The Indispensable Person

Dear Management Doctor:

I work in the Payroll Department with a unionized industry. The Payroll Department falls under the Finance area. Recently, there was an internal advertisement for a higher position in the Marketing Department. I applied along with six other candidates for the position. We all had interviews, the panel being a Human Resource person and the Chief of Sales from the Marketing Department. Unofficially, I was told I got the position based on my marketing qualifications and having done well in the interview against the other six candidates. So, Human Resources and Mareketing Department know, the Finance VP knows and the Union knows. The Marketing Department wants that person ASAP since it is a vacant position.

Problem: The Finance and Human Resources areas have not made it official. There are two of us in the Payroll Department; myself who has been there over four years, and another who has been there only three months. This person is on training to get to know the procedures of the area and I am in a training mode in addition to doing all the other payroll work. I am not being promoted/upgraded there and am considered "indispensable." Oh, please. This new person was a part of several lateral movements within the Finance Department recently. No questions asked. The VP just decided to do this.

Now they are holding me back from going to the Marketing Department because they are looking for a suitable replacement for me. They want time and they are asking other people in the area if they want to go, all of whom replied "no." They are even suggesting that the Marekting Department hire the person who did second best in the interviews. They are insisting that I am too valuable right now but can't promote me or upgrade me in the payroll area. Incidentally, the next worker in the payroll is very senior to me. Is this legal in the management arena? Can they rescind this promotion? Are they undermining me? Right now they are very casual about the issue. The Finance VP is teaming up with the Human Resources VP and the Marketing Department to not let this happen.

Management Doctor, could you comment? If I am not too clear and need to give you some more, let me know.

Signed,
The so-called indispensable person.

Dear Indispensable,

The noted management guru, Peter Drucker, once said, "Go into your organization and find the indispensable person and fire them." What he meant was, don't create indispensable people in your organization. My thoughts on your situation are as follows:

  1. It is not unreasonable to delay your transfer while you complete the training of the other new person or your replacement, perhaps for a month or two.
  2. Don't confuse scoring high on an interview with overall qualifications for a position. It is only one factor amongst others to be considered.
  3. From what you told me it is not clear that you actually got the promotion. And, if you did, can they rescind it? Check your Human Resource rules and most importantly, talk to the union.
  4. This may be less of a legal issue than it is a management issue. It is not an acceptable management practice to withhold a promotion to one area based on a concept of indispensability in another.
  5. If I could read between the lines, you are being had by your boss, Human Resources and Marketing. Yes, it appears to me that "they are undermining you." You might find it useful to consider another organization.

Good luck. Let me know how it turns out.

The Management Doctor

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