As far as I know, Bob never came up with innovative ideas or suggested groundbreaking initiatives. He never volunteered to work in other departments or take on formal or informal leadership roles. He never spoke - much less spoke up - in meetings.
Bob flew as under the radar as was possible to fly.
Bob worked for Randy, and whenever I happened to be in Randy's office discussing weighty operational issues (read: hanging out), he never asked Randy a question. He never asked for Randy's advice. He never complained or vented or tooted his own horn.
Bob just passed on information he knew Randy needed. How a customer issue was resolved. How a delicate ship date issue would be solved. How he would overcome an interdepartmental impasse.
One day, after Bob headed back to his cubicle, I said, "He doesn't say much, does he."
"Nope," Randy said. "He's awesome. I wish I had 20 Bobs."
That surprised me. Had I been asked to rank customer service reps in terms of performance, Bob would have fallen somewhere in the bottom half, mostly because he didn't stand out. Shoot, he was nearly invisible.
But in the best possible way.
According to no less an authority than Mark Cuban, the people who tend to work for him for a long time are smart. They're driven. They're learners.
And they understand that the greatest value they can offer is to reduce their boss's stress.
As Cuban says: Anybody who reduces my stress becomes invaluable to me. The people who tend to think that they are invaluable are typically the ones who create the most stress by creating firestorms and creating drama and making things more difficult for me. If you're a drama creator, you're not going to do well. If you are stress reducer, you're going to do well.
We all know drama creators: people who, no matter how talented, create headaches as well as value.
Bob didn't just create zero headaches; he also eliminated potential headaches. He handled problems before they became issues. He smoothed customer feathers before they became ruffled.
He did his job so well that Randy never had to think about him.
Randy did think about him, because he valued and appreciated him to such a high degree, but he didn't have to think about him.
Which, in Cuban's terms, made Bob invaluable.
While you can't add "Reduces My Stress" as a formal category on your employee appraisal forms, you should consider that attribute when you evaluate your employees.
Why? Any employee who scores high on your informal stress-elimination scale is likely to be a "quiet" performer: one who consistently does her job extremely well. Who always works well with others. Who never seeks credit for going above and beyond.
Who is so good, she's almost invisible.
Except, now, to you.