You know you do great work in your job as a training leader, but you’re worried. Stakeholders continue to scrutinize your budgets for every possible savings and to slash your time, both for preparation and delivery (“Can’t we do that in half a day?”).
The signs are all there: You, my talented friend, may be on your way to becoming a commodity.
If something is a commodity, it’s like everything else in its category; it’s interchangeable and replaceable.
Human beings are unique and irreplaceable — but the work we’re associated with might not be. When your work seems interchangeable and replaceable, you’re ripe for outsourcing, automation and elimination.
Don’t believe it’ll happen to you? Catch up with your colleagues in traditionally high-value professions who’ve seen drastic commoditization in recent years, including human resources (HR), office management and even information technology (IT).
It’s happening to training and development professionals, too. The irony is that at a time when high-impact learning is in more demand than ever, training and development experts are struggling to have the high impact they know they can make. They’re falling into the commodity trap.
The good news is that there’s a cure: The antidote to becoming a commodity is communicating your value. The only weapon we have against becoming a commodity is to have a clear personal value — and to communicate it consistently and passionately. Use these three strategies to get you started.
Strategy 1: Redefine Your Job
What is a job, anyway? If you wrote down the work you do all day, would it look anything like your published job description (if you even have one)?
It’s time to define your own job and start using that description when you talk to others about who you are and what you do. Stop thinking about yourself with a label or the language of the industry or even of the company you work for. Start thinking — and talking — about yourself based on the results you create and the need you fill.
You don’t need anyone to give you permission. Just look at what you really do, and who you really are, at work:
- What problems do you solve?
- Where do you make things simpler?
- What happens for the better when you do what you do?
- Where do you make a difference — and for whom?
If you’re struggling, create a “who and do what” statement — not an elevator speech but a way to think differently about what you do, for whom you do it and the bigger goal that you help make accomplish.
Just fill in the blanks: I [action I take when I’m doing my best and most valuable work] with/for [people, processes or things] so that [bigger result that you help make happen].
For example, instead of saying, “I’m a training manager for XYZ company,” say, “I make sure our 650 sales associates in three countries know the best techniques and tools to help our 5 million customers quickly find what they need.”
Your job is not a box; it’s organic. Don’t shortchange yourself — and others — by not understanding the difference you really make.
Strategy 2: Expand Your Universe
Now that you know what your real job is, it’s time to tell more people in your company about it. Yes, this is “networking” — perhaps a poor word to use for something that’s so vital to our lives and careers.
It’s also an underused word, since we forget about the networking we do with people we already know. It’s the internal conversations that help you avoid becoming a commodity.
Networking is easier than you think. First, make a list:
- Whom did you work with last year whom you haven’t talked to in a while?
- Whom do you only see in meetings but would like to get to know better?
- Who is your peer in another department?
- Who is a colleague you never work with but like?
Invite each of these people to coffee or lunch, with a focus on learning more about him or her. When your focus is about them — not about you — you’ll learn about their struggles and pains while building trust and a deeper relationship. These conversations also give you more information as you continue to think about how you can make a difference.
Strategy 3: Invest in Yourself
You can’t control what will change in your company or your profession. The only thing you can control is you.
If you’re worried about becoming a commodity, it’s time to take control of your own growth and career and invest in yourself. When we wait for our companies to invest in us, we give up our power and reinforce the idea that we’re a commodity.
Go to an industry conference, even if you have to pay for it on your own. Volunteer for a professional association. Hire a coach to help you strengthen a skill, map out tough conversations or clarify what you want next.
When you use these strategies and invest in your own professional and personal skills, you break away from the commodity pack and start adding more value. It will not only benefit your career but your colleagues, company and community, too.