How to become indispensable at work – maybe even promoted: Part 1

Corporate Ladder - iStock_000022398752XSmallAll hail the grind…the hustle. Many people are trying to make it in the belly of the corporate beast and many are finding out that they would rather take Jonah’s place and be fed to an actual Whale instead.It’s not easy. Sadly, it’s also not fair. There are many hardworking people who never see the glimpse of career advancement. Why is that? How come “Other People” get promoted quicker and get noticed more for what they do?Many people are asking burning questions about their career like: Why have I not been looked at for a promotion? How dispensable am I? Am I valued here? Can I really make it at this company? What do those who have been noticed have that I don’t?

So how do you rise above the population around you? How do you stand out? How do you become associated with the greatness that you know is within you? How do you become indispensable at work…and maybe even promoted?

Apply the following tips and your life will drastically change for the better. You will matter more and you will become indispensable. Most importantly, you will start to see a culture of success in your life.

The change may not be instant but these are power habits that will probably change your life sooner than later.

Here we go:

1)      In order to get noticed, don’t TRY to get noticed: You know those people. Its sooo obvious that they are trying too hard to be noticed…to be the center of attention. They always raise their hands to speak even when they don’t have actual value to add. They are always trying to “cozy up” to the boss and always TRYING. Don’t. First of all, you will instantly loose the respect of the very coworkers you hope to lead one day.

People who do that, are also often not prepared for the actual work they need to do when they ARE given the chance they crave.

Now don’t get me wrong. What I am specifically talking about here is a situation when you get desperate and you start creating awkward moments for yourself and coworkers, and you start putting yourself in positions where you are getting ahead at the expense of others. Also, careful…you may get USED. There are terrible bosses out there that know how to play that game too. They will milk every ounce of your desperation, ask you to do things that you may normally be uncomfortable doing, and will be quick to remind you that “they know you want to get ahead and these are the things you need to do to prove yourself.”

So don’t try too hard. Let your work speak, and when it can’t, do raise your voice/hand only when you have actual value to add. (of course nothing wrong with always having actual value to add) – Tread wisely.

2)      Understand the Power Distance culture of your organization and leave your personal power distance culture at the door: Power Distance (The extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.”)  is one of the dimensions along which cultural values could be analyzed, according to Geert Hofstede…a globally recognized social psychologist.

I am from Nigeria and Nigeria ranks high on the Power Distance Index, meaning that “people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat”. In other words, we are used to autocratic leaders in every aspect of life, and we are taught to rely on their benevolence and be ok and shut up when they decide not to bestow that benevolence on us.

We are taught not just respect, but reverence for people who have positional power/authority over us. We revere our spiritual leaders, parents, and teachers and pretty much anyone older than us. That’s why like many immigrant Africans in the U.S and other parts of the west, it took me forever to be able to call people who were older than me by their first name without adding a salutation (Mr, Mrs, Dr…). I brought my power distance culture into the workplace and I paid severely for it.

I gave older coworkers the confidence they needed to feel that they had my unspoken permission to lead me and make me a subordinate simply because of their age; while my coworkers called our bosses by their first name and built rapport, I didn’t. I didn’t freely approach bosses on issues, I didn’t feel comfortable seating with bosses at lunch, I didn’t freely approach bosses with ideas, I created distance between myself and bosses by adding the salutation, and as a black person, I may …MAY have affirmed any latent tendency in Caucasian bosses, to see me as “less than”. So leave your power distance culture at the door and study the culture of your organization. If it is low on power distance, then operate that way.

3)      Forget climbing the vertical ladder, cross the horizontal one: It’s a mess when everyone is trying to climb up the same corporate ladder. If multiple rats in the rat race are scampering up a ladder, it’s hard to stand out. How about this: Climb the horizontal ladder. That means you should focus on maximum work place impact. You should seek to add value not just to your department, but to other departments as well. There was once a coworker of mine that I’ll call I.G She worked for a sister department at the company I worked for but she was so supportive of our department that when she wanted to make a move, my own superiors became evangelists for her. It gets better. Not only does she do extremely well in our department, she now works for another company …as a manager in that new department. So remember that it’s not just your department that you can add value to. Many promotions have happened because leaders in other departments want a person who has added value from another department.

Also (and most people don’t even think of this) the more value you are able to add to other departments, the more robust your experience looks. The more well-rounded you look even to new potential employers.

4)      Always make your work attractive: It’s like a dirty Ferrari… or a laptop with a cracked screen. No matter how powerful the content is, it’s a turn off and people don’t take it as serious. Make your work look good. Take the time to add things to it that make it attractive. THIS IS HUGE AND THIS IS WHY: It says that you take pride in what you have done. It says that you paid attention to detail and it unconsciously creates a receptive environment. Meaning that when people see how good your “packaging” is, they assume that your content is good too.

