The adage says that nobody is irreplaceable, but that is not true. That is a perspective that seems meant to incentivize us to work hard, to learn more, to be on top of the curve. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be motivated and to want more.

However this is also not the whole truth.

Any manager will gladly tell you that you aren’t irreplaceable. That person will leave out the cost of replacing you or any other person in the team.

Replacing someone means time. You have to find a replacement and make sure that person is available, make time for an interview, take time to evaluate a short list of candidates, take time to negotiate the hiring terms.

Replacing someone means training. Only in rare occasions will a manager find a person with the skills and competencies to start working like you never left. And even in those rare cases, the manager needs to assure culture fit. Manager’s don’t put people to work, the good ones build a team. To build a team you need to align cultural aspects.

The job market fluctuates. This means that there may in fact not be possible to replace someone, unless you are willing to settle for someone with less experience, or someone that is asking for a higher salary.

This refers to any simple and straightforward job, it gets complicated if you move on to white collar jobs or any other where you need to be working with someone who is autonomous, and able to define and implement methods and work processes. Each person has their own style of working, of dealing with office politics, of solving problems and creating consensus to a goal.

A designer is a good example. Let’s imagine one that is working in-house for a company.

  • How well does the designer know the brand?
  • How well does the person relate to internal stakeholders?
  • How fast and how varied are the design solutions that person presents?
  • Is this someone that simply executes or that takes time to question and look for innovation?
  • How much time has been invested in their on-site and off-site training ?

These and other questions constitute their value to the company.

For the company, the cost of replacing this person means considering the following:

  • How long will the recruitment process take?
  • What budget can be allocated for a salary?
  • What effort must be put into on-boarding and training?
  • What is the uncertainty level that the new person will want to stay after a probation period?
  • How can a cultural fit be assured?

And most of all, while this is going on, what will be the cost and delay for on-going projects?

Yes, everyone can be replaced eventually. The cost of replacing them is different each time and sometimes too high for the company to take that risk.

It’s easy to be dragged into a position of fragility hearing that “everyone is replaceable”. Don’t let yourself be dragged with a one-sided perspective.

In a good team, the cost of replacing a single team member also comes with a gamble on whether or not it will work out. And that’s a fragile position as well.

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avatar Bruno Amaral
Bruno Amaral

I am a Digital Strategist, divided between tech and creativity, working for the Lisbon Collective and teaching Public Relations at the …