Fifteen Tips for Being the Indispensable Employee

By Robert A. Hall, MEd, CAE

Some employees are more valuable than others. Sorry if I’ve hurt your self-esteem and bruised your feelings. It hurts my feelings that the New England Patriots pay Tom Brady millions and won’t even give me a try-out. Okay, so I’m a LOT older than Brady, in lousy shape compared to him, and lettered in chess in college. Every human being is unique and equally valuable, right?

Wrong. Tom Brady fills the stands and puts millions of fans in front of the TV on Sunday, providing an excellent return on investment for his large salary. The only entertainment value I’d provide would be for the lynch mob of fans hunting me after my first appearance on the field.

However valuable you may be to your family and friends, that doesn’t make you valuable to an employer. And your organization, whatever else it is, is your employer.

All employers are looking for employees who provide value. Those who provide the most value are the least likely to be cut in a downsizing, and the most likely to receive raises and promotions, because the powers-that-be want to keep them around.

That’s obvious, right? Then how come so many employees act like their job is a right, and that they must be catered to?

The really successful and valuable employees are always trying to make themselves indispensable. Here are fifteen tips on becoming the indispensable employee.

1. Commit yourself to constant improvement. Perfection doesn’t exist, but every organization and every individual can be better tomorrow then they are today. Look at your job every Friday and ask yourself, “How can I do a better job next week?” Then do it.

2. Commit yourself to life-long learning. Takes courses and read books and journals that will help you do better in your area of specialty. But, equally important, expand your horizon. Read widely in other areas as well. Study the field that your organization operates in, so you understand the members and their problems. Study the jobs of your colleagues, so you understand—and perhaps can help with—their problems. And study trends outside your industry that may impact the organization. Yes, you can’t read or know everything. But you can always read and know more.

3. Banish, “That’s not my job” from your vocabulary. Everything that helps advance the mission is your job. The more you contribute in other areas, the move valuable you will be.

4. Banish, “We’ve always done it that way” from your vocabulary. Nothing is more constant than change. I was ten years into my professional career before I had a computer, fifteen for a fax, over twenty for e-mail and the Internet. If I was still doing things the way I’d done them then, I’d be unemployable.

5. Avoid gossip, drama and back-biting with your colleagues. It seems like every office has a Drama Queen or King, who is constantly involved in small feuds, has problems with colleagues, and is generally high maintenance. You know who has to be tiptoed around. And the Boss is dreaming about how nice life would be if only that person could be moved on. Don’t let it be you.

6. Pitch in. Look for areas where you can help your colleagues with their challenges. Do more than your share, especially of the unpleasant tasks, the “dirty jobs,” that are present in every employment situation. Don’t work in a silo.

7. Banish Busy Work. Look for ways to be more efficient, so that time-consuming, repetitive work can be eliminated from your schedule. Can data-entry be computerized directly from the Web, or out-sourced overseas? Having lots of busy work to do doesn’t make you valuable; it makes your job fungible. There is always more valuable work available to fulfill the organization’s mission. Getting rid of busy work will allow the Boss to assign you more valuable work.

8. Make the Boss’s life easier. What skills can you apply, what can you learn, what can you take on that will solve a problem for your supervisor? Solving a couple of the boss’s problems every year will make you pretty indispensable.

9. Be the “Go To” employee. If there’s a problem, and they think first of getting you to work on it, they won’t think first of you if staff census needs to be cut.

10. Keep a cheerful attitude. Sure, we all have problems. But people don’t like to work with those whose hobby seems to be whining and complaining. Your Boss doesn’t either.

11. Go the extra mile for the customers. Don’t have to be pushed to do what needs to be done to keep the customer happy. When you provide out-standing service, the customers will mention it to your boss, who will appreciate you all the more.

12. Share the credit. When your supervisor says you did a great job on a project, saying, “Well, I couldn’t have done it without Mary’s research” reflects well on you, and makes you a star for Mary. Sincere compliments cost you nothing and mean a lot to your colleagues.

13. Don’t try to outshine your colleagues. Say you have a great idea as to how the sales department could increase retention. At a staff meeting, in front of everyone, you could pipe up and say, “Well, I think sales could have increased retention by….” Or you can go to the Director of Sales privately and say, “I have an idea I was wondering if you’d thought about, that might help our retention rate….” Which will serve you better in the long run?

14. It’s your organization too. Yes, we are fond of saying, “it’s the owner’s organization.” But it’s also yours. And not just your little piece. Take ownership. If your area is doing well, but your organization is floundering…your area is NOT doing well. It’s like folks on the Titanic saying, “Well, the BOW may have hit an iceberg, but we’re nice and dry here in the STERN!”

15. Be the most dependable person around. Under-promise and over-perform. If you say you will do something, your supervisor should be comfortable forgetting about it, because she knows it will be done well, on time.

If you noticed, there is nothing on this list that you and I cannot do as well as Tom Brady. And following these rules will make you an indispensable employee.

Robert A. Hall, MEd, CAE, has been an association executive since 1982. Prior to entering the profession, he served five terms in the Massachusetts state senate. .

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