Why Making Yourself Useful May Be the Only Professional Goal You Need This Year

An often overlooked but essential professional skill is usefulness. It’s figuring out how to be helpful to your team, your staff, your boss, and your users. It’s a key skill that unlocks career growth and is core to increasing your impact. And, knowing how to be useful is essential for people at all levels — not just the newest to the cubes.

Being useful is about doing things that need to be done that you weren’t explicitly asked to do. There is a never-ending flow of contributions you could make that can make a positive impact. The opportunities are endless because our environments and projects change every day.

How useful are you today?

It can be hard to evaluate your own performance. However, if you’ve ever sat at your desk waiting for your next assignment, you might not be paying enough attention to what’s going on around you. This isn’t to say you’re not busy, busy doing something. However, is what you’re doing the most important thing needed to move your business or a particular project forward? We get trapped in reflexively responding without asking ourselves how the next task will help us achieve our goals.

How can you be more useful?

Instead of reacting, you need to get into the habit watching your project team from the outside in. Maybe once a week or so, take 10 minutes in a status meeting to observe. How people are interacting? Which puzzle pieces are missing? Doing this will spark some off-the-to-do-list ideas about how you could help.

To be the most successful, you have to deeply understand a particular project’s purpose, the leadership/management team’s priorities, and the broader organizational goals. Sometimes these aren’t explicitly discussed so you’ll need to ask questions. If no one answers these questions, you’ll need to observe and take notes. People spend resources – time and money – on what’s important to them. To understand the true priorities, follow investments provided for in the budget and the assignments people are given.

What’s the benefit to you?

Focusing on making yourself useful shifts control over your future to you.

  • Managers and leaders desperately want to work with people who can help them both with what they ask for and what they don’t. They reward such people by giving them additional opportunities to contribute.
  • Project team members want to work with peers they can trust to pull their weight. They pay attention to and follow the lead of a person trying to figure out the best path forward.
  • Customers give high ratings to people and organizations they feel are listening and responsive and come back for more.

As you think about what you want to accomplish at work in the upcoming year, consider adding a focus on usefulness. Doing so will help secure your position and increase your impact in ways that might be tough to imagine right now.

Robin Camarote is a communications strategy consultant, meeting facilitator, and writer with Wheelhouse Group. She is intent on helping leaders get more done with fewer headaches by outlining clear, creative strategies and solutions that build momentum and buy-in at all organizational levels. She writes about how to increase your positive impact at work. She is the author of a book on organizational behavior entitled, Flock, Getting Leaders to Follow. She lives with her husband and three children in Falls Church, Virginia. You can read her posts here.

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