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If you have to say that what you do matters, then you haven’t done a very good job making what you do matter

In a previous blog post, I made the case that just because something matters to us doesn’t mean that it actually matters. However, on the other hand, sometimes what we do really is important, and we need our stakeholders to sit up and take notice. But what if they don’t? If that’s the case then there’s a fair chance that we haven’t done a good enough job demonstrating our value in a way that matters to them. Remember that scene in the movie Office Space where Tom tried to explain what he did to the two Bobs? Clearly he was struggling to communicate his value. Are we doing the same thing? The problem is that, as “knowledge workers,” our role is often vague and ambiguous. A craftsman can hold up a widget and say “there, I made this,” whereas we conceptualize, design, test, validate, implement, and sustain. It’s no wonder that our kids have no idea what we do (and if we’re honest, sometimes we’re not so certain either).

Now it would be easy to treat this as a communication gap and say that we just need to do a better job explaining our value. But the problem may not be so simple. In fact (and this may be hard to hear), if we have to explain that what we do matters, then maybe we haven’t done a very good job making what we do matter. If our value is not self-evident in our work—if it has to be explained—then we have a problem.

So if the goal is to make sure that what we do matters to our stakeholders, what then matters? Well, ask yourself this: How does what you do:

1. Increases their happiness?

Not long ago I implemented an online portal that gave the HR business partners access to all sorts of valuable information. This made it much easier for them to provide strategic support to their businesses, which in turn made them more valuable partners at the table—the goal and ambition of any HR professional.

2. Decreases their pain?

I once had an organization leader tell me that if my internal employee communications plan did nothing but simply reduce the number of vitriolic complaints she got from employees each day, she’d mark my project as a raving success. It did; and she did.

3. Not require them to give up anything they value?

When implementing a new data reporting system, we had to go to great lengths to assure our stakeholders that they would not lose any past data. It seemed like a relatively small thing, but you’d be surprised how often this came up and how pleased they were when, after implementation, they were still able to access the historical data.

4. Reduce their risk?

One time a company decided to change its overtime pay practices. The manufacturing floor was terrified that the result would be complaints, attrition, and the introduction of labor unions. Thankfully, none of this occurred. After implementation, one of the general managers told me that the change had been the largest “non-event” he’d ever seen. None of what he feared came to pass, and he gave credit to our change management approach.

In short, it’s important that we make sure that the work we do matters to those that evaluate our contributions. And what matters to them is what matters to all of us—making lives less difficult and  more rewarding.

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