Contribution is What Matters Most

by dsnider 19. June 2014 11:15


How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
—Anne Frank

Last month, I introduced the idea that an oft-overlooked aspect of managing your time effectively is eliminating attitudes and behaviors that waste it.  Organizational skills, tools and tips will only take you so far if your overall approach is hamstringing your efforts.  One such inefficient approach is to toil along,doing what’s required of you and counting on good work alone to get you what you want.  The more productive approach is to evaluate and handle everything you undertake so as to achieve the twin goals of distinguishing yourself and leaving the place you work better than you found it.

It's a fact of life in the business world that people change jobs.  Times change, companies change, and people change.  Even if you love your job, chances are good you won't stay in it forever.  You can only enjoy the benefits of changing jobs, however, if you consistently display in every job you hold the same levels of commitment and performance you would show if you planned to retire from the place.  Actual time spent in a job isn’t the relevant measuring stick.  Contribution is.  Commitment and great performance are what distinguish the employee of value.

I loved every one of my jobs and the longest I stayed in any of them was six years.  I loved my first job because part of what was great about it was that it was all-encompassing.  This worked beautifully when my top priority was learning my craft and building my skills, but not so well once I had a family and no longer wanted to work day and night.  In contrast, I might still be at my second job had the 1986 Tax Act not rendered the company’s business uneconomic.

In both cases (and in all subsequent cases), I chose the job in the first place and committed myself to it over time as if I were planning to stay forever.  I was planning to stay forever insofar as one can plan these things.  For one reason or another, though, things changed and my plan had to change to stay consistent with my (changing) skills and true to my (changing) priorities.

It's important to be nimble and able to move without looking uncommitted to your current job.  If you want to assure that you'll find opportunities, be highly thought of, and build a successful career no matter whether or when you stay or go, become a high-impact performer.

High-impact performance characteristics include:

Achievement Orientation: high-impact performers have a great desire to achieve because they have developed a dream about what they want for themselves

Self-Confidence: they have a positive mental attitude that allows them to act with high levels of confidence

Self-Control: they have a highly developed sense of self-discipline

Competence: they have developed the specific ability or expertise to achieve in their chosen areas

Persistence: high-impact performers have a bias toward action.  They are can-do people who are willing to work hard continually to achieve their goals

What employer wouldn’t want a workforce chock full of people who have these five characteristics?  High-impact performers offer unique value—something the organization needs that is differentiated from simple hard work and results.

If you want to be a high-impact performer, look for projects and positions that are worth the effort they require in terms of achieving both your goals and your employer’s.  For example, as a young female corporate lawyer, I had a problem making the traditional “rules” work for me (women on securities deals in those days tended to be for getting coffee and making copies, and mentors chose protégées in their own image).  So I focused on what the clients seemed to appreciate and what the firm needed.  This led me to make somewhat unconventional decisions on how to spend my working time.

I sought to work on deals that offered client contact vs. deals involving big dollars.  I devoted meaningful hours to new associate recruiting and absorption instead of insisting that all my work hours be of the billable variety.  Visibility and a full range of involvement got me much farther than racking up scads of billable hours ever would have.  (I still racked up plenty—don’t forget the “persistence” and “competence” characteristics of high-impact performance.)

Every job offers plenty of chances to demonstrate the high-impact approach, and the effort required to be a high-impact performer pays for itself quickly and continuously.  Make that effort and, regardless of how long or short your tenure in any one place, you’ll have more opportunities, feel more energized, make a bigger and far more valuable contribution, and waste virtually none of your precious time and effort.

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, and mother of two grown children.  Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love,” "a book that will change your life," and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra and her husband now live in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.


Debra Snider | Organization and Time Management | Quick Look | Suit Yourself | Women at Work

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