Inevitably, someone is going to leave their position and your team. Maybe only temporary, for maternity leave. Or because they have a serious illness to deal with. Or ‘forever’, for another job at another organization. In any case, when someone is stepping out for a short time or indefinitely, you will need someone to take over. And for that, you need a good handover. Now, what is a good handover?

What is a handover?

A handover includes all the things a person needs to take over a position for a short or longer period of time. It is usually created by the person leaving the position.

Not an encyclopedia

A good handover is not an encyclopedia with hundreds of items organized alphabetically or chronologically or however. It should be more of a guide, pointing in the right direction and highlighting some important artifacts along the way. 

Wait – a guide? To what?

A good handover shows where detailed information can be found in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that are relevant to the position or in the dossiers of people or projects for instance. The handover should be much like a table of contents: where to find what? Ideally, it would be a document with links to other documents or an internal website (a wiki for instance) with internal links.

So what are important artifacts?

Things to highlight for a successor or temporary replacement are for instance work in progress items, things that are ongoing. Questions that still require an answer. Things you have not yet been able to do.

This could be simply a one or two pagers, with a key summary of current affairs including a reminder of main upcoming deadlines, a section on pending issues, a section with your backlog, and one or two key tips. Writing this note should not take all that much time.



A handover should not be much extra work …

I know people who have worked their pants off to create a handover (and I have been there). Sometimes it could be weeks before it was done. Imagine how hard it would be to take over this job at short notice due to sudden illness? Almost impossible and it could certainly feel very much like walking in the dark. (I have been there, too)

A handover should not be much extra work in the moment. Because it should build on information that is already recorded and accessible in the organization:

  • Workflows described in SOPs.
  • Recorded project data and project progress.
  • A clear contact list.
  • Up-to-date staff files.

All of these should form a solid foundation for any of the tasks associated with the position.

And a handover should merely point the way to finding these items.

Be ready to handover from the day you start

If you want to be ready to handover at any time, you must start preparing from day 1. Whenever you start a new position or role, keep track of what you do and how you do it.

  • Organize your steps into SOPs that others can easily follow when needed. (It might be easier to take some leave if you know people can do things the exact same way as you do while you’re gone!).
  • Create good records with key information on the people and projects you work with.
  • Connect accounts you use for work always to your work email and your work password manager, such as LastPass for instance.
  • Etc.

Your role as leader

If you are in charge of a team or the whole organization, make sure your team members actually keep track of and record their steps. This isn’t only useful in cases of an accident or someone leaving. It is also helpful in making sure people feel safe to go on leave. And it can help create a better understanding within the team of all the steps involved in tasks that others are doing. And that can in fact enhance team cohesion.

My key tips

  • Develop a good library of SOPs in your organization. Regularly check them for being current and not outdated.
  • Create a joint database of external contacts with comments from the people who are in touch with these people frequently, including needs and ways for follow up.
  • Start using a tool like LastPass now!

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