Hold up your end of the seesaw

We usually move into a job with a win-win perspective, where the match appears to be a solid one, where we can contribute and be compensated in return. It’s kind of like climbing onto a seesaw: picking a partner with whom we balance makes for a good ride. Seesaws only work when both players hold up their end.


In some organizations, those where employees are treated as assets instead of expenses, the seesaw ride continues: employees contribute continually and grow the bottom line, and employers provide recognition, support and the opportunity to make a difference in the world. These are the workplaces that know how to foster an engaging environment where people want to do their best. And their results show it.

In other organizations–most, unfortunately–employees are valued as expenses and at the first sign of a cloud (to say nothing of rain!), the employer hops off the seesaw and the employee hits the ground– hard. These are workplaces that choose not to care for their assets. And their results show it.

So let’s ignore for a moment whether organizations “should” develop workplaces that engage employees. Of course they “should”: especially when turnover costs big bucks, and it’s the brain power of the individual that drives business success. Be that as it may, most organizations are stuck in the robotic practices of the industrial economy…so here’s a thought:

As an employee, why don’t you stop waiting?

You change the dance. If you change your steps, your partner must change, too! (It does take 2 to tango.) Until you become engaged and thus a very strong business partner, your butt stays on the ground end of the seesaw!

Here’s how you can right that seesaw:

1. Learn to ask for feedback and feedforward.
Asking for what you need empowers you. Learn to request feedback or comments on your work, your piece of the project, your customer response. If the comments don’t tell you how to measure improvement, then ask for it.

Better yet, practice ‘feedforward’ and focus on solutions rather than on rehashing mistakes. Select a behavior you want to improve and ask your manager and peers for 2 suggestions on what you can do in the future. Take notes on what they say, and no ‘yes, buts’ are allowed: you can only say ‘thank you!’ (Credit to Marshall Goldsmith for this.)

2. Learn how your job matters.
Ask your manager, ask co-workers, ask the person who receives your work until you understand what it provides to the customer and the organization. When you know, you can think about that work and how to provide an even better product or service. Once you work at improving your customers’ experience, you can take pride in the results and the difference you make. This satisfaction is critical for your continued success as well as the organization’s. Your value– improved results–becomes obvious.

3. Learn the business.
You can’t be a good partner until you know your partner. While you have a job description, doing it in a silo is both ineffective and short-sighted. Who are your customers? What are their challenges and needs? What is it about your business that made them choose you over your competitors? Who are your competitors and what do they offer that your company doesn’t? Where are the best business development opportunities? How can you become an ambassador for your organization?

Then, take a look at the financial picture. Learn to read the income statement. How does the sales revenue trend? What’s the profit margin and how does that compare to industry benchmarks? How about the general and administrative expenses? If this trend is going the wrong way, you can choose to do something about it. If you don’t know the business, your butt is gonna stay on the ground.

4. Learn what’s happening in your industry.
If you know how your industry is changing and your competitors are responding, you can make a difference in moving your company toward being competitive. If you don’t, you are waiting. This post is about doing! Search the internet for information, read trade publications, attend industry meetings (on your own nickle, even!), talk with your co-workers in business development and sales, ask for updates from others who have industry contacts, etc. There are lots of ways to learn what’s happening in order to make a difference, so just pick a few and get moving.

5. Learn where your talents can best support the organization.
It might be in your current position, or it may be in another area. In order to figure this out, you need to know what your talents are and how those strengths play out in your work. Take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment online and implement the report suggestions. Talk to a career professional who can help you leverage your talents. The sooner you align your strengths with the organization’s work, the sooner your contributions will make a noticeable difference.

So rather than waiting, why not hold up your end of the seesaw? What’s in your way? Drop a note and let us know!

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