Here’s the bad news: you’ll always be replaceable.
People at companies are replaced all the time. Sometimes they’re fired. Sometimes they take new opportunities and move on, and the company’s left scrambling to find someone to take their place. People who appear to be the backbone of a company schism and go elsewhere, and the company still carries on. Even Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was fired from his own company and replaced. If that can happen, then it can happen to anyone.
Here’s the good news: you can create job security.
Your question is a good one. There’s even an answer. But it deserves slight reframing (and the answer to the question will start to become apparent as I lay out the mindset shift).
Instead of asking “can I be replaced?” (because the answer will always be yes), ask instead “how much does it cost to replace me?”
How expensive/time consuming is it for my company to find someone to replace me/train someone to replace me?
The higher that replacement cost, the harder it is to make the transition, the less the company will be inclined to incur that cost, and the more job security you’ll have.
In business, we talk a lot about being indispensable (the book Lynchpin talks about this in detail). That’s the goal — to be so valuable people want/need to keep you.
The progression of professional development:
- To become so impressive people want to hire you
- To become so valuable people want to keep you
- To develop so much potential people want to promote you
Becoming indispensable is what drives those second two measures of success — maintaining your job and leveraging it into a better job.
So how do you do that?
- The more knowledge you have of how the company works, the more valuable you are. A random hire who can produce the same numbers as you has the same monetary value as you (and the cost of your replacement is directly equal to their salary + hiring/onboarding costs), but knowledge of the company is harder to replace, because it takes time and energy to acquire, and a random hire won’t have it.
- The more knowledge you have of your department, the better.
- The more cross-department knowledge you have, the more valuable you become. Now you’re more valuable than an employee who has singular knowledge of either one of those two departments.
- The more skills you have, the better — hard and soft both. A variety of skills exponentially increases your value, because the combination becomes harder to find/replace.
- The greater your ability to do creative work, the more valuable you become. Fulfilling your job description is valuable; creating things that have a lasting impact at your company carries far more weight, because those things change the value of the company itself.
And the practical step-by-step process to get you there:
- First, focus on doing your job really, really well. Master your job description. Become the best at your company at fulfilling it. This is base-level competence/value, which is required for your company to keep you in the first place.
- Go above and beyond. Take on additional side projects, create solutions to solve problems you see within the company. This increases your value, because now replacing you requires not only fulfilling your job description, but other things too.
- Start to learn how to chip in within other departments. Once you’re going above and beyond in your own department, look elsewhere. Are there things you can provide the marketing team that help them create better content? Information you can help the operations department collect? A shift you can pick up manning the live chat for customer success? The greater your contextual knowledge of the company, the more valuable you are in your own department and to the company as a whole.
- Learn, learn, learn. This one’s underrated, but seriously valuable. The smarter you are, the more information you have to work with, the more problems you can solve, and the more value you have the capacity to create. Study. Research. Relentlessly pursue making yourself smarter. The raw information you carry becomes part of what you bring to the table at a job, and becomes something a potential replacement likely won’t have.
So, to sum it up …
Instead of becoming 100% irreplaceable (a losing battle, because you’ll never make it), you want to focus on making the cost of replacing you so high that it isn’t worth the bother. Becoming indispensable means that you’re so good that it will cost a company a ridiculous amount of time, money, and other resources to replace you. They won’t ever want to.
When you hit that point, you’ve become functionally irreplaceable.
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