Estimated reading time: 3 mins
If you have read any of Dan Brown’s books, you’ll know he writes ripping yarns of action and suspense. He is the master of the edge of the seat. His books have become very popular and has seen the Da Vinci Code told as a blockbusting movie starring Tom ‘Forrest Gump’ Hanks , and Angels and Demons is set for release in 2009.
But I think Brown has a lousy view of succession planning in technical roles! Have you read Digital Fortress ? You’ll know what I mean.
In Digital Fortress , there is a character who goes by the name of Jabba – unashamedly nicknamed due to his size. But what I find incredible is that Jabba is the most senior System Security Analyst (‘Sys-Sec’ for short) in the National Security Agency (NSA) who is found working tirelessly inside the guts of a system with his screwdrivers, surrounded by cables and cooling ducts. Don’t senior people in organizations have people to do those things for them?
My point is that senior, seemingly irreplaceable techs inside any organization shouldn’t be working in dangerous environments where a mistake could cost them their lives, and totally scupper operations. Techs at the level Brown pitched Jabba should be sat behind a desk. But wait, I am not advocating an old-fashioned, hierarchical view of organizations – not at all – but I am saying that anyone in a unique and indispensable position should be risk averse – the organization has to instigate succession planning for more dispensable people.
Ah…! This isn’t a particularly Politically Correct view is it? Maybe not. But I think it’s crazy for any organization, particularly one so critical as the NSA (classified by the US government, not me!), to risk putting key people in risky situations.
But this is just a book. Yes. But if you were to look at your own organizations and workforce, are there workers who you would consider uniquely indispensable where you have no natural replacement? I hope not. But it does happen, and I see it a lot inside some of the organizations I work with.
There are several reasons why this happens though:
- Managers aren’t aware of the true nature of their employees work
- Managers aren’t aware of the unique skills and resources of individuals
- Employees ‘protect’ their domain by not sharing knowledge or resources with others
- Possibly because they feel their job is threatened
- Possibly because they are power-mongers
- Possibly because they are inept
- Possibly because they are Darkworkers
- The organization is in crisis, because of
- Major threats to the organization
- Lack of resources/funding
- The organization is managed reactively and opportunistically
- Human-centric work is being replaced by machinery
- Or the organization is being wound down, sold or refocused
I don’t think there are any other reasons (unless you know of any).
So if you have employees who, if they walked, you would feel immense pain, what is your reason?
I think this is generally a modern phenomena though. In days gone by, organizations tended to be much more cautious about their workforce. Remember apprenticeships ? An apprentice would be an understudy to a worker, presumably until the worker retired or died. But folks now don’t want to wait to fill ‘dead-mans shoes’.
Maybe, though, we could coin a new phrase ‘Apprentice2.0’ (had to get some hype in somewhere) which is a moniker for an understudy who can pick up the reigns from one or more employees. These people would be flexible workers. With technology, a virtual competency center could be established to capture the knowledge of highly skilled workers and use it for execution. So the competency center becomes the apprentice… until the organization reestablishes the singular accountability again.
Whetever the future case maybe, I don’t think I would want a ‘Jabba’ in my organization in his current state for long!