Everyone should act like they are leaving…

Could embracing the spirit of leaving lead to people working better.

Perhaps a silly management suggestion, but I can’t help thinking organisations would be better if everyone could embrace the sense of de-mob happiness they get when leaving. But without actually leaving.

When you’re leaving you document, at least you try to. When “the person who knows everything” is leaving, you desperately try to stop the knowledge flying out the door asking endless questions.

This of course doesn’t work.

Asking questions only works when you know what to ask. We’ve all been in office until 8pm on the last day writing documentation, desperately trying to summarise three years in a large document. Later mutters of “if only he’d told us…” fly around the office, while the unloved document sit unread in an inbox.

Living documentation on the other hand does stand a chance of being used, but again is rarely updated. How often do you find yourself saying “if only I had the time?” when considering automating something with a script or a macro, or handing it over to an operational team. We never do though, the training might take a half a day, and it’s only 15 minutes to do the trivial operational task. 15 minutes every day. Forever.

Which is when we get to money-laundering legislation. Banks and other financial institutions enforce a two-week holiday for many stuff, in the hope that any illicit positions will become apparent in that time.

I think all companies can embrace this, if you have someone who can’t take two weeks leave without major ramifications then your company is at risk (once you’re more than a five-man band). Illness, family crises, geopolitical situations and ash-clouds don’t tend to arrive with as much notice as holiday does, and can easily last longer.

Instead of seeing it as headache, the ‘flexible organisation of the future’ should use handover to distribute work in a way that cross-pollinates and leaves the right people doing the right things at the right time; there is no reason to hand back the same work you were given. Even in the ‘rigid organisation of the past’, handover makes painfully clear where your weakness lie.

The final point that is most interesting, but dangerous to explore: the sense of freedom people often get when leaving. I’ve seen managers who were appalling up to the point that their “strategic exit” was negotiated, and even where they were pushed, for the final month their performance improved.

Was it their impending freedom, or the ability to ignore the latest “corporate update” emails about the new org-structure? Obviously you can’t ignore all future things, and ignoring the elephants is never a good idea, if nothing else they can be easier to deflect from a distance. Freed from all the potential faff of the future, people feel more able to perform in the present. Perhaps we just need to send less update emails?

If we can find a way to foster some of those leaving behaviours in an ongoing culture, and we can do it without diminishing commitment; we can build organisations that perform better. I don’t think the principles are hard:

  • When only you know it, document it
  • When the documentation is wrong, fix it
  • When you’re doing something repeatedly, automate it
  • There’s never a good time to take holiday, book it anyway

I’d like to think that would help create the kind of place good people would love to work.