5)      Always offer to be the one that puts everyone’s ideas together in a presentation, paper, report or project: This is a sure way to be indispensable…but we ignore the opportunity. A long time ago, I learnt the value of this and it has helped me tremendously. Here is how it works. If you are on any team project, there will almost certainly be a time when the team needs to bring ideas or findings together in a paper, report, presentation or meeting. Volunteer to be that person. ALWAYS. Think about it. Let’s use a team report as an example. Your team members all send you their parts so you can put it together in the final report.

You get the chance to be the first to see the team work, you get to be the one to send status reports to the team on how the final report is coming, you get to ask team members to fix things on their parts, and you get to have some creative control on how the final report looks like. In other words, you are leading the team!!!!!….with their consent!!!! What’s better, when you do a good enough job, the boss/professor/teacher/pastor will enjoys the report or presentation, and compliment the team on it…The team will (sooner than later) acknowledge to the boss that you were to thank for it. Even if they don’t right then, it will still get back to the boss.

6)      Solve critical problems: Ill take this right out of my article (Click on the title to go) 8 things you must resolve to do in order to start living a more fulfilled life . There are some problems that just keep the organization busy…and then there are some that keep the organization ALIVE. You need to solve problems that keep your organization ALIVE. I worked in a department that was the lifeline of the company and I can tell you that there was more recognition, opportunity and prestige in that department than any other. The cool thing is that you don’t have to work in that department to add value to it and support it. So no matter which department you are in, connect to the lifeline and support it.  I don’t care where you use this. At work, home, church, school… doesn’t matter.

What I do know is that it will catapult you to amazing heights of opportunity and satisfaction. Ask Al gore, Thomas Edison, David in the Bible, Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph in the Bible, Phil Knight, Noah in the Bible, or Barack Obama. They saw a problem…the one they considered big problems…and they solved them and got the most recognition, satisfaction and in many cases, wealth for doing so. Al Gore perhaps has more recognition now for tackling the issue of Global warming than for being the previous Vice president of the United States. In David’s time in the Bible, it was Goliath. In Thomas Edison’s time, it was the light bulb. In Noah’s time in the Bible, it was the flood. In Edwin Land’s time, it was photography. In Joseph’s time in the Genesis Bible story, it was the famine in Egypt. As for Moses a few chapters down, it was national slavery. For Phil Knight and Nike, it was the marriage of athlete performance and aesthetics, for Steve Jobs and Apple, it was the marriage of electronics and user friendliness, and in Barack Obama’s time, it was the absence of a voice that could unify a nation and cut through ethnic divide.

Here is one highly effective way to do that:

Approach your boss and have a conversation. Ask him/her to tell you more about how your department is vital to the success of the company if you don’t already know this or ask for more understanding. Then follow up by asking “what are the obstacles to doing that?”. Then bust your tail to try to come up with proposals or action plans that will help solve that obstacle. Don’t worry about whether or not they are going to implement your proposal. It doesn’t matter. I said it. It DOES NOT MATTER. Why? Because what you are most concerned about is DESMONSTRATING character. Even if your idea doesn’t move forward, you would have demonstrated initiative, critical thinking (through your proposed solution) and a host of other great traits.

If all else fails, look at what you can do to make things more efficient or save money. Those two will never go out of style.

7)      Don’t SELL OUT…make people BUY IN: You don’t have to change what you are passionate about in order to get noticed or move up. Not everyone currently works in the highly visible departments and not everyone even wants to work in those highly visible careers or departments. You don’t have to SELL OUT…HOWEVER, you can make people BUY IN to what YOU are passionate about in your organization. You can become the evangelist for making people see how the visible career/department couldn’t do what it does without yours. You can be the person who helps others see how much better the organization could be if that visible department worked more with your department. How can your department help make the lifeline department run smoother or be more successful?

Perfect example is Steve Jobs and Apple. We always thought that the engineering team were the kings in technology but that changed when Apple (through Steve’s leadership and paradigm shift) told us that the folks in design were just as important if not more. Same thing with companies like 3M, Kohler, Starbucks and Herman Miller.

Think of a certain “John” who works in the mail room of a corporation. Normally he is at the bottom of the ladder. What are John’s options for being noticed and indispensable? He can send out a memo telling the rest of the company that the mail room is the most important department. Cute. He can try to climb up the ladder from the mail room on the “normal track”. Good luck and see you in 30 years if you are lucky. OR John can find out which department is the lifeline of the company. (He finds out it’s the proposals department) He then creates a new mail delivery route within the organization where he can ensure that mail gets delivered to the proposal department first every day. The proposal department can now fill 10% more orders. The proposal department gets an award at the corporate end of year party. The proposal department head gives a speech and mentions John’s name. Everyone claps. He is no longer JUST a mailman. Even if he decides to leave company X, his resume can now say “Evaluated and adjusted communication delivery process that yielded 10% increase in sales” instead of “mailman”. It works.

I dare say (and you know deep down inside that I am right) that many of the people that have gotten promotions around you are not necessarily “better” than you. They are just probably doing one of these things right.

CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2!!

Feel free to share thoughts, comment and share. Your friends need this too.

