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Make yourself replaceable

When I worked for a automotive supplier, I participated in an “Welcome New Employees Event”. There were different speeches, one held from the Head of HR. During his speech he was asked what he would recommend in order to go up in the companies hierarchy. He said: “Make yourself replaceable.”
Some were confused, some were laughing. But everyone thought: Of course as head of HR he wants people to be replaceable to be able fire them more quickly.
This sentence was repeating itself for several weeks in my head. I thought: “He couldn’t really have meant, that he want’s to be able to reduce staff more quickly.” And he didn’t. During a drive home in the car it suddenly came into my mind what he meant.

He wanted to say: If you fulfil a very specialised job, administrating a special tool, giving a certain very important training or maintaining a important management report no one will let you leave. No matter how good you are. No manager will support your promotion. At least not very strong. But if you have a deputy your chances to take over another job, role, position etc. are much higher. Your deputy doesn’t need to be as good as you are. It just needs to be someone, the management trusts in to do the job as good as you did.

Because: Imagine you are a team leader of 10 people. You are responsible for a huge, expensive project with high customer and management attention. One of your team members is the Project Manager of this project.

Only this team member of your team can manage the project in a way that you are confident that it will be success. (Of course I agree, in well managed teams you shouldn’t have this situation.) Anyway. One day, this guy steps into your office and asks if you would support him in getting a special great new role in another team. He would be very excited to do this new job and it would be a step forward in his career.

What would be your thoughts?
Maybe: He’s doing a very good job, has a good mindset and would fit to the new role. So, sure, I’ll support him. But, wait a second, I have no one who could lead the project as good as he does? He’s the only one who is capable of doing this. A handover is not possible in that short timeframe.

Your decision could be anyway to support him, but maybe you are not doing this with the same effort like you would do it, if you would know, that he has a deputy that “just” needs to brought up to speed. In the end your support wasn’t “strong” enough and the team member didn’t get the job.

Conclusion: Keeping all the knowledge isn’t always useful. Being replaceable is not only good for your company. It’s good for you. Because it opens doors.

My Example
After that speech, I always try to keep in mind what he said, or better, what he actually meant. My personal example:

At the beginning of a project at CIMPA I was team member of a team with 18 people. 15 in France, three (including me) worked in Germany. Let’s name them A, B and C. We all had our projects to manage. We all worked for AIRBUS. As we were a kind of outpost in Germany, we had to have our own customer focal point to keep contact to the local AIRBUS managers with their local needs and tasks.
The most experienced colleague (A) was assigned to this role.

One day A left to another project and was replaced. The new colleague (D) had more experience within AIRBUS than I had. However, I was assigned to become the new customer focal point. I had less experience and was younger. Both of us (me, D) were capable of doing the job, BUT D was full with tasks and special topics, no one else could do. For my tasks I worked very close together with C (also because of the statement of the Head of HR).

C knew what I did and a handover was not very much effort. Our project manager knew that.

Many thanks for reading this article.

You have an indiviual situation and want to know how to apply the concept above to it?
You have your own experience?
You miss something in the text?

Please let me know your opinion in the comments below. I’m happy to get back to you.

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