Legacy thinking is one way to think longer term.

It’s never too soon to think about your legacy.

In life, there seems to be an innate human desire to make a lasting impact. Sure, your ego wants to be remembered, but you also want to accomplish things that will truly help others in the future. It’s both selfish and unselfish.

And that’s OK.

Legacy thinking is one way to think longer term.

While it may feel more important to those beginning to wrap up their career, leaving a legacy can be an important motivation for people earlier in their careers.

Leaders nearing the end of their careers may have the most “clout” they’ll ever have, and are looking at how they can invest that capital. Those that are early in their careers are smart to view their efforts as an investment in the company AND their future.

Over the last few weeks I have spoken with people at two companies about everything they wanted to accomplish before they left their current job.

One was a middle manager that wants to move up, and the other was was CEO of a small credit union that is considering retirement. Both are seeing that change happening within the next few years, which means they have a limited amount of time left for leaving a legacy.

A belief in your purpose is a great place to start…

After being the CEO for 18 years, Bob wants to see his credit union continue to grow, well past his retirement. He not only likes the people he works with, he truly believes in its purpose and would like nothing more than to leave a plan for the future. Bob is also determined to do everything he can to help his CU stay independent, despite the “merger mania” he sees.

But Bob is facing a few issues that seem to be too common at credit unions his size. Even though the CU recently merged with an even smaller CU, its asset size still hasn’t broken into nine digits. Their website has been “in redesign” at their core provider for over 9 months. And their name still reflects the name of their original SEG – a large company that divided into multiple companies a few decades ago. Add in the too-small budget set aside for marketing and Bob is starting to see quite a few roadblocks to establishing the legacy he would like.

…but you should be building on the past, not living in it.

It’s far too easy for company leadership to make decisions based on the past. It’s what everyone knows. There is a comfort level with what has worked “just OK” over the years.

What is much tougher is recognizing the need for changes today, in order to have a future.

In order to survive, Bob’s CU will need to rethink almost everything. Their brand’s connection to the old SEG is fading as membership is aging, but there are ways to pay homage to that history without using the company name. The website should be the backbone of their marketing and member services, not an afterthought barely supported by a core provider. And their staff should start to see themselves as member advocates, not stuck in “how we’ve always done it” mode.

It won’t be easy, but it is doable. By taking one step at a time, Bob’s legacy will be to honor the past, but focus on the future. Plus Bob will give his successor a head start.

When you think beyond current problems…

Sue isn’t shy, and she is good at what she does. She really wants to improve the hardwood company’s process and production results, and if she starts to look like a viable candidate to move up when her “soon-to-retire” CEO does, well, then that would be an even nicer bonus.

As VP-Operations, Sue has always thought there had to be a better way to even out the day-to-day workflow that involve every department from HR and sales to marketing and IT to production and shipping. While each area seems to run smoothly most days, the occasional logjam points out that not everyone is communicating as a team.

As Sue described the workflow problems, she almost casually mentions how hard it is to find good employees lately. When asked to elaborate, we learned that their community has seen fewer young locals staying in the area. There has been an increase in the number of immigrant families, but still not enough job applicants.

…you can accomplish even bigger goals.

Upon further questioning, Sue admitted that there has sometimes been a language barrier between management and the workforce. Even long-time employees don’t seem to be connected to the company; for most of them, it’s just a job. Some of them don’t even know the story about how the company got started, or that the founder kept everyone on full payroll during the 2007-2009 recession, even when the orders stopped coming in.

Once we started talking about it, Sue quickly realized that this culture disconnect might be the reason why there are snags in the process. Now, plans are underway for events to bring workers and admin staff together to socialize, adding a second language to their job listings on their website, hiring ESL instructors, and encouraging their supervisors to learn some basic Spanish.

By looking ahead, Sue is starting to connect the dots, rebuilding the personal connections between the company and the workforce.

What’s your legacy going to be?

Maybe thinking about your “legacy” is the motivation you need to put an expiration date on the everyday cruft that has built up over time. Perhaps you can bring together the right resources to stabilize the foundation and start to build. Maybe you are the one that will inspire everyone else to a better future.

Finding the will and/or perspective to see beyond the problems of the moment will allow you to make that lasting impact sooner rather than later.

Kent Dicken

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