Those who are looking to advance in their careers often strive to make themselves indispensable to their employers — but what you should actually focus on is making yourself replaceable.
Being considered irreplaceable on a team might sound good on paper — but it can actually put your career in a rut and stifle your opportunity to advance. Plus, it doesn’t actually benefit the company if you’re the only person who knows how to do your job.
Replaceable doesn’t mean redundant
Being replaceable — a concept various company executives and business management books have promoted over the years — isn’t as precarious as it sounds; it just means that someone else at your workplace can do your job. That doesn’t mean the work isn’t important, or that you aren’t the best person for the role. But if you want to move on, you’ll have more luck getting promoted if there’s already a successor able and ready to take on the role.
Being replaceable means that you’ll share knowledge and skills related to your role with other employees, which ultimately benefits the company and demonstrates to supervisors that you have leadership skills. Conversely, thinking of yourself as indispensable can be dangerous if you’re overestimating your worth to the employer.
“I don’t think there’s ever an instance where someone is truly indispensable in a company that’s successful,” says Joe Hyrkin, CEO of Issuu. “Replaceability doesn’t mean leaving the company, it means you’ve done a good job, and you’re creating an opportunity to take on new challenges, like managing a bigger set of people, for example.”
Jennifer Moss, author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It, argues that a lack of trust also hurts team morale.
“If you’re a micromanager that’s always checking in, you’re telling the team that they don’t have the same level of skills as you to do the job,” Moss says. “You might think you’re being indispensable and securing your role in the organisation, but you’re likely demonstrating that you’re not a very good boss, which in the end makes your job less secure. You’re also more likely to burn out.”
How to make yourself replaceable
Start by asking yourself, “If I suddenly quit, could someone else do my job?” If the answer is no, try to identify what would prevent someone with your qualifications from taking over your role. Maybe it’s related to product knowledge, daily tasks, or something as simple as a password for a software program. Either way, it’s institutional knowledge that you should try to share with the team. To do so, consider these steps:
- Put everything in writing: Every process, task, or policy related to your job should be written down and stored in a drive where others can access it (ideally with a date or version number). This will help new hires learn the ropes but also act as a handy refresher for existing employees, should they need it.
- Support and train your colleagues: If no one else can do your job, flag it as a concern with your supervisor. Be willing to share knowledge and offer training on tasks related to your role with either your colleagues or direct reports.
- Delegate: Avoid the trap of thinking you need to sign off on every last task, especially when a colleague or direct report clearly has the skills needed for the job. Studies show that employee morale in workplaces is closely linked to a feeling of autonomy, which is another way of saying that they feel trusted and have the ability to make decisions on their own.
Making yourself replaceable simply means you’re doing all the right things to get promoted. By putting your tasks in writing, delegating those tasks when required, and sharing your skills with team members, you’ll be demonstrating the leadership skills that companies look for when hiring for new roles or promoting from within.