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Sturt and Nordstrom: Does your work matter? How to make a difference at work

If your boss falls into the "Bad at Recognition" list, don't write that resignation letter yet. There are a lot of managers in the world who fail miserably when it comes communicating their intentions, and their true appreciation of their employees.
If your boss falls into the "Bad at Recognition" list, don't write that resignation letter yet. There are a lot of managers in the world who fail miserably when it comes communicating their intentions, and their true appreciation of their employees.
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This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

“I didn’t realize the damage I had done,” a manager said during an interview. “Yet, there I was watching this man tear up in front of me as he handed me his letter of resignation.”

“On the last three projects you said it didn’t matter if I wanted to be part of the team,” the man told the menager. “If there’s nothing I can add, I feel like it’s time for me to go somewhere else.”

Those are harsh words. And, even though resigning without initiating an earlier conversation isn’t advice we would give an employee who feels underappreciated, it’s hard to blame the guy. The manager was basically telling him, “You don’t make a difference to our projects.”

The menager explained to us how his intentions were to simply alleviate some of this employee’s existing workload — that the man was actually one of his best and hardest workers. Plus, the menager explained how the man had been dealing with some family issues at home. As a boss, his intentions weren’t intended to make the man feel unwanted or unnecessary. They were to alleviate his burden.

Of course, it’s true that we aren’t all necessary to the success of every project at work. And, it’s also true that we all have peaks and valleys of enthusiasm throughout our career. However, if you’ve ever felt like your effort didn’t make a difference or that it didn’t matter if you showed up to work at all, then something bigger might be at play. And it might be your fault.

Here are the key patterns of behavior for people who truly deliver a difference at work. See if they’re part of your routine.

People who make a difference at work:

1. Don’t settle for the status quo

Whether they’re looking for new ways to solve a problem or making a commitment to continuously self-improve, difference-makers are the people who don’t sit still. Instead of conforming to the present, they’re always pushing for a better future, and that drive is what allows them to innovate way ahead of the pack.

2. Ask better questions

You know there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Elevate your queries by making them thought-provoking and curious. “Why don’t we?… How do we optimize?... Where can we streamline?... How can we look at this from the opposite perspective?” These are typical questions difference-makers ask.

3. Play the long game

It’s tempting to get caught up in the quick pace of today’s business world. But Les McKeown, CEO of organizational platform Predictable Success, warns: “For those interested in building something that lasts, mastery — and the patience, focus and dedication required to attain it — is the key to success." So don’t rush your process. Give yourself time to tweak, improve, brainstorm and invent. A true breakthrough will follow.

4. Think of others

Research shows groundbreaking work starts with an employee wondering how they can deliver a solution that others will love. In fact, 88 percent of great work starts with an employee keeping others’ needs and desires top-of-mind. Don’t think of a streamlining initiative as simply improving the bottom-line. Instead, focus on the end user to really up your game, and zoom in on what really matters: creating something that makes a difference.

5. Ask for feedback

Difference-makers aren’t afraid to ask for direction, clarification or input. They know that melding diverse viewpoints and allowing people to add to existing ideas drives the best teams to innovate. They aren’t selfish with their ideas. Instead, they ask others to help. Embrace this mindset, and your next project just may be among the 72 percent of great work ideas that utilize disruptive thinking to achieve a fantastic result.

Do any of these habits sound familiar? If you haven’t embraced them yet, they may remind you of the people you view in your organization as the heavy hitters, the rock stars and the people who truly make your company thrive. If you haven’t embraced them yet, well, it’s time to start.

But fear not — if you are practicing these habits and still feel like your boss doesn’t believe you make a difference, find comfort in the story from the manager above. There are a lot of managers in the world who fail miserably when it comes communicating their intentions, and their true appreciation of their employees.

If your boss falls into the "Bad at Recognition" bucket, don’t write that resignation letter yet. Instead, ask where you could make the biggest difference — for them, for the team and for the organization. They’ll appreciate your insight, and you’ll most likely walk out of the conversation with a fresh perspective of just how valuable you really are.

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times bestseller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at www.greatwork.com.