to anyone else.
2. Gain clarity about what the manager sees as value-added. Ask your manager how he or she defines value in the position and exceptional performance. Take a look at the findings to determine if you are “on the mark” or operating in a vacuum. With the manager’s help, develop goals and an action plan. Set up regular check points to gain feedback and talk about progress. Again, sometimes we learn that what is valued by others is not (1) what we want to do, or (2) what excites us.
3. Commit. Make a conscious effort to be valued-added in each task and/or interaction you are having. Put it in the forefront of your mind. Write it down and tuck it somewhere where it can constantly remind you of your goal before each task, meeting or interaction with others.
4. Gain feedback. Ask others if what you are doing or saying is helpful or valuable to them. Gain feedback from others as to how you could be more valuable. Include all your key stakeholders such as your manager, peers, team members, direct reports and customers.
5. Create a personal OPS. Take the work you have done and put it on a personal One Page Strategy. On this one page, you can see the job mission, your vision for exceptional performance, the large areas where you will focus your efforts, the goals from your development plan and any constraints that might get in the way of your success. Include Work Breakdown Plans as well as outlining actions with deadlines. Calendar in these tasks to your weekly work schedule.
6. Add professional skills and abilities to your back pack. Take the opportunity to learn as many new skills as possible and cross train. Even though you might not be able to apply these skills to your present job, you will have them when the opportunity arises.
7. Build emotional intelligence and conflict resolution skills. If you recall, disappointment and frustration were driving forces in her diminished performance on the job. Becoming aware of negative emotions and then learning how to constructively handle those emotions is an often overlooked but necessary job skill. Determine ways in which you can build those skills and have a defined coping mechanism. Don’t wait until something happens to figure out your game plan. Learn how to surface and resolve conflicts with others and put it to practice. Don’t let situations build; surface differences and deal with situations as they occur. Become someone that others see as a role model for handling emotions and resolving conflicts.
8. Gain an understanding of your personality type. Learn as much as you can about your own personality preferences and how they might play out in the workplace. We use assessments such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Communication Styles and Parker Team Player survey to help individuals understand themselves better and how they might use their strengths to add value in the workplace.
9. Continuously improve. Don’t be content with acceptable performance. Complacency can be the death of an organization when the competition rises or change occurs. Individuals are no different. Develop the character trait of striving for excellence and continuous improvement. Set your mind on always going above and beyond what is expected of you. With this mindset, you will never have to worry about adding value. You just will.
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