How to Be A Workplace MVP and Get Paid Like One
“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed.
Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.
The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job.
Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.
I call the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.
The job is not the work.” ― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Seth wrote this in his national best-seller five years ago, and it’s still relevant today.
The job market has more competition than ever before. You’re going against dozens, if not hundreds, of people clawing for the same position. They have the skills, the degrees, and the connections needed for the job. It’s not good enough to show up and work hard anymore — you need to stand out.
Smart companies want thinkers and innovators. They want employees who are motivated, communicative, and loyal to something they believe in.
Most of all, they want to see fire and passion in your eyes. You have to love where you work and drink the kool-aid. No one wants an apathetic employee who barely gets through the day.
Here’s how to become a workplace MVP and start getting paid like one.
Document everything. I used to scoff at one of my co-workers who would repeatedly tell me “Get it in e-mail.” I thought I could work with people on verbal agreements. Trust in them and they’ll always respect you, right?
That works great for a while until a co-worker messes something up and wants to pin it on you. Or they see a chance for promotion and will backstab anyone to get ahead. In those situations, my e-mail chains became my best friend and saved my ass more than once.
Don’t make excuses. A frustrating client took up all your time. Your kid got sick and you couldn’t finish the report at home. Your internet was down.
You can always find a reason for why you couldn’t accomplish a task. The truth is, unless it’s a major medical or family emergency, your boss won’t care. They may let it slide once or twice. But eventually you just look lazy or incapable of dealing with unexpected hurdles.
All your boss hears is, “You didn’t get it done. Now I have to explain it to my superior. Why didn’t you come to me earlier? Why didn’t you stay late one night, work from home, or eat lunch at your desk?”
The best thing to do is preemptively ask for help or an extension beforehand. If you didn’t do that, then own up to your shortcoming, “I wasn’t able to get it done in time. It won’t happen again.” and then ask for an extension as needed.
Finish work that can be done in less than 5 minutes. Get the small stuff out of the way now, not later. Otherwise, it just piles up and eventually overwhelms you when it’s crunch time.
E-mails that require a quick response should be handled immediately. Communication makes you look on point. Your bosses get their answers faster, it provides better customer service, and you show your co-workers you want to be a better team player.
Present solutions, not just problems. If you need your boss’ signature or approval for something, do the legwork. Don’t go to them saying, “We need a new laser printer.” or “I think our inventory system is inefficient.” You’re just complaining to them. You’re making them do extra work on something they may not even know anything about.
Instead, provide solutions — preferably 2 or 3 options. You can give your opinion and even rank what you believe is the best route. Educate them. This makes it easier for them to move forward with a decision and justify it to their bosses, too.
Don’t wait for a raise or promotion, ask for it. Facing your boss and asking for more money terrifies a lot of people. They’re worried that asking will piss off their superiors or even get them fired. So they just wait until their boss offers it first — sometimes for years and with constant false promises.
In my experience, the people who wait for raises are less likely to get them. Asking for one shows confidence in your abilities. It also demonstrates you’re not fully satisfied where you are and implies a willingness to walk away. If your company values you as an employee, they’re going to work to make you happy.
Of course, you need to actually provide the value to backup your request. You better be doing all of the above and making yourself indispensable at the company.
Throughout the year, keep a document detailing all your major projects and accomplishments. Be specific about how they improved your company’s productivity, finances, or sales. Use data to validate these claims. Present this during your quarterly or yearly review.
Lastly, don’t just ask for more money without offering value in return. Suggest projects you want to be involved in or ask for more responsibility. Show that you want to move up, not just for the raise, but to be more valuable for the company.
Socialize with almost everyone. If you’re an introvert, you don’t need to become the loud, gregarious guy at work. But you do need to make an effort to communicate with your co-workers and higher-ups. And you should do it with a smile.
It doesn’t take much. Give a simple hello or have a quick conversation while getting your morning coffee. Join people for lunch or invite them out for lunch. Set up an after work drink night.
Attend company events or even help plan them. When you’re at those events, go around and make small talk with everyone for a few minutes. Meet their family members and introduce them to whoever you brought along.
Sometimes it’s tough when you don’t have much in common with your co-workers. But you don’t have to become their best friend. You just have invest a little time or offer a small favor occasionally to show you appreciate them. You’ll never know when you need their support on a project, as a job reference, or even in a family emergency.
The only people I advise not socializing with is assholes. Unless they’re directly influential in your advancement, ignore the liars, users, and people who disrespect you. They offer nothing but emotional pain and aren’t worth your time.
Do what your boss says first. Maybe you have all these great new ideas that’ll help the company. Maybe you want to assist a coworker who really needs assistance with their project.
This is great in theory. You’re trying to be a model employee and add value anywhere you can. You want to show your superiors how flexible and hard-working you are.
The issue is when you spread yourself too thin before finishing the work assigned to you. Then your official tasks get delayed or pushed back. Regardless of all the other amazing work you think you’re doing, you’re only going to frustrate your superior. They will feel like you ignore their authority or can’t follow orders.
Learn to say no to your co-workers when they detract from your priorities. Nicely let them know you can’t review something for them at this time until you finish this task. If you have a work friend who always wants to chat, tell them you’ll come talk when you have a moment but you’re busy right now.
Get your work done as soon as possible. Then work on side projects and new ideas that will make you stand out.
