I first heard about the Three Envelopes more than 30 years ago when I was working for a local educational institution. It was a very short presentation on briefing the person replacing you. Over the years I’ve run across the program in other places, in slightly different forms, including some Internet search results. I’m retiring soon, and I’ll be leaving three envelopes at my workstation for my replacement.

Envelope #1

Outside note: Open in six months if the job is tougher than you thought

Contents: “If the job is getting tough, simply say that you are just getting up to speed, learning the systems you’ve inherited.”

Moving into an existing job always requires learning how things work. Whether they use Strunk’s Elements of Style, OpenSource servers, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or self-written Step-by-Step Operating Procedures, every business will adjust and modify that guide or program to best satisfy the needs of the company. No matter who in the company chose that system, you must claim that you, the new person, need time to learn how it works. Make sure you take that time.

Envelope #2

Outside note: Open in a year if the job is getting very stressful

Contents: “If you are getting really stressed by the job and upper management is breathing down your neck, blame everything on me.”

Using your predecessor as the scapegoat has a long and honored history. It is no less effective for having been used a gazillion times before. Your predecessor is not present to defend themselves, and blame is safely transferred offsite without collateral damage. No one present will gainsay you in the presence of higher management and risk blame backlash.

Envelope #3

Outside note: Open anytime after one year if you’re overwhelmed by the job, and your job performance/output can’t reach correspondence with chief level (CEO, CIO, CCBWO) denizen’s preconceived pet theories.

Contents: “Make out three new envelopes.”

Steve Lange
Senior Editor (Ret.)
Palo Alto Software