Is your organization changing? Join the club. With the current economic state, mergers, acquisitions, and organizational restructuring have become commonplace. Many employees have found themselves in new positions, most likely doing the work of three. Amidst all the cutbacks, layoffs, and streamlining of work, how do you make yourself indispensable and increase your contribution to the organization?

In 1977, Harvard professors Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson summarized 10 years of research on employee performance on contribution. They found the average corporate employee reached his or her peak contribution at mid-career and then steadily declined in performance until retirement. There were, however, a few mid- and late-career high performers who didn’t conform to the norm. Dalton and Thompson discovered that the high performers were those who met the changing expectations of the organization.

During our careers, many of us start out with high energy and enthusiasm to learn. As our knowledge and experience grows, we become experts in our fields, requiring little direction to accomplish our tasks. We become comfortable, and that’s where we stay—busy applying our expertise to the task at hand. Over time, our tasks can become monotonous and we may become disengaged. At that point, we have a choice: continue to lose interest until we are let go and/or seek another job –or—move forward in our contribution.

The turbulent times we’re in require organizations to be braced for, if not ready to embrace, change. If you’ve grown to become an expert in your position, your organization will most likely be looking to you to guide others on your team toward the new goals of the company. If that task sounds daunting to you, you may be stuck in the rut of “applying expertise.” Use the following statements to evaluate where you stand:

  1. My job assignments are usually projects I can tackle on my own.
  2. I provide quite a bit of informal training to less-experienced colleagues.
  3. When I have questions, I have a network of co-workers to whom I turn for answers.
  4. My manager prefers I make a decision, but keep him/her informed.
  5. People know if I commit to something, it will be done as agreed upon.
  6. When I hit a roadblock to my work, I know how to keep the work moving forward
  7. I typically have the right answers to most issues in my area.
  8. I know who to call to line up the resources I need to do my job.
  9. I’ve earned the right to be entrusted with independent projects.
  10. Others rely a lot on my expertise.

If you found yourself answering “Yes” to a majority of these statements, you may be ready to move on from simply applying expertise to the task of guiding others. Employees who are skilled at guiding others have a broad perspective, interdependence, and robust internal and external networks. They develop capability in others and provide local leadership, even if they are not in a managerial position. Here are some tips to get you started in the right direction:

  1. Create processes and methods to support your project objectives.
  2. Work with resource managers to obtain and allocate resources to complete programs and projects on time.
  3. Leverage business acumen and subject matter expertise.
  4. Expand your knowledge of related functional areas and the ways your work connects.
  5. Seek to fully understand company business priorities, strategy, and direction.
  6. Provide thought leadership, guidance, and advice in your area.
  7. Establish working relationships with others outside your area of expertise.
  8. Contribute to the department/function by helping to plan at the department level.

The transition from applying expertise to guiding others is difficult for most people, but your organization needs people at all levels – not just managers—to demonstrate these behaviors. Your development may just help your organization pull through these trying times, and it just might make you indispensable.

Rachel Godfrey — Marketing and Communications Specialist

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