Get What It Means to “Add Value”? Find Your Niche and Showcase It.

If you want to:value added 7656908818_75fecde8da_m

  • get that new job, then explain how you’ll add value
  • move up, then demonstrate how you’ll add value
  • get a better raise, then quantify how you’ve added value
  • keep your job, then showcase how you continue to add value

Sounds easy enough, right? Unless, of course, you don’t know what it means to add value where you work or how. Sadly, that’s a lot of employees.

You are money.                                                                                                

The concept of “value added” was first a business and economics term used in discussions around sale price, production cost, and profit formulas. Eventually it got defined as:

…extra feature(s) of an item of interest (product, service, person etc.) that go beyond the standard expectations and provide something ‘more’ while adding little or nothing to its cost. Value-added features give competitive edges to companies….

That’s where you, the employee, come in–adding value through talents and abilities unique to you. It’s how you demonstrate that what you do contributes to the success and profitability of the company.

Employees are a cost, often a big one, to a company. That means we need to produce work that contributes to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, we often don’t know or have a hard time seeing our connection with the company’s big picture. Our world is often just the task list and performance goals in front of us.

It doesn’t matter how far up or down you are on the company’s organization chart, you have to figure out and demonstrate what you do to add value. If you don’t, someone else may decided that you don’t add enough. The consequences follow.

It’s likely that you already add lots of value and either don’t see it or could add more.

Find your niche.

If you’re saying to yourself:

  • “I don’t do anything special at work. I just do my job.”
  • “I don’t have any unique talents or skills to offer.”

Please stop yourself. It’s time to adopt a new, more positive and generous self-view.

The value you add doesn’t have to  appear in lights. Small contributions can have significant impacts on the company, your work group, and your boss.

Finding your niche means looking at the skills and abilities you take pride in and then maximizing opportunities to brand yourself by them.

Your niche may be something like being known for:

  • Coming up with ways to make routine tasks more efficient
  • Boiling down a complicated issue into its key points
  • Writing meeting minutes that keep decisions in focus
  • Getting people at odds to talk with each other to resolve differences
  • Injecting a light comment or bit of humor to cut tension
  • Meeting deadlines, especially the tight ones
  • Catching errors, written and computational, by being detail-oriented
  • Defusing irate customers and preserving relationships
  • Reading between the lines to uncover the real issues
  • Anticipating the needs of others and preparing to meet them

It’s important to take the time to put together a 3-step value-added action plan:

  1. Write a clear statement that describe your niche (This can be a challenge when what you do comes automatically, so really commit to doing this.)
  2. Identify the real business value that results, creating a clear, strong context
  3. Take advantage of all opportunities to put your value-added behavior to work

On the surface you may not think that what you do has business value, but it does. Think about all the time and money saved each time work is done without interruption, colleagues work together without strain, and customers remain loyal. Consider what it means when work is accurate, quality high, and communication clear.

That’s what makes organizations successful. It’s what helps your career.

Don’t  be shy.

Your value added emerges from your knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors on the job. You want your employer to look at you and feel gratified that you work there. When you add value, employers don’t want to see you go and wish what you do would rub off on others.

Your value needs to be seen routinely to be appreciated. So please don’t be shy about showcasing it.

Photo from memories-in-motion via Flickr

Want to Be Taken Seriously? Make Your Mark with Care.| Personal Branding Realities

The world is watching. You may like that and invite lots of eyes. You may hate it and try to minimize your exposure. Or you may be Marking Your Mark B 5503188585_563f776818_msomewhere in the middle.

Our careers depend on the perceptions of others: bosses, coworkers, and customers. By observing us, they determine whether or not we’re:

  • competent and trustworthy
  • cooperative and approachable
  • committed and reliable

The way we come across impacts whether or not we get:

  •  hired or promoted
  • positive ratings and good raises
  • heard and reinforced
  • chosen for plush assignments

Because your personal brand identity is a priceless asset, you need to manage it with care.

Your brand tattoo

Everything we say and do that others hear and see builds our personal brand. It’s how we manufacture public perceptions.

Social media is the ink that makes your image visible and lasting, creating waves of exposure for endless audiences.

Whether we do it consciously or not, every word and picture that we post online is our effort to present the image we want others to accept. It’s how we turn ourselves into a product that we promote.

If you want to be taken seriously in your career, you need a serious brand image. When your social brand conflicts with your professional one, you may end up with a lot of explaining to do.

Social media is a strategic branding platform. The evolution of your personal brand on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other sites becomes part of your indelible history.

