Monday, February 02, 2009

Becoming Indispensible

If you just look at raw numbers - more than 100,000 people got the boot from their jobs - just this past week. That really sucks! If you're one of the lucky (or unlucky) folks that managed to avoid the boot - you can take one of two strategies: a) either "pull back" and just try to keep the lights on, or b) innovate and excel.

The typical knee-jerk reaction is to pull back and just try to "survive." Personally, I think that a bunch of crap and a cop-out to boot.

Sure, people are scared for their jobs regardless of their position, but managers and IT folks are are feeling particularly vulnerable (at least from the people I talk to). Here's the thing - people who don't add any value (or save any time or money) are always looked at as expendable. The key - don't be so afraid of your job that you just sit there in fear - take some ACTION that will help raise your value to the organization.

I can just hear you saying "Well, Mr. Know-It-All - got any suggestions?" As a matter of fact I do... for only $29.95 plus shipping and handling... (hey, it's my first day out on my own - I need revenue, people!)...

But I digress... of course I have some suggestions:

Do a process review
There is nothing better to quench the cries of "do more with less", and "time is money" than to look at the way you're doing things - and then figure out a way to do them better, faster and/or cheaper. This can be anything from a full, top-down business review (but it can take a while and is a ton of work) - but it doesn't have to be. No matter what your position is from receptionist to IT manager to coding jockey to CEO - there are processes that you do in your normal every day life that are broken.

Identify those areas and come up with ways to fix them. Then, write it down and quantify how much time/money it will save and how much time/money your fix will cost. Remember - DO show your work. There is nothing a manager or business owner would LOVE than for an employee to come up with ways form them to be more productive. Even if they don't implement your suggestion(s) - just the fact that you're making an effort to become more efficient instantly raises your value to the organization.

Look at virtualization
If you're an IT wonk - then it's a no-brainer. Look into virtualizing servers to consolidate hardware, save on cooling and electricity costs and reducing complexity. If you're a small business owner - see you can virtualize your phone system or customer support or receptionist or anything that is a sticking point in your daily process.

There are literally tons of SaaS software tools out there that can help you run large and small aspects of your business - and many of them either give you a free trial or cost under $50 per month. In other words - the barrier to entry - the cost to try something new to gain efficiency - is extremely low and well worth the efforts if it will endear you to your organization and/or improve your bottom line.

Do some professional development
Yeah, I know that travel & entertainment budgets were the first to do - and that budgets for conferences and seminars are also prime targets for cost-cutting. However, you don't have to spend a lot of money in order to develop your personal skill set. Focus on things that will help you to help the organization. If you're a manager - learn how to read (and write) financial statements, get better at your telephone skill, or your people skills or your management skills. Buy a book, download some free podcasts from iTunes from name-brand learning institutions, take an online course, watch some online videos, etc.

Keep in mind - who is harder to replace - someone who "just" answers the phone - or someone that figured out how to save the company $8,000 per year by changing the way a form is laid out? A person who "just" codes Java - or a person who increases end user productivity by suggesting features no one knew were possible?

You get the idea... now DO something to become someone that's difficult to replace.

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