In my last blog, I provided some thoughts about how companies may elect to react to evidence that suggests that customer and employee sentiment may be on the decline. In this final entry of this series, I will conclude with some suggestions that employees may want to consider as they plot the path that their career will take.
Employees need to develop strategies and tactics that will resonate with their two key stakeholder groups – customers and their employer. Fortunately, many of the strategies that can be employed will serve the needs of both stakeholders. Consider the following:
1) Know Your Value – To be able to assess your worth to your customers and your organization, you need to understand where you fit in the value chain. To do this, take a few minutes each week to answer the following questions:
a. What did I spend my time on this week? What were the issues that commanded the most amount of attention?
b. Did these activities add value? Does the time you spend result in tangible value to either your customer or your employer? If so, how can you articulate that?
c. What did I work on that prevented me from providing even more value? This is basic opportunity cost – every hour spent on a non-value-added (NVA) activity prevented you from adding tangible value. Understanding what those NVA activities are (and, more importantly, what you can do to minimize and/or eliminate them) will move you one step closer to maximizing your own value.
It may be useful to keep a brief daily log over a few weeks in order to provide the data you will need to see the themes that emerge.
2) Communicate Your Value – Once you understand how and where you provide value, it is critical that you communicate that with both your customers and your employer. Be careful here – the objective is to communicate how your work is helping them, not how great you are. The context within which this is framed can make all the difference in how the message is interpreted.
3) Continue to Learn – No business or job stays the same. Technology impacts how, where, and even if the work gets done. Customer tastes and needs can change which can impact the extent to which demand for your product or service changes. The economy at large can determine how your product or service stacks up compared to other needs (and, therefore, whether it is a necessity or a “nice-to-have”). Moreover, the pace of change is accelerating, which means that employees need to continue to learn in order to stay ahead of the curve.
Note that “learning” does not necessarily mean “go back to school.” This is certainly a viable (and worthy) endeavor, but there are other ways to learn – for example, read a book on a new technology that can make your business more efficient (and you more valuable as an employee). Read a trade journal to stay abreast of the competitive landscape. Do a Google search to see what competitors are doing (or what their customers are saying about them). Scan the web to see how customers use your products and services, and make note of new ways of use that may represent cross-selling opportunities for you when talking to your customers.
And don’t forget – when you learn something new, make sure to communicate with your company how this adds value (in tangible terms).
Ultimately, employees are responsible for their own long-term prosperity; this brings me to my final recommendation – build your network. Harvey Mackay wrote a book called Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need. The basic premise was simple – it is important to build, nurture and maintain a network before you need it. This is not necessarily a mercenary activity that reeks of disloyalty to your employer – in fact, building your network will also raise the profile of your organization, which can lead to more business for your firm. However, building your network helps mitigate your personal risk of being unemployed for a long period of time. Fortunately, following the other recommendations will help to maximize your value to your current firm and if you find yourself looking for a new employer, you will be well-prepared to make a compelling case to prospective employers.
I hope you have found something of use in this series; if so, I would love to hear from you.
Mark A. Ratekin
Senior Vice President, Consulting Services