The Retirement Speech Test. “I wish I’d said that years ago”

017_13J_dishwasher graphic
Dishwasher loading etiquette is a key indicator of corporate values and behaviour

The Perfect Retirement Speech. I’m thinking of offering a course on how to write the perfect retirement speech. Nothing fancy, clever or sophisticated, just three bite-size chunks.

Part 1 is just a case of, writing down what you really think about a specific topic connected to your working life; take your pick from the following examples:

  • How badly people load crockery in the office dishwasher
  • Car parking facilities
  • And anything else up to and including …
  • The moral fibre of the Chief Executive
  • The geo-political influence of the organisation on World peace

The choice is yours, it just has to be something you wish you’d spoken up about years ago.

Part 2 involves you ‘telling it how it is’. This will be a retirement speech to inspire the people you are leaving behind to carry on the good work you started, or mopping up the mess, it depends…

Your ability to ‘tell it how it is’ will be 100% guaranteed to be free from any form of consequences – most importantly something that could harm you. There will be no investigation into what you might have done (or not done), reduction in your pension, loss of opportunities to sit on influential advisory committees and Boards, harm caused to innocent bystanders or damage to your reputation. Totally risk free.

Part 3 involves working out how you make a positive difference to some of the things written down, before you actually retire… Part 3 fully acknowledges that dealing with the moral fibre of the Chief Executive might be easier than getting a neatly stacked office dishwasher.

Part 4. Errr, … that’s it.

The good news is that you can sign up for my ‘Perfect Retirement Speech’ course if you are ; 6 weeks, 6 months, 6 years or 26 years away from retirement. I reckon it has relevance at any time, and should be repeated at regular intervals.

Speaking Truth to Power. You might have guessed that was coming… Only on rare occasions do you get the ‘tell it how it is’ retirement speeches I’m suggesting on my course.

There are probably good reasons and social conventions for that. Ultimately though it’s the same reason why people don’t say those things when they are about to retire or are still deep in the job. It’s the fear of reprisals which comes from speaking truth to power.

I have written about Speaking Truth to Power before, in a series of three blog posts:

To save you the effort of reading these posts, the basic gist is that people have been struggling with ‘speaking truth to power’ for thousands of years. Ever since communities have been organised around powerful people; Queens, Kings, Chief Officers, High Priests/Priestesses, Team Leaders, people higher up the ladder tend not to like hearing bad news from those lower down. The consequence of bringing the bad news can be terminal – hence the term, ‘shoot the messenger’.

If it’s any comfort, we’ve been struggling with this behaviour since the time of the Ancient Greeks (300 years BC) and probably before that. Greek Tragedy plays and people like Aristotle had plenty to say on the subject of virtuous thought and behaviour. If you want a really thoughtful analysis of the subject, with some modern-day examples, this paper from James O’Toole at the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University is well worth reading: Old Tales and New Leadership, Organisational Culture and Ethics.

Here’s a snippet of what James O’Toole has to say about the challenges of being virtuous when telling the truth. It isn’t always straightforward.


If this was easy, we’d have fixed it by now. Recently I’ve been speaking with some people who are ‘new’ to the workplace. They see things from a completely different perspective to me – particularly when it comes to speaking truth to power.

Two things stick in my mind and might offer a solution to the challenge of bosses listening and workers being able to ‘tell it like it is’. These solutions are focussed on ‘Old Len’ and the ‘Newbie’.

The Old Len Retirement Programme*. Basically Old Len is someone who’s been in the organisation forever. They know how the organisation works, they’ve seen countless Managers and Chief Officers come and go.

Len is about a year off retirement (on full pension) and ‘doesn’t give a toss’. That’s a technical term for someone who is ‘unshackled’ and feels free to say exactly what they think – particularly if it’s the latest improvement initiative. My associate who is ‘new’ to the world of work admires Len greatly, and say’s “why isn’t everyone as honest as Len?”.

My suggestion is that every organisation finds their Old Len; anyone who is within a year of retirement and offers them a new job for their last six months. Their job is to attend every Board, Committee, Working Group and other meeting they can find, sit at the table, listen to the conversation and ‘tell it as it is’.

Imagine that.

I’d suggest that if that idea feels uncomfortable, you probably need to do it. If it feels really uncomfortable, you definitely need to do it. (* Note, Old Len could also be Lynn, no gender bias here)

The Newbie Programme. This involves bringing in someone who knows nothing about the organisation and isn’t expected to offer any solutions. Their role is just to question ‘why?’, and point out contradictions and peculiarities that have become routine to everyone who’s been part of the system for years.

The ‘Newbie’s’ protection will come from the fact that they are ‘new’ and ‘naive’ and not expected to know about these things. As soon as they become absorbed into the organisation their layer of protection and ‘why?’ Superpower will probably diminish, so time to move them on to somewhere safer.

I often wonder if this is what the role of interns should be about?

As with the Old Len Programme, if this idea feels uncomfortable, you probably need to do it.

If all else fails – The Retirement Speech Course. If you really don’t want to try these things, there is my Retirement Speech Course, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’ve got people thinking, ‘I wish I’d said that’ at their retirement or any other stage of their working life, and are afraid to say it, a course in retirement speech writing isn’t going to save you.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Speaking truth to power has been a challenge in organisations (and society) for millennia – it’s nothing new or modern.
  2. When the ‘fear of consequences’ is removed people will tell you things that you really need to hear.
  3. Liberating people near retirement to ‘tell it how it is’ or listening to the ‘naive’ question ‘why?’, may be exactly what the organisation needs to hear.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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