EMBA Series: What is your value proposition?

Some of you may already know, I started studying again. Last month was the beginning of my Executive MBA. Four day residentials, once a month, for 18 months. And the hours are arguably longer than my working hours. But I am doing it because I have an addiction to structured learning and it’s part of my overall professional strategic plan. This EMBA venture fits solidly in my “continuous professional improvement” strategic initiative.

I have decided that one way for me to maximise the retention of what I learn each month is to write about key concepts that I take away and attempt to apply them to personal or career development. Those of you that have read my post on Developing Your Own Personal Strategic Plan will know that I firmly believe the conceptual ways we go about organisational business planning can and should be applied to our own career objectives. I am confident that what I learn in business school will be the same.

Lesson 1 from the EMBA

So what did I learn after month number one? The importance of being absolutely crystal clear about your value proposition. Of course we studied this in the context of organisations and their different products and services. We looked at businesses that launched products that failed miserably because they inadvertently veered away from their core business and fundamental value proposition to customers. Ultimately, an organisation’s value proposition to their target audience is what will drive inherent success, even better if that value is also differentiable from the offerings of competitors. Put crudely, if you’re offering something that you think is fantastic but no one actually wants or alternatives can easily be found elsewhere, then you fail.  

And how, you might now wonder, does this apply to you as an individual and your career aspirations? Think about your job and all the responsibilities that go with it. Think about how you execute on those responsibilities. Could anyone else do your job? Hopefully your answer sits somewhere along the lines of “Yes sure, but I do it pretty well for reasons x, y, z… so I think I would be reasonably difficult to replace”. If not, then I would suggest there is room for you to redefine what value you can be adding to differentiate yourself from the rest. For those that have a reason x, y, z then these are the things that benefit your employer/organisation/end customer, being the value proposition you, as an employee, bring to work each day.

Customer Value Proposition of Lawyers

Let me apply this to a simple example of  lawyers. The role of a lawyer is to understand the law, usually in a particular area of expertise, and apply that understanding and knowledge to varying scenarios when advising a client or internally within a business. However can you replace lawyers easily? Yes and no. The ones that do exactly as I have described are generally fairly easy to replace. The ones that are not so, go beyond applying the law correctly and offer – you guessed it – deeper value. What comprises that value will depend on the scenario but may sometimes be simple things like being a good team player, approachable, great at explaining complex legal issues simplistically, etc. It sounds so simple and yet I know for a fact many lawyers spend most of their time focused on conveying their technical expertise and not enough time delivering on differentiable value. And I mean this in all contexts whether we’re talking about individual lawyers working in-house or private practice, or law firms themselves. I am not saying that it is unimportant for lawyers to get the law right – but rather, that’s a given. There are lots of lawyers out there. And lots that know the law fantastically well and can apply it. But as law school should have taught us all, that kind of smart is everywhere and so generally isn’t a strong differentiator.

 The message? Differentiable value is what will drive your success and career progression.

Take the time to regularly evaluate yourself and consider what value you are bringing to your role. If the answer isn’t clear, it’s time to take some active steps to clearly define what you bring to the table.  

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