What Do You Do?

Do you know the unique value you add to your team? I used to think I did, until a series of unfortunate events showed me that I did not. That set me off on a splurge of introspection regarding what I do and why I do it. Now I believe I really do understand the unique value I add to my team. Here is how I reached this point, and how you can reach it yourself if you are not already there.

Some time back I realized I was unhappy with my job. I was not enjoying it anymore, except for a very few parts. I always intend my job to be play, and I never see any reason to continue in one which has become work, so I started looking for a new job. After searching awhile I found a job which I felt fit the bill and I moved.

After a while, though, I realized I was unhappy with my job. I was not enjoying it, except for a very few parts. I had not been there for long, and I wondered what had gone wrong. Had I not understood what I was getting into? Had the job changed under me? Had I changed under the job? I decided to find answers to these questions before I started yet another job search, lest I jump to yet another new job and find myself in this situation yet again. I am happy I did, because I discovered that what I thought I wanted in a job wasn't what I really wanted in a job!

I started by listing everything I liked and disliked about my current and previous jobs. Next I examined my past performance reviews and pulled out what seemed like key words, terms, and themes. Then I asked a small number of people whose opinions I trusted to send me the five words they felt best described me. Then I waited.

Each time someone sent me their five words I added the words to my Who Am I And What Do I Want To Do With Myself List, then went back to waiting. Once I had responses from everybody I entered a cycle of reviewing the list, mulling it over, reviewing it again, and mulling it over some more. Eventually I started to see similarities in and themes across what I liked about jobs I had had, what I received rave reviews for, and the various words people felt described me. I organized the data, reorganized the data, and rereorganized the data. Stronger themes emerged. I built affinity diagrams from the data. Yet stronger themes emerged. I realized that although I enjoy developing I am not a developer; that although I enjoy testing I am not a tester; that although I enjoy mentoring and coaching and leading and teaching, I am not any of those things either. I realized that I am a me, and that I work in ways that seem to be different from how people seem to expect me to work.

I decided to pursue this last observation further, on the theory that if people aren't expecting something from me, that something is probably a unique something I add to my team. I considered how important partnering is to me, how I prefer pairing with someone over working alone for most everything I do. I also contemplated how important alone time also is to me, how I need time away from everyone in order to process what I take in and synthesize it into something new. I started calling this my Cycle Of Conversation, and I realized that it was present every time I had enjoyed myself and that it was absent every time I had not. A-ha!

This and other key learnings eventually became my statement of the value I add to a team. Johanna Rothman told me this is a very NT statement. Michael Bolton said it helped him understand me yet did not at all help him understand what I do. What I do, I now knew, is not nearly as important to me as how I do it. As long as I am working with people to solve problems that matter to them, and doing so in the fashion I describe in my value statement, I am happy.

Michael's comment reminded me, however, that not everyone in the world has NT preferences. (Most do not, in fact.) Bearing that in mind, I drew up a (probably still rather NT-ish) list of the things I do. Double-entry bookkeeping helps accountants ensure they have not missed out a ledger entry, and describing the unique value I add in two different ways helped me ensure I had not missed out an aspect of my job that was important to me.

Several revisions later I felt these two items described me accurately. People who know me well agreed. At that point I applied these items back to the unhappiness I was feeling about my job.

I talked with my manager about everything he wanted me to do, everything I wanted me to do, and how each of those projects did or did not match the way I work. While my unhappiness with my job did not change overnight, I did feel better simply for having told my manager that I was unhappy, why I was unhappy, and how I wanted to change my job so that I (believed I) would be more happy. Starting that discussion was a first step towards making my job what I wanted it to be.

I talk with a lot of testers. Rarely do I talk with a tester who is completely happy with their job. As I help them explore their unhappiness and where it comes from, oftentimes we discover that they do not understand the unique value they add to their team, nor do they understand how they want to be adding value to their team. As we define these statements and find ways to change their jobs to better match what they want to do, their unhappiness with their job invariably starts becoming happiness with their job.

Which brings me back to the question I asked at the beginning of this post: Do you know the unique value you add to your team? Do you know the unique value you want to add to your team? What are you going to do about defining it, and then about making it happen? Take action and let me know what you learn!

*** Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Interested? Let's talk: Michael dot J dot Hunter at microsoft dot com. Great testing and coding skills required.