Don’t wait until you leave to understand your true value to an organisation


Some of you will know that in December I’m leaving the British Council after 25 years. I don’t regret a single day. I’ve had some amazing opportunities, 3 distinct careers and met some of my closest friends and most inspiring contacts.

I am noticing a number of things as I navigate this change that I think it’s worth sharing.

I’ve not a clue about what I do every day

Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but I have found it challenging to articulate much of what I do in tangible terms and plan what gets handed over and to whom. Being a Change Manager is all about the relationships you build, often informally. I listen to what people want to do and advise them on things they might consider and avoid.

How do you hand over avoiding risks that no one recognised in the first place?

I’ve realised I spend time supporting and connecting individuals. We’ve developed a team spirit in Manchester, with the Programme Executive based in London. I’d like to think this ‘hidden’ work makes a difference and the cake baking, cocktail tasting and milk rota will continue when I’ve gone. On a target driven Programme building a sense of team connects people. It’s not an explicit part of my performance measurement though.

I’m doing things I shouldn’t be …..

Then there are the activities outside of my ‘job description’. I’m actively engaged with the internal coaching network, coaching internal clients. I design and deliver training in Change Management and areas I feel passionate about. I’m Project Manager for initiatives because no one else had capacity ….. the list is substantial.

I’m struggling to find anyone to hand these items over to and they fill a real need. I fear that workshops and tools that took time and resource to develop may be lost. Teams may re-invent the wheel when there is a great starting point for them to develop their thinking from.

I’m searching for other ‘unofficial champions’ to take the baton, people I know are passionate about the subject area, regardless of their role.

The Change Curve is exhausting

Hell yes! I’ve experienced the change curve many times in my life like most people. Sometimes I’ve been in control of change and sometimes not.

I’ve noticed myself switching from a state of euphoria about the possibilities of running my own business and having more control over my work to feelings of stress and anxiety. It’s here where the Imposter Syndrome kicks in. Who would want to buy my services? What if I can’t grow my coaching into a sustainable business? What will my daily routine look like and how do I avoid the pitfalls of regular home working?

As a change manager it’s interesting to be truly ‘in’ these emotions whilst also stepping back and recognising a completely natural process.

I’ve had to prioritise looking after myself through regular physical exercise, time with friends and a ‘dry October’.

The tension between doing vs helping others to do 

I’ve 5+ working weeks left and I am heavily engaged in ‘doing’. I know what I need to handover and the areas my team want to learn more about from me. However, it’s incredibly difficult to focus my time on supporting others to take on new tasks effectively.

Some of this is personal avoidance tactics: it’s difficult to brief people on the gaps they expect my role will leave (I’m not being directly replaced). It’s not the textbook guidance that matters but the complexities of what might work in the British Council environment and how you plan and manage that. My behavioural tendencies are also towards ‘doing’ and I flourish when I have a challenging list of tasks to deliver.

But it’s also the culture around me. I’ve been amazed by colleagues who clearly value specific skills and experience I bring, but never gave me any indication of this before. I’ve been invited to more meetings on new projects to help shape the thinking, been asked to deliver training to teams who now ‘desperately need it’ and I am still getting proposed to lead new projects.

Why is it only during the leaving process that I fully understand how I could make a contribution built on my breadth of experience in the organisation?

My wider questions are 

  • How do we ensure people know their work / they are valued on a regular basis and not only when they decide to exit? What formal and informal processes can we use?

No one should be surprised that colleagues value their skills and experience for the first time when they announce their departure. 

  • How can we support the exit process as well as the induction process? We have a knowledge capture process but who on my team would have access to this in a practical form?

Beyond ticking the boxes of handing back equipment and deleting me from internal systems how can we support the exit transition effectively for the organisation, me and whoever takes on my work?

  • Is internal networking as valued as external networking? My value to the organisation is based on more than me knowing who does what. It’s about having already nurtured relationships over time with individuals across business areas and locations.

This mirrors what I am learning about external networks, they work well when they are personal and built on trust.

I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Do you really know what value you bring to your organisation? How could you explore that?