Yes, irreplaceableness appears to be a legitimate word. Even if it weren’t, there’s a good chance you could infer its meaning without doubt. It wouldn’t matter if the word actually appears in a dictionary. Now that that’s out of the way…
My former boss was laid off last week. It had only been a matter of time. Some time after I left that department to work in my current location, her department was moved to another building to take advantage of efficiencies with another group that performed similar services for the company. The truth is that there was a lot of redundancy in this function around the entire company, and once the departments were combined, it made sense to streamline the management.
I feel horrible that someone I’ve known for many years has lost her job. The reason I left, however, was because she wasn’t a very good manager and I was not learning anything from her other than what not to do.
My current boss, K., gave me the news of the “rightsizing” of my former boss late last week. K. mentioned that this was a perfect example of how one must make one’s self irreplaceable. At first I agreed. Irreplaceableness means that one has job security. When times are tight for a company, and they must decide who to let go, they will start with anyone whose job is redundant, anyone who performs poorly, and anyone whose functions can be assumed somewhere else.
Some time after our initial conversation, I couldn’t get the idea of irreplaceableness out of my mind. Something didn’t sit right with me. I began thinking, and that can be dangerous. I contemplated how one must create the belief that one is irreplaceable.
To become irreplaceable one must drive against forces that help a team work efficiently and smoothly together. In my department, we cross-train as much as possible, so people are free to take vacations at almost any time. We work on enhancing our procedural documentation and process flowcharts so that at any time someone with moderate knowledge and training can step in and muddle through some of the more complex tasks (and so we can ensure the proper controls and quality reviews are in place). If someone were to disappear off the face of the planet, it might take some time, but the group would recover.
Here is one way I reduce my irreplaceableness for the benefit of the group. My skills with Microsoft Excel are above average in comparison to most of my coworkers. I was happy to present a few classes on some of the software’s more useful functions. These classes allowed my coworkers to rely on me less, reducing my irreplaceableness, yet this approach still seems like the right thing to do for my own worth.
To be irreplaceable in this environment would require keeping secrets about how I get my work done. Even if I’m quite good at my job, an expert with great personality and attitude, if I work as a team player I will always be replaceable. So will everyone I work with.
Recently, my company’s CEO, the head of this large corporation for the past couple of decades or so (and I realize I’m being ambiguous) decided to retire. His decision actually came several years ago, but it was more recently that he made specific plans and set an exit date. He was a well-admired and recognized CEO throughout our industry and led this company through some rough times (before I was an employee) and oversaw significant growth (after I became an employee, not that this fact is relevant). He succeeded with goals where previous CEOs of this company perhaps failed.
Yet, even he was replaceable. The Board of Directors decided the new CEO would be someone from within the company, and quickly put a succession plan into place for a smooth transition from one CEO to the next.
If even the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company can be replaced, it almost seems arrogant to think that I, or any other employee of this large company, could be irreplaceable. Even striving for such a goal would be antithetical to cultivating good working relationships with colleagues.
Photo credit: hagerman
Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published May 8, 2008.