Less staff = More leverage for you

A good strategy starts with knowing your worth in the marketplace. Keep your resumé up to date, periodically search for a new job, and establish your value. Only then can you get your employer to see the light.

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Dan Hebert, PEBy Dan Hebert, PE, Senior Technical Editor

Are you always being asked to do more with less? Probably so. There seems to be no end to the push for ever-greater efficiency and productivity.

Could there be an upside to this negative trend? There is. You just have to be aggressive enough to take advantage of it.

Back in the last millennium, most machine builders maintained more automation staff than now. If you were run over by a truck, there was some type of backup plan to get your work done.

During my tenure at a process skid builder from 1986 to 1991, I shared the automation duties with another engineer. We could back each other up, and this turned out to be crucial when my counterpart suffered a serious illness. That same company today operates with a single automation engineer.

Nowadays, you probably have little or no backup staff, and your productivity and importance to your company has increased exponentially. Without you, it would be difficult or impossible to get a working machine out the door or to support existing machines at customer sites.

This can make for long hours, much stress, and a virtual 24/7 work life. However, the upside is that you have gained a tremendous amount of leverage with your employer because your value has increased along with your productivity and level of responsibility.

If your boss is smart, he or she realizes your increased importance, and acts accordingly with respect to your compensation. If not, you’re probably in a great position to force the issue.

An excellent example of this can be found in what I consider to be the greatest book about an engineer ever written: The New, New Thing by Michael Lewis. The book explains how one engineer, Jim Clark, changed the face of Silicon Valley by understanding his value and forcing others to do the same.

Before Jim Clark, the chief beneficiaries of the ideas and labor flowing from engineers and other techies were the money men, lawyers, and dealmakers. Clark realized there were plenty of these types, but relatively few techies with great ideas and the skills to turn ideas into profitable products. Virtually single-handedly, he changed the terms of venture capital agreements in Silicon Valley, so techies were rewarded in proportion to their scarcity and worth.

You have heard of some of the firms that he created—companies such as Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Clark made sure that he made more money from these ventures than his financial backers. He used his leverage to negotiate unprecedented deals, and many techies successfully followed in his wake.
You might not have quite the leverage Clark did, but how can you apply this strategy to your job?

A good strategy starts with knowing your worth in the marketplace. Keep your resumé up to date, and periodically search for a new job.

Finding a suitable position and going through at least a preliminary interview can give you a much stronger negotiating position at your current job. Salary negotiation is a high-stakes game, and it’s always easier to play when you have a few good cards in your hand. A good sense of your value in the marketplace strengthens your negotiating position, and gives you a leg up if you do have to look for another job.

If your current employer finds out you’re looking for another job, it need not be the end of the world. In fact, it can work to your advantage by prodding your boss to reexamine your value to the company. There’s nothing like a little fear to force action on your behalf.

Moonlighting is another excellent way to ascertain your value in the marketplace. Part-time work as a consultant or maybe as a writer for a trade magazine like this one can give you a great idea of your per hour worth to others.

Like a competing job offer, moonlighting strengthens your negotiating position, and gives you a leg up if you have to look for another job. It also could turn into a second career that might be better than your current position.

It takes time to prepare a resumé, interview, and/or moonlight. But the alternative isn’t really knowing your value in the marketplace, and that can cost you tens of thousands of dollars a year. Establish your value, and then get your employer to see the light.

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