Are you an indispensable employee? There are many people who
would answer yes as they consider their credentials, work history, knowledge, or
simply the quantity of work that they complete. But what really makes an
employee indispensable? This is an important question because the desire to be
indispensable influences how we compare ourselves to others, how we view our
professional worth, our career plans and even our attitude and commitment. Merriam
Webster defines the adjective indispensable as, "absolutely necessary.” To
attain such a lofty goal requires a two part approach: mastery of your tasks
and continual development of your professional skills.
Mastery of Your Tasks
Your tasks are the day to day items that define your job.
For example, you may be required to complete a project, write reports, enter
data into a system, make a specific number of client calls per week, or
generate a specific amount of revenue. These are the things that you must do to
be successful at your job. The problem is that many employees feel that mastery
of their tasks alone is what makes them indispensable and this can present the
Only focusing on tasks can limit the ability to grow professionally. Resources and energy are put into crossing
items off a task list while professional development is overlooked. This can
lead to limited opportunities for promotion because additional learning
opportunities are missed. Complacency can also set in as tasks become routine.
Inability to see the
bigger picture. When you only focus on growing your ability to complete
tasks and projects, it becomes difficult to see the bigger picture. It is easy
to develop a self-absorbed perspective where you only see things from your
view. There is a risk of becoming disconnected from the firm’s vision as you
work in a silo.
Lack of collaboration. People who are more task-oriented can become possessive
about their position. It is difficult to collaborate when your top priority is
to be the best at the tasks on your list. This results in information hoarding,
lack of process documentation, refusal to accept help and ultimately burnout as
you feel like you are the only one who can do your job.
Resistance to change.
Once you have worked so hard to master your tasks it can be hard to transition
when circumstances change. There is a high level of emotional and personal
investment that limits the ability to adapt and be flexible.
False sense of
security. Only being a master of your tasks can lead to false sense of job
security as you rely on the value of your tasks. As technology changes job
functions and roles, tasks are becoming fluid and not expanding your skill set
can be detrimental if the tasks change or are eliminated.
Professional Skills Development
Being truly indispensable requires you to be more than just
task oriented. In the book Linchpin,
author Seth Godin says, "The indispensable employee brings humanity and
connection and art to [their] organization. [They are] the key player, the one
who’s difficult to live without, the person you can build something around.” This
can be accomplished by developing your professional skills. The Harvard Business Review article, Making Yourself Indispensable, advises that it is best to
"develop skills that complement what you already do best.” The article goes on
to list five main categories for professional development with corresponding
- Character: Displays honesty and integrity.
- Personal Capability: Exhibits
technical/professional expertise; solves problems and analyzes issues;
innovates; practices self-development.
- Getting Results: Focuses on results; establishes
stretch goals; takes initiative.
- Interpersonal Skills: Communicates powerfully
and broadly; inspires and motivates others; builds relationships; develops
others; collaborates and fosters teamwork.
- Leading change: Develops strategic perspective;
champions change; connects the group to the outside world.
In order to become indispensable, it is important to
identify two to three competencies that will complement the mastery of your
tasks. This process is best achieved with an accountability partner. Solicit
the help of a person that you trust to give you honest feedback about your
professional performance. This can be a supervisor, peer or mentor. Ask them to
list your strengths and the list of areas to improve. Take their list and
separate the tasks from the professional skills. First, make the decision to
continue to excel at the tasks. Next, compare the professional skills to the
list above to find similarities, and then narrow the list down to two or three
competencies. Finally, turn your focus to intentionally expanding and
developing the professional skills.
There are many ways to work toward developing these skills.
Here a few suggested strategies:
Collaborate with your
team members. Skills are refined and knowledge is attained when you work
with others. You can learn from other people’s strengths and find new
opportunities to improve on your weaknesses. This also provides a way to build
relationships and increase your exposure.
Get out of your
comfort zone. In the wise words of Henry Ford, "If you always do what
you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Developing your
skills requires a willingness to explore new areas and to welcome change. Look
for the appropriate opportunities to accept new challenges. Don’t be afraid to
fail or be wrong because that is how you learn.
Meet regularly with
your accountability partner. Set up quarterly meetings with your
accountability partner to gauge your progress. Review what has been going well
and where you have run into obstacles. Solicit constructive criticism. This
will keep you on track to achieving your goals.
that this is a continual ongoing process. As Seth Godin explains about the
linchpin (his name for the indispensable employee), "Becoming a linchpin is a
stepwise process, a path in which you develop the attributes that make you
indispensable. You can train yourself to matter. The first step is the most
difficult, the step where you acknowledge that this is a skill and like all
skills, you can (and will) get better at it. Every day, if you focus on the
gifts, art, and connections that characterize the linchpin, you’ll become a
little more indispensable.”
You are always working to be indispensable and the ultimate goal
is progress, not perfection. As you continue to master your tasks and develop
your professional skills your value will increase exponentially.