In this excerpt from her latest book, The Invaluable Assistant: 30+ Ways to Demonstrate Your Full Value at Work, Sandy Geroux shares insights into what Assistants can do to recognize and demonstrate their added value
in·dis·pen·sa·ble /indəˈspensəb(ə)l ~ adjective: absolutely necessary
When you’re viewed as indispensable, what happens? Your presence is absolutely necessary, either in person, by phone or virtually. You can’t take a day off. You can’t get sick. You can’t be out of communication for any length of time.
Why? Because the focus is on the specific TASKS that you do. But if the only focus is on the tasks that need to be done, many people can fill that role. Just get somebody – anybody – in there and have them “push the right buttons” and get the tasks done.
When you are viewed as merely indispensable, anyone will do. You become a commodity, the formal definition of which is “an article of trade or commerce, esp. a product as distinguished from a service; something of use, advantage, or value… able to be traded away for something else.”
Be an asset, not a commodity
Since you can easily trade one commodity for another, no one wants to pay more for it. With commodities, the focus is on cost – they’re all pretty much the same, so just get it the cheapest, quickest and easiest you can. And if you lose one, just replace it with another.
In the context of this discussion, if you simply substitute the word “person” for “product,” you realize that anyone who doesn’t distinguish themselves for any particular reason could be viewed as not unique, invaluable, or distinguishable from everyone (or anyone) else. Therefore, there’s no need to insist on hiring or retaining that person. If you are a seasoned professional and you want to add extra insurance against being replaced by a less experienced, less costly person, don’t be a commodity!
Become an asset instead! An asset is defined as a useful and desirable quality or thing (in this case, a person).
When you become an asset, you move from being indispensable (where anyone will do) to being truly invaluable, where no one else will do because the organization can’t easily replace your knowledge, expertise, work ethic, thoroughness, thoughtfulness – or a million other factors that make you so valuable (invaluable).
in·val·u·a·ble /inˈvaly(o͞o)əb(ə)l/ ~ adjective: beyond calculable or appraisable value; of inestimable worth; priceless
Why do certain leaders, when they change positions and have the ability to take their current Assistants with them, do so? Because they know that what they have in that Assistant is hard to come by; it can’t easily be replaced. The Assistant either has knowledge of the leader’s habits, preferences, personality, communication style, work ethic or special expertise valuable to that leader. Perhaps their network has been invaluable to the leader’s success.
Whatever the case, the current Assistant is so worth keeping that it doesn’t matter if the leader can hire someone else for less money – it’s not worth taking the chance of losing what they have in that trusted individual.
When you move beyond focusing on the tasks themselves to the way those tasks are done quickly, efficiently, proactively, with expertise and high quality, the performer of the tasks becomes much more important than the tasks themselves – in other words, invaluable – and in that case, you transform yourself from a commodity to a valuable asset, and no one else will do.
Think of the way you shop for groceries. If you’re value-minded, you don’t mind buying generic brands for many common items because there’s no discernable difference between the generic and the name brands.
However, there are probably certain items for which no generic can compare! For these items, you don’t mind paying extra because they’re worth it to you in terms of the quality of the taste, texture or versatility of the name brand item.
The same holds true for certain generic versus name brand drugs.
When I was younger, I suffered from migraine headaches. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, they have subsided to “normal” headaches! (Hey, if you have to have a headache, I’ll take an “ordinary” one over a migraine any day.)
At one point, I found an incredible drug that relieved my migraines within one hour. However, my doctor felt (and the pharmacist agreed) that a generic drug would function the same as the name brand and have a lower co-pay on my insurance. So, I tried it.
Big mistake! Yes, the generic drug was cheaper, but it took four times as long and twice as many pills as the name brand drug to get any relief at all! If you’ve ever suffered with migraines, or know someone who has, you know that four minutes with a migraine feels like four hours, and four hours feels like four days… so any extra minute that it took to get relief was too much.
I gladly switched back to the name brand drug and paid the extra money, since it was well worth it in terms of the pain relief I experienced. (By the way, this is the only drug I’ve ever taken where there was any noticeable difference between the name brand and the generic.)
The game-changer: your vision for your career
In light of all this, I’d like you to set a new vision for your career: to be the best executive strategic partner you can be for your leader, their true right-hand person, and earn a seat at the executive table by becoming an asset to them and to the organization.
Think like the leader(s) you serve
If you want to advance your career and serve at a higher level, you must think – and speak – more like the leader(s) you serve. Think in terms of benefits and value; focus on outcomes rather than tasks. Then articulate that value in the language they use and in terms of the benefits to them.
You will never hear a leader talk about simply the tasks he/she does in their position. A leader talks about how they lead an organization to success… what their vision is for the organization, how their team will get there, their passion, the mission and values. In other words, all the things that comprise the added value they bring to the table by the way they lead the organization.
The tasks will follow based on what that leader wishes to accomplish. But it starts with the why, not with the what or how.
Of course, as Assistants, much of your job has to be concerned with the “what” and the “how” – the logistical side… the side where you get things done.
But never start there. Start with the why and the benefits, and you will figure out what you need to do and, more importantly, how you need to do it. The why and the how are what create the experience for the leader and the organization.
When you focus on their experience with you, that opens the door to so many more opportunities to prove your value. This is where and how you make the following critical shift in your relationship:
When you first begin at a job or company, you are an unknown quantity. They’ve read what you listed on your resume and cover letter, but how many people lie (or greatly exaggerate) their accomplishments on those documents? So, leaders are understandably wary of whether you can accomplish what you claim you can do.
After you’ve been with an organization or leader for a while, and have proved your capabilities, you move from being Unknown to being Believed. “They can do all that – this is great!”
When you’ve proven, time after time, that you can not only do the job, but do it well, get things done, solve problems, even prevent other problems from happening, that’s when you make a critical shift from being Believed to being Believed In. “I believe in your ability to do whatever needs to be done to help others, protect the organization, help it succeed…”
When you make this shift, you move from being Indispensable to being truly Invaluable to your leader and your organization.
Through the stories and examples contained in this book, you will see many principles and concepts in action and learn how to apply them to your specific position, so you can move into the Invaluable category in your organization.
Demonstrating your value
All of these revelations compelled me to create the following exercise and chart to enable Assistants to re-consider the tasks they do in light of the value or benefit provided by the way they do them.
Steps to maximize your value – what is your unique value?
- List the top 10 tasks you do.
- List “extra” things you do to accomplish each task efficiently, cost-effectively, proactively, etc.
- Identify any specialized knowledge or tips you’ve acquired along the way (or brought with you to the position).
- Itemize the “unique” processes, procedures, or methods you use (or have created) to perform each task.
- Articulate the specific benefit(s) to your leader, co-workers, or organization (e.g., monetary, productivity, stress-relief, innovation/creativity/development).