In his Ivy Exec Webinar, Mark Herschberg shared some unexpected tips on maximizing value in the workplace from his book The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. Mark wrote the book based on extensive professional experience and twenty years teaching at MIT’s “career success accelerator”.
The book explores strategies you can use to increase productivity and integration within your workplace and your industry as a whole, many of which would be tricky to arrive at without the broad and insightful view provided by The Career Toolkit.
Decoding the Workplace
While much of the value we bring to an employer is a direct outcome of the work we perform as part of our regular job responsibilities, there are many ways in which we can make ourselves valuable to a company that has nothing to do with our formal training and experience. In The Career Toolkit, Mark promises to teach us some of these unwritten rules, or what he calls “essential rules for success no one taught you in school”.
Focusing on three main sections–Career, Leadership and Management, and Interpersonal Dynamics–Mark offers his advice on ensuring that we have a clear and holistic understanding of our company and sector, so that we’re best poised to capitalize on opportunities and to generate them ourselves. The Career Toolkit seeks to be of benefit to workers in any industry, so let’s explore some of the insights Mark Herschberg shares in its pages.
Who is Mark A. Herschberg?
Mark himself has worked in academia, corporations with as many as 300,000 employees, and startups with as few as 3, doing everything from tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentication systems. Mark also helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s “career success accelerator,” where he teaches annually. At MIT, he received a B.S. in physics, a B.S. in electrical engineering & computer science, and an M.Eng. in electrical engineering & computer science, focusing on cryptography. At Harvard Business School, Mark helped create a platform used to teach finance at prominent business schools. He also works with many non-profits, including Techie Youth and Plant A Million Corals.
5 Key Takeaways from The Career Toolkit
1. Outrun the Other Campers
Drawing from an old parable in which a camper realizes he doesn’t have to outrun the bear that’s chasing him, but rather, simply, the slowest of his fellow campers, we can come to understand why many seemingly outdated or mismanaged companies thrive: they are the best option in their field. By the same token, understanding the comparison-based metrics that will determine your own success can help you to achieve a better picture of where you stand.
This doesn’t need to be as cutthroat as it sounds: we can apply the same principle to learning the very skills in The Career Toolkit. There’s no pressure to be a master of all these new strategies; simply gaining a basic understanding here will put you miles ahead of anyone who’s not employing them at all. Counterintuitively, knowing the habits of the “bear” can actually help to take away the pressure.
2. Take a Wider View
Can you name your industry’s current trends? How about your company’s supply chain? Even more fundamental: What does your company do? These might seem like rudimentary questions, but most people tend to answer them with a bias that comes from their own role in a much larger whole.
To use another animal analogy, if you were shown only a small part of the side of an elephant, you might think it was a cement wall. Similarly, if you’re a software engineer, you might think your company runs on quality and innovation when really it’s out to offer well-marketed affordability. Sometimes you need to take a step back in order to assess where you’re really at, so you can start to move forward.
3. Manage Your Manager
This doesn’t mean you’re going to boss your manager around. It means you’re going to figure out their expectations and make sure you’re working towards them. Even if your quality of work remains constant, knowing whether they prefer a hands-on role or more independence from their team members can go a long way to let you provide the type of value they’re after.
And if you notice a weakness in your manager, that doesn’t have to be a detriment to you. Rather, you can seek to step up in this area in order to fill this niche. If they wind up moving up to a larger role, they’ll quickly realize that they need you to come with them if they’re going to maintain the same quality of performance that got them there.
4. Put Politics on a Spectrum
Sometimes we can think of “political” as a dirty word in the workplace, but it doesn’t have to be. Regardless of how political you might be, it can be beneficial to know the ways in which those around you are making their decisions.
This can even help you “manage your manager”. If they share your technical background, perhaps putting your head down and getting the job done can suffice, but if they’ve got a lot on their plate and tend to delegate some decisions to team members whose opinions they trust, then active communication can go a long way. It’s not machiavellian to effectively make known the value you’re bringing to a team. In fact, it could even help your team members to benefit more effectively from your efforts.
5. Build a Network Within Your Workplace, Even if You Aren’t Within Your Workplace
With the shift to working from home, the lack of proverbial ‘water coolers’ can make it hard to connect with coworkers. But why not reach out to your HR department to suggest a series of lunchtime lectures or even a digital trivia night where teams are made up of members from different departments? Knowing “who’s eating lunch with whom” can provide you with a support system, and keep you in-the-know in terms of where your company is headed. And knowing pays, where maximizing your value is concerned.
Maximizing your value doesn’t just mean doing a good job, it means understanding your job. Along with his own experience and The Career Toolkit, Mark Herschberg’s approach to strong value in the workplace is informed by a number of other excellent resources: The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know, Survival of the Savvy, Never Eat Alone, and Reinventing You are all titles that Mark cites in his webinar.
Doing a great job is always important, but understanding your job requires an effort of its own, and it can allow you to be more effective, and to generate even more value, no matter what role you find yourself in.
Are you doing all you can to maximize your value? Learn more with IvyExec’s Career Advice.