These last 2 weeks, we have been swallowed up in the joy and excitement of the Obama presidency sweeping into town in Washington, with the Inauguration taking place early last Wednesday morning Australian time. Sadly, I was not one of the millions who woke early to watch the celebration, but I certainly caught up with all the news and exclamations of the event the next day.
But I’m not about to write ‘another’ blog post loving the fact Obama is now in (even though I do) or discussing how his new agenda will push and create great change in this world (which I do hope it does). I actually want to focus on one, quite traditional and, I believe beautiful, act of the presidential handover. I’m talking about the letter the last president leaves ‘the next guy’ on the table in the oval office.
(Picture from http://www.boston.com/bigpicture)
I first heard about this little tradition a few years back, and can’t quite remember the source although I believe it was in one of the Bill Clinton (auto?)biographies I was reading at the time. Certainly, I am taken by the romance of it all. Everything in the Whitehouse is packed up, the bare bones of what was the epicenter of the worlds most powerful economic and political engine for the moment exposed by the lack of staff, furniture and infrastructure. The oval office is left bare, with only the desk, chairs and basic furniture remaining. There are no artifacts of the former president left behind, except for one letter left on the oval office desk.
The letter is an informal handover, written by the previous President outlining tips/thoughts/feelings and general insight into what ‘the next guy’ is likely to face in the position. The Office of the US president is one that very few people (44 now) ever experience, and so the learning’s they pass on to each other in these letters would provide certainly an amazing view into the life they have just been elected to.
I think it’s just the romantic in me, but this provides a great lesson for us to learn in organisational life. Why isn’t it that we treat everything we do with such a legacy? Why is it that the great new blog you may have started at work, or the amazing project you just managed but now have to move on from is not captured in such a legacy and fashion. Shouldn’t’t it? Why don’t we write notes to the ‘next guy’ when we leave an organisation or position, and wish people all the best? And, most importantly, how do we capture what it ‘felt’ like to be doing the work we have just handed over and what can the incumbent to the role expect in their time in the chair? I know it’s a bit of a reach, and a bit far removed from the idea of tacit knowledge sinks and knowledge management – but I believe if we treated each role with a greater sense of the legacy we leave behind in our time served such knowledge management processes, procedures and databases may not be necessary. I think this is crucial in a new world where intrapreneurship and internal innovation is key. We deal in ambiguity, and handing over the not always implicit things we have learned in that time is a key requirement in the future.
How are you handling it? Have you written that letter yet?