Invaluable or indispensable? What employers can learn from the Vince Cable debacle

To top off the injury of blatant impartiality rule-trouncing, Cable added in a little insult for good measure - calling the Coalition government 'Maoist' and asserting he could bring the government down if he walked out to undercover Telegraph reporters.

There have been plenty of cries from Labour calling for Cable's resignation. Ed Milliband is among them. Twitter-luvvie Labour MP Tom Watson calls Cable an 'ignorant, hypocritical buffoon'. And the general conclusion on Radio 4's Today this morning was that, had Vince Cable been a Tory minister, he would have been sacked immediately.

The reason he hasn't is essentially because he's too important. Although the arrogance of Cable saying, 'I have a nuclear option... if they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the government down' no doubt grated painfully with David Cameron, it is, more or less, true. Though Cable has been stripped of much of his department, most prominently any responsibilities for media regulation, he is still the second-in-command Lib Dem and in the cabinet. The Guardian explains: "After a series of emergency meetings, which included George Osborne, the chancellor, Clegg felt he could not afford to lose the second most senior Liberal Democrat from the government."

Many other politicians have had to resign over much less than this. But David Cameron desperately needs to keep Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems onside if he wants the Coalition to survive. Allowing it to begin dismantling a mere six months in could risk a re-election in the not-too-distant future. And, having just aggravated a whopping percentage of people who have ever been to or thought of going to university, an election is the last thing the Conservatives want right now.

We're not about to wade into the political debate about whether keeping Cable in the cabinet is the best move the Prime Minister could make. But in among this whole debacle lies a delicate predicament for small business owners and employers.

You want your team to be the best: to be smart and capable (Cable is widely regarded as a leading economic mind), well-liked (he was arguably our most popular politician before student fees shot up), and all the other attributes that fit the role. But when they start being so good at a role that to lose them would leave your organisation vulnerable, or even liable to crumbling, you're in trouble.

You have no guarantee that an employee won't leave on any given day for a role more lucrative to them than the one you provide. You have no guarantee they won't made some almighty balls-up which in any normal situation would require letting them go (see above).

So while you want your employees to feel indispensable through the consistently valuable contributions they make to your business, you need to avoid them actually ever really becoming indispensable.
This is particularly difficult in small teams, when it often feels like team-members are an inextricable part of the process (and when you have the likes of Seth Godin coaching employees how to become so crucial to an organisation they become un-sackable, in his book Lynchpin).

How can you tell when an employee has too much power? How can you make sure they continue to grow and flourish, and handle all the responsibility you don't have time or skills for, while still keeping a very subtle lid on their place in the business?

There are no clear cut answers to any of this. But there are warning signs. If you feel you are leaning particularly heavily on one team-member, or that you would be near beyond coping if they left, try to reassume some of the responsibilities they hold - albeit subtly. If nothing else, it will help take the pressure off them.

There is a fine line between invaluable and indispensable. Without being obvious about it, you need to find where that line lies.

HR advice aside, do you think Vince Cable should stay or go? Here are what some of our @SmartaHQ followers think - we'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

@OnlyForwards: I admire him for standing up to Murdoch but he should have been a bit more circumspect. He dropped the ball on uni fees though.

@henryblackUK: Cable learning it's easy to appear wise in opposition, but difficult in Govt, when decisions have real impact on people's lives.

@marketingwizdom: stay!

@Darrelwalters: I have read certain press articles. Just confirms the hypocrisy within government and they have no moral compass.

@JoeCushnan: Vince Cable used to be THE most respected politician as a sage observer. Now in a real job, his credibility is unravelling fast.

@shamilnunhuck: I hate him (I'm a student, going to uni, the year the changes will be made).

@thefreelancefd: They all should go and let the electorate vote on their current manifesto.

@Squidgybug: It's Xmas. Let him stay. It's all a mess anyway so he fits in well.

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