Clean Up Behind You

Anyone who has ever shared their home with someone else knows this fundamental truth: it is a nightmare to take over after someone who does not clean up their own mess. You find yourself picking up coffee mugs or used plates that you did not use or get to enjoy.

The same goes for organizations. When you take over a team as a newly appointed manager, there are often a few issues that you inherited from your predecessor. The worst are of course:

• Completely unrealistic goals that were already accepted

• Underperformers or someone bullying the rest of the team

• Unresolved conflicts

When you take over a team you generally have about 3 months before silence becomes acceptance. In other words, if you don’t speak up immediately and resolve these inherited issues quickly, you accept the inheritance and become the new owner. The hater in the corner is then your hater and your responsibility to remedy. The two assistants competing over everything becomes your conflict to resolve. The frustrated junior project manager who was promised a raise but never received, is now frustrated with you.

You must address these inherited issues as soon as you discover them, without hesitation. Whether you took over a project that is a dead horse or a team that can’t work or work together, you must ensure you have the means and the mandate to fix it. Otherwise you must reject it or do without. The unhappy employee must quit, the killer project must die and expectations must be re-aligned.

Naturally, you should never accept cleaning up other people’s messes but sometimes that is just the way it is. The main issue is that someone else did not clean up their own mess behind them but left it for you. If you are leaving a job, you need to hand it over nice and clean to your successor. Underperformers must be dealt with and as a minimum, HR should be informed of your concerns and considerations. Conflicts must be resolved even if it means getting professional help. Expectations of promotions, raises and other benefits must be aligned. And refrain from giving overly optimistic promises to your boss on your last week.

If everybody cleaned up behind them, the first 100 days in a new management job would not be a spring cleaning with skeletons falling out of the closet. It would be a forward thinking and visionary time. It would be about growth and not about grievance. And your legacy would grow with it. Because people will ask your successor about you and what you left behind. The bigger the mess, the more people will find out.

In short: clean up before you leave. Thanks. We really appreciate it!