You may end up having to rebrand yourself (which can be a difficult, time-consuming, and possibly unsuccessful task)  when your brand gets tarnished by:

  • those beach and bar Facebook pictures that depict an appetite for partying
  • harsh tweets that disparage political, business, and entertainment figures
  • endless inane and trivial Twitter posts
  • self-absorbed blog ramblings that lack substance

The way you present yourself online (either consciously or unconsciously) represents your brand management strategy–the way you want to be regarded by:

  • friends and family
  • the community and marketplace
  • professional associates and employers

It’s  incumbent on you to take steps to ensure that the image you put out there is one that you are comfortable exposing to everyone.

Remember: Your life is your business. Everything you put “out there” defines you, validates you, and positions you as either someone who adds value or doesn’t.

Keep in mind too that everything you see and read from someone else is their effort to build their own personal brand. Are you buying what they’re selling?

Your brand image is a major contributing factor to getting a job and keeping it.

Serious business

Strategic use of social media gives you a career leg up by helping you  build positive perceptions among those who can help you achieve success.

Posting information, adding thoughtful comments, and blogging enable you to showcase your knowledge, insights, passions, and communication skills.

There is often real, reportable payback like:

  • Visibility that differentiates you from other candidates for a job opening or promotion
  • Credibility validation helpful to consultants, therapists, and advisers
  • Connections with other thought leaders that can lead to professional collaborations
  • Invitations by businesses, other bloggers, and book publicists to partner with them

The key to success in any field is validation for what you know and do–and how you go about it.

If you don’t take yourself seriously and if you don’t exercise care with your personal brand image,  then the likelihood of your finding and sustaining a satisfying career is in jeopardy. It’s all in your hands.

Make your mark

Social media self-discipline and self-control are your friends. When you use them to stay focused on the career that you want and resist trying to one-up or entertain your “friends,” you will give your personal brand identity the boost it needs to sustain you through a fulfilling career. I’m pulling for you!

Photo from imatvi via Flickr

Why You Need to “Kill the Company” Before It Kills You

At first I hesitated when asked if I wanted to take a look at Lisa Bodell’s new book.  Her somewhat startling title, Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution, made me wonder whether or not the topic would fit here. Well, it did that and more!

As employees, we’re often assigned new work methods that were designed without our input.

As managers, we’re often expected to implement work process improvements with one goal–to reduce costs.

As executives, we’re expected to develop more and more innovative ways to improve market share and share owner value.

No matter what your job, you play a killer role in the the company’s future and your own.

Take aim.

Lisa Bodell reveals in her new book, Kill the Company, what she does with corporate clients to shake up their thinking and bring real innovation to light. What’s unique here is that Bodell, as CEO of futurethink,  “gives away” her model and numerous tools that liberate fresh thinking.

She proposes uncovering, in specific terms, how a competitor could “take the company down.”  It’s a matter of asking employees and the leadership, given all the insider information they’re privy to, what it would take to “kill the company.”

It’s that knowledge that readies the company to take internal and external actions to survive!

Bodell writes:

The challenge for most companies isn’t how to get people to be more innovative; it’s how to stop paying lip service to innovation and create a structure and culture in which it can actually flourish and deliver results.

The traditional organizational structures…have innovation in a choke hold.

Too many change initiatives simply add another layer of processes to the to-do lists of already overwhelmed and tired employees….Innovation is supposed to make things better, not worse, easier, not more complicated.

Does this sound like your company? The way you’ve handled or experienced change? If so, it’s time to get serious about turning things around.

Protect yourself.

Not everyone gets to sit in the room where strategies to kill the company are identified and the remedies devised. Each of us, however, needs to make sure that we have what it takes to add value in our jobs for the future.

A stagnant job in a stalled company will kill our careers. Our resistance to innovation in a growing company will kill it too. That means we have to be ready to recognize and take advantage of the changes, both obvious and subtle, in our work environments.

Bodell makes this significant observation:

Soft skills are the new hard skills. You can see evidence of this everywhere…many CEOs and leaders now hail creativity and creative problem solving as the most important business skills.

Just what soft skills will employees need to possess and will organizations need to seek in the coming years? They will be the skills that help organizations challenge the status quo and look into the future, the ones that turn employees into visionaries and help them seek out opportunities and growth in new ways. They will be the skills that enable dedicated learners to handle the blessing and burdens of change.

