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Can An Individual Make A Difference At Work

I have a friend that’s a director that told me that we’re all replaceable.  Her claim is that everybody at where I work, can easily be replaced.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I agree, we can all be replaced… but does the company suffer when they replace the wrong person?

I’ve noticed that sometime a company doesn’t realize the value of their employees.  This is observable with layoffs, I’ve seen instances where employees get laid off, then rehired back and promoted shortly there after.  I’ve seen this happen through the various rounds of layoffs that my place of employment has performed.

A great example is the incredible successful company Apple.  Steve Jobs left Apple and the company just barely slipped by for years.   Then Steve Jobs can back and shook things up, and now they once again are the great company that the were.

Would Microsoft be Microsoft if it wasn’t co-started by Bill Gates?  I don’t think it would!  How about Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway?

Do you think that it’s only the CEO that make a difference?  I know people at work that are rock stars and they don’t even know it.  They have incredible skills, but because they lack social skills, they stay hidden except to those that work directly with them.  Even after getting numerous awards…

Have you even seen hidden invaluable people at work, and it seems that only you realize their worth?  So yes, in the end a person can be replaced, but does the company suffer without anyone realizing it?



16 Responses to Can An Individual Make A Difference At Work

  1. Absolutely companies can suffer when people besides the CEO leave. Seth Godin talks about these people in Linchpin and the mindset behind becoming one of these kinds of people and leveraging your “personal brand,” even if you aren’t comfortable working for yourself.

    Having said that, I think it also depends on the kind of company; if this is a smaller, more nimble, more innovative firm (like a startup), then they’re much more likely to hold on to rockstar employees who want to push the envelope and innovate. If this is a company that’s more established and bureaucratic and more concerned with having people just sit there and do what they’re told, then that makes things more difficult. In that case, they’re just looking for cogs in the wheel who follow orders; and those people are pretty easy to replace.

    So long story short, I think it depends on the company. I’m an entrepreneur and have chosen not to fight the uphill battle within other companies to initiate the change I want but I know there are others with different considerations. But there are definitely companies out there that want to innnovate that would do everything they could to hold on to an employee whom they perceive as that valuable to the company if they were a hard worker and showcased exceptional ability.


  2. If a company is small, yes you might be indispensable, if it is a large company, not so much.

    This is especially true if you are not too high up in the chain.

    An apple employee at an Apple store might be doing a darn good job of helping customers. But if he leaves, it would hardly impact Apple as a whole.

  3. I agree that we are all replaceable in the long term, including your director friend. 😉

    The rub is in defining the requirements necessary to satisfy the replacement. Companies can replace some people (like simple clerks) without skipping a beat, while in order to replace more critical people (like a key engineer or project architect), it may require a new employee a year or more just to come up to the fired employee’s competence level – which makes the term “replaceable” a bit more dicey for the company from a business perspective.

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com

  4. individuals can make a difference but the thing is that companies are wired in such a way that no on is indispensable. Steve Jobs is an outlier but in other companies business can go on even if half the board suddenly died. If someone is indispensable, he can take the whole company hostage and that will definitely not end well

  5. @Blair MacGregor
    Great analysis, good add! Your comment definitely added dimension to my initial post!!! Thanks from contributing from business owner!

    Great point, it really does depend on the job function that the rockstar employee might be performing. Although, if you lose a great employee at even this level, it may affect that branch to a large degree.

    @Len Penzo
    Another great add! I guess it does depend on the level of creativity that’s involved! That probably why rock bands sometimes fade away after they break up.

    @Everybody, all three of the previous comments added depth and width to my initial post. Thanks for such thoughtful analysis! These comments definitely added to my initial topic 🙂

  6. At my last company, I worked my tail off for some pretty unprofessional people. The owners would insult employees and yell at people to come into their office, to chew them out. But, what really set me off was when my boss came into my office one day and told me, “I get people who can get the job done and when they can’t, I just get someone else”. I updated my resume and was gone within a short time. Why sweat blood for someone who doesn’t care about you as an employee?

    Was I replaceable? Heck yes, I was replaceable. I trained the new guy on my way out the door. How did it work out for them? According to my friends who are still there, not so great. They have turned over a bunch of people and are dealing with a continuous series of problems. They may find someone else who works as hard as I did. But, I doubt they will keep them for very long. Talented employees always have opportunities. And, companies that don’t understand that, will be turning over a lot of people.

