Category Archives: Junior staff development

Stress buster: have a little faith in your people, in yourself

My husband and I took a childbirth class this weekend at the local hospital where I expect to deliver. Maybe it’s my A-type personality, or perhaps it’s arrogance (I will own that possibility), but I don’t see why I shouldn’t work until my due date (or the week of my due date), especially if I’m tying up loose ends and can work from the comfort and flexibility of home.

Granted, this is the first baby for me, so ok, I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But why should I assume the worst instead of assume the best? It’s not the way I live my life, certainly not the way I run my Division, and it’s not the way I want to lead my family.

Will it be uncomfortable? Sure, but what the heck am I going to do otherwise? Sit at home and stare at the walls? Read until I’m bored? Do house chores? Cook? Just… blog? (ha)

I can tell you that I’d much rather interact with my excellent colleagues and staff and clients, be churning out strategies and leading tactical implementation of huge commercialization plans!  I’d rather be measuring our successes, identifying improvement possibilities and putting things in motion. It’s exciting! It’s engaging! It’s stimulating!

It’s stressful!

Yes, it can be stressful. But I’ve always had a high tolerance for stress and uncertainty. It’s what’s gotten me to where I am in my career, and will I believe help me keep my sanity as a parent. But in the last weeks of pregnancy – indeed in these last months of pregnancy – I’ve had to let go of my of that stress and trust my colleagues to carry the torch for a bit while I go over here and push out a small basketball from my belly, feed and change the little thing, and generally spend a few months figuring out how to find things like balance and equilibrium and sleep.

Perhaps stress comes from lack of control. But what is that lack of control but a lack of trust in your colleagues, your clients, or yourself? Stress comes from uncertainty, sure, but can it be actively managed with preparedness and faith?

The “danger” I hear about working so close to the due date is the stress and whether it has a negative impact on the baby. But what if the maternity plan is in place, and everyone knows what they’re supposed to do? Is there really anything else to do but continue to be supportive to colleagues and junior staff, and gently but forcefully tell them I’m not going to tell them what to do, but that they should tell me what they think they should do? Then… leave to have a baby and have a little faith?

Interestingly, I suppose this approach probably goes for both the Board Room and the nursery room, the Executive role and the parenting role. Have a little faith!

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Mentoring others: Gee, I should take some of my own great advice.

I have a very promising mid-level manager who was recently promoted and struggling with trying to oversee more initiatives at the 30,000 foot level when what she knows how to do confidently is work at the 30 foot level. Trying to get into the weeds for all of these initiatives is wearing her down, and she’s finding herself not as effective in management as she should be.

I advised that she use her knowledge of what it takes to be successful at the 30 foot level and guide staff to execute on that rather than executing on it herself. It’s a mix of telling people, “Here is what I want you to do,” and if needed, “Here is how you should approach it,” and most importantly, “Here is how we will know it worked.” She’s got the first and second things down pat. It’s the third thing she’s never done before. She never thought about measuring her successes in the weeds; her managers did that!

So how do you take someone new to management and teach them how to effectively measure the success of a project or program, and whether teams are being effective? She answered by starting where she is most comfortable – in the weeds. She said if people do X, Y, and Z (which is what she always did), we can say it’s successful. But checking off the tactical items on a list doesn’t necessarily mean success. It definitely means you’re doing work, but not necessarily being successful at it.

We eventually got to the point where she discovered starting at the client’s business objectives, and how the project or program is designed to meet those objectives, is the way to go. If she starts there, she can define a series of outcomes that she (and the client) want, and measure what the team does relative to those outcomes. If the team has really good direction from her, then she doesn’t need to be in the weeds doing the work – they can run with it, and she can measure it and make course corrections if needed.

* * * * *

That was an awesome and productive conversation with her. And I realized that in my maternity leave transition planning at work, I haven’t done enough effective management of the plan – I’ve been developing the plan from bottom up rather than top down. I am starting where I am most comfortable and familiar – my own version of being in the weeds, outlining who does what when – when I really should be starting at the client’s objectives and defining project team structure and metrics for success during my leave that will give others direction on an approach rather than dictating do’s and don’ts. Arming them with the right approach to a client’s set of service needs will help them be more flexible, responsive, and confident, and hopefully help avoid panic when a situation comes up that we couldn’t have predicted, or one that I didn’t explicitly outline.

I have great staff that are very good at taking my advice. Me – not so great at it, but I should start!

Maternity leave planning in 3 (easy? hah!) steps

I’m 30 weeks pregnant, which means its countdown time! Not just until the baby comes, but more urgently, countdown until I have to leave the job and cross my fingers that the maternity leave planning actually worked.

How do you plan for maternity leave?

headscratch

#1, you have to inventory what you do and who you do it for, and get past the shock value of how freaking long that list is.

#2, you have to say who is going to have to pick up the slack, and get past the guilt of abandoning coworkers to scrounge up extra time and energy to fill in your gap.

#3, you prepare your clients well in advance to let them know that a plan is in place, and get past the hand-wringing that will undoubtedly come with stress and worry and imagining all the things that could go wrong.

See? Easy.

* * * * *

I work at a small firm, which means: (a) there aren’t a whole lot of bodies to pick up the slack, and (b) our margins are smaller, meaning we can’t just go out and hire a bunch of FTEs or temps to do the gap-filling (like you can do a hire-a-veep for 3 months anyway).

I need to come up with The Plan. I’ve never done this before. What is The Plan supposed to look like? Well, having been on the other end of people going out on parental leave with poor planning, I know what I don’t want.

  1. I don’t want to leave people without the background knowledge and materials to do the work well, and I don’t want to leave them without resources to find help or answers when they come across something they don’t know.
  2. I don’t want clients to feel like there’s a vacuum of knowledge or personnel support once I leave.
  3. I don’t want junior people to feel like they’ll be taking a step back in professional development once I get back, after they’ve stepped up and gained great experience by filling in for me.

So The Plan needs to address:

  • Carving out sufficient time to train others and collect materials and resources for them, and communicating the professional development opportunities available to junior staff through this process. (But adequate support and advisors have to be there for that to be successful.)
  • Presenting clients with the new project teams and doing calls and work together over the next two months to get clients comfortable and giving them a level of confidence that others at the firm can do the work reliably. (Ahhhh, but that last word is the key, isn’t it?)
  • Having a vision for what project teams and roles/responsibilities will be when I return. (What I call “the black box” since I have no idea what that vision is.)

And TA-DA!! A successful maternity leave plan. P’shaw, piece of cake!