When it comes to your job, how indispensable are you? Are you a vital part of your operation like Bea Arthur on Maude, or are you more expendable like Ted McGinley on Happy Days? How do you become more indispensable? And why would a company want indispensable employees? Motley Fool Money host Chris Hill recently asked entrepreneur, speaker, and best-selling author Seth Godin. Godin's new book is titled Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Chris Hill: Everyone wants to be indispensable or think of themselves as indispensable. Why is it so important for people right now?
Seth Godin: Well, I first want to challenge that. I just think that most people don't want to be thought of that way because it brings too much fear and responsibility with it. Most people seek out a job from a placement office at school, they try to find a place where they can go on vacation and the whole place doesn't fall apart, and where they do not have to make decisions that they have to live with.
Linchpins, people who are indispensable, have always been in short supply. The reason they matter so much more now is that the old Wall Street-driven model of anonymous corporations that grow quarter after quarter, turning out predictable results, is dead.
And what we are seeing instead is that the companies that succeed, the companies we want to invest in, the companies we actually want to work for, are the ones who are in the fashion business, who create consumer products and business products that are surprising, that have great quarters and, maybe, don't have great quarters. And where the real growth comes from now is innovation and things that are hard to replicate. You don't get great growth by racing to the bottom because that's the race you don't want to win.
Chris Hill: So how does one make oneself indispensable?
Seth Godin: Well, it's a lot easier than it sounds. It involves being a human being. It involves bringing your real self to work. It involves choosing to do work that matters. I call these people artists because they are doing something that hasn't been done before. They are not waiting for a manual. The problem with our economy today -- which is an opportunity if you want it to be -- is if I can write it down in a manual, then I can find someone who can do it cheaper than you.
Chris Hill: I get why an employee would want to be indispensable. Why would an employer want employees to be indispensable -- because it seems like that would give an employee a lot of power?
Seth Godin: Right, this is a very insightful question. The only reason that an employer should want indispensable people is because it helps create an indispensable company. And indispensable companies are the only ones that thrive. Compare Dell
Chris Hill: So what are some of the other companies that come to mind when you think about companies that are really far in this culture of developing indispensable employees?
Seth Godin: Well, you know, for business travelers, if you think about places like Southwest, or JetBlue, or the Ritz-Carlton, these are businesses that work very hard to hire people who are kind and smart, and are full of initiative, and then they reward them for acting that way. And if you compare them to something like Hyatt, or American, or Delta, there is clearly a distinction between the two kinds of organizations. And the distinction is: management made a decision a long time ago to hire and foster indispensable people.
Chris Hill: On a concrete level, what are one or two things that I or anyone could do to be more indispensable at work, on a Monday morning?
Seth Godin: There is only one thing to do, which is to decide, and that's what the goal of my book is. And once you decide, the path is obvious. But, I guess, the two things that you can start doing on that could become a daily habit are (1) start a blog and start writing something every day, even if no one reads it, because it will order your thinking and cause you to be independent; and (2) write a handwritten thank you note every single day for someone you work with.
The purpose behind that is it demands that you get personal and it demands that you get a connection. It's impossible to say "It's just my job" if you write someone a thank-you note. It's impossible to say to a customer, "Oh, you are a customer No. 718" if a week before you sent them a personal note. And what it forces you to do is be present, be there in person because it matters. And once you start putting some skin in the game, all the other sorts of things at work will change.
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