power your advice

What's Going to Be Your Legacy ... at Work?

Have you thought through how you’d like to be remembered for your work - from this day forward?

Almost everyone who enjoys their work wants to leave some sort of a “legacy,” that is, be remembered for something meaningful to themselves and others. Even the young generations are quite vocal about the desire for “meaningful work.” In my work on succession planning and knowledge transfer within organizations that have employees looking ahead to retirement or encore careers, I’ve been hearing from Boomers and some older Gen Xers about the desire to leave a legacy at work .

Most people would like to feel they have made a difference. Many Boomers started their careers in optimistic times with this desire. Now some struggle to identify and articulate what their legacy at work can be and how to make it happen. And many people feel “incomplete” without it.

Dennis had built a successful career as an executive at a financial software company. Along the way he discovered a passion for supporting philanthropy. When he determined he wanted to plan toward a career transition to helping foundations as his encore career, he consciously thought about leaving a (non-financial) legacy at the company that for over 20 years he had helped to grow significantly. The result was a leadership program for training employees on how to provide high-level client service. He left after implementing it feeling proud and fulfilled, and moved to a company supporting philanthropy.

“Work legacy” can be about such things as work processes, mentoring, knowledge transfer, innovating, training new talent, and bringing something unique to the table. It’s what one passes on to the next generations and peers in as broad a sense as you would like to think about it. It’s having achieved something that lives on, that conveys your purpose, that is bigger than what you are doing at the moment . It’s not a charitable legacy, though that could be part of it.

Ideally people should be thinking about their legacy at work by age 50 or even earlier. Sadly, many busy people tend not to think about legacy till late in their careers when they must try to make up for lost time. And they often don’t know where to begin.

Working on a client project that included the challenges of transitioning planning for partners and executives in their early 60s, I developed a series of work legacy exercises. The founder was resisting “letting go”, passing power to a successor leader and accepting a new role. In their homework for a partner retreat, we had him and a few of the most senior partners write about and begin to design their desired legacy so that their contributions would be clear and they had something to look forward to in their new roles. Through a planned process, the transitions came to pass – peacefully – and several years later the founder has altered but highly respected roles. Since then we have used the process and tools for Boomer employee advance transitioning planning.

Here are some questions you might start thinking about as an individual or with colleagues as a team.

  • What do you want to be remembered for wherever you are working now: By colleagues? By clients/customers and external stakeholders? In the context of your roles in the organization?
  • What would you like to pass on to the next generations?
  • What can you start to do now or change now to be able to achieve that legacy?
  • How might your role change?
  • What systems that don’t exist now might there be?
  • What would it take to achieve the above?
  • How will you know you are succeeding in fulfilling your legacy?
  • Outline a model for your eventual transition from your current roles.

    If you know you are likely to be facing a transition where you currently work within five years - even if you are only in your 40s - plan to take control as much as possible by initiating or designing the change. Don’t think you have to be in senior management to make it happen. With a solid plan you can get needed support.

    Building legacy can be one of the most fulfilling things you can do in your life. And not only that, it outlives you and keeps you relevant and present when you are no longer there.