  7. @Bret @ Hope to Prosper
    I have a feeling, that sometimes a manager has no idea what his employee does. I’ve seen times when a employee smoozes well with the manager and gets promoted by telling the good things that other employees some up with. The mananger thinks that his smoozing buddy creates what the other employees did… even though that’s not true.

    Work life is strange that way… Eventually the smarter employee that initially comes up with the ideas leaves.

  8. @kt
    Hehe, I’ve seen where some employees know certain things the do make them invaluable… But I mainly mean jobs that track a certain level of logic to accomplish well. with jobs like these if you get a good candidate, you should really hold on to them by any means.

  9. I think people are a bit like glue in organizations. Some hold together the business more so than others whether it’s because they’re more productive, they fit the company values and culture better, or they are active in creating better processes or systems.

    I think it depends, but the moment you start removing people from a business, the moment you’re changing what the business is and it’s culture, which I believe is pretty powerful.

    So to answer your question, I think people are replaceable in terms of responsibilities, but it may have negative consequences that aren’t so tangible.

  10. @Ryan @ Planting Dollars
    I like the glue idea! Some key employee are like glue, with others could leave and the business would be for the better. I’ve seen many a time where 1 or 2 employees could do the load of 4… Thanks for creating a great visual on the topic!

  11. I think some companies are totally taking advantage of the economy by making cuts just because they can. I don’t mean just employee cuts, but salary cuts, benefit cuts, etc. Decisions seems to be made more and more by people high up that have no idea what is going on in the day-to-day world. I know some people that I thought were irreplaceable be let go, most likely because they had worked a lot of years and were paid a high salary. Turns out they weren’t replaced, so not sure how that fits with the definition of ‘irreplaceable’. So what happened was, everyone had to pick up extra work and stress increased dramatically.

    Some companies act like giant machines that look only at spreadsheets. Send the work overseas, have a couple experts local to tie up loose ends, and all the sudden, costs are cut dramatically. Of course, quality also suffers at times, but hey, their quarterly numbers look good, so who cares, right?

    So in synopsis, I have seen all kinds of people get let go that I thought were incredibly valuable. But, the world went on and the company didn’t collapse. May not have been the best decision in the long run, but I don’t think many companies think like that anymore.

  12. […] Can An Individual Make A Difference At Work, this is my favorite.  This one is different that my typical weekly favorite.  The comments by readers were so thoughtful and well written, that this post was elevated to my favorite for the week sole because of their great comments!  Thanks guys (Blair MacGregor, MoneyCone, Len Penzo, kt, Bret @ Hope to Prosper & Ryan @ Planting Dollars).  They provided an extra level of depth and direction! […]

  13. @Everyday Tips and Thoughts
    I agree, life goes on for the company most of the time, especially if they are very large (Apple being the exception, Jobs saved them). Hmmm, actually it would be interesting to see the stats on the difference a CEO makes to a company’s survival. Look at Merril, their CEO was goofing off playing golf all the time. They would have died if Bank of American didn’t buy them.

    However for smaller companies, having the right (or wrong) employee can either make or break them. They walk a much finer tightrope.

  14. Since that director thinks that everyone can be easily replaced, I would guess management is not very good. That seems likely if they are struggling to rehire people they once laid off. Employees who are treated like interchangeable cogs generally act that way, or go somewhere they are appreciated.

    I also think ET and T has some great points. I agree that many companies are just interested in making their quarterly numbers look good. A certain corp. I’m thinking of has chased away any VPs that tried to bring the company’s technology into this century. They didn’t fit within the “culture.” Even though the company has an old, established brand, they have started to visibly suffer. They are losing money because they are so far behind and they never really invested in R&D. The CEO was edged out but he didn’t care much because he got his golden parachute.

  15. @Jennifer Barry
    Yeah, I’ve heard the phrase COG being thrown around a lot lately. When a CEO is obsolete and want to stick to the same old methods, then everybody loses.

  16. I agree Money Reasons, a lot of people at the lower levels are losing their jobs because the company is run poorly. At the same time, this company is heavy with senior management raking in high salaries.