Sunday, March 27, 2011

imperfect handovers, no promises

The work handover is part business, part science, part art and always imperfect. Short of keeping a hyper-detailed log of everything you have ever done at a location AND having your successor (or equivalent) read the entire thing, you will never fully convey all the little nuances of the location that you have picked up during your time. Of course the big points are discussed and we review the 'greatest hits', but the minutiae of day-to-day life is much more subtle.

The broad strokes of what needs to go into a handover should be pretty much the same everywhere (at least in a service-side company):
* Who are your clients and what do they expect?
* Who are your employees who will work to meet those client expectations?
* What resources (other than people) are available?
* What are we actually doing and delivering right now?

While each of those are rather broad questions, they form the basic theme of what you need to know in order to properly manage the business. Everything else is details. So many details.

I've learned to accept the fact that I will generally receive a below average handover. This has helped me understand the importance of figuring out the answers to the questions I have posed above. It has also forced me to rely on my own instincts and assessments instead of blindly trusting the notes I am being handed. (Ironically enough, I have created rather detailed notes for this transfer out and fully expect them to be read and dislike questions that are answered in my notes.) I had a rough go at this when I was in Texas and learned a lot about the accuracy of my own assessments (generally good) and the dangers of bias that notes from a predecessor on an employee can give you. I shall dub this bias the "zeroth impression" as it can precede the first impression that an employee actually gets to make with you.

Nonetheless, even knowing that there is much you do not know, it is difficult to get a proper handle on what is happening and what people are doing. Pity the new guy who everyone will take advantage of.
1. "But [insert previous manager name] promised me [usually rather ridiculous something]."
2. "The previous manager had it out for me."

Both might actually be true to varying degrees. I don't exactly have it out for anyone, but I am drawing the line with one person in particular and don't want to go soft on the personnel evaluation just because I am leaving. Line drawn, grade finalized, take notice and I hope this is a wake-up call to improve performance. (Personally, it is slightly disappoint to leave at this moment since I will not get to follow-through with this person).

The varying promises that people say they have been made fall into two different groups. The first is the lie; the promise that was never made. Ferreting those out is sometimes difficult because of the obfuscation caused by promise type number two: The ridiculous 'I'm-outta-here-so-of-course-you-can-have-that' promise made by the outgoing manager who just doesn't care anymore. I do my best to counter this by telling employees when they come to discuss personnel, personal, career, and generally anything related to non-day-to-day tasks that I will make no promises and will not honor a previous manager's promises. I am not in a position and do not have enough authority to ensure promises can be kept so I will not make anyone any promises. What we will do is make a plan, document it, and do our best to keep it. What we will not do is promise transfers, promotions, deals, etc. We will plan and execute. We will not always be successful, but we will know that we tried.


Anonymous said...

You will never make it as a politician.

Anonymous said...

Good text, even with the cinematographic ending