Why You Should Really Replace Yourself at Work

Those looking to advance their careers often aspire to be indispensable to their employers, but in reality you should focus on making yourself replaceable.

Being indispensable on a team may sound good on paper, but it can actually put your career on track and limit your career opportunities. Plus, if you’re the only one who knows how to do your job, it doesn’t really do any good for the company.

Replaceable does not mean redundant

Being replaceable – a concept that many CEOs and business management books have promoted over the years – isn’t as shaky as it sounds; it simply means that someone else in your workplace can do your job. This does not mean that the job is not important or that you are not the best person for the role. But if you want to move on, you’re lucky to be promoted if there is already a successor who is capable and willing to take on the role.

Being replaceable means that you will share the knowledge and skills associated with your role with other employees, which will ultimately benefit the company and demonstrate to leaders that you have leadership qualities. Conversely, thinking of yourself as irreplaceable can be dangerous if you overestimate your value to the employer.

“I don’t think there will ever be a case where someone is truly irreplaceable in a successful company,” says Joe Hirkin, CEO of Issuu . “Replacement does not mean leaving the company, it means that you have done a good job and create the opportunity to solve new problems, for example, to manage a large number of people.”

Jennifer Moss, author of Burnout Epidemic: Increasing Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix it , argues that lack of trust also undermines team spirit.

“If you’re a micromanager who always checks, you tell the team that they don’t have the same skill level as you to get the job done,” says Moss. “You may think that you are irreplaceable and provide for your role in the organization, but you are more likely to demonstrate that you are not a very good boss, which ultimately makes your job less secure. You are also more likely to burn out.

How to make yourself replaceable

Start by asking, “If I suddenly leave, will someone else be able to do my job?” If the answer is no, try to identify what might prevent someone with your qualifications from taking on your role. Maybe it has something to do with product knowledge, day-to-day tasks, or something as simple as a password for a program. Either way, this is institutional knowledge that you should try to share with the team. To do this, consider the following steps:

  • Put it all in writing: every process, task, or policy related to your job should be recorded and stored on disk where others can access it (ideally with a date or version number). It will help new hires to master the basics, but it will also serve as a handy help for existing hires if they need it.
  • Support and educate your peers: If no one else can do your job, flag it as a problem with your supervisor. Be prepared to share knowledge and offer training on tasks related to your role with your peers or direct reports.
  • Delegate: Avoid the trap of thinking you need to sign every last task, especially when a coworker or line manager clearly has the skills to do the job. Research shows that employee morale in the workplace is closely linked to a sense of autonomy , which is another way of saying that they feel trusted and have the ability to make decisions for themselves.

Bottom line

Making yourself replaceable simply means that you are doing the right thing to get the promotion. By writing your tasks, delegating them as needed, and sharing your skills with team members, you will demonstrate the leadership qualities that companies look for when hiring new jobs or promoting internally.

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