Sunday, September 14, 2014

What People Say When You're Gone

Parental Leave

My wife and I are pleased to announce the birth of our second daughter, Isla. She was born at the very end of May and has been providing us with baby snuggles and depriving us of sleep ever since.

I was fortunate enough to be in a position to take a decent length of paternity leave to help my wife with our two young girls and to enjoy some time together as a family. We made good use of our time by showing off Isla to our friends and family scattered across western Canada.

If you are in a position where you can manage and afford to take parental leave, I would urge you to take hold of the opportunity. Getting away from my work routine for a while was a great way to recharge and reflect on my current situation and goals. The precious first months and years of a child's life pass just as fast as the cliches say. Slowing down to experience and savor this special time with my children while I'm able is a privilege that I wouldn't want to pass up.

Returning To Work

When I came back to work, my coworkers greeted me with in a variety of ways. There were those who (hopefully) jokingly told me, "I though you were fired." There were a lot of pleasant and generic, "welcome back", or "how's the family?" responses. There were also a few who genuinely expressed that they missed me and how glad they were that I was back.

Of course, on an emotional level, we all want to be missed. It's a wonderful feeling to know that you're missed and appreciated while you're gone. From a personal standpoint, being missed is great. That got me to thinking about whether I want to be missed on a professional level as well.

Professionally Speaking

Imagine if not one colleague missed you during an extended absence. That would mean they don't need or desire your assistance to do their work, or worse, that you may actually stand in their way. Imagine if your boss didn't miss you either. It would mean that your job is irrelevant or that you are so unproductive that your absence is barely noticed. Either way, it sounds like your job security is in perilous danger. Obviously, you want to be missed at least a bit.

To be successful professionally, you need to become indispensable to your team. I believe that there are two varieties of indispensability -- one good and one bad. Let me illustrate using a couple of examples and see if you agree.

Mr. Smith is indispensable to his team. When the OIU system goes down (as it often does), he is the one who knows just how to diagnose the problem and get things back up and running. Last month when he was on vacation, it took his coworker three days to fix the problem. Mr. Smith can usually sort out issues in a matter of hours. The operations team loves Mr. Smith, because he's always so quick to dive in and troubleshoot their problems as soon as they call.

Mr. Brown is indispensable to his team. He is always ready to lend his expertise to help a colleague solve a technical issue or discuss a design question. His software is always high quality, well documented, and easy to maintain. The junior developers love him because of his valuable mentoring. They prefer to maintain and enhance Mr. Brown's projects because the code is clear, well designed, and easy to work with.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown are both considered indispensable for wildly different reasons. Mr. Smith uses something called "institutional knowledge". Over the years, he has become an expert in the internal systems of his company (institution). This knowledge, while valuable, can sometimes even be hoarded. With all of this valuable information held only in his own head, Mr. Smith essentially holds the information for ransom. He ensures his own job security while maintaining a charade of expertise and talent.

Mr. Brown, on the other hand, tries to offload institutional knowledge. Instead of hoarding it, he documents the details someplace where anyone can easily find it. Sure, it may take an intern new to the project some time to get up to speed, but that's only natural. Instead of banging his head against the wall or interrupting Mr. Brown with unending questions, our intern can simply read and reference the documentation as he stumbles his way through the project. This leaves Mr. Brown free to concentrate on his own work, while empowering others to do great things.

What I Hope They're Saying

I hope I was missed during my absence. I also hope that people weren't asking when I'll be back because I'm the only one who knows about a specific system. Instead, I hope that they were simply discussing their projects, confident in their understanding based on my documentation. I hope that my boss was missing me because I'm the best man for the task, not because everyone else is struggling to keep my work on track.

What do you want people to say when you're gone? Tell me in the comments.


Joshua Ganes

1 comment:

  1. I want them to say, we will miss her sooo much. She was always a team player, ready to pitch in and offer help as needed, willing to go the extra mile, that she was always encouraging and supportive to her co-workers and friends on staff! I want them to say, we will miss her smile, her sense of humour, and laughter...and the food she brought in for pot-lucks or surprised us with cookies, cake or Timmies donuts! Man she will really be missed!! (And I will miss them as well!!)