Leaving A Legacy

A number of long-standing employees where I work have either retired recently, or their departure is rapidly approaching. I’ve found myself thinking a bit about one in particular; a gentleman with 28 years of service I believe who was my colleague for 16 of those years; and my teammate for the last 12.

Unlike me, he didn’t write any workshop manuals, nor did he create any specific programs we delivered. In fact, I can’t even recall co-facilitating a workshop with him in all that time. That’s odd when you consider we worked on the same team in such close proximity to each other. No, he spent the bulk of his time working out of our drop-in resource area.

About 6 months before his departure, I do recall having a conversation with him about what I termed a legacy project. What I realized back then was that looking ahead in time, there were going to be a number of significant departures from our organization, and when those people left, so too would walk out the door all their ideas and experience. We would in short, be the poorer for their departure. Hence, the idea of some legacy of information; tips, advice, best practices, words of wisdom etc. might be well received by the new hires to take their place.

Well, my words weren’t heeded. No, there he stood on his last day, doing what others before him have come to do on their own last days; making a farewell speech, thanking his teammates and colleagues, having a toast made in his honour and finally thanking the people who decorated the room for the big send off. Now that he’s gone, as big as his personality was, I notice that his name is already being said less and less, some days not at all. There is no picture on a wall to remind us of him, there are no documents we can turn to and say he designed. So what’s his legacy?

It has struck me now though, that his legacy isn’t WHAT he left behind at all, but rather in WHO he touched and influenced. Over those 28 years that he served, how many people were changed – hopefully for the better – because of his influence? How many people have a job because of him? How many in some small or large way became better people? Whether because he said something enlightening or because he did something that provoked a response, how many people learned something or stood their ground for something they believed because of him. The legacy he left you see is in the lives he came into contact with, not in some workshop or document that will eventually be overhauled in time.

And this got ME thinking of ME; and of YOU. We’re still in the game you and me. We haven’t retired yet. We’re still standing in front of others delivering our workshops, or sitting down with people providing one-on-one help and support. We’re still providing customer service behind our counters, in our service bays, on the factory floors or in the office cubicles. We’re still in the jobs that bring us into daily contact with all the people who consume our products and goods, receive our services and hopefully are better for having come into contact with us. Unlike my former colleague, we’re still front and center and can impact on so many people for the better if we so choose to do so.

This responsibility kind of gets lost on us from time-to-time. We get preoccupied with our upcoming plans for the weekend, or we have a lot on our minds about the things going on in our personal lives that sometimes it seems our work is actually something we just try to get through with instead of immersing ourselves in it.

Have a bad day with a lot going on and we might even have a boss that says, “Just do your best to get through the day”, or, “The weekend is almost here and then you can recharge and do what you need to do. But for now, just do what you can.” While we might appreciate that kind of support, the unfortunate ones who get us on those days receive our minimum service. But hey, we’re only human right?

My point here is that NOW is the best time – the only time in fact – when we need to remind ourselves that our legacy is in the people who we benefit today and every day. When people look back – be it on their deathbed or their last day of work, there’s an ending being contemplated. Be it their life or their career, so often what is remembered most fondly or regretted most strongly, is the lives they’ve touched and influenced or the opportunities lost to do so.

You and me? We’re right in the thick of things. We’re still in the jobs and careers where we can make a difference. We still influence others for better or ill; we still produce quality products and give service excellence or we don’t. We may not be so terrific that each and every one of our interactions are positive, but we can strive to make this our goal. That is to say, if we want this goal in the first place.

Somewhere, my former colleague and friend Chudi is still influencing people and imprinting his legacy. Well done sir, and thanks.

Leaving Your Mark In The Workplace

Eventually we all leave the employer we’re working with now, be it retiring, quitting outright, taking a leave of absence that turns into moving on, getting laid off or yes, even terminated. What if anything, will you leave behind that would mark your contribution?

I suppose one key question is whether or not leaving behind anything of a lasting nature is even important to you. It’s kind of like when you and I – all of us – pass away in life really. Well it is isn’t it? I mean, do we want to leave behind some sign of our passing? The big difference here is that we’re not actually dead and so yes, we can look around us while we’re still in our workplace and point to things we’ve had a hand in creating. Conversely, we can just walk away, never look back and not give it a moment’s thought.

Consider though the number of hours, days, weeks, months and years you give to an organization. When it all adds up, you’ve invested a great deal of your life sitting at that desk, standing on that line, traveling in that vehicle etc. You’ll have a lot of mixed memories no doubt when you move on, perhaps all the way from great ones to ones you’d rather forget. Those memories are important not just now but in the years to come because they mark the time you put in and they’ve had a hand in shaping who you are.

Not unlike the impact the experiences have in shaping you, your time in an organization contributes to it. Maybe you’ve affected a policy or procedural change. Perhaps you mentored some others who in turn went about their business differently because of your influence. Perchance there are things you’ve created like manuals, filing systems, software designs, physical spaces, programs etc.

Here’s something to think about. If you were to go back now and visit the places where you put in time in your past, what would you find? Depending on how large the organizations are that you worked for and how long ago we’re talking, they may or may not even remember you. Maybe your co-workers and the management of the day have all moved on themselves. No one even recalls your name. It’s different I suppose if your name adorns some oil painting in a hall of founders.

So how would it make you feel to go back and discover its as if all your years working for an organization never even occurred? That no one remembers you? If you couldn’t point to a single thing you’ve done that had any lasting impact, would you care? I’m not suggesting you should of course, but it’s an interesting thing to contemplate. Again, you may or may not be concerned one way or the other; comfortable in the knowledge that you contributed while there and the only lasting memories you want could be the day you walked out the door.

Still, you were there for a chunk of time weren’t you? Yes when you add up the time you worked for this place and that place and oh yes, that place too, you’ve put in a significant amount of energy. Hopefully those places appreciated your contributions. Then again perhaps the organizations themselves have ceased to even exist; they went under, relocated, disbanded or dissolved. No wondering then if you’re remembered!

Maybe – just perhaps – the real key then for some of us is not to put much energy and time into making a mark on an organization; the physical bricks and mortar. Maybe the real key for at least some of us is to make our mark on the people we worked with. While they too will eventually pass and move on, if we influence others by the way we work, the things we say, the actions we take, the training and advice we pass on, maybe what happens is they are shaped by us in part no matter where they go. So it’s not a physical building, a policy manual or a plaque on a wall that we seek to leave behind to mark our time, but rather the interaction we had with those we worked with.

So, can you look around where you work now and honestly see any influence you’ve had on others? What of yourself? Can you see how what you do  is because someone in your past or present passed on something to you? Maybe you work smarter, act kinder, put in more effort, smile more etc. because somebody you admire passed on something that affected you.

Here’s the thing reader. Unlike when we die, you’re still alive and have the time if you choose, to make your mark. Whether you use the time you’ve got to positively or negatively impact on others, your workplace itself or not, you’ve got the luxury of having the choice. You can therefore choose to consciously contribute to your workplace in such a way that you do make your mark, or you can opt just to do the minimum, take your pay and move on.

Where you work now, I bet you can think of at least a few people who have retired or moved on in some other way. Do you recall their faces and names as well as their legacy or do you struggle to even recall what’s-his-name?

Either way, it’s a life.