Received management wisdom is that no-one is indispensable. No matter how dynamic, knowledgeable or experienced you are, you can be replaced.
We know that this is the case because people leave and someone else is always found to cover their work. We know that however well regarded an individual is, once they have left, they are quickly forgotten, people adjust, things still get done, they may be missed as a likeable person, but the work carries on.
This can happen even if you haven’t left, but have been absent through a long period of ill health, or you return from maternity leave to find not only did they cope without you, you’re not sure they still need you. Businesses (have to) adapt and find solutions to new circumstances or they fail.
Unfortunately, it has to be like this in large organisations. Everything can’t come to a halt because one individual isn’t around. But that individual would be wrong to conclude from this that he or she doesn’t make a difference.
There is increasing concern that early retirements and an ageing workforce mean that organisations are haemorrhaging skills and knowledge which cannot be quickly or easily replaced. Hence, ideas around flexible retirement and the increased use of experienced interim managers abound. Often, you find experienced managers who have retired doing some short term work to fill gaps.
It’s not just the expertise that can be missed. Some research into successful organisations identified that many were particularly good at developing their managers, resulting in a steady stream of able, enthusiastic and ambitious managers.
One organisation in particular seemed to be generating, developing and retaining a lot of talent. When the researchers interviewed managers who had come up through the organisation, they found a very high proportion could be traced back to having had a period with one particular manager.
This manager had a phenomenal track record of spotting and nurturing talent, giving people opportunities, stretching them and inspiring them. This manager acted as an unofficial mentor as their career developed. When this individual retired, his post was easily filled, but what he offered the organisation was never replaced.
It is unfortunate that the something extra an individual can bring to an organisation is often not fully appreciated until they’ve left. Avoiding this mistake is vital to continually developing and improving a workforce and its capabilities.