That leaving speech I never gave

I didn’t prepare a leaving speech. I thought about it, but in the end decided to wait and see what felt right in the moment. Having attended a few down the years I knew how awkward they can be, so when the time came I opted to keep it brief. On reflection, there are a few things I’d like to say, but perhaps they are better said here.

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It seems to me that leaving statements tend to follow one of a few general styles..

  • The Legacy – a list of achievements. Intended to either make the leaver feel better about the split or to prepare their CV for future work applications.
  • The Comedy – akin to a best man’s speech. Intended to make the audience laugh and probably avoid anything too serious or critical.
  • The Rant – the leaver takes the opportunity to get out all their frustrations. Intended to be cathartic. Ironically, it probably only serves to embed some deep bitterness and resentment.
  • The Tear-jerker – emotions are running high. Dramatic and heartfelt. The leaver feels the need to open up and let it all out.
  • The Blasé – opposite to the Tear-jerker. This leaver wants to avoid exposing any sign of feeling at all costs, but doesn’t have the confidence to attempt a Comedy. Chances are they won’t even make a speech or will refuse to have any leaving event at all.

The truth is that I felt all of those personalities but I don’t think that I adopted any of them. I made a few brief thank yous and that was it.

I have to confess that the technical side of the job was never really my forté. Thank goodness I had such a great team of subject matter experts to work with. Instead, the speech I never made would have been about the people and the organisation. I was always more passionate about how we worked together than what we were working on. The speech would have been a story of some success and a fair amount of failure. Secretly, I had aspirations to transform the whole organisation. I can see now how that ambition was perhaps a little over optimistic!

When I applied for the job, eight years ago, part of the interview process involved preparing a presentation about what I perceived to be most important in the role. Here’s what I wrote:

“The Directorate can use its strengths of being open to innovation and diversity to develop a positive culture change. …Investment projects will provide a PR opportunity that will have the added benefit of improving the Team’s perception of itself… By focusing upon communication generally and working with Corporate Communications team to develop the bigger picture, the Directorate can help to deal with potential resistance at its root. The most important themes will be leadership and communication at all levels.”

The organisation has such complex cultural and political dynamics that it always fascinated me to see how it worked and how it might work better. I enjoyed the thinking and conversations that accompanied restructuring. In eight years, I lead on four re-structures and was subject to a few more. I always enjoyed the events and discussions around staff surveys and various attempts to initiate “culture change”. Issues around internal communications and feelings of separation were recurring themes. This was why I became interested in new forms of networked communications, as it was clear that the physical working environment would always have its limitations and challenges.

It seemed to me that online networks offered an invitation to a radical new way of thinking about relationships generally and the organisational structure (based upon trust, generosity and an equal voice). In 2010, I held the first corporate-wide online meeting debating Diversity and Equalities issues. At that stage, I had high hopes for developing a more open and equal dialogue across the organisation. That dream never really took off, despite the fact that well over 1,000 staff showed an interest by signing up to the network.

Pushing for a flatter, looser structure was part of the reason why I developed an interest in mediation, not only as a more progressive way of resolving disputes but also as a basic management competence for a forward thinking workplace.

Exploring new ways of working and communicating led me to become a partner at Ethos VO, a living experiment in networked organisation. It also led me to work with Jenni Lloyd on ConnectingBrighton and  involvement with other “Smart City” initiatives.

Perhaps my proudest work achievement over the past eight years was making myself partially redundant. Successive re-structures in my area led to a major shift of resource from management to the front line. There are now only three managers for a team of 60 where before there were seven. In 2013, I proposed a further flattening of the structure, taking out a complete tier, by experimenting with peer-to-peer performance reviews. Unfortunately the then Chief Executive wasn’t so keen.

In some ways, it seems as though the organisation changed quite a bit over those years. In other ways, it feels like nothing changed at all. What’s certain is that I changed, a lot. I learned a huge amount during my time in the public sector. For that I am extremely grateful and I will continue to be a supporter.

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