We were once limited by our existing skill set. We were locked into our speciality. If you were trained in preparing budget reports, you prepared budget reports. If you were really good at writing copy, you wrote copy. If you were a project manager, you managed projects.
There was very little room to move outside of our sphere of knowledge and skill. We were like cogs in a machine and that’s all that organisations expected of us.
But, things have changed. Organisations now need and expect people to be flexible and have a broader range of skills. Those who are able to contribute in diverse ways to important projects are valued more than anyone else.
This is great news for you and I because we now have more opportunities to make a meaningful contribution that helps our organisation grow, helps us get ahead and allows us to do interesting work outside of our existing skill set.
So how do we become the type of person who can do almost anything when in reality, we are in fact limited in many ways by our existing skill set? Answering that question could be the topic of an entire book, but just quickly, here’s one strategy.
Almost anything you need to know can be learned quickly online and Google is your secret weapon. You can learn the basics of almost anything with a Google search and some time spent reading, studying diagrams, listening to audio and watching video.
This is not to pay any disrespect to people who are actually experts. It’s just to say that a lack of access to specialised skills need no longer hold back a project in the short term; and that thanks to technology and the plethora of free resources online, we now have the opportunity to contribute in bigger and more exciting ways than before.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say your boss asks you to develop a draft communications plan for a project you’re working on, but you’ve never done one before. Maybe you’ve never even seen a communications plan.
No problem. You don’t have to be an exert to put together a good quality communications plan. You just need to Google it.
Search terms: communications plan; how to develop a communications plan; communications plan template.
Spend a couple of hours reading articles, looking at images, listening to audio and watching YouTube videos and then download and adapt the best template you can find. Now you know enough to get started and have the tools to develop a draft communications plan.
You can take this approach with almost anything: project plan, risk assessment, staff engagement survey, consumer insight research, lead indicators for an impact framework – these are all examples of tasks I’ve been asked to do at different times in my career that I had no idea how to do in the moment, but instead of saying “no, I don’t know how”, I said “sure, let me look into it”.
Finally, and this is really important, don’t pretend you’re an expert. Be confident in your ability to figure things out, but don’t say yes to things that are clearly way above your head and don’t submit something that is of poor quality. Poor quality work is a career killer.
I’ve always felt like I could take on any task, but I would always ensure my boss knew that whatever I was handing them was my first attempt and that it should be treated as a starting point. Managing expectations is key.
If she thought it was good work, great! If she thought it needed more work or required a specialist to take it further, great! Either way I contributed, solved a problem for my boss in the short term, got the ball rolling and showed the people I work with that I am someone who is talented and can be trusted to get shit done. At the end of the day, this is what managers really want: people who can get shit done!
You and I are no longer held back by our existing skill set, and the more we dive in and do the work despite our limitations, the more valuable we are to almost any project in almost any organisation.