Have you ever thought about the value you bring to a situation or a task? I’m not talking about your value or worth as a person (that is unquestionable) but what you do, or how you do what you do, that increases the value of it? This is something I aim to instill in my team and we talk about it on a regular basis. How do we add value to the task we’re working on, to the team we’re a part of, or the department or company as a whole. When I first came into my role my team was assembled of people handling a variety of different tasks that weren’t previously grouped together. Though no one was new really we hadn’t worked together as a team before so I had a team meeting where everyone more or less introduced themselves. Each person went around the circle explained what they did. Without fail each and every person said essentially the same thing, “I just (fill in the blank with some small task).” That just gets under my skin. You don’t just do anything.
“I just pay bills” No, you are managing expenses for the department.
“I just review files.” No, you are measuring and quantifying performance to improve results.
“I just supervise.” Oh heck no (insert sassy head swivel for effect), you are developing and leading a team of individuals to improve quality results and impact the bottom line.
With all of the patience and grace I possess I forced myself to listen to everyone explain how they saw what they did. Then, with very limited patience and grace, I went round the circle and corrected all of them with how I saw what they actually did, which was obviously the only option in how to handle that situation.
Why does it matter?
There are things that I can get a little soap boxy about and this is one of them, but for good reason. Thinking in terms of value added has been a game changer for me. First, it can be done at any level of work and elevate that work. If my sole responsibility is to sweep the floor of my kitchen and I look at it through a lens of adding value, I could be making our home more inviting to guests, decreasing my husband’s stress, or simply enhancing my ability to make best use of the 5 second rule. All of those are more beneficial and more motivating to complete the task well than just sweeping the floor. It can also be done when working on a large initiative. For example, let’s say we have a goal of elevating talent of the overall organization and as part of that we need to create and implement a global needs assessment to determine our current baseline. Creating the needs assessment could be seen as just coming up with questions and adding them to a PDF fillable or, from a value added perspective, it is the first step in understanding and engaging the staff in their development journey.
Looking at work through the lens of what can I do to add value also starts you off on the path to thinking more strategically and holistically. Being detail oriented is a great skill however if you spend all of your time at ground level you can lose sight of the big picture and prioritization. You might be answering calls all day but understanding what type of value you’re adding to those customers and to your organization by doing it well helps you do it even better. You’ll be better able to adapt to change when direction shifts because you’ll already have a grasp on what the end goal is. Eventually, you’ll likely be one of the people suggesting or implementing changes to improve the end result because you’re keeping your eye on where the organization is going and how what you do impacts that.
Let’s take that same example out of cubical land and into education. I am a teacher and have been teaching the same curriculum for years. I use the same activities, worksheets, tests, etc and have always gotten good results so I just keep pulling those same levers to get slight variations of the same results (this would be the ground level version). Then another teacher comes in and they aren’t just teaching but are enhancing the students’ ability to learn. They are talking not only about the subject but about mental and physical health to improve focus in the classroom. They are testing out ways to be more creative with content putting it on YouTube and incorporating the outdoors so that no matter where each kid is at there will be something that speaks to them. Then when something crazy happens, like we’re all teaching and learning from our kitchen tables, laptops and tablets, which teacher is better able to adapt? Which teacher and which group of students has less stress because it’s almost as if they’ve been prepping for this all along? Between the two, which teacher has students who are still thriving and which has students who are barely hitting the mark? (Honestly there are probably a few of each in both classes but you get the idea.) Which teacher is thinking “when can we just get back to normal,” and which is thinking what was great and what was terrible from this experience so they can incorporate or remove them for next year whether we’re “normal” or not?
How do I instill this in my team?
So I’ve grown a bit since going around the circle correcting each member of my team who was just doing x, y, or z. To make sure that my team thinks in terms of this I first and foremost make sure I’m modeling it. I work very hard to frame my work and my day in terms of adding value to the team or the company. I fail of course (and probably use the stupid just word) from time to time but then, I fess up to the team to make it clear that that is not what I expect of myself (typically in a joking way because man would it sound pretentious otherwise).
We talk a lot. I am in dialog with most members of my team three or four times a week. We discuss what they are working on and I am always listening for the value add to the team or department. If I can tell where they are going but they aren’t making the connection from the work to what value it adds I’ll make the connection for them out loud, again modeling what I want them to do and be looking for and then ask some questions to elevate it even further. For example, if someone says, “It was interesting I saw some holes in the existing process, no wonder they haven’t been completing it right.” I’ll say something like, “Oh, great that we found it then! Compliance with the process should improve once we have that updated. What else do you think the group might need, training, job aids?” If it seems like they are missing it I’ll ask some questions to bring them back and remind them to always look to add a little more value. If they said, “They asked me for the numbers so they could analyze x, y, and z so I provided the numbers.” I’ll probably respond with, “OK, awesome thanks. What do you think is causing x, y, and z that they wanted to look into? Do you think you could have provided more detail around the analysis? Our overall goal is to increase the quality of work and maintain calibration. We’re better able to do that if we provide the analysis and the numbers to speed up the process and ensure we’re looking at it the same way.”
We also talk about it as a group. We have short team meetings twice a week where we talk about achievements, obstacles, and lessons among other things. The vast majority of achievements and lessons learned that the team brings are ways that they are adding value to the department so I get the chance to praise them for their work there and the entire group can benefit. Any obstacles that they bring can be processed as a group and I, or someone else on the team, can model what value we can bring to the situation. It’s beneficial to everyone’s development, including mine, to have those within the team helping to come up with solutions.
Things I’m reminding myself of
As the leader its more than just modeling ways that we can add value, you need to teach it as well. Obviously you have to start with getting yourself to think of what value you’ve been adding all along and then how you can raise the bar so that you can model that. It is really difficult to have your team learn right along with you because they’ll get confused on what you’re looking for if you’re still waffling on how to do it yourself. However, you can’t just stop with getting yourself right and modeling. This is a concept that needs to be taught as well. Originally I thought I could model it and my team would start following my lead, a couple of them did but mostly it was starting to drive a gap. I looked like a Pollyanna who didn’t quite understand the “real world” yet. This is why I started intentionally instilling it in the team and why I need to continually drive that forward.
Shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars. I truly find this phrase so very annoying but it is sort of true in this instance. If you’re always striving to add value and create value for others and then you get to a point that you just can’t get there, you can feel defeated. You just can’t force yourself to find the way you can add value to cleaning a toilet or creating the presentation or whatever it is, you’ll land in the world of just. When you’re truly trying to find motivation to elevate it is frustrating to land there. However will have completed what you needed to do. You’ll just get the toilet cleaned or the presentation will just be average. Sometimes just completing something is all you can muster and I would say that is a pretty good worst case scenario. If it is done, sometimes that can be good enough.