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  • MT

    Thank you so much.. This article is so timely cause last week I became very anxious about the direction my career was going or more of like not going lol. I kind of started behaving like a desperado. After a few days of feeling miserable God gave me a reality check and gave me the right attitude about my current position. I feel like the article was a great supplement to what God laid on my heart because it’s practical. I love how you spoke about power distance – that’s a gap I have to work on closing. It took me awhile to be on first name basis with my leaders and I still find it difficult to just have lunch with them. Also, solving critical problems and volunteering is a difficult concept for me to apply. It sounds like extra extra work. I already find it challenging to balance all the things I juggle… Work, church, home, and this month I’m adding on grad school and certifications and health goals lol. I’ve tried prioritizing & cutting back on my activities but I still haven’t gotten it together because they are all so interrelated. I feel like my spiritual side has taken quite a hit as a result. How can I still work on being indispensable without overwhelming myself and putting my spiritual and physical health at risk with my current juggling act ?

    • ijustmetme

      This is such a fantastic question and you are not alone. So many people are in the same position…even yours truly. Here are some things that have helped.
      First and foremost, the battle for your time is a CONTINUOUS ….LIFETIME battle. Make peace with that now. There will always be “stuff” that compete for your time so you must be grounded and prioritize based on what your current situation and desired outcomes.
      Here are a few practical tips:
      -Know the why behind the why: Look at the things in your life as causes not reasons. A cause is something that has a higher, deeper meaning and impact right, a reason is well, just a reason. When you can causealize a goal or a task, then you have more passion and energy to do it. Going to school? Why-Answer-Why?-Answer- Why? What to join the choir? Why? Answer-why? Answer? Why?
      That will eliminate many things from your life right away. Of course there can still be many things left on the plate even after that. Keep reading
      -Banish guilt: Huh? What does guilt have to do with prioritizing? EVERYTHING. There are many many things we do not because we REALLY REALLY care about them but because we will feel guilty if we don’t do them. The favors, the errands, the time spent together with whoever watching back to back episodes of some TV show that someone focused and worked hard on and so on. Banish guilt. Don’t let people or institutions guilt you into spending time doing the things that don’t matter in the greater scheme of things. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t ever do favors, or don’t ever spend time doing things for others…but do it on YOUR terms…on your schedule…for YOUR reasons
      -Set goals: Many people complain of being overwhelmed but the truth is that we are bombarded because we don’t have good goals that WE really believe in… that we feel like defending.
      -The 3 Rs: Lastly, GREAT advice from John Maxwell on prioritizing and decision making: In each of these areas of your life, ask:
      A) What is REQUIRED of me
      B) What gives me the greatest RETURN
      C) What gives me the greatest REWARD
      http://johnmaxwellonleadership.com/2010/08/17/the-3-rs-of-decision-making/
      There you go! Don’t forget to share. There are probably more people who need this. Let’s keep helping!

  • ada

    My case is similar to MT’s. I work in Nigeria in a “one-man business” where like you said promotion/moving up the corporate ladder depends on the benevolence of the “master”. Unfortunately my boss is so stingy, stingy people call him stingy. So this makes going the extra mile very frustrating cuz you may never get appreciated/compensated and he is an expert at using (draining more accurately) people. Couple this kind of situation with running a master’s program, having time for church activities – this year, I’ve promised to increase my impact in our youth’s church but so far, still no way. Last but not least, I have some petty trading I’m involved in which demands a lot of time cuz I cannot afford help now…
    I’m learning to tackle stuff I have to do one at a time and not all at once but I have a long way to go. How do I motivate myself to perform better at work when everyone around is either nonchalant or “ass-kissing” without falling into either group? on second thought, I think i’m nonchanlant

    • ijustmetme

      Hello Ada,
      Thanks for writing in.
      First and foremost, I TOTALLY understand what you mean. I have been in similar situations as well. In fact I worked for a company once that flat out told me that they do NOT want me to go to school and they constantly penalized me for going to school (even thought it was evening classes). That company eventually closed down 4 months after I left .Job swill come and go. Finish school. Period.
      My advice to you is to flip the reason. You see, traditionally, we work hard at our place of work because we hope our bosses will recognize us and promote us etc. HOWEVER we don’t spend enough time cataloguing our own growth. We leave it to our bosses to see what we are doing and reward us for it. The unfortunate thing is that we don’t prepare ourselves for the NEXT opportunity.
      That’s how I want you to start thinking. Take a step back and REALLY think about how much you do for this company.log them well (rewrite your resume even though you are not necessarily looking for a new job now) and then start to do things that will prepare you for your NEXT company. Use that as the reason to have initiative, take more responsibility and learn new things. Be an expert at logging that growth and development. You will see that soon, you look so different on paper and you will now have a major tool to look for something else if you decide to, and you will also be able to put your boss in a good fix where you are indispensable to him and he has to grow you or lose you.
      No need for kissing anything. Just pure unadulterated excellence in performance coupled with the ability to RECOGNIZE AND LOG your own development. By the time you rewrite your resume with this expanded thought and role, you’ll be a new package worth more to him and worth more to other companies. Hope this helps!

  • ada

    yes it does. thank you very much. i hope to give you a positive feedback soon