7 Tips That Will Make You Valuable at Work

My start in the corporate world can be considered mundane. After graduating college, I couldn’t find a job that utilized my intended profession (I was an electronics engineer) so I started to work with IT, first in a startup as a software developer. During that time I worked with multiple hats (typical of a pioneer employee in startups) — one of which was a system admin hat as well as an HR helper hat. I lasted seven years there and then transferred to work with different companies, until eventually I reached my current position, being a tech consultant in a fintech company.

By now, I have been personally working for around 16 years already, and I find that as I gain experience, some of the really good practices I’ve also ingrained in the process of my work. Probably this is also due to the influence of the working environments I was in because fortunately, most of them were in relatively stable environments. These environments nurtured good practices in me and I had many mentors as I was moving up.

Tip #1: Communication is Key

As an organization is a collective of individuals, you will need to communicate with each other as often as you can to keep everyone working efficiently. There are generally three types of interoffice communications — reporting, informing, and consulting.

Reporting revolves around your tasks and keeping your team up to speed on each other’s progress. This can also involve your supervisor or senior as they can advise you on doing what’s next, especially if you’re new. This can also mean putting in the proper information in a tool your organization is using, like JIRA, or even in shared kanbans, portals, or spreadsheets.

Informing is less focused on tasks and more on sharing relevant information within the organization. This can involve presenting insights you’ve gained while doing your work that can help other teams. An example is maybe you noticed that lately a lot of issues were caused by a certain process you encountered, and so you are informing the teams downstream of what needs to be done to prevent it happening to them.

Consulting is getting advice or feedback, often with coworkers, or your supervisor. This is meant to help find clarity in your work and find the best (or the least bad) solution to problems you might encounter. Another application of this is the 1:1 you may have with your supervisor to get actionable feedback in getting a raise or promotion.

The Japanese have a term for these three together — Hou-ren-sou (報連相). I find it fascinating that they can set these things up and consolidate them into a term that is easily understood (other examples are for productivity terms such as Just-in-Time or JIT, or 5S of good housekeeping).

It doesn’t matter where you are on the corporate ladder, but you will definitely need to use one or all of these at one point or another.

Tip #2: Keep an Open Mind

As we work on certain things, we gain experience and confidence in doing this type of work, and more often than not we become closed-minded due to becoming accustomed to doing this same thing all the time.

Keeping an open mind to being wrong allows you to think about things from different points of view, and this makes you understand much more deeply what you’ve been doing all along. Someone must have made a mistake before that is why a certain rule had been created.

However, we should also guard our minds not to be so open that we just accept without questioning. Critical thinking is also important. Questioning why something is done a certain way can also yield fruitful discussions.

Tip #3: Always Expect That Things Will Go Wrong

I was a developer by profession and the thing with developers is they are the ultimate pragmatic optimists. They strive for their code to work ideally on the first run, without any issues. But realistically, it doesn’t work this way. It takes a lot of back-and-forth debugging before getting it right. And so is anything that you want to implement in practice.

When trying to actualize something from a plan, always allot some leeway for issues to pop up. Rehearsals are important not only for any performance but also for implementation. This skill is important especially for project managers as they usually need to schedule team tasks, and equally as important for implementors as you always should put in testing to get actionable feedback.

Do not discount Murphy’s Law.

Tip #4: Sometimes Doing the Extra Step Yields Over-extra Output

I remember when I was a new hire working in one of my former companies, and I was tasked to do a presentation related to a tool that I created as a mini-project. My manager was also present during this presentation, and as I went over my slide “Future Directives” — about features that I could have put in but didn’t since I believed they were not in scope — he said, “Why didn’t you try it out though, and share your findings with us?”

It made me realize that a little more push could have resulted in a breakthrough that also would have made that project a little more special. What happened was when I was done with that project, I didn’t have a chance to use it and it was eventually filed into the hypothetical folder of obscurity. I could have made it so that I could use the tool personally. If I didn’t use it, what purpose would that tool bring to other devs in my team?

Always create things that you would use.

Tip #5: Strive to be Consulted

I find that learning a particularly helpful skill at work eventually makes you the go-to person for that skill. Being the local expert will make you more visible across the organization, as everyone will consult with you and you will have name recall. Some companies even reward this behavior, by giving them titles that describe this mastery.

Another way to achieve this kind of authority is to keep on doing what you have been doing at work, but better. Learn all you can about your work and become the best one at that skill set.

You will get more opportunities as you can leverage this skill set everywhere, either by getting promotions inside the company, by finding outside work through freelancing, or by adding this to your resume if you plan to transfer companies.

Tip #6: Always Package your Information

When I was a rookie at a company I worked for before, I got grouped into a team that had an experienced developer as lead and I was assigned under him. He taught me a lot of things, but one piece of advice stuck out to me even now — always package your information by thinking of the next step.

When reporting something to someone, always think within the context of the one who is consuming the content. For example, if you are reporting an issue to your lead or IS (immediate superior), don’t leave him thinking of solutions — always offer options on how to resolve it. Be prepared enough to be able to answer the next logical questions he may ask so that he will be in the best possible position as a decision-maker to make the best course of action.

If you are presenting something to marketing, then it would be better to make your content less technical and high-level. If you are in a meeting with a third-party partner, then you should remember to filter your deck so that any company-restricted information is scrubbed out. If you are doing a workshop with developers or technical people, then you can make it more relevant by adding snippets of code and diagrams.

Always think of your audience and package your information as needed.

Tip #7: Own Your Mistakes

This is pretty hard to do at first, but doing this makes you a better team player. I find that the best teams I’ve been in do not dwell on who made the mistake, but on how to resolve it and make it so it doesn’t happen again — focusing on being objective, rather than being subjective and pushing blame.

Owning your mistakes also fosters your team’s psychological safety. Because if you can be vulnerable to your team without contempt, then everyone on your team can reciprocate this vulnerability as well. It creates a safe space where you can all speak candidly.

I believe that learning all you can about a certain topic or discipline needs a lot of mistakes to uncover the truth. That is the heart of deliberate practice and actionable improvement.

Wrapping Up

Most of these tips I took a while to learn — for some, years. To sum up, here are the tips, worded differently:

  • Always communicate
  • Keep a critically open mind
  • Always be proactive
  • Passion fuels creativity
  • Expertise makes you valuable
  • Always frame your communications
  • Accept your mistakes

Hopefully, in reading this you do learn these and achieve more in your work, career, or even in daily life.

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