Want to make a difference? Try owning your job.

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Many years ago I read a wonderful book (title and author long forgotten) from a female business executive, filled with advice to be shared with her own daughter as she entered the workforce. One of her pieces of advice that rocked my world as a graduate in my first job was this: “As much as possible, treat your job as if you own it.”

What a crazy idea! Surely my employer owned my job? They’d created it, named it and paid for it. And so, there I was: Trying to fit in, to be like everyone I worked with, and to tick all the boxes. But the thought was tantalizing: What would I do differently if I “owned” my job … instead of my job owning me??

Most of us would have a general sense that we “own” our lives. We recognise that we make choices and live with the results, good or bad. We choose our friends, our partners, our careers, where we live, and a thousand other smaller things that shape us as individuals.

But owning our jobs is where many of us draw the line. The employment experience for most of us goes something like this: We’re given a job description, KPIs, a boss to please, and a precedent to follow. We try to do the job as well as – or better than – the person who had it before us. It’s all neatly laid out for us, and we fall into the rhythm of our organisation. If we do all of this well, we’re recognized and rewarded. If we do it less well, we are stalled or worse……

Owning your job is a liberating way to breathe life, creativity and fun (yes, fun) into the whole working experience. We’re taking our commitment to a new level, well beyond the words in the job description. And the fascinating thing is that it makes us more valuable to our employers. It’s what they really want from us, even though they may not know it.

Yes, of course, you need to meet the requirements of your role. But once you are confident that you’re doing that, you’ll have the opportunity to become a true job owner. And once you’ve done that you’ll never look back!

Here are some suggestions about how you can take ownership of your job:

1)    Understand the business you’re working for: the whole thing; not just your little bit (although if you work in a large corporate, you may need to start with your own division). Know the products and services, the org charts, who the key customers are, who the most important stakeholders are. Be curious; ask questions. Ask people in other departments to explain what they do.   Get to the point where you could explain your business to anyone.

2)    Get to know your own stakeholders well: the people who depend on you or your department, and the people on whom you depend. Again, be curious. What are their challenges? What are their goals? What do they need? How can you help/support? How could you collaborate?

3)    Develop great people skills: Connecting well with others is half the battle at work, making owning your job much easier. With strong people skills, others will be drawn to you, will want to work with you. These skills can make a huge difference for the rest of your career, so it’s never too early to work on them. If your company offers training, take it up. Otherwise everything can be found in an online course. What are some great people skills? Listening (don’t skip over that one; everyone needs to be a better listener), connecting (often called networking), clear communicating, empathy/care, authenticity (so it’s the real “you” connecting with others), and influencing. For another list of people skills, look at this article in Forbes.com.

4)    Have a point of view: Think about what could make your department or business more effective or more efficient. Think about how it could be achieved, and the steps that are needed. Do some research here; don’t just chuck a one-liner in to a Monday morning meeting where there’s a risk that it will be immediately forgotten. Write a paper on it (writing a paper will help you clarify and challenge your thinking), but keep the paper simple: no more than one or two pages. If you can’t distill your ideas into two pages, people are much less likely to pay attention.

5)    Check in on purpose and values: As you do this work, check your heart to see if you feel aligned to the purpose and values of your organisation. If you don’t approve of gambling, don’t work at a casino! Find a workplace you can feel good about. We all care about money and opportunities, but don’t take the big offer if you know you don’t belong there. Choose the organisation you work for with care. Do your homework; ask questions.  If you find that you don’t feel aligned with your current employer, start looking for your own right path. Better to get on that path now than to wait for your midlife crisis.

All of the actions above take courage. You’ll need to step outside the numbing comfort of what you know and what you’re told, and that can be scary. But the results of owning your job will reap great rewards. You’ll feel good about going to work, spending time with your connected colleagues, and making a difference. You’ll be more successful as others see the added value you are bringing. And you’ll know that you are living on purpose.

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