By: jdevore on January 28th, 2013

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If You Want to Increase Productivity at Work, You Need to Make Yourself Replaceable

Turnkey Business

If you want to increase productivity at work, you need to make yourself replaceableI just read a great blog article about why you need to make yourself replaceable, named Startups Cannot Afford to Have Indispensable Employees (and not for the reason you think). It articulated very well the message we've been preaching for the past month about creating a turnkey business - if you want to scale your business, you need to be replaceable.

The article went on to articulate the problem of not being replaceable - if nobody knows what you do, how are you ever supposed to get promoted and/or add team members? If nobody has any idea what Bob does, what's going to happen when Bob is gone? If you want to take a vacation, who will take care of things while you're away?

It's a risk to not be replaceable, and it's a risk that tons of people are taking - but really cannot afford.

It's not just startups

Although the referenced article was geared toward startups, I actually think that it's a problem every organization faces.

We sometimes think that because the large organization has SOPs (standard operating procedures) on how to use Lotus Notes, or there are a few white papers in our company's knowledge base about the theory of risk management, that everything is okay!

But we do this foolishly because we forget that organizations are made up of teams. And very few teams have documentation around what they do as a team.

This is especially true of professional services firms who have thousands of teams working on different projects for different clients. Although employees might know how to do things at the company level, when it comes to what they need to do for a specific project on a specific team, there is no company SOP to address it.

And few teams are doing what's necessary to make members of their team replaceable.

Hardly anybody write's down SOPs for questions like, "what are the on-boarding procedures for when somebody new joins the team?" "What client specific things exist that a new team member needs to know about?"

What do you do when the person on your team who knows all of the nuances of the project decides to leave for a better offer? Or goes on vacation for two weeks? Or gets promoted and is no longer in the weeds of the project?

As I said before, the problem of not being replaceable isn't just felt by startups - it's felt by everybody.

What can you do?

I always like to try and leave you with something that you can do after you read my posts - after all, what good is knowledge if you can't do anything with it?

So, start here:

  • Write down a list of all the jobs you do
  • Make a checklist for each job
  • Create documentation for how to accomplish each checklist item
  • Delegate a job out along with its documentation

Just do this for one job at a time. Next time you have to do a job, document how you do it. Then, when it has to be done again, try delegating the job out and see how it goes.

During the process, you'll discover a lot of things, like what it is you actually do (maybe there's a better way?), whether your instructions were clear (did the job get done correctly?), and what life could be like if you didn't have to do everything yourself.

You must write it down!

You must write down what you do. If you don't, you'll just end up burned out and frustrated because as soon as you teach somebody how to do everything by sitting down next to them, they're going to leave. Then guess what - you have to do it all over again.

If, instead, your training/coaching were to be supplemented with documentation on how to do tasks, you'll have an asset that can be used to help train future team members for years to come (assuming you make regular updates).


The goal of every business (especially a startup business) is to grow - but you can't grow if you can't move on to bigger and better things. And the only way you can move on, is if somebody, or something, replaces you.

About jdevore

Jonathan (Jay) DeVore is the Director of Marketing at Blue Mango Learning Systems, developers of ScreenSteps. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a BS in Accounting, and is a licensed CPA in the state of Virginia. Right after graduation, he worked for his dad's private medical practice in Pasadena, CA auditing the efficiency of billing and collections. After 9 months of living in the golden state, he moved his family to Virginia to begin working at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). As an accountant at PwC, he actually did very little number crunching (which surprised him), and instead audited government information systems for compliance with government requirements (e.g. NIST 800-53). During his time with the Big 4 Accounting Firm, he helped large organizations improve their documentation both from a compliance perspective and instructional perspective. His favorite aspect of work was training/teaching, so when Greg and Trevor approached him with an opportunity to create educational content for ScreenSteps, he jumped at the chance. Jonathan lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and children, and enjoys the beautiful weather the D.C. area offers 9 months out of the year.