What happens when you're gone?

What's your succession plan for the business? It's not just about who takes your job what happens to all the projects you successfully delivered?

When I was a child and I borrowed something, my mother always told me to return it in a better state than when I received it. So, if I borrowed a t-shirt from a friend, we always washed it and returned it spotless - even if there was a stain on it when I borrowed it. But what about the department you're running?

In my most recent position as an IT manager, I inherited a number of people, systems and decisions that were made by my predecessors. I might not have agreed with them all but they are a part of what I have to lead and manage. I spent the first 12 months in my current role building trust in the organisation - with my peers in the management team and with the rest of the staff. For me, the focus has been on creating positive relationships within the business so that users feel confident that any issues they face are both heard and acted upon. However, I'm now focussing on what happens next. You see, I know I've done my job well when the department can run well without me being seen to be actively intervening in the day to day operations.

So, what have been my primary goals?

1. Team and talent management

It was clear to me that I had a solid staff but too many thongs were left to individuals. Often, if a particular person was away a certain task couldn't be done. So, much of my time has been spent on getting my team members to teach other their jobs. As a result, I have a happier team who are under less pressure as they are able to share work during busy times more easily.

I've also had to recruit staff as a result of some turnover. I've instituted a more rigorous recruitment process that starts are re-evaluating each position as a vacancy comes up. Often, a specific role in a team changes according to the talents and desires of the incumbent. that's not a bad thing but recruitment is an opportunity to address weaknesses in the team.

2. Document everything

Repeatable success can only be achieved through meticulous, disciplined documentation. When a staff member is away through illness, leaves the business at short notice or a job needs to be shared good documentation is gold. When I started, we identified a list of about 50 processes that either had no or minimal documentation. Since then, the list has grown and any quiet time we have (the business I'm in is somewhat seasonal so there are some quieter times during the year) is put towards documentation.

3. Learn the business

One of the criticisms sometimes made of my personal style is that I'm quite informal. Rather than organising meetings with agendas and minutes I actively seek opportunities to talk to people in more relaxed settings so that we can build rapport. For example, with one peer who I had difficulty connecting with, I stop by his office and chat with EA and sometimes bring some chocolate to share (note - chocolate is a universal currency). As he walks by we share some chocolate and I engage in a conversation. Over a short time, we established a rapport that made it easier to discuss the role of IT in his business unit.

I spend a lot of time dealing with the Director of Finance as well. If you know how the money comes in and out, you know how a business really operates.

4. Always think about the end

The nature of my initial engagement in my current role was a six month contract. That meant I have always been focused on what happens after I am gone. I remain convinced that this is quite a healthy way to think about my role. That mindset has enabled me to focus on what's most important for the business.

Although my engagement is now more open-ended I remain focussed on delivering short-term wins and establishing a platform for long-term success.

As I said at the start - it's about leaving the place in a better state than when I arrived.

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