There’s a dangerous misconception that being “essential” in a growing company is synonymous with job security. In rapidly changing environments we cling to our competitive advantages. The more we are needed, the more valuable we feel to the business.
To grow a business and personally develop within it, you need to continually make yourself replaceable. Essential employees are bottlenecks of information and efficiency. Sick days and vacations become impossible. Any prized or decentralized knowledge will be a detriment to both your and the company’s growth. This holds true from top to bottom of an organization. Those with the greatest responsibilities cannot afford to insert themselves into every necessary task. Instead they set up and oversee efficient systems to get large jobs done.
Taking on new roles and greater responsibilities requires you to free up resources. Managers are willing to grant supplemental responsibilities, but not alternate ones. Automate your current job so you can maximize your performance while creating more time.
Automation shows that you can make efficient use of limited resources. Prove your ability on a finite resource (you), before you’ll be trusted with additional ones. Clearing your plate while increasing output demonstrates management ability and foresight.
Establish pain points
Determine the most painful or time-consuming tasks you perform repeatedly. You can automate seemingly complex or manual tasks if you chip away at them in small pieces. Entire companies are born out of the ability to automate a pain point for others. Automation is what any disruptive business does to a cumbersome process or inefficient market.
Iterate, then automate
Don’t put in the work to automate a process until you’ve seen the value in repeating or scaling it. Wasting time building useless tools will waste the resources you are trying to stretch.
Scripts are written instructions that automate pain points. They can take the form of pre-written emails or pitches, process documentation, or actual computer programs. These instructions will create a better output for whomever is following them: you, a brand new employee or a computer. Passing on duties 1:1 to another person doesn’t solve anything or make you more effective. Passing on clear and detailed instructions that anyone can follow and achieve 2x+ the results does.
Programming automations may seem daunting to a non-technical person, but they don’t have to be. Take an engineer to lunch and ask them how they would go about automating a certain task. Consult stack overflow, github, and other developer communities for quick solutions to specific tasks. Repurposing pre-written code is faster than fully building it from scratch anyway.
Be an organization
At a startup you may in fact make up an entire team or department yourself. Whether this is the case for you or not leverage the idea to communicate and collaborate better.
Find ways to make inter-team or inter-department information readily available to whoever needs it. Set up public calendars and automated email reports. This will free up your time but more importantly provide your co-workers or clients with better information to do their jobs.
Show up early and stay late so that you can focus on automation and scripting. Off-hours time will provide a quiet environment to think about things at a higher level, without interruption from the stressful, time sensitive tasks you are trying to automate.
Show you are willing to tackle new problems and opportunities and follow through on them. Any extra project or responsibility is a proving ground. A willingness to take on new responsibilities shows ambition and risk-taking, but also that you’ve already planned for them.
Embracing a new challenge means that you will have no choice but to make room for it. Find something you are interested in and start working on it. This is not necessarily an existing role or opening position. Find projects you are genuinely interested in or that fit a need you’ve found in your business. You will not step on anyone’s toes by working on a side project. Instead you may stumble onto a new product or unexplored area of the business.
Make sure not to hoard your knowledge. Pass on your learnings, hacks, and tools to your coworkers, friends, and the online community. Automating yourself relies on being transparent and able to communicate effectively. Share what you’ve learned so that others can benefit. Make yourself replaceable by facilitating growth in others.