Friday, 11 September 2020

The Art of Being Indispensable at Work | Bruce Tulgan

What's the secret to being indispensable a true go-to person in today's workplace? Bruce Tulgan, the author of the book “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work” analyzes, provides vignettes, and summarizes for us the essence of how to be that indispensable go-to person. Do you want to be a better leader, a better performer, perhaps number one in your peer group? Read this book.

This book could be the most practical and immediately usable book I have ever read. With this guide, anyone can start building an upward spiral of real influence.


Everybody at work is your ‘customer’ now. And you are theirs. Up, down, sideways, and diagonal. That is because collaboration is the latest revolution sweeping across the workplace. That is why every employee needs to know The Art of Being Indispensable at Work and mind his or her attitude.

And here are my highlights from this book:

In today’s context, the “collaboration revolution” is just a fancy way of describing the need for more and more people to work more and more closely together, more and more regularly, at all levels, in support of each other.

Meantime, most employees find themselves in short-term project teams on top of their regular jobs. In short, everybody’s trying to do more and more while leveraging the same limited resources they’ve always had.

Managers have to be accomplished tightrope walkers, managing the traditional line relationships while building alignment across multiple functions.

Sadly, even the best attitude and most diligent work ethic aren’t enough to keep overcommitment syndrome at bay. Nobody can work enough hours with a big-enough smile to do everything for everybody all the time.

Stop focusing on what other people can do.

That’s how you become indispensable. That’s how you build up the real influence that makes you a true go-to person.

The game is moving to a higher level, competition is fierce, and if you want to stay ahead, you’ll have to keep raising your own game—just as the corporate overlords have been saying.

The Long Game Is Played Moment by Moment.

Mind Your Attitude.

Attitude may be intangible, but it really matters.

“Work things out at your level” effectively pushes as much communication, decision making, and cooperative action as far down the chain of command as possible. When it works well, everything runs more smoothly and swiftly: information exchange, planning, resource sharing, and execution. It also reduces unnecessary problems and waste.

How you align yourself in terms of decision making and support—and with whom—is the first core mechanism of becoming indispensable at work.

The most important thing is, first, go vertical and manage up. You need to be in dialogue with your boss on the matter, checking in every step of the way.

Being in charge of other people is a huge responsibility. Don’t take it lightly.

Keep your boss updated, early and often, if you’re running into obstacles or delays. Talk through backup plans, workarounds, and what to do if you just cannot get what’s required.

When explaining leadership, General Schwarzkopf often cited an old military cliché: “When in command, take charge.” Let me amend that for the collaboration revolution workplace: Whether or not you are in command, take charge.

There is only one tool for leading others: communication.

If you want to take charge of anyone anytime, you must communicate with rhyme and reason.

Treat every decision about yes and no as a choice about investing your time and energy. If you were making an investment decision in a responsible manner, you would follow a due diligence process. Due diligence is simply a careful investigation of any potential investment to confirm all the relevant facts and seek sufficient information to make an informed judgment so as to prevent unnecessary harm to either party in a transaction. The process protects both the asker and the party saying yes or no.

No matter how much decision and process may be shrouded in the data and logic, facts and reason, don’t be fooled: there is always the human factor.

To professionalize any task, responsibility, or project, do these three things: Identify, study, and follow the proven best practices in your field and in your organization. Turn them into standard operating procedures.

Bank and reuse repeatable solutions, rather than reinventing the wheel every time. These are the solutions to recurring problems that naturally emerge when you regularly use your standard operating procedures.

Use whatever job aids you can find—such as work instructions, checklists, templates, and prior work products. These are the things that will help you systematically follow those best practices and use those repeatable solutions. Once you get comfortable with the basics, build some job aids of your own.

Remember, work that is not your job is where most of the new opportunities for expanding your expertise are hiding.

The best thing you can do when acquiring any new knowledge or skill is to start by pretending you don’t know anything about it (or at least take note that you don’t know everything about it). Then ask yourself: What knowledge, skill, and wisdom would really help me with this new task or responsibility? What information do I need to study? What do I need to memorize or practice again and again? Repetition is often the key to success.

So, be a knowledge worker. Go out of your way to learn, learn, learn at every step, and leverage what you are learning in everything you do.

Keep building your repertoire, but remember that the busier you are and the heavier your workload, the more you need to focus on systematic execution. Don’t try to be a juggler. You are not really working smart unless you finish what you start.

In a collaboration revolution workplace, where the lines of authority are unclear and priorities become muddled, almost everyone worth their salt will tell you they’re “always juggling.” Often, they say it as if it’s something to be proud of, proof that they are super busy with lots of “very important work.”

The busier you are and the heavier your workload, the less you can afford to be a juggler. Juggling is not a badge of honor. If you are juggling, it’s just a matter of time before you drop some balls.

This is the metaphor I prefer: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I think of every concrete action as a bite-size chunk of an elephant. Here’s why that’s my preferred metaphor: you have to chew and swallow one bite of the elephant before you can take the next bite. So, don’t stuff your mouth with elephant. Carve up everything into bite-size chunks. Then bite, chew, swallow.

There are 168 hours in a week. Nobody is creating any more hours. Actually, yes, you can. High-leverage time chunks are like a factory for manufacturing more time. That’s where you should be working, as much as possible.

If you are juggling, it’s just a matter of time before you drop some balls.

Every time you think, “I wish I had known xyz” or “Next time we should do abc,” those are opportunities to get better. Don’t miss them. Write them down, talk them through, and use the insights to improve.

That’s what go-to people do. They get in the habit of doing some form of an after-action review following every significant action or project. In working relationships, such a practice is the heart of continuous improvement.

Make the after-action review your standard operating procedure. Do a structured analysis and debrief of what happened, why it happened, what went right, what went wrong, and how it can be done better going forward:

Make after-action reviews a habit. Even if your organization doesn’t do it, your manager doesn’t do it, and nobody else on your team does it, you should start a review on your own. Purposeful self-evaluation is critical to self-improvement. And learning to improve from how you handled past interactions and projects is the ultimate way to make yourself indispensable.

Lift people up and they will lift you up, too.

Focus on the work. When the work goes better, the relationship will go better.

No matter where you work or what you do, if you conduct yourself as a go-to person, you are the person who is always adding value, always trying to serve others, always trying to do great work and be great to work with. That’s going to make things better for you and others in your sphere of influence.

Go-to-ism describes an essential belief: that serving others very well is what being indispensable is all about.

Learn who’s who in the zoo.

Get to know the players in all the different areas of the organization—up, down, sideways, and diagonal—their strengths and weaknesses, their work proclivities, and how to work effectively with them.

Start with the people you know.

Study the organization chart.

Always follow up and build the relationship: send a supersonic thank-you. Do an after-action review. And look around the corner so you can plan the next collaboration.

You don’t have to be the boss to help people get better. No matter where you are in the organization chart, you can set a great example by how you work and how you work with others. Be the kind of coworker others want to emulate and imitate. 

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