Make Yourself Dispensable

Originally published on forbes.com.

“If you want to keep your job, you have to make yourself indispensable.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Here’s the truth — you will never get great work done if you are indispensable. If your tech company relies upon you so much that if you were hit by a bus the company would grind to a halt, you are doing something wrong.

Your value to your company should not be in the fact that you are the crucial piece that keeps everything running; rather, your value to your company should be that without you the company might run fine, but it wouldn’t excel.

Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week is all about this. The book describes how he took a successful business, which he had started, and extricated himself from the day-to-day management so he could travel the world. I think it would be a lot of fun to work a few hours a week remotely and run a successful business with as little effort as possible. I also think that the book is just as much about taking the first steps in building a world-class massively successful company as it is about finding ways to avoid day-to-day management.

If you’re indispensable because you’re the only person who can do X, Y and Z, if no one else can do what you do because you’ve made everyone else rely on you, you will never get to the real work. The real work is where things get exciting. Real work is getting to launch that new product or website or break into that new market. Real work is pushing a team — or ten — to excel. If you’re indispensable you will never be able to do that.

If your goal is job security, being indispensable is one way to achieve that, but that strategy will only work as long as the project you’re an expert in is important. If you’re indispensable to an ancient system that’s being replaced, guess what? You will be replaced along with it. Real job security is being so good at what you do that you know you can get a job elsewhere — or start a new company — whenever you decide that it’s time to move on.

Are you ready to become dispensable?

Step One: Surround Yourself With People Who Threaten Your Job

The first step to becoming dispensable is surrounding yourself with excellent people. If you hire the sort of people who could do your job for you, you’ll be able to trust that when you step away, they’ll do your job for you. Then, you can focus on the real work.

Step Two: Make Your Expertise Redundant

After you’ve hired excellent people, build out the business documentation. If you’re the only person who knows how specific things work, how are you ever going to be able to focus on the real work? When your people constantly have to nag you about various aspects of the business, how are you going to be able to do great things? You won’t. Documentation will keep your employees from consulting you every time there’s an issue.

Step Three: Set Things Up To Run Without You

Next, you need to put the processes in place so that everything can run without you. What’s so special about what you do that no one else can do it? What are the tricks you use so that you’re so relied upon that the business cannot function without you? Take all of that and standardize it. If you succeed in doing that? You truly are that good.

Once your success is reproducible, you’ve made yourself dispensable and you can be replaced.

Now you can go on to do the great things that no one else can do.