How to be the Best Employee Ever

Bob Borson —  July 22, 2013 — 17 Comments

On more than one occasion I have told potential employers during my interview that I would be the best employee they ever had – and it was true. It’s a goal I’ve had at every stop along my career and as I’ve become older, it’s become easier and easier to accomplish. I’ve finally reached a point in my career where I am no longer an employee of a firm but I still have the same objectives, now I want to be the most valuable person in my office …

… and I’m confident that I will make this happen, it just takes a little time and effort.

The Game of Life by Milton Bradley original game set

In no particular order of awesomeness, here are 5 simple concepts that you can put into place that might change the trajectory your career is on:

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Make the firms problems your problems

Everybody likes the person who helps make their life a little easier. Making the effort to say “I can take care of this” and actually being able to care of things will always get you noticed as someone who can be counted on in a crisis. Solving these problems normally requires extra effort, extra time, and extra risk … but these are the only things that will legitimately get you to more responsibility.

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Seek out opportunities

One thing that I always did that it seemed few of my fellow architects co-workers did was go and ask my employers for responsibility. I believe that the employee / employer relationship works best for both groups when communication flows in both directions. While it is up to your employer to find you meaningful work to do, they can’t read your mind. If there are responsibilities that you WANT to do, you need to go and ask for it.

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Learn the business vertically

This is an easy one – if you want to be the boss one day, you need to learn how to do the boss’s job. In order to positively impact other areas of the business, you have to step outside your comfort zone and learn some new skills … you might have to read a book or take a class. It’s what I’ve done in the past and I learned skills that I’ve been able to carry with me. You can also look to schedule lunch and learns, seminars and course materials to supplement your skill set.

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Resolve problems before they become problems

One of my most favorite lessons (or maybe it’s a quote that I’ve co-opted into my own) is:

“Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.”

If you consistently fail or let down the people who count on you, why would they ever come back to you for assistance? Staying ahead of the issues is actually more important than how you are able to handle those issues once they’ve become problems.

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Help hide the bodies

Sometimes, you have to tow the company line and take one for the team. As a residential architect, I have found myself in some situations that put me right in the middle between the clients I work for and the employers who pay my salary. When you think your employers are wrong, you need to stop a minute before you do something you regret and think about what happens tomorrow and the next day. This isn’t about compromising your values, this is about deciding which team you’re going to play for … and sometimes that means digging a hole and jumping in it.

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These are the 5 things that I have consciously and consistently put into action wherever I’ve been employed for the last 15 years. Believe me when I tell you that it does make a difference.

Happy career advancement!

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  • Nathan Taylor

    Great post, especially for young professionals coming into a new work environment. I wonder though (and it looks like Bill does too), what advise would you give to managers and design directors? Wouldn’t it be interesting to read Bob’s take on “How to be the best MANAGER ever?” As a guy who has a team working under/with him I am always looking for better ways to make the group dynamic better, more productive, and hopefully more creative.

  • Inna

    Hi Bob,
    Great post! I love the firm I am with and continually strive to be the best employee I can be! I do struggle with balancing projects and all the details that each project entails. Can you please post about how you handle all of the project details and perhaps your observations of people you manage – which ones do a great job at staying on top of things and which ones don’t. Is there a system that works well? Thank you.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Inna,

      You ask a great question, one I’m quite sure that has been addressed in 10’s of thousands of books. You’ve given me something to think about, maybe I’ll take some notes and see what I notice and watching for a while. I’m not sure that I’m anywhere near figuring it out yet – maybe I should go pick up one of those 10’s of thousands of books.

      Cheers,
      Bob

  • http://pacific33architects.com/ PACIFIC 33 Architects, Inc.

    Love the list Bob. For me, “Help Hide the Bodies” also means that senior staff takes responsibility for junior staffers creating a positive atmosphere where juniors don’t have to be afraid to make mistakes. If a mistake happens, you’ve got it covered.
    -P33A Social Media Maven.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That another good way to look at it. I clearly didn’t do a very good good with my own explanation of what “hide the bodies” was supposed to mean as opposed to the implied meaning that most people are familiar with. I clarified my own position in the very first comment of this post. It was really supposed to be about coming together as a team and taking care of issues.

      Thanks for commenting

  • Chris Pitcher

    Good one Bob… I’m particularally fond of the graphic you used, it is a game afterall and knowing the rules and the loopholes to the game will help you win!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Chris – glad you liked the graphic!

  • Alexandra Williams

    These rules apply to more than architecture too (obvious, I know). The hardest for me is #5 because I genuinely like to help the clients/ customers. Yet you cannot help if you’re not a team player in the end.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      The act of creating a building requires the concerted effort of so many people that ownership of the process gets spread around. I haven’t ever met someone who was able to be a team player AND the sole decision maker who had the ability to turn one on and the other off at will. Since I like the idea that we’re all in this together and that we all have the same goal, my default is to buy in to the collective and drink the kool-aid.

      Unless it’s just crazy stupid and I am in a position to do something about it.

  • Bill Reeves

    Bob,

    You will need to do the next part of this story and write it from the Owner’s point of view. “How to be the best Employer Ever”. I want to see what I can do better. I had to learn by doing. I’ve had a few employers in the past, some of which I would like to compared to. Unfortunately we lost one last week who was one of the best. I don’t dare ask people what they think of me. My skin is not that thick.

    Bill

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Bill,

      I think your idea is interesting. I certainly wouldn’t hold myself out as knowing anything about how to be the best employer but it might be interesting to see what I think the answers would be now before I get jaded through the process of actually being an employer.

      Cheers

      • Bill Reeves

        I will keep an eye out for it. If you want to ask any questions here, just let me know. I will answer them the way I do in this office. “Hell if I know.”

  • Dan

    As an architectural intern still in school, this is a great list to have for the future of my career. I enjoy reading your blog and these little tid-bits of advice are great for an aspiring architect like myself.

    Is the quote correct, though? I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be “do” or if you’re just messing with my mind.

    “Do what you say your going to be when you say you’re going to do it.”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Dan – you got the quote mostly correct. I had to go back in there this morning and fix it (too bad it was after all the RSS subscribers got their copy)

  • http://www.decorgirl.net Lisa M Smith

    Great tips for employees of any company! I especially love the “help hide the bodies” section. It is a lot like the saying, do you wanna be right or do you wanna be happy? In this case it is better to remember, do you wanna be right or unemployed? :)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      and sometimes it means you have to get your hands dirty. By jumping into the hole you dug yourself, the analogy is that you just need to do what needs to be done. I’m not talking about modifying your ethics, this is more along the lines of “I think there is a better design solution” … Architects tend to be extremely opinionated and sometimes the smart move is to know your place and role in the grand scheme of things.

      Thanks Lisa