By Anne Elder-Knight

In Part One of this two article series I wrote about how we might best use ourselves in our career and beyond in 2018. Here in Part Two I explore how to build your value-add into an offering that helps you sell yourself to employers and clients.


“Value-add” is now one of the enduring tenets of business language, but what does it mean when we apply it to ourselves and our work?  Value-add means the added extras that go beyond expectations and make us stand out. It is this “more” that give us a competitive edge. As Michael Goldhaber wrote in Wired Magazine:

If there is nothing special about your work, no matter how hard you apply yourself you won’t get noticed and that increasingly means you won’t get paid much either.

At a personal level, the heart of engaging and meaningful work is feeling that what we do contributes to something bigger than ourselves and makes things better in areas we care about. Viewed from this perspective, knowing our own particular value-add and being able to sell it can be a win-win for both us and the organisations we work for.

Few of us take the time to identify what difference we make. Even fewer of us figure out how to express this in language our bosses and clients can easily understand.

I believe there are four levels of competence in understanding our value-add and packaging it to help us sell ourselves:

Assumption – at this lowest level we assume we know where and how we add value. This is based on what we think we know. Sadly these assumptions are often wrong.

I had a lovely example of this a while ago. I had always thought about myself as being at the insightful and supportive end of the coaching continuum. Then one day, a leader I’d been working with introduced me to a group of colleagues. She said she’d been given the opportunity to work with two coaches, and she’d chosen to work with me. She went on to say that one coach had been described as very supportive…at which point I was internally preening and feeling ever so slightly smug. The other coach was reasonably supportive, the leader said, but was much more challenging. She concluded by saying that she had chosen me because I was challenging in a supportive way and what she needed right then was to be pushed!

It is too easy for us to assume that our insights about ourselves are correct.

Feedback – at this next level up, we have accepted that other people are the only truly reliable source of information on how we come across and how we add value – as I learned in the example above.

Some of us worry that asking for feedback about how we add value can come across as fishing for compliments. My advice is to position your request as a genuine attempt to better understand yourself and what you have to offer. If you do this, you’ll find others are often surprisingly willing to help. Feedback will usually help you focus more on your value-add. However, take on board, too, feedback about areas you might be better to step away from.

More often than we would like, feedback from others about where we add value doesn’t tally with the work we want to be doing. This is a delicate balance between owning what we are good at while expanding others’ views of where else we can add value. Others’ view of what we’re capable of may reflect a lack of imagination. That’s fair enough:  it’s not their job to figure out where organisations can put us to our best use!

Opportunity – It’s at this level that we are actively making a case for the work we want to do in language that makes sense to those that pay us.

In for-profit organisations the three most obvious ways to add value are to: save time; make more profit; or make others’ lives easier (i.e. avoid aggravation). Even those of us who help leaders lead better are ultimately in the business of enabling companies to be more productive i.e. make money by ensuring a more engaged and productive workforce.

In not-for-profits the formula is not that different: to save time so more can be done with less, to spend money more wisely so it goes further, or avoid aggravation by improving processes and systems.At this level we need to start putting our hands up and making a case for how we might do this, how it is valuable to our organisations and why we are the best people for the job.

Brand – at this final, highest, level we have determined in advance how we know we add value, blending feedback with the kinds of opportunities that appeal to us. We’ve codified and reinforced the message about our value add. We’ve found strategic ways to get the message through to decision-makers. Examples of those strategic ways to transmit “Brand Me” are:

  • proactively sharing stories of both our successes and learnings, in both what we writing and what we say
  • sharing information on our chosen area of interest and tapping into networks of similar individuals around the world
  • staying in touch with others in our organisations and beyond.In return it’s easier for us to convince people to use us because our brand has gone before us to create awareness. When clients and employers need our kind of value-add they are much more likely to think of us.

As someone once quipped,

Your brand is what people say about you when we’re not around.

Our job is to ensure that what people say about us is what we want them to be saying.

Each of the four levels requires a successively greater level of thinking and effort. Our levels of clarity and confidence need to increase with the level of value we are seeking to add and the specificity with which we can articulate our value. If we are to make the contribution we want to make in the world, this effort is worth it.


Anne Elder-Knight works with teams and individuals to help them get out of their own way and realise their potential. To assist organisations committed to supporting diversity, she offers targeted development programmes for mid-career women and 50+ employees. To find out more email

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