Bodell identifies these five as the most valued skills in successful employees of the future:

  1. Strategic Imagination“dreaming with purpose”–the ability to recognize the “driving forces changing our world and imaginative enough to harness this potential in a business context”
  2. Provocative Inquiry–”the ability to ask smart, even disturbing questions” that “stretch their own thinking and that of others”
  3. Creative Problem Solving–applying “best practices from offbeat sources and unrelated industries, making connections that others wouldn’t think of.”
  4. Agility–the ability “to think on their feet and nimbly change directions…to be resourceful and confident in their own abilities to handle unexpected situations.”
  5. Resilience–tenacity and “courage to overcome obstacles and push on undeterred” giving their organizations an advantage in good times and bad.”

Reexamine yourself

The same principles that underpin a stagnant company create a stagnant employee, career, and life. The approaches, strategies, and insights that Bodell uses with companies can be put to use by you, whatever your circumstance.

We all need to kill the preconceived notions that we are currently living by if we want to take that next step forward.

There’s no time to kill when it comes to ensuring our future success, only complacency.

Image Source: Gen Connect and Amazon

Stumped About Why You Didn’t Get Hired? | Here’s the Back Story

To many job candidates, the all important hiring decision is a mystery. More often than not hiring managers don’t say much about the factors they considered. In January 2010, I wrote this post to lift the veil a bit, clear the air, and add some motivation.

Myth: The job candidate who flat out “nails” the interview gets the job.

Truth: The decision about who gets the job is, well, complicated. 

For all the years that I was a senior manager at a Fortune 500, every time I didn’t select internal candidates who thought they had the “right stuff,” I was questioned. Actually grilled!

Filling job vacancies from an internal or external candidate pool isn’t as simple as having an opening, interviewing candidates, and picking one. It would be nice if all business decision-making were linear, but it’s not.

It’s not always about you!

A lot goes on behind the scenes in the hiring process and it’s different in every organization.  (I’m not here to judge either the ethics or the efficacy of those processes.)

It’s just important that, as candidates, we understand that these are business decisions, not personal ones.

Typical reasons why candidates aren’t selected

The hiring manager knew the person s/he wanted from the outset. 

Many companies have a mandated hiring process whenever there’s a vacancy. The preferred candidate participates in the process along with others, although his/her selection may be a foregone conclusion.

That may sound unfair, but if you are a competing candidate, it still gives you a platform for showing your stuff. How you perform in the interview will be remembered and can one day work in your favor.

The company wants to develop a high potential employee or add diversity. 

All companies need to build a bench so they can fill sensitive positions down the road. They look for candidates who have the potential to take on increasing responsibilities or need to broaden their company knowledge.

For those companies that have been slow to incorporate diversity into their workforce and their management ranks, vacancies are an opportunity to remedy that. In both cases, these are business best practices that can add needed capabilities.

Once again, simply by being a participant in the candidate pool, you gain important visibility.

You don’t complement the “chemistry” of the hiring manager’s work group.

The ability of people to work effectively together is important to every hiring manager. Any time a new person is added to the mix, the “chemistry” of the group changes. You may have great capabilities, but if your work style and personality don’t “fit” well within the team, then you will likely not get selected.

The hiring manager doesn’t feel comfortable about supervising you. 

This is a very personal thing. Hiring managers don’t get many perks. The one they do get is to hire people who will make their work life more pleasant and easier. So if there are two equally qualified candidates, they will likely say to themselves, “When I come to work on a bad day, which one of these two people do I want to deal with?” That will be the tie-breaker.

Why this is so hard to swallow. 

If these realities are frustrating to you, I understand. Remember, for you the hiring process is solely about you getting the job. For the business the decision is multifaceted. The best hiring decisions weigh the potential for the candidate to take on increasingly more complex work and then to be ready for advancement in a reasonable period of time.

The only piece of the hiring process that you control is yourself. 

Because there are so many variables contributing to the hiring decision, your best course of action is to simply do your best. Pay attention to the way the process is conducted, the questions you are asked, the responses and feedback you receive. Build on those insights.

Remember: Hiring decisions are business decisions. So don’t take them personally.Your best approach while job hunting is to:

  • Be prepared
  • Present yourself well
  • Have confidence
  • Keep at it

In time the right position under the right company circumstances will present itself, and you will be well-positioned to accept it. In the meantime, throw off your frustration and concentrate on becoming a candidate to be reckoned with!

Photo from Giulia Torra via Flickr

Do Job Interviews Get You Frazzled? Exhale!

It pains me when I see job seekers get stressed out at interview time. One way to ease the anxiety is to understand the pressures on the interviewer. This post that I wrote in 2010 does just that.  

Amazing, how a job interview can make our blood run cold.

Our ego, sense of self, and value get all tied up in being picked. Our brains gear up wildly to compete, to be the winner!

