Looking through the window of the retirement home, I saw something interesting.
Two grandma's bent over an enormous jigsaw puzzle.
On my way home, I kept thinking about the two grannies.
I thought: "Our office job is a big puzzle too."
Many pieces need to fit together.
You hold some pieces in your hand.
They represent your skills, your talents, and your experience.
You can use these to contribute to the bigger picture.
It is a difficult game.
But if you know how to play it, your career worth goes through the roof.
The puzzle challenge
Your manager has a certain view on the company.
But he does not always know about all the puzzle pieces you have in your hand.
He may not know about your complete set of talents.
Your manager may ask you to lay the pieces - the ones he knows you you have.
But often, these are not the ones that add most value to the company.
What employees can do
In earlier days, I had a wrong mindset.
“My manager does not understand.”
“The company is not transparent about the vision.”
Blaming others doesn't work.
Eventually, I asked myself: "What can I do to improve the situation?"
I see three ways to increase your contribution to the company’s puzzle.
1) Understand what pieces you hold
Everything starts with self-awareness.
If you do not know what your talents and skills are, you will not understand how they fit the organization.
What helped me to understand my own pieces?
Asking for feedback and keeping a journal on my progress.
I realized that some strengths that I took for granted, are special to others.
Not blind spots, but bright spots.
2) Understand the company’s existing pieces
Only if you understand the current situation, you will realize how you can contribute.
Talk with people higher in the organization to get a clear view on the bigger picture.
Proactively discuss how you think your skills will help in reaching the company's goals.
3) Gain trust
Try to understand what type of person your manager is.
Help him to reach his goals.
Make commitments and stick to it.
In this way, you will get more trust.
Even from the biggest micro-managers.
That will give you the freedom to start new initiatives, outside of what is written in your job description.
What leaders can do
I am a strong believer in personal responsibility of employees.
But there is a key role for leaders in the organization as well.
1) Stimulate self-awareness
Self-aware employees can add much value to the organization.
A culture of feedback will help people understand what their strengths are.
Training and coaching help people to understand what puzzle pieces they hold, and how they can collect new ones.
I love helping other people on this path of personal growth.
It is rewarding to see them lay a piece that they didn't know they even had.
2) Help to understand the company’s puzzle
Share the company’s goals with your employees.
Let them see the bigger picture.
This puzzle is continually shaken up by external factors.
For example, by changing customer expectations, legal regulations, and environmental issues.
Discuss on a regular basis what the impact is on your organization.
Reiterate your company’s goals and involve your people when solving this new puzzle.
3) Give trust
Employees need the freedom to try out new things.
Otherwise they will only pick the puzzle pieces that they have always used.
I give people full trust until they give me a reason not to.
A lack of trust is a barrier for employees to innovate.
Some companies embed this philosophy in their weekly practice – they adopt “Google time”.
Four to eight hours per week for employees to spend in any way they like.
Bringing it together
A new job is exciting.
New people, new company, new environment.
When you start, other people will have in mind what you will need to do.
All neatly stated in a job description.
However, if I look back at my career, that is not where I made my biggest contributions.
My experience is that the real value is often outside of the job description.
These activities not only contribute significantly to the organizational goals - they are also what I feel most passionate about.
My personal journey to discover my strengths and how I can use this to contribute to my company.
At times in my career, I have felt resistance.
Because: "Hey, this is not what he is supposed to do."
However, if I only do what I have been told, my impact will be limited.
Impact is driven by innovation.
Innovation is fueled by initiative.
If I do the same thing every week, my productivity is linear.
Every hour will add a similar piece of value to the company.
Just like factory work.
However, if I find a unique way of using my skills in the environment I am in,
one hour of work can lead to doubling my value added to the company.
I see myself as a small company within my organization.
Continually thinking: how can I best add value?
Starting with self awareness: finding out what pieces I hold in my hand.
Connecting those to the company puzzle in front of me.
Not only listening to others telling me what pieces I need to put on the table.
But slowly gaining more trust.
Such that there is room for my own initiatives, beyond expectations of others.
Puzzling my way up to maximum contribution.
Piece by piece.