Got Purpose?

When boys would break my heart, my mom would tell me “Boys are like buses; you can always catch another one.”  I thought she didn’t really understand heartbreak. But it turns out that she was on to something that would echo through the years: Everyone is replaceable.

Clients, colleagues and friends may work to convince me otherwise when talking about people who have performed in ways that have led to a conversation about whether the time has come when they no longer work well in the position they are in.

“No one else can do the job like Rufus.”

“You don’t understand how tied into our brand Matilda is.”

“Louie has given us many years of service and that needs to be recognized.”

The idea seems to be that no one else can do this. Or maybe someone else can do this — but not as well. Their departure is really not possible. The cost would be too dear.I like them. I don’t want to deal with the aftermath of their leaving.

It sounds convincing and pretty persuasive. But it just isn’t true.

After 40 years of wandering in the desert, it probably seemed to the Israelites that Moses was the only one who could lead them into the Promised Land. Except that he wasn’t. Someone else got that opportunity.

When Sean Connery stepped away from the James Bond franchise, it looked as if that was the end of 007. Except that Roger Moore, Peirce Brosnan, and Daniels Craig stepped up and stepped into the role.(I don’t really count George Lazenby)

After Walt Disney died, people wondered if his brother Roy would be able to continue the magic. Roy  brought in Michael Eisner to breathe new life and profits into the brand  

It can be a little frightening but also energizing to realize that people are replaceable at work.

Do we really think that the organization will fall completely apart if one person departs? Many of us do.

An organization that serves its clients and customers, has a purpose. That purpose should trump personality. Organizations shouldn’t be constrained by one individual. Even when that person is in the top spot, the starring role, or is the founder with the creative imagination – the organization should be prepared to find someone else to handle that position.    

I don’t mean that people should replaced because they hit a rough patch, or an impulse strikes, There should be conversations, guidance, direction and patience. But the purpose of your organization should reach beyond one person. People can be talented, special, important and unique but they are not really irreplaceable.

I know this is a very difficult thing to accept and even harder to act on. In the last few months I’ve had a version of this kind of conversation with a few clients. And I ask ‘If Louie was at the Betty Ford Center and incommunicado for three months – what would you do? Would business stop? Would you cease forward movement?”

An organization that values purpose over personality takes a longer view. People are valuable; purpose is why organizations exist.  

What’s your organization’s purpose?

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