This is a guest post by Bruce Tulgan author of The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.
You need to grow to make yourself even more indispensable, by steadily increasing, expanding and professionalizing your repertoire of specialties into areas beyond your job. The more specialties you have, the more of your time you’ll be able to devote to high-impact value adding — working in your wheelhouse — and the less time you will spend doing things that are not your job. Remember, work that is not your job is where most of the new opportunities for expanding your expertise are hiding. When it comes to expanding your repertoire of specialties, be systematic.
Don’t be daunted, but don’t be totally undaunted either
You’d be surprised how often some people, when taking on a new task or assignment, make the mistake of thinking, “How much could there be to this anyway?” Usually, the answer is, “Much more than you might think.” Don’t underestimate what you’re being asked to do. This is a chance to learn and grow. Do not try to figure out the new job all on your own. You don’t have to wing it and try to pull off this new thing without anybody being any the wiser. That approach is for rookies.
No matter what you do, make it knowledge work
Knowledge work isn’t only about what you do, but is very much about how you do what you do. That’s where learning in plain sight comes into play. If you are highly intentional about asking for help and then leveraging that information, technique and perspective in everything you do, then you are doing knowledge work, even if you’re digging a ditch.
In everything you do, keep an open mind, suspend judgment, question your assumptions and seek out the information you need. Then study, practice and contemplate in order to build your stored knowledge base and skill set. Think of the smartest person you know. That person is almost certainly also one of the most voracious learners you know. The biggest mistake that keeps people from getting smarter is thinking that being smart is a fixed status, rather than a dynamic process. So, be a knowledge worker. Go out of your way to learn, learn, learn at every step, and leverage what you are learning in everything you do.
Learn in plain sight
When you take on something new, don’t set yourself up for failure by thinking, “I don’t want to be caught learning in plain sight on this because that might diminish people’s confidence in me and my work.” Anybody with any experience learning things knows that active learners tend to be the ones who know the most. When you learn in plain sight, smart colleagues will have more confidence in you, not less.
Be 1,000 percent transparent to accelerate your learning curve. Ask around and get someone to mentor you in the skill you want to acquire. Ask many questions. Inquire about current best practices so you can learn and adopt them. Find out about recurring problems and repeatable solutions so you can have them at the ready. Ask about existing job aids like work instructions, checklists, and best of all, examples of similar or related prior work product from which you can learn, imitate and extrapolate. Then make it clear at every step that you are actively learning and practicing this new knowledge, skill, and wisdom — in parallel with the work you already do in your current job.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Lots of people end up reinventing the wheel when learning something new simply because they didn’t realize the wheel had already been invented. Maybe you’ve had this experience yourself. You get halfway through a task, responsibility or project — or all the way through it — and realize, “This has already been done before! Why didn’t somebody tell me?”
The question you should be asking yourself is, “Why didn’t you investigate the matter before plunging in?” Before doing so, look for established best practices, repeatable solutions and job aids. Most of the new tasks, responsibilities, projects and problems you encounter at work, though new to you, probably have occurred before. Some people have done it better than others. Some have done it best. That’s why it’s a best practice. Too often, best practices hide below the radar in organizations.
Work smart — and even smarter
As you build each set of best practices, repeatable solution and job aids, you are building your repertoire of services and products — your specialties — and what you want to be known for as you build your brand as a go-to person.
You want more and more people coming to you for these services and products, those you are already best prepared to deliver, those for which you have developed strong tools and procedures. When your repeatable solutions become the established solutions, and you are clearly happy to see them proliferate, you will find yourself becoming a de facto leader of an organic team forming around you and your repertoire. That’s a good thing for your superiors to notice: it’s often the path to a swifter promotion and more official authority.
Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as a leading expert on the best practices of effective management, generational change and young people in the workplace. Bruce is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.
Bruce has written numerous best-selling books including It’s Okay to Be the Boss (2007, revised & updated 2014), Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials (2009, revised & updated 2016), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent (2015). Bruce lectures at the Yale Graduate School of Management and other academic institutions, and his writing has appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers including the Harvard Business Review, BusinessWeek, HR Magazine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.