I spent a lot of years as a functional hiring manager for a Fortune 500 energy company. The people I hired either worked for me or for departmental colleagues. As a consultant, I still help clients screen resumes and interview.

Over the years, I’ve hired over 100 candidates myself or as part of selection teams. I thought you should know that, so you’ll believe this:

More often than not, the person interviewing you is in a major squeeze and feelin’ it! 

Yes, the interviewer, not just you, is feeling the pressure. S/he has a position to fill and chances are it’s been open for longer than anyone would like. That means work isn’t getting done, other staff are picking up the slack, and the manager is feeling the pinch. Someone is undoubtedly squawking. This reality works in your favor, so relax.

4 Things to Remember When You Sit Down for the Interview 

Curb your nerves by focusing on the needs of the interviewer and not yourself. Here’s why and how:

1. The interviewer is desperately hoping that you are the right person for the job.

That means the interviewer is rooting for you. They want you to do well. They are hoping beyond hope that you will mean the end of their search. They really want you to be the candidate they’ve been looking for, so you will make them a winner.

2. Your interviewer wants you to relax, so s/he can relax. 

Interviewing isn’t easy. It means asking the right questions, gathering the right information, assessing you correctly, and representing the company positively so you’ll want to work there if chosen. If you’re a visible wreck, you will be a distraction and will take the fun out of the process for the interviewer and yourself.

3. The interviewer will be grateful for anything you do to make the process go smoothly.

If you approach the interview generously and focus on meeting the needs of the interviewer for crisp and clear answers, you’ll showcase your skills as a communicator and team player. This means being prepared and asking the interviewer if s/he has gotten the needed information.

4. The interviewer wants the conversation with you to be enjoyable. 

Interviewing is tedious unless the candidate takes the monotony out of it. A candidate with an appropriate sense of humor, a relaxed but alert demeanor, and the ability to use the questions as a way to engage in dialogue about the job is a godsend. That will be you!

You can’t be more than you are. 

You can’t hire yourself for the job. But you can showcase your business fitness by explaining what you know, the skills you have, and the experiences you’ve banked. Trying to oversell yourself or to compete with candidates you don’t even know is the death knell.

When you get hired for a job, you’re committing to a relationship with the hiring manager and the company. It’s the job of the interviewer to decide whether or not you and the company are a good fit.

So be patient and be yourself.

Candidate selection isn’t just about the interview. 

A lot goes into final hiring decisions and it’s not always about you and your interview. That’s another reason to leave your nerves at home.

Photo from Michelle Ranson via Flickr

Struggling with a Difficult Choice? The Answer Can Be Fit to a “T”

Making the right work decision can be stressful, even paralyzing. We just don’t want to get it wrong.

“What if I:”

  • End up looking like an idiot or incompetent
  • Lose all the career ground I’ve gained
  • Cost myself or the company money
  • Cause terrible embarrassment or brand damage

Too often we over-focus on the downside of our choices. However,  being overly optimistic about the upside can be a problem too.

“Finally I’ll:”

  • Be the next in line for promotion
  • Get a great bonus or raise
  • Put the company/my work group on the map
  • Have the team I need to lead like a champ

Too much pessimism and too much optimism are the enemy of sound decision-making.

Use your head not your knees!

Knee-jerk decisions can cripple your career. We decide that way when we’re:

  • Overly emotionally about expected outcomes
  • Impatient with the time factors and/or complexity of the choice
  • Confused by things we don’t understand about the options
  • Stressed by the pressures to decide

There’s no getting away from these realities, but you can replace those jerky knees with a calm and disciplined head.

There are lots of different kinds of decisions we have to make around our careers like:

  • Which job offer to accept
  • Who to hire or promote
  • Which policy recommendation to accept
  • What the most important priorities are

Usually, you’ll have a specific window of time when you have to make a decision, so you need a reliable tool to put into practice each time.

The “T” chart to the rescue!

“T” charts (or tables) are simple analytical tools. They rely on you to identify and weigh the right factors in advance of your decision, so you will balance the positives and the negatives.

Let’s say you have two reasonably comparable job offers and decide to use a “T” chart for each job that you’ll review side-by-side to help you make your choice. Here’s how.

  1. On a blank sheet make two large “T” shapes–one for each job you’re looking at.
  2. Across the top of each “T” write Pros and Cons.
  3. To the left of both “T’s” write the criteria that you are looking at for both jobs.

