The Easily Replaceable Fallacy

Back in November I wrote a post about a recurrent theme among various conservatives that skilled workers, particularly government employees,  are easily replaceable.  It’s not just government, it seems to be held by a number of corporate managers.   In that post, I made (or tried to make) the point that it’s not always quite that simple:

Speaking from my own experience working at different places in one field, even though the job was technically the same at each place I worked at,  it took time to learn where everything was, learn what was expected from the new supervisor, and get to know my co-workers and start developing a good working relationship with them.   Mind you, that was with my already knowing – and being experienced in – the job.

I’ve been in the process of repeating that.

As I said in an earlier post, I’ve moved to a new assignment. Yes, it’s a promotion, and more money.   But it also falls in to “technically the same” category.  If you were to look at what the position description says, any of us with that position title could be dropped into another assignment without missing a beat.   Which is not quite the truth.

From the “administrative” side of the job, yes, it’s true.  We all have to file the same reports, we order supplies the same way, use the same payroll system, and so on.  As annoying and-time consuming as those are, it doesn’t matter which place I’m in, it’s going to be (mostly) the same.  It’s the details and specifics of each place that cause you to need a steep learning curve.  I spent one year working on a lake,  going to various places around the shoreline.  Fun?  Well, yes, but besides having to learn where each place I needed to go was, I had to learn the best way to get in to shore with the boat and where all the rocks were in the lake.  Boat propellers turn out to cost a lot of money, and they’re a bear to replace when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.  No, I didn’t break any, but my staff managed to break seven of them, so I became pretty good at fixing them.

Having that knowledge about that particular lake’s layout does me no good on my new assignment, since it’s a different lake entirely, and has rocks in completely different places.   What I do know is that that the people in the main office would really prefer that we not damage any propellers by hitting those rocks.  While I have a general map of where I need to go, there’s a difference between reading the map and “knowing the best way to get there and exactly where it is.”  That’s in addition to having to not only get to know a new group, but to train them as well.

Yes, I will get up to speed a lot faster than someone who has had little or no experience.  There are many things I’ve learned over the past years that will serve me well.  But, I still have to get up to speed, and that takes time. It does have an impact, not only on “getting things done,” but, from a strict business standpoint, productivity.   While I’m “getting up to speed,” I’m not going to be as productive as someone who already has the knowledge of the differences in this particular assignment.

But if you listen to various business analysts, and conservatives, those things don’t matter.  People are “easily replaceable” or can be done without.   The reality isn’t quite that simple, and there’s always two things I keep noting about the people making those statements:  They have a stable career; and they think they’re not replaceable.   Someday they may find out that their career isn’t stable, and that there are people who think they’re easily replaced – when it happens to them.  In the meantime, they’ll keep spouting the same lines.

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One response to “The Easily Replaceable Fallacy

  1. foxpup

    I freaking love your blog. Please moderate this comment out of existence, unless it serves a purpose. I have been on the Internet since its .edu/.gov days, watched its evolution (both to my delight and horror) and have seen the “blog” concept not just from its birth, but from its fertilization and implantaion. Though I am from the other coast, blogwise, I love yours to most. In fact, you got my first ever “subscription” (curdmudgeon that I am). Keep up the good fight for reason and rationality, seemingly absent from reality. With nearly 100k viewers, you must be doing something right!!! I look forward to your future discussions.