I was recently having dinner with some associates, and we were comparing the collective years of experience in the window industry at the table. The total number was mind boggling. This led to a question. I asked everyone at the table, “So, who is your replacement?”

A few said “Why? I am not planning on going anywhere!” Others said, “It would probably take several people to actually replace me.” Knowing the broad nature of their skills, I could not disagree. But what really struck me is that so few of them had a definitive answer. There really was no one person or plan in mind.

This made me ponder about one of the most important aspects of holding a critical position within a company: Always have your replacement in mind and always be mentoring and training that person to take over for you if the need arises.

So, the next questions to pass around the table was, “Who is the person that you would personally pick to replace you and what would you do on a weekly basis to teach them your skills? How much time would this mentoring process take out of your weekly schedule, and would upper management support this?”

A few said their companies were understaffed and that there were not enough extra hours in the week to support such an endeavor. Yet, after reflecting on this, they did admit that this was a dangerous position to take on the matter.

People come and people go. They spend time learning the job and accumulating knowledge and expertise that are valuable assets to your company. This knowledge is somewhat like owning stock in the company. The value of the stock grows over the years as knowledge is accumulated. Teaching others the valuable skills that you accumulate over years is like paying out dividends on your stock of knowledge.

Keeping Your Knowledge and Skills

When I log onto Schwab and purchase a stock, one of the boxes that must be checked before making the purchase is to choose what to do with the dividends earned. I can either choose to take dividends as cash or to reinvest them. I can choose to take cash or to reinvest them as additional stock. Choosing to hoard your skills and knowledge is somewhat like choosing the cash option. It is money in the bank. You can immediately transfer it out of your account, walk away and use it somewhere else. However, the practice of training and mentoring others in your company is like reinvesting your dividends. It goes back into the wealth of the company. It adds to the value of the company, supports growth and becomes equity.

Every once in a while I come across individuals in a company who are experts in their fields, but they hoard their knowledge and feel very uncomfortable when it comes to revealing their secrets or “tricks of the trade.” As I interact with these individuals, there is no doubt that they do have superior knowledge and skills. These skills have been honed over the years and are no doubt extremely valuable to their company. Yet they do not like to share this knowledge. They hoard it. They have no interest in mentoring. They like to be in the position of being the “go to” person. Others within the company are always seeking them out to make critical decisions, and this makes them feel good. Perhaps it makes them feel irreplaceable.

This is a dangerous position to take because it is inevitable that the day will come when every person in the company will indeed be replaced. The company or corporation can live for hundreds of years, but the people cannot.

This attitude of “knowledge hoarding” must never be allowed within your company.

Why do some people choose to hoard their knowledge? I think it boils down to insecurity. Perhaps they have seen other seasoned veterans within the company fired or let go during corporate downsizings and fear the same fate. Or perhaps people coming to them when decisions need to be made helps build their ego. Whatever the case, the correct medicine must be administered to make them stop feeling this way. Mentoring and teaching others must be a part of everyone’s job description.

I once worked for a company where this was the case. Part of my job description was to designate two candidates to replace me. Every year during my annual review, goals and objectives were written down for the coming year and one key section was training my possible replacements. Key training objectives were put into writing and execution of these goals became a part of every annual review and helped to determine my raise and bonus. It also became a key part of job promotions. When it came time to promote a person within this company, the promotion would not be granted unless you had someone ready to take your place. So, if you threw your hat into the ring for a promotion and went into HR or your boss’s office to make your pitch as to why you were the right person for the promotion, you had better be ready to answer the first and perhaps most important question: Who is your replacement?

1 Comment

  1. JIM – Such a great article and a good reminder that true growth in a career is built by building others up as you grow. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom!

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