There is a story about Elon Musk and his former executive assistant that was making the rounds online a couple years ago. It was initially detailed in Ashlee Vance's 2015 book, 'Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, And the Quest for a Fantastic Future'. Elon has since released a tweet saying it 'is mostly correct, but also rife with errors & never independently fact-checked, despite my request that he do so.' Nonetheless, the story illustrates my point perfectly.
The story goes that Mary Beth Brown, Elon's assistant for over 12 years, once asked him for a raise. Following this request, Elon asked her to take a 2 week holiday so he could take over her responsibilities to see how much he really needed her.
Two weeks later, Mary Beth came back to work, I like to imagine with a smug, knowing smile. However, Musk informed her that he no longer required her assistance - two weeks of taking on her responsibilities had shown him that she was ultimately unnecessary. She was offered another role within the company but Brown turned it down and never returned.
The point I wanted to illustrate with this story is; no matter how conscientious your employers are, you are and always will fundamentally be an asset to your business. Your real worth is dependent on what you quantifiably bring to the table.
So it is wildly important that you are aware of your value in your company. Otherwise, you might end up pulling a Mary Beth Brown and overplay a hand without really knowing what it's worth.
The first and most important thing you should do is try and objectively assess your role within the company. Not necessarily your job role but instead your exact daily/weekly contribution to your enterprise. Lynn Taylor, author of 'Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job', puts it this way: 'Could a temp do what you’re doing and keep your boss happy?' If the answer is anywhere close to yes then you're not doing nearly enough.
Managing up is when you work to discover and enact measures to make your boss look good to his bosses. This isn't simply sycophancy; these are real actions you have implemented that have not only added value to the company but ensured that the merits of which have been directly attributed to your boss. Taylor puts it this way, 'you want to make your boss need you — not just have you on board.'
Years don't equate value
Like ol' Mary Beth Brown came to realize, years on the job can mean very little. We tend to project our emotions onto our business life after a long enough time. We start believing qualities like loyalty and familiarity are enough to rely on when negotiating a salary increase or determining our job security. Of course, it certainly has its value, but when it comes to a business, at its most basic, the question will always be: how much more money are you helping bring in? So if you have worked 'loyally' for 20 years, but you have added no extra value to your role or your company in that time, why should they pay you any more money?
Innovate, innovate, innovate
This is the crux of the message I'm trying to convey. Many of us work for real, genuinely considerate people who care about more than simply how much we add to the bottom line. But it is important that you never forget what your purpose is within your company. At some level, your primary objective will always revolve around making money.
Strive to innovate, always. Learn beyond your role, learn how the company works and how you can improve it. If you hate working hard then you are probably working for the wrong company. You need to love your job in order to innovate it. It doesn't have to massively consequential, but one of the most effective ways to ensure you are adding value to your position is to just continuously try. I think Taylor puts it best, 'No one is indispensable, it’s just to what degree are you harder to replace.'