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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Here’s some obvious and oft-repeated management advice: A manager should always be raising replacements for every role in their team.

If the team is ready to replace a given role, it is easier to recover from disaster. It is also easier to facilitate development and growth of any particular member in the team.

The intuition is straightforward. Let’s say Jack is irreplaceable. The obvious observation is that the world will come crashing down if he quits. The unfortunate implication of this fact is that taking a new leadership opportunity in another team will also cause the world to come crashing down. The common treatment of this symptom is a long transition and knowledge transfer period and being available on a consulting basis going forward. This sucks for Jack.

Here’s a heuristic: Examine a team. If developing and executing a transition plan would take more two weeks, there is a problem.

The development of an irreplaceable resource is inevitable and organic. The efficiency loss from proactive avoidance is not realistic. The key is expending energy to recognize and resolve the situation once it develops.

This applies to everybody on the team, including the person at the top. If they don’t have a replacement, they can’t explore a new career opportunity within the company, and departure leaves the company in a lurch.

Instincts fight this notion. One key observation is that being replaceable does not mean replacement is inexpensive to the organization. The other is that there is a big difference between replaceability and redundancy.

The alternative is no good and will stymie career growth. If Carol is perfect for the job but Project Scorpion will fail without her, then that’s a real bummer for Carol. Or maybe she’ll quit out of frustration with lack of career growth and Project Scorpion will still fail.