I was talking with a "c-suite level" professional acquaintance last week when they made this comment, "everyone is replaceable". I believe this person was not really making a blanket statement as we were speaking about a situation that involved a work ethic issue of an individual. But, I have heard this a few times throughout the course of my 20+ year career, as a matter of fact I heard it frequently from one of my previous c-suite employers, but have heard it from many non-management workers as well. This comment has always bothered me. I don't believe it and feel that those who do, probably have no value for the people that work for them and around them...and maybe no value for anyone at all. Now, I understand and have managed and worked alongside those workers that do not fulfill job expectations and truly are not contributing to the workplace...but, if you as an employer/manager have done your due diligence, those under-performing employees are few and far between and are actually replaceable as they didn't really hold any beneficial value in that role. But, to state that everyone is replaceable...well, I can't believe that this lack of value is a common belief. So, I decided to perform an informal "investigation" if you will, on the practice of this statement.
While attending a special event where there were different levels of management, I asked several people in the context of the conversation, if they felt everyone was replaceable. An owner/president of an advertising agency exclaimed passionately an absolute denial of the statement. He felt that even though you could fill a position that has been vacated with a person of similar skills, experience and style, you cannot replace an employee that has provided their own impression on the company. He went on to prove my belief that as an employer/manager, it was his job to ensure the employees he hires will meet the requirements of the position, have a personality type that will match with the culture, and bring a level of intelligence that is needed to succeed. The combination of all these traits and the ability to achieve results and success for the company, while giving him the freedom to not have to worry about every little aspect, is what makes them irreplaceable in his opinion. He also said that anyone who does believe that statement, may not recognize the true value of anyone. This article supports his comments: "Not All Employees Are Replaceable".
I also spoke with a woman who is a district manager in the fast food restaurant industry. She stated that she believes there is value in everyone she employs. She regularly hires people to fill positions such as fry cooks, dishwashers, cashiers, kitchen prep, etc...and said that it really does take a special person to work in that environment...long hours, rude customers, hectic time periods, and minimum wage. Anyone that can work under those conditions is a true asset. And, it is her job to find the diamond in the rough among those employees that can rise to the occasion and become a manager. This is why she believes that all employees are valuable and not easily replaceable.
Later on I spoke with a VP with a Fortune 100 international corporation. She manages about 25 people and indirectly is responsible for another 10 staffers. She stated that in today's world she does come across those that have an entitlement attitude and they take much more effort to work with each day. Those are the employees that you really wish you could replace as they truly aren't benefiting the team, and are only out for themselves. Unfortunately, in some cases, these employees will be moved around and up in the corporation because it is easier (and cheaper) to try to make them fit in, than it is to hire a new employee. But, there are many more employees that are really valuable--they are irreplaceable. Most of the time, the responsibility for ensuring an employee meets expectations is that of the hiring manager. This person must make a commitment to training and mentoring this new hire so that they achieve a sense of accountability and team-oriented perspective in order to contribute effectively. Check out this article "Treating Your Employees as Replaceable is Costing You" from 2010. And, in most cases, those that cannot be "trained" are replaceable in the sense that they were never a real asset to begin with, just a body in the position.
Throughout the evening, I found more and more people that believed in the value of their employees and did not believe that everyone is replaceable. I carried over my research for the next few days speaking with professionals in my neighborhood and through social networks, and found the same.
Of the two that actually did state they believed everyone was replaceable, they are in very high level positions, usually sequestered from the "workers" and are of the same general personality type and management style.
So, this little research project has restored my faith in the fact that the ones who believe this statement are far less than I feared. I am relieved that there seems to be significantly more people in key management and c-suite positions that feel employees are valuable assets and not truly replaceable. In today's economy, it is concerning to me that anyone would not consider an employee a valuable asset. Most everyone I spoke with said that if you believe that employees/workers are truly not valuable, then you shouldn't be in the position where you are a manager, supervisor, owner of a company where employees work for you. And if you are an employee that believes you are replaceable, then you need to re-evaluate your skills and experience and work on your self-esteem. You should never sell yourself short and never let anyone make you feel you are not valuable. If you really have a good work ethic: go above and beyond, never let your team down, always look for best ways to get the job done, and are a positive force for success, you are an asset that would be missed. Everyone is not replaceable.
Thanks for reading!