We should keep in touch … but it is complicated

We are familiar with alumni networks from our time in education, but what if they were from places where we had worked – it might be worth trying.

Of course, for those of us with a few years on the clock there can be some jobs which we have been quite relieved to get away from. And maybe with some kindness – because we may never know exactly – there could be just one or two of our former workplaces where they were glad we had found pastures new. Mind you, that wouldn’t apply to you or me of course.

But for places where we, and they, might retain some affection or regard, maybe there is a good way to stay in touch.

Some think not. One successful head teacher who retired was recently asked, would they offer advice to their successor? Oh no, they replied, as soon as you leave the water must close over your head.

Equally, some leavers will unavoidably stay nearby, such as when working in a neighbouring council, or are still ‘on the circuit’, while other leavers do move further away.

And then a few leavers are deliberately asked to stay in touch through a system, maybe as an advisor, mentor, coach, advisory board member or similar. But thinking here about the local government sector, there seem to be some particular work-culture constraints. Plus there really is precious little or no money these days for such HR type initiatives. So the risk is that, in this void, some eager newer teams will take a ‘year zero’ approach to the results from previous years and the advice offered now. Even if only a few teams behave like this the damage is still being done.

In academic circles to acknowledge the legacy of previous colleagues there is the phrase – “if we can see further it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

I will try not to embarrass anyone here … a while ago I was invited to a research meeting at Manchester University with about a dozen very bright PhD researchers and a retired professor who had written all the books on a particular political topic. I’m used to going to meetings of testy academics scoring points, but this was the complete opposite – with such admiration, warmth and respect. I came away at the end of a brilliant team conversation very glad, but also wondering to myself why it seemed to happen so infrequently. (The answer I fear is that I am the common factor!)

Of course, no-one wants to find that they have become the old bore who hangs around too long, playing over and over their greatest hits war stories. But maybe we should look for some tools to help our current teams build positively and affordably on the good legacies around us, and do so while we still can gather the benefits being offered. Some humility on all sides is probably the key.

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