Doing well at work: Being a Go-To Person

Introduction

Bob WIndmill, MD, Windmill Insight Solutions
Bob Windmill, MD, Windmill Insight Solutions

My name is Bob Windmill and I am the Managing Director of Windmill Insight Solutions Ltd.

My passion is helping people and organisations become better at what they want to do.

My blog is a way of sharing with you the sorts of projects I am involved in.

I also write how you can help yourself or your organisation become better at what you do. Of course, what “better” means is an entirely different discussion, but I will write about that on another day.

As individuals we want to do well and be successful at work. Generally we all want to do well at work. Certainly few of us set out to do badly at work.

For those who are ambitious doing well is how you develop and progress professionally while for others its more about being a valued employee who enjoys making a great contribution.

In both cases it’s simply more fun and less stressful to do well than to do badly in your career.

I was able to learn this lesson because of a manager who could see past the rather unhappy individual who got by doing the bare minimum to see someone who could do much better.

If you are interested in that story have a read of my post How I escaped a life of grind.

In this post I will talk  about what makes a Go-To Person, the sort of person who is valued by colleagues and customers alike as the safe pair of hands that can take on fairly well anything and do it well.

So, let’s get started.

How to be a Go-To Person

For me doing well at work is as much about understanding the needs and wants of the people you work with as is with being an absolute technical expert at your job. Please do not misunderstand: being great at a technical subject is a huge advantage in building your career but it is not normally what makes successful people people stand out.

Knowing vs Doing

Many years ago I heard a great definition of this idea while on a management development course. The speaker, a very successful business executive, offered this very succinct piece of advice: “Qualifications and skills are the cards that get you in the game. How well you do in the game depends on how you play those cards“.

Around the same time I was offered this advice: “it’s better to be brilliant at one thing than good at many“. I am not convinced by this position. My view is that a technical expert will always have a certain standing but what colleagues and clients value is a “Go-To Person”. This is the person that we all recognise as the one that can turn their hand to fairly well anything and make a better than average job of it.

Go-To People

Go-To People always have two key attributes: they are willing to have a go at anything and they are good a learning from failure. However the key point is that their reputation is very much built on what they have done, not what they say they can do.

Notice what I don’t talk about: qualifications, training, diplomas and certificates, personal development courses and such like. It’s not that these are not good, because they are and I probably have more than my fair share of them. Just remember, they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

If you take nothing else away from this post hang on to this take-away thought:Doing well in your professional life is about what you do, not what you know.

Other attributes of Go-To People

Go-To People also tend to have two other attributes. Because they are busy they have learned to focus on making sure that they are doing the right things and they manage their workload by learning how and when to say “No” to a request.

Doing the right things

Task Urgency vs Importance 96 dpi v2

For most people identifying the right things is as simple as working with a four box matrix like this:

If the normal pattern is being followed most of you reading this post will immediately be focussing on the box “urgent and important” while dismissing the “neither urgent nor important” as something that should never occur in an efficient business.

While I have a level of sympathy with this approach I have yet to see any organisation run effectively with those priorities for any extended period of time. Let me start the discussion by asking two questions:

1. There are certain tasks which are essential to the effective operation of a business. Which box do they normally sit and why?

2. How many hours a day can you and your people work productively? What do you for the rest of your day? Which box should these activities go in and why?

I will give my answers to these questions in a later post when I discuss how to prioritise in more detail. In the mean time I would be interested to hear you thoughts and comments on what the answers to my two questions should be.

In the mean time my take-away thought for this topic is “Go-To People understand and focus on doing the right things at the right time“.

How to say no

Another of the key attributes of a Go-To person is that they know when to say no. This may seem wrong to you. Surely the point of a Go-To person is that they don’t say no, they say yes.

What Go-To People know is that they can’t do everything for everybody all the time and if they keep saying yes, more work will keep coming. What they are good at is prioritising, which we’ve just had a look at, and negotiating.

Let’s look at the example of request from your boss to take on a new project when you are already busy. This is not any kind of crisis, just an everyday request. You can just say yes and blindly try and fit it in.

The chances are that not only will you not do a good job on the new project but that your existing projects will suffer as well. This is not a great outcome for you or your boss.

Often the best answer is the simplest. Just tell your boss that while you would love to take it on your really don’t have the time. Often they will simply go and find someone else to do the work!

If they insist that you are the one person who can do this work the serious negotiation starts:

  • Can I do it later?
  • Is there a different way of doing this that fits better with my workload
  • Can delay someone else’s work to fit their work in?

You may be able to think of other negotiating positions but the key point is that you are having a discussion on how best you can do a job for your boss rather than just saying yes and risking letting them down.

I can look at this from the other side. As a manager I would much rather have the negotiation up front than get an unpleasant surprise further down the line.

The take-away point for me is “It’s OK to say no, but negotiating is necessary

T-Shaped skills

The final attribute of “Go-To” People is that they develop what is sometimes referred to as a T-Shaped skills set. What do I mean by a T-Shaped skill set? It essentially means having a primary skill that you are really good at but which also supports the development of secondary skills.

T-Shaped Skills

In my case the core skill was analytical thinking, which meant that I was good at problem solving. This in turn lead to roles in project management which meant I had to learn skills like financial management, resource management and working with people. Acquiring and practising these skills meant that in turn I became a better operational manager.
Looking at the list of skills my initial “T” was an upright of analytical thinking which supported a cross beam of project management, financial management ans people management.

I would be interested in hearing whether you think that this is still the case and why you hold that opinion. Please leave a comment and we can kick off what promises to be a really interesting discussion.

I think that developing T-Shaped skills is so important that it deserves its own post at some time in the future.

In the mean time my take-way thought on T-shaped skills is “Be great at some things, be good at many, and never stop learning“.

Summing up.

Ultimately what marks out a Go-To Person is that they deliver what ever it is that they have agreed to deliver. More importantly they always deliver, so you can rely on them. I need to be clear at this point: they are not miracle workers who can save every situation. Such a person simply does not exist.

What they are good at is finding ways of making the best of any situation. In this process two good things happen: the problem is solved which makes colleagues and clients happy, and they learn and develop new skills. This way of working becomes a virtuous circle: as an individual grows and develops their skills, the more opportunities will be open to them to develop new skills.

My take-way point on being a Go-To Person is simple as this: “Say what you will do, then do what you said you would do, as well as it can be done“.

Finally

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post. If you have thoughts on what I have written so far please leave a comment. Also if you have an idea for another business topic let me know and I’ll be delighted to find a space for it.

Thanks again

Bob windmill

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