How to add value to your employer

A while back my wife had trouble accessing her Hotmail account. She wasn’t alone. It turns out that Microsoft Corp. had failed to pay a $35 Internet fee, so many of Hotmail’s 52 million users couldn’t access their e-mail. Michael Chaney, a programmer in Tennessee, caught the error and lent one of the world’s most valuable corporations $35 on his personal MasterCard.

Talk about adding value! Without Mr Chaney’s help, Hotmail might have been down for days. Now, most of us can’t exercise that kind of leverage, but if you look just outside the normal confines of your job, you may find an area where you can make an unexpected contribution. The strategies below will give you ideas. For more, check out Bruce Tulgan’s book, “Work This Way”.

• Can you find problems that aren’t being addressed? There’s a secret weapon for identifying problems early and often — customers and vendors. Their dissatisfaction, especially “pebbles in the shoe,” can provide fodder for new ideas. Ask a lot of questions and really listen to what they have to say. Also talk to people who aren’t currently your customers to find out about their pebbles.

• Can you solve a problem others haven’t? Every organization has its big problems — the ones you would have to be crazy to volunteer for. But there can be gold in what everyone else considers garbage. I once volunteered to develop a smoking policy for a hospital when the health-promotion staff wouldn’t touch it. It solved a delicate problem for the hospital and was one of the most satisfying projects of my career.

• Can you improve an existing product or service? Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “He the gods want to destroy they send 40 years of success.” Organisations are especially vulnerable to that kind of complacency. Don’t ever take your existing products or services for granted. Always be on the lookout for ways to improve them.

• Can you deliver an existing product or service faster? Remember when people gave you a week to get something to them? Now that we have overnight delivery, faxes and e-mail, you are lucky if they give you until the top of the hour. Anything you can do to speed up your (or your company’s) operation will be valued.

• Can you invent a new product, service or method? Most of us have tunnel vision. We get so used to the way things are that we don’t see how they could be. Or we rant about how irritating or unproductive things are but don’t devise ways to improve them. Next time you find yourself talking down about some aspect of your company, invent a way to improve it.

If Mr Chaney can add value to a company he doesn’t even work for, chances are you can do it for yours.