The Chemistry of Strategy tm Newsletter April 30, 2018

How to replace the indispensable employee

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Clark was an exceptional employee. Indispensable, able to solve any problem, make troubled machines and products sparkle, and was available 24/7 to travel to customers, wowing and amazing them. This made replacing Clark when he retired a fearful challenge. After months of fruitless searching, they went to a HR guru for help and advice.

"You asked," the guru said with a sigh, "Your job description sounds like you're looking for someone faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I doubt you'll find someone willing to relocate from Metropolis to fill that slot."

Why Clark became indispensable was easy to understand:

  • He had the aptitude to understand and master his area and the attitude to make the time and focus to expand his competence. Over the decades it propelled him to excellence.

  • Since he was the best, he was the first one called to handle the impossible jobs. Each experience made him an even better choice to handle the next challenge. The experience curve.

  • As his abilities and influence increased, the company's strategic choices wrt new products, processes, and production increasingly tilted toward his competencies and passions.

The net result was that Clark slid into being indispensable to the ongoing operation which was fine tuned to his 24/7 presence.

The HR guru's advice?

  • Start by disabusing yourself of expecting to replace the person. Clark is a one of a kind, created by decades of experience in an operation increasingly tailored to his capabilities.

  • Identify the areas that Clark didn't have the competence or passion to impact. Highlight value a new hire could bring to the table. (Expertise in ERP, social media, additive mfg., etc.)

  • Accept some things will be unsustainable without Clark. (Focus your short term process improvement on those areas.)

  • Enhance your organizational processes as part of the transition to ensure that reliable operations never again depends on a single individual. (Coaching, training, and delegation.)

  • Hire attitude, aptitude, and new value-adding expertise. Accept that he will get the job done based on his passions and competence. He won't do the job the way Clark would but if you hired right, he'll get it done and then some.

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Additional Testimonials

John W. Myrna

is co-founder of
Myrna Associates Inc

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