Somewhere along the line, we were told when assuming a new position that the easiest way to make a good impression is to be the first to show up and the last to leave. This is because simply being present can help accelerate the natural learning curve associated with new responsibilities and shorten the time it takes to add value to your team. Being around at the fringe hours can also engender a hard-working reputation with co-workers and bosses alike that frankly compensates for lack of knowledge or experience when one is still getting up to speed.
This practical advice, however, is geared towards making a good early impression, but not about how to be an effective, value-additive employee on an ongoing basis. On this topic, we stumbled across a useful thought piece which we have been referencing so frequently it seemed natural to include in Weekly Thoughts. Titled the Helpful Hierarchy, the framework illustrated below was put together by entrepreneur Daniel Debow and referenced recently by CB insights:
We like this framework because it provides tangible advice for employees about how to frame everyday tasks in a value-added manner. On this point, Debow outlines an example about how a mid-level employee might handle the on-boarding of a big new account. A Level 1 employee would tell the boss she’s short-staffed for the project (we don’t have the people!) and walk away. A Level 2 employee would figure out why (nobody is recruiting for positions to support the new account). A Level 3 employee would suggest some solutions to fix the problem (put out a job posting). A Level 4 employee would identify solutions and have an actionable recommendation for what to do (here are the options, I think we should put postings on Indeed.com). A Level 5 employee would come to her boss having written and posted the jobs, take leadership for reviewing resumes, and tell the boss she will arrange for him to meet with viable candidates.
In the world of small business, we find that up and down the org chart, people often know what to do. Execution, on the other hand, is far more rare. While there are nuances to every situation and realistically it’s not appropriate to be completely autonomous all the time, we agree with Debow that for employees to really add value, they should strive to be consistently presenting solutions at all times. One tangible way to do so is to always ask yourself what action-oriented task would you recommend in a given situation (i.e., based on what we know, this is what I think we should do). This can be incredibly difficult to do, but asking oneself this question can help train the mind to analyze the problem, develop an opinion, and actually make a decision, rather than contributing to a never-ending list of pros and cons.
As employers, we understand that if we want Level 4 and 5 employees, we must foster an environment for them to operate, which means a level of delegation that can, at times, be uncomfortable. As Debow notes, getting employees to achieve level 4 and 5 responsibility “takes a lot of courage and judgment, and those are hard skills to develop. Most new, young employees are more comfortable being told what to do. Heck, even experienced people can be uncomfortable making and acting on decisions themselves. You’re not always going to get it right working at Level 5. In fact, you’re bound to have a lot of screwups, especially at the beginning.” Debow’s framework is a work-in-progress for all levels of the Chenmark team but by calling it out internally (and writing about it here) we are taking action to make sure it is something we consciously refine for years to come. We just wanted to keep you in the loop.