Work yourself out of your job to accelerate your career

Steve Cox
Steve Cox
Feb 27, 2015 · 5 min read

What do you want from your career? Do you want to learn, grow, and advance? Do you want to make a huge impact to your company? After working for over 20 years in Silicon Valley, in everything from entry level to vice president roles, I learned a key to success is the concept of Work Yourself Out of Your Job.

Play your strengths

It starts with self-awareness. You need to know yourself well enough to know the things you’re passionate about and your core strengths. While you will develop new skills throughout your lifetime, your core strengths will always be with you and whatever you do you should leverage them. Your strength and passion will bring out your best. Others will recognize your expertise, which will drive your career forward. You just have to pay attention when people give you feedback about your strengths and weaknesses.

The imminent danger of becoming the expert, is you may become “too important” in your role. Contrary to what you might think, this will slow down your progress unless you know how to handle it appropriately. There are many managers out there who would rather keep you in your role as the expert than help you advance. If you’re “too important” you will be stuck in the same role, maxing out your salary, title, mobility, and personal growth.

Four tactics for professional growth

To be the expert, but not paint yourself into a corner, there are four tactics I’ve learned: eliminate, automate, rotate, and delegate. Using these tactics, you can make sure everything you do is high impact, sustainable, and repeatable. If you’re successful with them, you will have more bandwidth for special projects and processes you’re responsible for will continue without you.

Follow these in order as each one builds on the previous:

1) Eliminate

Every company, big or small is full of wasteful tasks that do not move the needle forward. Identify them and find a way to stop doing them. This can be challenging in some organizations as tasks that may seem silly to you are important to others. You can successfully challenge these tasks by asking a series of questions. If the answers are not obvious, don’t move the company forward, or there is a better alternative: eliminate! You can start by asking a few questions to challenge a task/project:

  • How does this help the company achieve our quarterly/annual goals?
  • Who needs this and what do they do with it?
  • If we did not have this, what other options are there?
  • What is the ROI on doing this?

Let’s say your manager, the Director of Marketing asks you to create a report every month of the new and canceled customers. Imagine this conversation:

You: How does this report help the company achieve the quarterly goals?

Director of Marketing: The VP reports this information at the leadership meeting.

You: What does the leadership team do with the information?

Director of Marketing: I don’t think they do much of anything, they just want to know.

You: Do the reports Finance have include this information?

Director of Marketing: Yes, I think so.

You: Great, I’ll talk to Finance about sharing their reports with our VP. This will save my time to work on our big quarterly projects.

You just eliminated waste and found a way leverage existing processes to achieve the same goal.

2) Automate

You will not be able to eliminate everything, however you can find ways to reduce your time by automating as much as possible. You might think, “But I’m not an engineer!” Fear not there are a number of easy to use services out there to help.

Sometimes full automation is not possible, in which case you settle automating small parts to make the task faster to complete and easier. Break the task into as many small chunks as possible and identify things that can be automated (or if you’re lucky, eliminated from the process).

Going back to our monthly report example, what can you do to automate if it can’t be eliminated like the earlier example? For this example, imagine your company doesn’t have fancy Business Intelligence tools or reporting systems. All you have is an email every time there is a new customer or cancelation. You could automate the creation of the report by using a service like IFTTT or Zapier to add data to a Google Doc. By pushing those emails in to the Google Doc, you can create a pivot table and graph that automatically summarizes the new and canceled customers. This not only saves you time, but the report is always up to date which can make it more useful than just a monthly report.

3) Rotate

You never want to be the only one with knowledge of a process, technology, or task. This is bad for the company when you win $500M in the Powerball and quit your job! While winning the lottery is not likely for most of us, you need to document and train others on the things only you know. If you’re unable to teach others, you will always be the one responsible. Find another member of your team you can occasionally rotate those tasks to. You may still be responsible, but you will have another person with the knowledge to do the task in your place.

Hopefully you have knowledge of the responsibilities of your teammates. Bonus points if you know the things that they dread or are time consuming for them. Offer to trade one of those dreadful tasks every other week/month to give your teammate a break. If you’ve mastered Eliminate and Automate, you may be able to make that task more efficient or better yet, take that task off their plate completely without adding more work for yourself.

4) Delegate

If you’ve advanced to a lead or managerial role, you can use the final tactic: delegation. As a leader, your job is to empower your team and make them successful. When delegating to your team, you must solve for the greater good. If you have already successfully followed the first three tactics, most likely the responsibility at hand is critical. The greater good in this situation is to determine if delegation makes sense and if so, to whom. I recommend thinking about a few things when delegating:

  • Will this overload the person or team?
  • Are there other higher priorities the person or team is working on?
  • Who is most capable and knowledgable?
  • Is this a potential development opportunity for someone?

Sometimes you will conclude delegating will be too much of a burden, in which case take one for the team and handle it yourself! Since you’ve already followed the first three tactics to get to this point, you have eliminated and automated as much as possible, while making it sustainable with documentation and rotation to others. Everything will carry forward when the CEO promotes you to that awesome new role.

Tip for leaders

This last tip is especially for you leaders out there: embrace and coach your team how to apply these tactics. You will be amazed by the huge gains in productivity and the impact your team has on the business.

No time to waste, start today

If you’re successful with these four tactics, you will continuously work yourself out of your job. If you aren’t tied down with your job, imagine how much more you can achieve! Your company will love you for making a difference every single day.

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