“… Can you show me how?”

It feels so good to be indispensable. To reach a level of mastery with something that becomes a part of who you are. To be that person that others go to when they need help with your area of expertise. Your individual job security in part depends on your own ability to fill niches, to excel in your niche, and to always be willing to use these skills to help others.

It feels feels good, that is, until you’re on vacation. Just as you’re slapping on your sunscreen and are about to hit the sand… your phone blows up. Now is not a good time to be needed! Suddenly, the niche feels a little small. A little busy. A little overwhelming.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Ultimately, being truly indispensable has too high a price. Though specialization does overall increase efficiency, organizations function more smoothly when there is some overlap between roles. If a person leaves the organization, is promoted to a new role or goes on vacation, you don’t want to struggle without them. Intentional redundancy can prevent a sudden slamming of the breaks when your company needs to act quickly without its usual players.

One way to encourage the building of this safety net is to get into the habit of adding a phrase when you ask for help: Can you show me how?

“Hey can you create that pivot table for tomorrow’s meeting… and can you show me how to do it?”

“I need some data on this user from their session yesterday… and if you have time today, can you show me how you retrieved it so I can do it myself next time?”

“The marketing website needs to be updated. Can you show the new team member how to do it as well?”

“Can you create documentation for the emergency response procedure we discussed in our meeting? That way everyone knows what to do, even when one of us is not around.”

An organization can encourage this behavior by creating a company culture that rewards folks for learning new things; this means that they need to be comfortable admitting that they don’t know something in the first place. Does your organization have such a competitive atmosphere that growth opportunities are often missed, because no one wants to admit that they have a weak spot? Do you have a budget to pay for conferences, courses, books, or other continuing education? Leadership can set an example by talking about what they’re working on and learning themselves. They can also build time into everyone’s weekly schedule so they can drop their normal tasks and work on a project. In their regular one-on-ones, they can check in to see if there’s anything their team struggles with when another team member is out of the office. Do they feel bad about taking vacation time, because they will be leaving their teammates in a lurch? Maybe a skill-share amongst employees (even across departments!) can solve the problem.

As an individual, ask yourself: are you comfortable admitting what you don’t know? Can you manage your own time well enough to leave room for learning to be less reliant on others? Can you think like a beginner at all times, remembering to document everything you’ve learned in a way that’s easy for others to understand?

If you find that the same questions are often being asked in your workplace, it might be time to branch out of comfort zones and beef up documentation. Not everyone should be a Renaissance person, but a little familiarity can go a long way. Reach out to your coworkers and see what you can teach each other. You’d be surprised how excited some people are to share what they know!


This post is a part of the Fall 2017 Support Driven Writing Challenge.

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