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How to Become an Indispensable Employee

You want to exceed expectations. But it might not be immediately clear what you need to do to excel. Whether you’re just entering a new position or angling for a promotion, you can secure your position within a company if you’re proactive. Here’s how to earn recognition and become an indispensable employee.

6 Tips for Becoming a Key Contributor at Work

1. Embrace new challenges.

It’s common for employees to gripe about their work. But positive workplaces are up to 30% more productive than neutral or negative environments. When you’re faced with new challenges, adopt a solution-focused approach. Try to moderate your initial reaction and choose to respond with optimism—others will pick up on your emotional cues and feel more motivated.

In 2018, researchers at Stanford tested a hypothesis about the connection between a person’s attitude and their brain function. They asked a group of students to solve math problems while an fMRI machine scanned images of their brain. The results showed that students who were confident about their math skills and enjoyed the exercise were more likely to solve the problems correctly. The scans also showed the students who did well had more neural activity in the hippocampus region of their brain, the epicenter for memory and learning. Based on these results, it seems like a positive attitude might actually boost performance and facilitate problem-solving long term.

People gravitate toward positive influences, and a little optimism could even make your brain work better.

2. Align your priorities with the organization’s bottom line.

It can be easy to view your role or department as the most important in an organization. For example, someone in a C-suite position might not fully appreciate the customer experience because they don’t interact with their users directly. But the best-performing employees deliberately seek out new perspectives—and then integrate that information through the lens of profitability.

You’ll need to consider four key areas to determine how you can contribute to the profitability of your company:

  • Develop Revenue: Whether you boost sales or identify a new revenue stream, money talks. Look for opportunities to monetize a service, generate more leads, or streamline the purchasing funnel. Attach specific metrics to this points so you can measure your impact and communicate those milestones with your supervisor.
  • Productivity: David Mamet and Alec Baldwin cemented the phrase in our collective conscious: Always be closing. But if sales outpace production, disaster will ensue. Employees will become stressed and overworked, and customer satisfaction will likely plummet. So, when you’re looking at the overall impact you have on your business, think about the products and services you offer. How can you increase your product supply or decrease production costs? You don’t want to slash quality when making cuts, but there could be opportunities for refinement.
  • key contributorOverhead: Internal benchmarking is the key to evaluating your department’s overhead costs over time. Once you’ve established those metrics, you can identify specific strategies to improve individual functional processes. If you can become more efficient and save money, you’ll see that value reflected in the company’s net profits.
  • Collections: The longer an invoice goes without payment, the less likely you are to collect those funds. Organizations can optimize their billing process by implementing an A/R aging report, making their invoice easy to understand, streamlining payment options, and communicating with customers. From billing to processing payments, are there any steps you can take to directly affect the company’s collection efforts?

By evaluating your company’s profitability, you can decide how you want to approach new initiatives within the company. If you can influence any of these three stages—and communicate those achievements to the leaders at your organization—you’ll be recognized as a key contributor at work.


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3. Innovate.

Did you know Play-Doh was originally created to clean wallpaper? The compound was invented in 1933 when coal furnaces were popular; people frequently used the material to remove soot buildup. But when oil and gas furnaces were introduced into the market in the middle of the 20th century, people didn’t need wallpaper cleaners anymore. The family business teetered on the precipice of failure—but then they discovered kids loved playing with the compound. Thanks to quick-thinking and creativity, the company rebranded their product as one of the best-selling toys to date.

This is just one example of creativity’s transformative impact on a business. Every professional understands the key to a company’s success is their ability to distinguish themselves from their competitors. It stands to reason, then, that the employees driving performance are the ones who challenge the status quo.

If you’ve never been praised for your creative vision, don’t worry—scientists argue creativity can be learned with the right approach.

4. Articulate your ideas.

Worldwide, poor communication cost businesses an estimated $37 billion in just one year. Collaborating between regions and departments is even more challenging today than ever before—employees can’t rely on having face-to-face conversations to resolve every situation. As more companies expand and hire remote workers, employers increasingly look to individuals with language skills. If you can connect with people over the phone, in video, and through written correspondences, you’ll save yourself time, money, and frustration.

The professional arena is rife with potential communication gaps, but there are steps you can take to clarify your message. Here are a few tips for honing your communication skills at work:

  • Outline concrete objectives and the action points needed to achieve them.
  • Offer balanced feedback—and encourage others to provide input on your performance.
  • Use active verbs and short sentences to make your message clear. Explicitly identify the subject for each action.
  • Pay attention to your coworkers’ body language, and think about the image you’re projecting in return.
  • Reinforce collaboration and teamwork by using “we” statements.
  • Don’t make inflammatory remarks at work. Understand how language can reinforce ideas that are biased.
  • Practice active listening. When someone else is talking, don’t think about what you will say in response—instead, weigh their words carefully and try to internalize the message.

5. Cultivate your skills.

Job securityA survey from Pew Research Center in 2015 shows that 54% of workers believe continuous training will be essential to their career success. Respondents with college degrees were more likely to prioritize ongoing training—possibly indicating that the most qualified individuals are also the most committed to learning new skills.

To stand apart from your peers, you can’t grow complacent. The people who succeed professionally are invested in their work inside and outside the office. Follow developments in your industry. Set up media alerts, and register for newsletters. You can also search for career-focused panels that will help you learn about new developments and techniques.

6. Hold true to your values.

Integrity is crucial at every level of your business. Its implications are perhaps most widely felt at the top—C-level executives set standards for the company culture. They develop networks inside and outside an organization and receive the most public scrutiny. If you have plans to advance, you’ll need to demonstrate a consistent record of integrity. Be honest, moral, and respectful, even when that means you’ll need be brave and work harder. The social network you develop at the office will influence your tenure as much as your professional contributions.

In 2018, the median tenure for wage and salary workers in the United States was 3.8 years. For a variety of circumstances—offshoring, restructuring, voluntary leaves, and forced transitions—today’s workforce doesn’t stay with the same company for long. To stay in demand, you need to have a plan. Proving your value at the company is key to achieving job security and climbing the corporate ladder.


To learn more about developing your competitive edge, get one-on-one career advice from an expert. Ivy Exec offers a mentorship program that puts you in direct contact with the industry leaders who shape today’s professional landscape. 


 

About the Author

Rachel Lake is a writer, editor, and content manager with Ivy Exec. She regularly hosts free webinars on leadership, job searching, career advancement, and more. Based in New York City, Rachel holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. To get in touch with Rachel, contact her on LinkedIn.