I’m so good that I’m replaceable…

I was having a conversation last week about strategies to move ahead and be recognized for your work and I wanted to relate some of it here today. The question being discussed was the following: should you make yourself irreplaceable, center to key processes and sole holder of high value knowledge or should you do the exact opposite and make yourself as replaceable as possible by organizing processes, knowledge and power so that people could wonder if you’re actually needed for things to run smoothly?I think it’s a key question because our natural tendency goes towards proving to others that there’s value in maintaining a relationship with us and so many of us play what I call the bottleneck game to make sure that people need us and therefore won’t part with us.

The beauty of it is that it actually works, or at least it works for a time. For a time, you are happy, having secured your position and your boss and company are happy because you are competent and a master at your job. There are 2 major downsides though to being irreplaceable:

  • The first one is that by being irreplaceable, you’ve made it impossible for your boss to imagine someone else doing your job, so how likely is he going to help you move ahead and take a new position?
  • The second downside is that your job depends entirely on you, and that means risk for your company. Just imagine if you were to leave the company, for another job, to get back to your home town or simple because you won the lottery ?, it would probably be a major setback for your team and potentially for the company. It’s only a matter of time before someone identifies that risk and decides to do something about it.

On the other hand, people that aim at being highly replaceable will be devising ways to make their company and their team less dependent on their presence or contribution and in doing so will serve 2 major purposes for the company:

  • The first contribution will be to create a more sustainable environment. The more companies depend on specific people and the more they are at risks when those people decide to leave. The more companies depend on processes and the more they can survive the changes in their workforce. By organizing your work around not being critical to it, you’ll be making your company more resilient. In turn, when you’ll be thinking about taking on new responsibilities, potentially in a different team or even geography, no one is going to stop you from taking it since there won’t be any risk associated to it for your team, your boss or your company.
  • The second contribution will be to your team. Making yourself replaceable will mean delegating responsibilities and empowering your team. By helping them level up their game, they’ll soon be able to represent you within their scope as if you were there. Not only will you develop their leadership skills, you’ll also make them better decision makers and will increase their motivation level.

On this last point, I wanted to share this video from John Ullmen’s course on Executive Leadership about energizing and empowering people, a complex and exciting subject.

Maybe you’re wondering what the risks are for you to become replaceable. After all, isn’t that a risk for you of being laid off once you get to a point where you are completely replaceable? I think it’s actually exactly the opposite. Getting your role to becoming completely replaceable will take massive efforts and deep transformations for your company. All of which will bring so much value that people will be thinking instead of all the great places they can put you in to have you work your magic there. You’ll be leaving behind you a much better environment than the one that was handed to you when you originally took the role.

Making yourself replaceable is a continuous process. I have 5 simple ways to check if someone in the organization is playing that irreplaceable game if you want to check yours you can find here a 1-page PDF that sums it all up.

So, what’s your take on this? Do you believe more in being the centerpiece of your company or being replaceable as the best strategy for advancement and recognition? Do you have examples of how you changed your role for the better and were recognized for it? Looking forward to reading your comments…

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2 thoughts on “I’m so good that I’m replaceable…

  1. Steve

    I hold a value that you empower and develop your team and include succession planning so that you can move on to other roles or projects and increase your value to an organisation.

    So far however, my experience has been that once a company finds that you’re replaceable, they rarely see this as positive. I have been found ‘unnecessary’ on more than one occasion and then been laid off.

    1. Rudolph Post author

      Hi Steve, thank you for sharing your experience. I obviously don’t know the details here but I can tell you this, there are countless organizations that are in their right mind and value people who put systems in place to make their company more resilient. From what I can read here, you have the right attitude, so keep on going…


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