Make your boss’ job easier. Yes, part of your responsibilities are to get your work done on time. An equally big part of your job is to directly support your boss. That doesn’t mean you just do their job for them or they will always expect that of you. Instead, show them a more efficient method through organization or automation.
Derek Halpern of Social Triggers created a script which would compile management’s data automatically into reports so they didn’t have to do it manually. This got him promoted in six months to positions where people had been trying for years.
My girlfriend’s boss was always stressed out trying to get all her materials together at the last minute. So my girlfriend organizes her lesson plans, schedule, and sheet music into binders. All her boss has to do is grab that week’s binder and she has her whole week planned in front of her. This thoughtful act has caused her boss to sing her praises to everyone, including school administration.
If you can make your superiors look better and less stressed, they’ll usually want to do the same for you.
Don’t talk behind your coworkers’ back. There’s office gossip at every company. Sometimes complaining about other employees feels like a great way to let off some steam or bond with a coworker. But I’d advise against it or at least be extremely smart about it.
There are so many scenarios that can go wrong. You tell an office friend something in private which they blab to other people. Or maybe your “friend” even shares that with the person you’re talking about. This is especially true when someone is trying to get an advantage with higher-ups.
Suddenly, word gets out around the office and back to management. Now you’re on their radar as someone who’s spreading negativity. They view you as someone who’s rebelling against them. You will be deemed as an office cancer that they need to get rid of.
Also, when you’re always talking against others, then people start to wonder what you say behind their back. You may believe you’re gaining their favor when you’re actually losing their trust.
If you absolutely need to vent, make sure it’s to someone who’s proven over time they are a loyal, trustworthy friend. And please, do it outside of the office over lunch or drinks.
Try to resolve things with co-workers first. If you’re having a disagreement with someone, be an adult and try to work it out with them. The majority of issues can be resolved through communication and compromise.
It’s easy to run to HR or management and complain. It makes sense, right? HR is supposed to be there to resolve these kinds of issues.
But what you don’t understand is that HR and management are for the good of the company, first and foremost. They are not your buddy. If you’re always running to them with issues about getting along with people, you’re going to raise red flags.
You create situations that they have to “fix”. They start to question why people don’t get along with you or why these problems escalate to the point of needing their involvement.
Don’t go over your boss’ head immediately. This ties into my point above. If you have an issue with your superior, see if you can talk it out. They may not even realize there is a problem until you address it.
Even if they initially rebuff an idea, try to have an additional conversation with them about it. The worst thing you can do is hit a roadblock and immediately go above them to get what you need. You are setting them up to fail in their superior’s eyes.
Get your boss in trouble and you will lose their trust. They will feel you’re working against them and are not on their side. In turn, they will not help you when you need it and make your workday a living hell.
Only when you’ve tried more than twice should you consider escalating the issue.
Showcase your versatility. The more benefit you can provide for the company, the better. Brainstorm ideas all the time. A lot of them will be garbage but some will be worth digging into and polishing up. Then present those plans to your boss often. Even better, build a prototype or demonstration so they can better understand the value.
Get interested in learning new things. Ask to sit in on some meetings slightly outside your field to see if you can provide any insight. See if they’ll pay for further education or seminars to expand your knowledge.
Volunteer to spearhead projects. Show them how you can be a reliable, dynamic leader. Be willing to put in the occasional extra time when things get crazy or to support your team. Buy them dinner, too.
At one company, I started in research and development, got promoted to technical sales, and then into marketing. At times, I was pulled into consult on website development, fly worldwide to meet with important clients, and hold classes to educate government officials.
Challenge ideas (wisely). If you believe there’s a better way to do something, then speak up in a polite and mature manner. Convey that you respect what they’re saying. Then take emotion out of your argument and express what you believe are the additional benefits of your method. Use facts to your advantage.
Don’t attack people or put them down in front of others. All you’re going to do is get them on the defensive. At that point, you’ve already lost the discussion because now they’re arguing their point out of principle and not reason.
Try, “I like where you’re going with this. But what if we changed it just a little and tried this instead. I think it may even further increase productivity.” Don’t say, “Well that doesn’t make sense at all. I think that’s inefficient and the wrong way to go about things.”
Remember, it’s not about proving why people are wrong and why you’re right. It’s about finding a compromise together that benefits everyone.
Smart employers don’t want a “yes man” or another cog in the machine. They understand that innovation is key to staying at the top of the game. If you present your arguments the right way, people will respect you more for it.
All the true all-stars I’ve met follow the most important principle of all…
They know to leave where you’re unappreciated.
If you have management who give you menial tasks, sabotage you, and won’t let you move up — consider walking away. When there’s no room for growth in a company, there’s no point in staying unless you’re happy with where you are.
“Nick, it’s not that simple. I have bills, responsibilities, and people to provide for. It’s scary. I’ll have to make new friends and learn a new system.”
I get all that…but what’s your alternative? Hate every day of your life and become so stressed it starts affecting your health?
Remember that you spend more time at your job than almost anywhere else in life. If every day is miserable, it’s damn hard to stay motivated and productive in that environment. It will slowly destroy you and the people around you will feel the effects, too. You can’t keep it separate from your personal life forever.
Ideally, you always want to transition from one job to another without a break in employment. So always keep your eyes open for fresh opportunities. The fastest way to get a major promotion or pay raise is to move to another company.
You can’t be an all-star in a company who doesn’t see you as one. They only way to become a linchpin is to find an employer who understands and appreciates your true value.