“So you have an exit plan for everything? Also for this dinner,” asks Samuli Manninen, a fellow advisor and laughs. And by the way, I didn’t have an exit plan for that extremely nice and uplifting dinner. Still, what comes to my work, I have to admit that I see my assignments as a projects and start my planning doing backcasting. That means thinking about the result, the first possible moment when things would run without my current amount of effort, so in other words, when would be my first possible moment to take the Exit. So one might say I have an Exit-plan for almost everything.
We had a long and exciting discussion about the subject at that dinner table. I also noticed it wasn’t that common to think about exits. More commonly, people have 3-5 years plans for their careers or life in general. When you talk with Entrepreneurs, having an Exit-plan is more common, but also means a bit different things. So what does it mean for me to have that Exit plan?
Backcasting is a planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect that specified future to the present. For me it means to build scenarios from the goal to start. It helps me get the big picture and define the steps I need to accomplish before reaching my target. Yes, things can happen and change, and my plan needs iteration, but I have a draft of the task list and timeline after this practice.
Be ready to give up your responsibilities from day one
I have noticed that some cultures are not supporting the idea of giving away your task or duties. It’s totally fine to ask someone to help you or assist at times, but to give your responsibilities is next to impossible or can even be seen as a sign of weakness.
I have always had a task list where I have also had areas where I know I’m not at my best. One of my first things when I’m recruiting, is strengthening the competencies that are not my cup of tea or I’m not good at. That means I can’t be selfish and jealous of my tasks and responsibilities. It also means I need to admit what I can’t do, and I need to notice when I meet a better and more suitable candidate. Sometimes it happens faster. Sometimes it takes a bit of time.
Fill your team with competencies you don’t have
The biggest strength is to understand what you don’t understand. Leading a team of specialists, it’s pretty clear you don’t and can’t know everything to the extent the team members know. The fact is, or should be, that is why you have the team and those specialists. Everyone says they know what they are not good at, and true, It shouldn’t be hard, yet it’s more complicated than I thought. It’s not once or twice I’ve met both team members or leaders who think they know it all regardless of the substance area.
I’m so happy that I have understood and been able to recruit personalities and competencies willing to take responsibility and succeed in the job. It’s not self-evident you can give responsibility for a significant entity to someone after they come to you and ask what you would like me to concentrate on after two weeks of employment.
Trust your plan and your team.
Recruiting is a hard and complicated business. There’s always a risk involved when you match companies, culture, and people, so you need to have a plan and a few sub plans.
When recruiting and managing a team, I try to think of different career scenarios for every candidate. If I can’t see the flow towards a next career move or development path towards their passion, I feel obligated to communicate that already during the interview. On the other hand, during employment, I also make sure those scenarios will be iterated, clarified, and supported.
The biggest and most challenging lesson to learn is giving up control and letting your team members take responsibility and wear it the way they do it best.
Exit-plan doesn’t always mean your Exit
Sooner or later this way of working drives me to the point where my priorities have changed, and my role has been to adjust my doings not only for my team’s needs but the needs of my unit. And here we are, on that spot a bit sooner than I estimated. I have already, at this point, managed to give away most of my responsibilities to my team members, it doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to do. I am still committed to help and support my team succeeds with their new responsibilities, and of course there are other things to do too.
So to clarify once more, Exit doesn’t have to mean you quit. It doesn’t have to mean you change your position or role in your organization. For me, it means the responsibilities you started with have been transferred to better and more competent hands for future purposes.
What happens next?
I’m not sure where all my priorities lie in 2022, but I have an idea of what to do to help my unit and my colleagues, and that’s enough. At this point, it’s fair to say that a person who works and thinks like me can be troublesome for some cultures and leaders, and the behavior can be seen as not that corporate-approved in some places.
While I wish my boss an extra set of patience and extra pair of huge “cojones” to continue making proactive decisions, I’m heading towards the next task on my list. I’ll be listing the things I think I could and should do in 2022 and start backcasting.