Make yourself valuable: An entrepreneur, CEOs, and a marketing expert reveal how to do it

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Make yourself valuable.

These three words are huge for any employee in a company, or organization who wants to not only bring value to the company, but advance their career.

I was talking to a young colleague at my consulting firm recently and telling him to `make himself valuable’ by finding something he can uniquely do that brings value to the company and our clients. 

In some cases it’s simply showing initiative. It’s being smart and insightful and acting on it. 

As I was thinking about this I reached out to a few of my very successful friends. I wanted to get their thoughts on what `make yourself valuable’ means. I’ve been friends with all three of these people for … well, decades. And that’s a good thing!

I was lucky enough to grow up in Bend, Ore. This is well before it got “discovered” and was still a middling old mill town with just one little brewpub in central Oregon. I went to school with both Sharelle Klaus — starting way back at Bear Creek Elementary — and Bart Ricketts (my dad and Bart’s dad were both teachers in Bend). All three of us graduated from Bend High School. I met Craig Wanichek at Pilot Butte Junior High and we played hoops together for the mighty Giants. Craig, Sharelle and Bart have had remarkable professional careers and remain in the Pacific Northwest.

Josh Rowe and I attended the University of Portland together on athletic scholarships, running cross country, track and indoor track. We logged probably thousands of miles together across north Portland and in our beloved Forest Park in northwest Portland. Josh has had an amazing marketing career at Nike, New Balance, with some startups in Boston, and now at Harvard Innovation Labs in Boston.

Each of them brings something unique to riffing on what it means to `make yourself valuable.’ I love their varying perspectives. Most of all, each one of them has lived out professionally what it means to `make yourself valuable.’

Sharelle Klaus | CEO & Founder | Dry Soda Co. | Seattle

“So at DRY we have an award for the employee who takes the most `ownership’ – and what we mean by that is that we want employees to actively step up and identify an  area of an improvement or need, create a plan, and execute on it.  This is critical for us as we are truly all owners at DRY through employee stock options but also in that we have to each own the success of DRY.  We work very hard to instill in our team this notion. I think young people can be in danger of thinking much is owed to them – we turn that around and empower them, but they have to be proactive in their approach.” 

Bart Ricketts | CEO | Lease Crutcher Lewis | Portland & Seattle

“I think that making yourself `valuable’ to the organization is probably a case-by-case scenario. For example: as a mid-market General Contractor, we need people that  understand construction, but can adapt technology to our pre-construction and building practices.  So what does this look like? The person that knows how a building goes together technically, but can manage Building Information Modeling / Virtual Design & Construction (Revit computer modeling, etc.) is the current `invaluable' position for us. This might be different for each company, market sector, industry.

 When figuring out what to train up on, think about what the company delivers (the value proposition for the client, customer, etc.) and what key skill set that is required or the skill sets that are required.”

Josh Rowe | Director of Marketing | Harvard Innovation Labs | Boston

“I not only tell young people in our organization this, I tell people trying to get a job at a certain place. What do you uniquely bring to an organization, or what have you  done that demonstrates your unique value to an organization?  I was talking to a marketing friend yesterday. He mentioned when he was hired for his first marketing job he had no marketing background, but he’d started a podcast and grew it to 15,000 or so followers in a matter of months. The company hired him based on his clearly demonstrated passion for the space—not for his background or what was on his resume. 

When I was at Nike, I was hired as a financial analyst. Finance was `what I did’ but was by no means what I loved or what I was passionate about. I started talking to people and helping out at events and slowly demonstrated my ability to `do marketing’ even though there was nothing on my resume that said marketing. Here I am 20 years later as a `marketing leader.’

By marrying what you are passionate about or even mildly interested in with what happens in the workplace, whether that is through simply providing insights, writing/blogging, taking pictures, mentoring, or anything else, you suddenly make yourself much more valuable than just another employee doing their daily task list each day.”

Craig Wanichek | President and CEO | Summit Bank | Eugene

“I would say our best and brightest have intellectual curiosity. I encourage our next generation of leadership to find out how things work and challenge the process and outcomes, but do it based upon fact. Research other banks and find out how and why they do things and why they have been successful. Bring those ideas to the table. We like new ideas but love new ideas based on data. Have them create a hypothesis and test the data, prove their theory.

Other keys are have a good mentor, know your products and services (should be a given,  but not always) and know your market. In your line of business what did the market look like 10 years ago? What was your share and who were the three biggest market leaders? Where is it today? Who has gained share and why? And think about what the next 10 years look like.”

JOSH ROWE

JOSH ROWE

BART RICKETTS

BART RICKETTS

J Matthew Sabo

Husband. Father. Writer. Creator.