Years ago, as a consultant, I remember sitting in a meeting with a group of extremely intelligent research scientists and thinking to myself, “What on earth can I add to this discussion?” Then the little voice in my head said, “Well, you better add something if you want them to keep asking you back.” I realized at that moment that in every circumstance, I must try to contribute in a way that adds value. This is an important lesson most independent contractors learn the hard way. I think it’s a lesson that many employees, until now, comfortably situated in their organization, have not had to learn. With the changes in the employment climate, asking “How am I adding value here?” may be the most important question of all.
I’ve noticed, for example, that many people sit in meetings either contributing nothing or repeating what has already been said. It makes one wonder if they have done anything to prepare in advance, or whether they think that it’s better to be silent than to speak. I’m never sure whether it comes from shyness and insecurity — where the head chatter is telling them “better not say anything or you’ll make a fool of yourself,” — or if it comes from walking in cold and being unprepared. Sometimes I think people follow an unwritten rule that says you shouldn’t say anything not specific to your “silo” or department.
“To be a value-added player at this level, you have to stay completely tuned in to the meeting dynamics and actively seek out ways to be a contributor.”
Many times the way people try to make themselves significant is to shoot down the ideas of others. It’s fairly easy to be the “judge” who evaluates and negates others’ ideas; it’s much harder to be the “creator” who generates new, unique thoughts. There was a period of time when I tested this theory by asking individuals, “What would you recommend instead?” They didn’t like that question because they had no recommendation to give.
So how can an individual work to add value to a meeting or event? I’d like to offer a few ideas and then encourage you to add to the list by responding to the blog.
- Review a meeting agenda ahead of time and write out questions related to the topic. For example, “How would we respond to the problem if we expanded/reduced our approach?” “How might the customer see this situation from his/her perspective?” “How does this information/update affect our timeline or goal?”
- Listen for ideas coming out of a discussion and ask, “Is this idea something we should move forward as an action item?” Many wonderful suggestions and actions go unfulfilled because no one moved them forward or wrote them down. If no one is scribing action items, offer to do so.
- Offer to scribe discussion ideas on a flipchart so the entire group can keep pace with the brainstorming process.
- When problems emerge, help the group ask the 5 Whys that will identify the root cause. “Would it help to ask why 5 times to see if we can identify the root cause here?” Likewise, if a group moves on past the problem without any clear resolution, you can revisit it by asking, “Is everyone clear on the approach we’re going to use to solve the problem, because I think I missed it?”
- When a group is making a decision, ask if people feel they have identified the criteria to be used (time, money, ease of implementation, etc.) and help them use the criteria to build the decision matrix.
- Play Devil’s Advocate and ask questions to expand the diversity of thought. “As the Devil’s Advocate let me ask: What could go wrong here, or what does the downside of this look like?”
- Link ideas together to help people see things more clearly. “I think Brad’s and John’s ideas are both terrific and, if put together, could be the approach we’re looking for.”
- Invite the expert to share his/her opinion. “Clarista, you have lots of experience with this project. I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we should proceed.”
To be a value-added player at this level, you have to stay completely tuned in to the meeting dynamics and actively seek out ways to be a contributor. So here’s the challenge: apply one of the 8 ideas above during the next meeting you attend and see whether you feel more value-added as a result. Then write us on the blog about how it went and add your own ideas as well.
If you’re hesitant about experimenting, remember, if your employer is debating between retaining one employee or another, the employer would be a fool to lay off the one who is always adding value.