A Labor Day Lesson: The Importance of Adding Value to Your Job

Illustration by Dreamstime.

I am always talking about “adding more value” or “working at a higher level of value.”

How do you know if what you are working on is valuable? Are some jobs more valuable than others?

One of my favorite stories I read in a book long ago, was about a a CEO of a bank who walked in one day and saw a young intern looking dejected in the bank lobby.

He asked the boy, what is it you do for us here? The boy replied, I have a stupid job… I was told to make sure that the containers for the deposit slips are never empty, and that the pens always have ink in them.

The CEO said to the boy:

“You have the most important job in the whole bank. You are responsible for our clients’ very first experience with us when they walk in the door…A bank survives on its deposits. It is your job to make sure that our clients who come in to deposit money have confidence in our bank. How would they feel if the pens had no ink? Your job is to make sure their first impression is a great one, so that they keep doing business with us.”

Connect the dots

What is so great about this story is that the CEO connected the dots for the intern.

It is not that any particular job is more valuable than another. The trick is to understand what the business values and make sure your work is impacting that, no matter what job you are in.

Don’t treat your job description as a life sentence. Change it. Do more and different than you are asked to do. Understand what the business values and then tune your job to make sure you deliver on it.

How do you connect the dots between what you do and what the business cares about?

Sometimes people tell me that their job is too low level — it’s too far removed from the big business initiatives for them to see why it’s valuable.

Major red flag: If you can’t connect the dots, no one else will either. You need to map it out.

Ask, “so what?

For example, a manager of a team of tech-writers: We produce documents that explain how to use our products. So what? Customers can be successful using our products. So what? They don’t need to contact us as often. So what? Supporting our products costs less. So what? That impacts our profit. There you go!

Then, think about how to add even more value.

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You could interview the web and phone support people and understand what questions are most frequently asked. That would give you ideas for what to include in the documentation to reduce the support load even more. There you are adding more value.

As you learn more from the support teams, you might even get an idea to share with the product development team about how a feature of the product is causing a lot of confusion. If they implemented it differently it would require less support and less documentation! Value again.

Don’t wait to be asked. Find the value. Add more.

Make your job more valuable

If there is a secret to succeeding at work it is to make sure your work is highly valued, and that you get recognized for it.

  1. Understand the business strategy. What does the business need? And what does the business think is important to get done right now? That stuff = “the value.” As a manager you need to always be learning this (because it changes), and sharing it with your team.
  2. Change how you work. Make sure the work your team is doing is impacting those things.
  3. Get recognized for it by connecting the dots for people. You have the responsibility to show how your work is impacting what the business cares about. You need to show how you are adding value. Don’t wait for others to figure it out or to discover how valuable you are.
  4. Impact Profit. One way to specifically add value, that is available to anyone in any role, is to make the business more efficient or productive. That way you impact the bottom line. Profit is always something that is important to the business!

Not everything we work on adds value.

Sort through your workload and understand which things really make a difference.

I have always done my best to make sure that every single person in my organization understands how the business makes money, and what the drivers of revenue, cost, and profit are.

If you can get everyone on your team focused on adding value, you can motivate and challenge them to step up, and, it will be clear to everyone how you are impacting the business.

This article was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership blog.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .