Sunday, July 28, 2013

What Is Your Value-Add?

I was having a conversation with some people who were concerned about changes in their company and how that may impact them. They were worried that certain organizational changes could result in their job disappearing. It’s a legitimate concern. Businesses will often try to get rid of inefficiencies by reorganizing, and it’s not uncommon to see long-time employees let go because their skillset either isn’t applicable to today’s business needs or because the business believes it can get that need met in a more cost-effective manner. So having been a part of these scenarios in the past, I encouraged the group to consider how they add value to the business goals and how their skillset compares to overall market needs. But walking away, the thought occurred to me: “Most people just don’t know how to think that way.”

A guy shows up to his job for 20-30 years, sometimes working late and missing out on other life opportunities. He’s committed to the company and assumes the commitment is mutual. Then one day, he discovers that his job no longer offers value to the business. Perhaps Human Resources has determined that his activities can be performed by a much less experienced person or maybe technology has made the role obsolete. In short, there’s either no value add or a perception by the business that better value proposition exists. Pink slip in hand, the guy walks out the door to discover the rest of the world has no need for his services… at least not at a wage he can afford to accept. To make things worse, after a few decades in the work force, he’s probably also at a point where he has a family that’s relying on his support. How could this happen? 

Think about it: companies have replaced their Personnel departments with “Human Resources”. To them each person is just another resource in the company, and resources are used based on their perceived value. I’m not saying it is right, and in fact I believe just the opposite. The employer / employee agreement should have greater mutual loyalty, where the employer upgrades a person’s skillset along the way and rewards years of loyal service. But that is not the world in which we live. 

In today’s world, each employee needs to take responsibility for maintaining marketable skillsets and communicating his or her value add to others. It’s extra work, but worth the effort to mitigate the risk of job loss. In risk management, risks are prioritized based on the impact and probability that the risk will occur. If both the impact and probability of losing one’s job is high, then an updated resume and additional certifications are probably a wise idea. However, if the impact and probability of job loss are low, perhaps because of other income, then preparatory action is probably not required. The bottom line is that everyone needs to prayerfully assess their situation and ask the Lord for discernment, wisdom and faithfulness in how to prepare.
So why all this business speak and how does it relate to the things I normally write about?
Well, there are a couple answers to that question. The night after my conversation with these people, I was wakened several times by the Lord with this question: “What is your value-add?” His question hit me on multiple levels: what is my value-add in business; what is my value-add in my family; what is my value-add in my community; what is my value-add in the Kingdom? My initial response was to think as the world thinks, where a person’s worth is related to what they have to offer… in other words the value of what they can do. But that’s not representative of Kingdom values. The Kingdom values even the “least of these”, the little ones, the poor, the broken, the outcast. It is not necessarily the pastor of televised mega-church that will be honored in heaven – he has already received a reward on earth. Rather, it’s the man who, without anyone apparently watching, decides to live a life that’s pleasing to God: who takes time to help the stranger in need; who loses sleep to help his daughter with a school project; who doesn’t take moral shortcuts; who strives for sexual purity; who encourages others along this sometimes difficult but very worthwhile way. Our value-add to the Kingdom is determined by who we are and not by what we do; rather, what we do is determined by who we are. 

As a new believer, I was advised by a mature Christian to “not just do something; sit there.” It was a comical twist on a common saying that implies everyone needs to be productive. The advice I received helped me to understand that sometimes we need to stop and reflect, to draw close to God in prayerful meditation, before we can be truly effective. But the question “What is your value-add” brought back another truth from the advice I had received: I have value just by being. It’s like Immanuel Kant pointed out (roughly translated): no man is a means to an end, but every man is an end in himself. Each generation of believers needs to be reminded of this fact: God loves us for who we are and not what we do. 

One of the other answers to God’s question “what is your value-add” is something that calls for reflection and action. This is a time of preparation. Although everything seems to be well on the surface, there will be an abrupt end to the America as we know it. Each person should prayerfully seek wisdom on this and act accordingly. It could still be decades away, but it could also happen within the year. Along the way, we should probably think about it in risk management terms, letting the impact and probability drive your preparation activities.

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