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- BRW. lounge
Published 17 May 2012 05:07, Updated 18 May 2012 10:14
Companies are too keen to airbrush out past leaders, rather then learn from them.
A veteran employee of 25 years’ standing – he half-jokes that he’s been waiting for a redundancy package for the past 20 years – was sitting in the weekly management meeting when to his astonishment the general manager called a halt to proceedings to announce a special visitor: the company’s founding chief executive who long ago had left the business.
For the long-time employee this was an emotional moment: his former boss was someone he respected and considered a mentor. Working for the former chief executive in the company’s heyday was a special time recalled with affection. However, it wasn’t just the former employee who was stirred by the moment. Such was the retired chief executive’s enduring reputation and legacy that many of the younger participants at the meeting were clearly delighted to be in his company.
Once the meeting resumed, the distinguished visitor was invited to participate in the discussions that had already been under way when he unexpectedly arrived. And he did so with gusto. “It was like he had never been away,” the company veteran recalled.
The former chief executive was invited to the meeting as part of the celebrations for the company’s 30th anniversary. As well as spending time with management and staff, the company founder was also interviewed for a commemorative video to appear on the company’s website.
Such exceptions aside, companies pay too little homage to past leaders. This reflects a soulless corporate culture in which the emphasis is on the moment, the future is scary and history is dismissed as an extravagance. In an environment dominated by cost-cutting and under-resourcing, leaner and meaner organisations are too frenzied to smell the roses of the past.
Acknowledging the contribution of company founders and former leaders by inviting them back to the organisation not only pays due tribute to the individuals concerned but also creates a culture of respect and pride in the company’s history, values and achievements. Companies should recognise and celebrate the achievements and contributions of all former employees of good standing. Especially in these parsimonious and uncertain times, bringing the past to the present can be a genuine source of inspiration, learning and engagement for disaffected staff. Instead of dismissing history as a dead weight, companies should embrace it as a vital, living resource to be treasured and utilised.