Consider criteria like:

      • Total compensation
      • Characteristics of the work group
      • Leadership and corporate culture
      • Stability of the business
      • Opportunities for growth
      • Authority and autonomy
      • Nature of the work

4. Write the pros and cons for each criteria for each job as you see them on each “T”.

5. Compare both jobs and base your decision rationally the facts you’ve assembled.

You can repeat this process for other kinds of decisions using different criteria in situations like:

Hiring/promotion decisions by considering the candidate’s

      • Skills and knowledge
      • Interpersonal style
      • Leadership qualities
      • Growth potential
      • Experience

Management policy changes:

      • Impact on the bottom line
      • Employee readiness
      • Timing and potential fall out
      • Regulatory/legal implications

The more specific and relevant your criteria, the more likely you will assess your options effectively. The key is not to stack the deck and select criteria that support what you may want to do at an emotional level. You need to keep it real.

Weigh your options.

The cons (the negatives) are often seen as the deal breakers in any analysis. Many of them should be. However, all cons are not created equal.

Once you have looked at your decision-making data, revisit the cons column and see if any negatives can be mitigated. Are there legitimate ways you can make them less of a problem? If, for example, the total compensation for the job you want is less that your other choice, consider whether their job training and opportunities for promotion offer a better chance to advance and make more in the future.

Using a “T” chart to help you make important decisions doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always be right, but it will keep you honest with yourself. It’s just the rationale approach you need for a sound move forward. Choose away!

Photo from paul spud taylor via Flickr

Making the Right Connections? Take a Fresh Look at the Pieces.

Too often we think we’ll find success if we just meet the right people. Sometimes that’s so.

"Hot Dog" limited edition serigraph by John Gaydos

But we can waste a lot of time cozying up to influencers, just to discover that they aren’t interested in doing anything for us.

Our success comes from demonstrating that we know how to connect the dots and get results!

Put the pieces together

We make “right” connections when we come up with ideas that:

  • solve a problem or settle an issue
  • develop a profitable product or service
  • build or improve an essential relationship

They are a function of you, using your insights and initiative, to put the pieces together, in ways that showcase your:

  • Understanding of  business needs
  • Ability to collaborate and/or partner with individuals or groups
  • Problem-solving capabilities and risk-taking tolerances
  • Willingness to take the lead and own outcomes
  • Ability to communicate in ways that attract support and sponsorship

The pieces only fit correctly if you understand what’s needed to make them connect. Think of a jigsaw puzzle and how, if you force pieces together that aren’t a match, you’ll end up with a distorted picture. The same is true at our jobs.

Think of the coworkers where you work who are the go-to people whenever things are out of whack. They’re successful because they take the time to identify the:

  • underlying problem, not just the surface symptoms
  • solution that will get things up and running without causing other problems later
  • strategy for a long-term resolution that minimizes cost and disruption
  • players who need to participate as collaborators and/or partners

Our career value is determined by how willing and effective we are at solving problems by connecting needs and solutions. That recognition can vault our success.

Hot doggin’ it

Last fall, our local, non-profit arts council held its annual fundraiser–an “affordable art for everyone” auction. The executive director in collaboration with one of the board members came up with idea.

They put the pieces together, creating the right connections, collaborations, and partnerships, by:

  • Attracting artists to submit work for a 50-50 sales split, over 200 pieces
  • Securing an “historic” local hot dog eatery as a sponsor and building the event’s theme around it
  • Commissioning a well-known, local painter to create an original piece called “Hot Dog” (which sold for $1,300; needless to say, most other pieces were significantly less!)
  • Attracting a strong bidder turnout and press attention

After the auction, the owners of the hot dog business suggested making a limited edition print of the original painting. Here was a chance to initiate more “right connections.”

Again the executive director and board member put new pieces together by:

  • Securing a fine art printer to create a limited edition serigraph at an affordable price
  • Making arrangements with the artist to partner on the effort
  • Identifying an art business that would mat and frame the piece for an attractive price
  • Engaging other board members and social media followers to promote and/or purchase the print

Making the right connections bonds you with everyone you engage. That’s how you build your own brand, attract followers, and expand your leverage. Each initiative builds on itself in expansive ways.

Finding intersection

Success is not linear. It’s a function of our choices and our ability to know which way to turn when we face an intersection.

The “hot dog” auction and print experience connected a non-profit organization with individual artists trying to make a go of it. It brought about the involvement of a food business, a print maker, and a frame shop along with art fanciers and a gallery owner.

The old image of the path to career success was a ladder. The idea of climbing steps in a row doesn’t work much anymore. It’s all about connecting and arranging opportunities in creative ways to get the job done. Hot dog!