Making Yourself Dispensable

Why did your employer really hire you?

Sure, there are those daily tasks you perform, the ones that add value to the business.  No matter what your job, those things likely take up a significant portion of your work day.  After a while, however, their intellectual challenge normally becomes pretty limited.

If you think about it, the company could likely get an intern to perform most of those tasks.  Or a robot.  Or perhaps even a monkey.

So why do they keep you around?  Probably not for your engaging personality.

Most likely your boss is hoping you can help him or her solve problems, thus helping to move the business forward.  If you aren’t doing this, in a sense you’re asking to be replaced.

2% of the Job

Most employees seem to be experts in pointing out problems.  Shortcomings in management performance, internal policy inconsistencies, waste of resources – these types of things have been pointed out to me (and undoubtedly all managers) so many times I couldn’t count them all.

My typical response (sometimes spoken, always thought):  “Thanks for providing 2% of what’s needed to resolve this, how about helping out with the other 98%?”

It’s no secret, most managers are overwhelmed by all the “opportunities” that face them.  Every day they make decisions about which ones they should address, and by default which ones they must ignore.  It’s business triage.  I know to their subordinates, managers sometimes look like idiots, because there are so many obvious problems that are simply not handled.

Want to help?  Want to distinguish yourself?  Then step up and provide solutions rather than simply identifying problems.

Completed Work

I’ve blogged on this subject before – managers are looking for options, not problems.  I learned this lesson by being taught how to provide “completed work.”  Completed work consists of problem identification, analysis, development of options, and a recommended solution – all rolled together.

Those individually contributing employees that presented completed work to me were at the top of my list when promotions were doled out.  Managers were expected to provide completed work as the default – kicking problems upstairs was the perfect way to convince me that they didn’t belong where they were, let alone being qualified for further promotion.

In a review meeting, a manager working for me mentioned that a particular customer was very low margin.  My response – typical for when a problem was dropped on the table – was to ask:  “What do you think we should do about it?”  I had no idea what the situation was with the customer – which was the manager’s area of responsibility, anyway.  To my surprise and pleasure, he volunteered to find out and come back with a proposal.

A couple of weeks later – and without further prompting, I must add – he presented his analysis of the situation.  It seemed that while some of the sales to the customer in question were barely above breakeven profit levels, there were a few high-volume products that were quite profitable.  He had already tested the waters with the customer and determined that if we quit accepting the low margin work we were putting the entire account at jeopardy.  He recommended a strategy to inch prices up on the lower margin work over the course of the next couple of years.

I was quite pleased with the analysis, and that he had stepped up to take responsibility to perform it.  Completed work.  I wouldn’t have gotten around to worrying about that particular situation for a long time.  Or worse yet, in a rush to “do something” I might have made a rash decision, figuring I understood what was going on.


Pointing out problems without proposing solutions may seem “helpful”, but to an overworked manager it sounds a lot like complaining.  Nobody likes it when children do it, and it is even less attractive when adults whine.  Repeated “problem pointing” will nominate you as a dispensable asset – if you’re gone, at least your manager won’t have to listen to you any longer.


If you want to distinguish yourself from the crowd, then don’t just identify problems.  Solve them.  Delivering completed work to your superiors is exactly what they’re hoping to find in their next candidate for promotion.  Identifying problems without proposing solutions (i.e. whining) will not be appreciated by anyone further up the chain of command, and might deselect you for promotions and other opportunities.  30.5


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Heir Apparent
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To the right is the cover for HEIR APPARENT, and by clicking on the "Add to Cart" button, you can get an autographed copy.  In this tale, someone is killing corporate leaders in Kansas City.  But who?  The police and FBI pursue a "serial killer" theory, leaving Joel Smith and Evangelina Sikes to examine other motives.  As the pair zero in on the perpetrator, they put their own lives at risk.  There are multiple suspects and enough clues for the reader to identify the killer in this classic whodunnit set in a corporate crucible.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.