A call to arms for HR professionals: delve into the realities of what remains when leaders quit our organisation. Learn from those who are left behind. 

Think of your own job.  What’s good and bad about it?  What impact does your boss have on your views?  Generally, our boss will (either wittingly or unwittingly) affect the way we feel about work.  Now imagine your boss announced today that she was leaving.  How would you feel?  Which aspects of her leadership behaviour would you miss?  And which aspects would you be pleased to see leave with her?

Your boss may take part in an exit interview.  But this is just one side of the story.  As the search starts for a replacement, how often do we consult the people most directly affected by that legacy?  In other words, do organisations appoint a replacement without first listening to those who are left behind?  Surely they are as (if not more) important than the person leaving?

The word ‘audit’ is said to derive from Latin word ‘audire’ which means ‘to hear’.  HR professionals need to hear what those closest to a departing manager’s legacy have to say.  Not that we shouldn’t conduct legacy audits for non-managers, but a manager can have a significant effect on an entire team or organisation.  In his book, The Talent Wave, David Clutterbuck advocates the legacy audit.  In fact, in true Clutterbuck style, he calls for the ‘exposure of narcissists, sociopaths and snakes in suits!’

A meaningful legacy audit might also trigger talent retention tactics.  If we discover just how much a leader was admired – and by whom – we may want to take steps to hang on to the people who are most likely to follow them out of the door.  Let’s face it – if you were the one leaving, wouldn’t you be tempted to recruit the best of the pack that previously worked for you?  You could consider a talent management solution like ours to help you retain your key people.

As the dust settles, we can use a well-constructed legacy audit to critique existing HR processes and calibrate what we think we know about our people.  How does information from the legacy audit compare with appraisal data on our boss’s competence and capability?  The results may be surprising.

Creating your own legacy audit
Adrian Furnham, writing in the Sunday Times, kindly gives us a starter for ten:

  • Did people feel that there were hidden agendas?
  • Were people able to give the manager critical feedback?
  • What negative pressures, if any, have now been removed?
  • Were creative ideas stifled or encouraged?
  • Did the manager spend more time managing up, or managing down?
  • Which was more important: team reputation or the manager’s reputation?
  • What can you now talk about openly, that you couldn’t before?
  • What problems, if any, had been buried but are now beginning to surface?
  • Is there a sense of relief that the manager has gone, or a sense of loss?
  • Is there a sense that the manager was fair and equitable in how he or she treated members of the team?

It’s doubtful that one of your New Year’s resolutions was to become an auditor, yet maybe there’s a case to add it to your list for 2014?  Who knows what you might discover…

Do you carry out legacy audits?  If not, do you think they would work in your organisation?  Please let us know.

Clutterbuck, D. (2012).  The Talent Wave
Furnham, A. (2013).  On Your Head: How to find your callous, guilt-free manager.The Sunday Times

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