From Expendable to Promotable: How to Carve Out a Career

One of the keys to having a successful career (in any industry) is making yourself a valuable asset to those around you. If you prove yourself to be valuable to others, you’ll never have trouble finding a job. On the flip side, if you fail to provide value, you immediately become expendable.

The 3 Categories of Employees

As a young professional and new employee in an organization, it’s best to view yourself through a detached lens. In other words, you need to step outside of yourself every now and then and think about who you are through the lens of your employer, from your resume to your work output. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

Whether they’re aware of it or not, your managers, bosses, and superiors basically view every employee – yourself included – as being in one of three categories. They are:

  • Category 1: Expendable. An employee who is expendable is someone who adds little-to-no value to the company. This person will be the first to be let go if the company downsizes. Very little responsibility or opportunities will be given to this individual.
  • Category 2: Warm Body. A warm body is an employee who is treading water. They do their job, but never more than the bare minimum. They might not lose the company money, but they certainly aren’t making much. If a better employee comes along, they’ll quickly be asked to leave.
  • Category 3: Promotable. A promotable employee is someone who adds a ton of value to the company. Not only are they next in line for job openings higher up the ladder, but the employer may actually lose sleep over the thought of the employee leaving. Thus they’ll do almost anything to keep them happy.

If you take a cross-section of 100 employees, you’ll likely find 30 expendable employees, 60 warm bodies, and just 10 promotable employees. The good news is that you can change categories. You might be expendable today, but with weeks and months of hard work, you can climb up and put yourself into the promotable category. However, it’s going to take work.

Going From Expendable to Promotable

There’s a common misconception that exceptional employees are the smartest people in the room. And while this can be true, it’s not always the case. Rarely are the most successful people in life the most highly educated or naturally gifted. In most cases, they’ve simply learned how to be proficient and consistent in dozens of little ways. If you want to be a promotable employee who climbs the success ladder, you must do the same. Here are some specific suggestions:

  1. Show Up On Time

Let’s start with something so simple that most employees forget about it: Showing up on time. This is something literally every single employee can and should do – no matter what else is happening. Whether you’re the janitor or a top employee who is in line for the next opening in the C-suite, showing up on time is a must.

When you’re consistently punctual, people notice. It makes you come across as conscientious, respectful, and reliable. On the other hand, people who come in late are seen as lazy, disrespectful, and hard to trust.

  1. Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

Again this is super simple – just do what you say you’re going to do. If you can make a habit out of living up to your word and doing precisely what you tell others you’ll do, you’ll become the most reliable person in the building. And reliable are some of the most attractive (from an HR and management perspective).

  1. Embrace Technology

The expendable employee fears technology because he thinks it makes him, well, expendable. And to some degree, he’s right. If you go through your entire career assuming you’re just one step away from being replaced by technology, you’ll probably be the first to go. The better approach is to embrace technology.

There’s no doubt that technology is changing rapidly and is automating many of the processes that people typically handle in entry-level jobs. But if you can learn how to use these technologies (rather than being intimidated by them), you’ll always have a job. Because it’s those who master this new class of tech that become valuable and indispensable resources to businesses.

For example, stop fretting about automated cloud solutions that streamline repetitive administrative tasks. Instead, learn how to use the technology. Become the master of the tool so that you’re the one in charge of implementing it, managing it, and utilizing the features. As technology becomes more important, you will too.

  1. Contribute Ideas

Most employees spend their time criticizing, complaining, and wishing things would be easier, more comfortable, or different. They’re known as negative people. You want to become known as an “idea person.”

An idea person is someone who offers solutions without criticizing the way things are currently going. It’s someone who is constantly throwing stuff against the wall to see if something sticks. And even though 99 out of 100 ideas will get turned down, there’s always that one that works. When that one works, it has the potential to elevate standing in the business.

Focus on the Small Things

You don’t need to go back to school and get a master’s degree. You don’t need to come up with a million-dollar product for your company. Instead, you just need to show up, do your job, and consistently get better. That’s where the real work is.

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