Being Indispensable During a Crisis

Five key steps to up your indispensability quotient during this critical period.

The coronavirus has upended nearly every aspect of work life, making even ordinary routines stressful. It is, however, the type of environment where indispensable employees can stand out.

Experts say the ability to succeed in any role, even in high-profile management positions, is directly related to how indispensable you are. And during this pandemic crisis—when companies will be forced to scrutinize jobs much closer—raising your value is, of course, beneficial. “See this crisis as a new way to purposefully serve colleagues and customers in new, meaningful, value-creating ways,” says Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader for CEO and executive development.  

Here are five ways to be indispensable at the moment.

Be a calm, empathetic colleague.

As the outbreak spread throughout the United States, CEOs everywhere were faced with many anxious, even panicked employees. That is why bosses—and fellow coworkers—often appreciate someone who is calm, empathetic, and able to bring them back to focusing on work, says Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner Deb Nunes. At the same time, colleagues also appreciate someone who reaches out and offers to be a source of strength, comfort, and reinforcement. This may mean reaching out to a lot of people. “It’s more likely to be 100 than just one dozen,” says Alan Guarino, vice chairman of Korn Ferry’s Board and CEO Services practice. “You touch a lot of people and it’s good for them to know you are thinking about them.”

Do what you say you’ll do.

A cornerstone for all good boss-employee relationships is follow-through, whether it’s bringing ideas to the next brainstorm call or reminding your boss about a 10 a.m. video chat. Whatever the case, experts say employees need to create a reason why the boss relies on them. “Are you capable enough for the boss to hand over a task with complete confidence that it will be done on time and with high quality?” asks Mark Royal, a senior director at Korn Ferry. “Such that the boss doesn’t need to give it a second thought?”

Be an excellent communicator.

Learning how your manager communicates is a priority. Does he or she email only once a day, but calls no fewer than 10 times before noon? Or is she silent for a week, but every Friday at 9 a.m. demands updates and status reports? Experts say the best way to decode a boss’s preferences is to assume communication won’t be clear. That way, employees are forced to clarify what the boss wants.

This also applies when you’re the one managing people as well. For her part, Nunes says communicating purposefully and succinctly is even more critical when everyone is working remotely. State the objective of meetings before the virtual meetings begin, and make sure everyone knows what they are responsible for, who they are working with, and when they need to check in.

Be agile.

It’s easy to say you embrace risk-taking and being agile when things are going well. However, experts warn that it can be very easy in a crisis to adopt a bunker mentality and just try to survive. Being indispensable means being creative, trying to be innovative, and at least anticipating, or trying to anticipate, what’s next. “From great challenges there is great opportunity, and it usually means finding the ‘new and different’ that will make your organization better in the future,” Guarino says.

Keep managing up.

Indispensable workers give their bosses what they need before they even ask, even when crises hit. The coronavirus has thrown most well-laid performance objectives out the window, but bosses and organizations will appreciate if you can keep delivering. Nunes suggests workers at any level get time with their boss to go over their original performance objectives. Indispensable workers will show how far along they were in meeting those targets, show how the coronavirus has impacted the objective, and offer viable solutions to go forward. That’s the mentality of a senior leader. “Bosses will remember that you brought a solution,” Nunes says, even if they don’t implement it.