I've studied thousands of employees for over 30 years. This is what the truly indispensable people do differently.
- Bruce Tulgan has been conducting workplace and employee research in different organisations from the US Army to Walmart since 1993.
- He says that in every industry, there are employees who make themselves indispensable by learning how to collaborate well with coworkers at all levels of the company.
- Tulgan explains that go-to employees aren't always 'yes-happy,' because they know that overcommitment can result in missed deadlines or subpar work.
- Instead, they communicate their needs openly and professionally, and offer creative solutions when they come across a problem.
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Ever since I founded my consulting company RainmakerThinking in 1993, companies have been inviting me to speak at their conferences, train their managers, observe their operations, interview their leaders, and conduct focus groups and interviews with their employees. As a result, I've had the chance to ask hundreds of thousands of people the same basic question: What challenges are you facing that make it harder for you to do your job and get things done?
Over the last several years, and especially during this time in 2020, employees are struggling more and more with overcommitment at work - and the fact that everyone they deal with at work is overcommitted, too. Workers are inundated by new requests, and sometimes are forced to rely on other coworkers whom they cannot hold accountable. Everything is everyone's job.
Most people want to be indispensable. But it's very hard trying to be indispensable without succumbing to overcommitment syndrome, which in turn can make it virtually impossible to be reliable, much less indispensable.
And yet, there are still indispensable, go-to people who stand the test of time and embrace collaboration, instead of running from it.
Whenever I work with organisations, I ask everyone, "Who are your go-to people?" And I pay attention to the individuals (or types of individuals) whom others cite most frequently and consistently.
Here are seven practices that truly set apart the go-to people, indispensable people, in any industry. It mostly boils down to not only what they do at work, but also how they think.
1. They understand and believe in the peculiar mathematics of real influence versus false influence.
Real influence is the power you have when other people really want to do things for you, make good use of your time, and contribute to your success. The only way to build real influence is to serve others by adding value in every single interaction.
2. They know what's required and what's allowed - up and down the chain of command - before trying to work things out at their own level.
You have to go vertically before you go sideways (or diagonally): Ensure alignment on priorities and every next step through regular structured communication up, down, sideways, and diagonally.
3. They know when to say no (and "not yet") and how to say yes.
"Yes" is where all the action is. Every yes is an opportunity to add value for others and build up your real influence. The key is setting up every yes for success with a concrete plan - a clear sequence, timing, and ownership of all the next steps.
4. They work smart by professionalising everything they do.
Indispensable people know what they want to be known for. That means mastering best practices, repeatable solutions, and job aids.
5. They finish what they start.
If you are always juggling, you will inevitably drop the ball. You have to be able to handle a long and diverse list of responsibilities and projects, by executing one thing at a time. Keep a long to-do list and schedule. But break work into small doable chunks and find gaps for focused execution time.
6. They keep getting better and better at working together.
If you lift people up, they will lift you up, too. Focus your relationship building on the work, and the work will go better. When the work goes better, the relationship will go better.
7. They promote 'go-to-ism' throughout the organisation.
It's not just about being a go-to person. It's also about finding go-to people wherever you need them. Build new go-to people whenever you have the chance. That's how you build the upward spiral of real influence.
This article is based on Bruce Tulgan's "The Art of Being Indispensable at Work," published by Harvard Business Review Press July 21, 2020.
Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of "It's Okay to Be the Boss" and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting, and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. Tulgan's newest book, "The Art of Being Indispensable at Work," from Harvard Business Review Press is now available. Follow the author on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website.
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