Tag Archives: Clients

By the skin of my teeth

On Tuesday, my daughter was 364 days old. I felt like a bad mom that morning because I decided to spend time with my husband the night before instead of doing the work I needed to do, so I was scrambling to get work done in the morning instead. I was paying more attention to my laptop than to the kiddo. I was also feeding her breakfast and preparing her lunch for later. She was content to eat her bread and bananas, didn’t fuss except when she wanted some more, but I couldn’t help thinking I was missing out on a morning of her life and now I can’t get it back. To top it off, our part-time nanny was late, causing me a lot of stress since I had a packed day at work and was going to be late, and I had done nothing to prepare for family who was coming in from out of town, much less the housewarming-plus-first-birthday party that was scheduled for the weekend. So my daughter got a stressed out mom who basically ignored her. Lucky kid.

Whatever, it’s fine. Nobody died, right?

But that was the morning. Here’s how the day actually turned out:

Got to work, was late for my 9 am call but the host pushed it back to 9:30 anyway so I had time for coffee and breakfast. Score!

Then I had a company manager meeting where I was able to report how I kicked ass in the past month and I proposed something totally off the cuff that everyone voted yes on and will be implemented. Score!

Then I had to drive to the boondocks of the East Bay to try and land a new client. I wasn’t careful about my GPS and it took me to their manufacturing facilities rather than their headquarters. %&$#!! I was a half hour late. I walked into the office and there are a dozen people staring at me from inside a glass wall conference room. I thought I was meeting with 2 people. %&$#!! I made my apologies and got introduced, and learned the CEO deigned to come to this meeting. I ordinarily love that, but I’m somewhat unprepared. %&$#!! So I had to wing it and didn’t show my slide presentation at all because it was a little weak anyway. (So much for ignoring my daughter in favor of working on slides in the morning.) Turns out the discussion was awesome, the CEO was very interested, and when I hit on something in particular, he said, “Hold on, you can do that for us?” I said, “Yes. We’re currently doing it for 5 other companies right now.” He said, “When can you start work for us?” Score!

I drove back to the city, parked the City CarShare car in its little cubby, and I quickly decided that my day needed to be topped off right. I called my husband, who reported that his sister landed safely and since they were taking care of the kiddo, they didn’t need me to come home immediately. (My poor daughter really got the short end of me today.)

And here is how the day ended:

I sat at a bar taking advantage of happy hour cosmos for a bit, then headed home to a loving husband, a delighted sister-in-law, and a happy, chirpy baby girl who would be turning 365 days old the next day, full of hugs and kisses for Mom.

Not a bad ending to a sketchy beginning.

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I’ll say it: I’m looking forward to going back to work

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a new mother, it’s that people don’t have qualms about judging you every which way. Though I nurse my baby, I’ve seen enough “how dare you choose formula” posts on online mommy boards that I cringe and really feel terrible for the new moms who are subject to those scathing comments.

Well here’s one for all those judgmental people out there: I love my baby girl to the end of the world and back but I CAN’T WAIT TO GET BACK TO WORK. I feel like screaming it from the mountaintops.

Our little girl had a rocky delivery, and a rough start with 12 days in the NICU. She was fussy and generally unhappy when we got her home; it was a tough transition for all of us. Thank goodness we have come out on the other side in many ways, and you know what? It feels damn good! Our little girl is a delight, and she’s thriving. Maybe we first-time parents are doing something right.

But while I’ve cherished all the smiles she has for me, and I’ve celebrated all of her milestones, and I’ve marveled while watching her learn new things every day, I still desperately want to head back to the office.

I’d like to have conversation with other adults, and have it not be about babies.

I’d like to dress in sharp clothes every day and feel great about how I look rather than wear sweats covered in drool or spit up.

I’d like to challenge my mind by figuring out issues around new medical technologies rather than figuring out how else I can entertain a two month old.

And I was going to say that I’d prefer to hear clients whining than my baby, but that’s pretty much a draw.

*****
When I left for maternity leave, I purposely (and purposefully) created a situation in which the idea was not to have things maintained in the exact same way during my leave as before, but instead to keep our team’s goals in sight, ensure they had the skills and support necessary, then let the team run with it on their own while I was gone. (It’s easier to do when you hire the right people from the start.)

Since I’ve been gone, revenues have been maintained and business has grown to support hires. Clients are happy. My staff have tackled things they’ve never encountered before and have grown professionally by huge strides. This is excellent news!

My first order of business when I return in a few weeks is to interview both my team members and our clients to learn their new ways of working that developed in my absence, so that I can do my job to put in place additional support systems, identify areas of quality improvement or increased efficiency, give people an opportunity to identify and commend colleagues who did exceptional work internally or externally, and basically celebrate how far we’ve come.

Yes, it’s a little kumbaya, but I don’t care. My absence was very disruptive even as prepared as we were, and I want my team to know that disruption is nothing to fear, and coming out on the other side should feel damn good.

I did it! Maternity leave, here I come.

I managed to comfortably set my team up for success while I’m gone.

  • Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities while I’m away.
  • I’ve distributed transition memos and have done transition calls with clients and project teams.
  • I set expectations about what I want to see when I get back.
  • I made my team’s needs primary in the transition.

One important factor in the success of this transition was to have a half day team retreat a few weeks before I was scheduled to take off. The idea was to have a safe environment off site in a fun, neutral environment in which people could communicate concerns and anxieties, and set ourselves up in the remaining weeks to address them. The retreat was facilitated by two outsiders, which was hugely important.

And it’s not like we didn’t have fun while we were at it. I made sure we had a luxurious breakfast (banana pancakes!), and we started off by talking about what we’re excited for and looking forward to in the next year, both personally and professionally.

Perhaps the biggest concept in motivating people to embrace this time rather than fear it was the potential upside for their own professional development and careers, certainly within the company, but I acknowledged, even beyond. That thing you always wanted to try your hand at? Well, now is the time.

I’m not saying it isn’t going to be rocky, but if there’s one thing I wanted my team to do more than anything else was to collaborate, cooperate, and coordinate. Rely on each other. I said that when I get back after a few months, I will be in a different role, so no one should expect things to go back to the way they were. Take this time to really show your stuff!

And the effect was immediate. The last few weeks have been characterized more by my team members practically tripping over each other in ideas, volunteerism, and excitement, than my dictating how anything should be. I’ve been mostly a silent party on client conference calls, in team meetings, and in email chains as I watch my staff step up in huge ways. I step in here and there to provide some tips and redirect where necessary, but for the most part, I think they cringe more at what they feel are larger mistakes than I believe they are in the big scheme of things. That’s a welcome sign of their taking personal accountability for their work.

Because we spent many weeks prepping clients, by the time I left, they were comfortable with my team members taking larger and larger roles and eventually felt comfortable as I transitioned out of the calls and meetings altogether.

My last few days on the job ended up being leisurely half days… no one needed me to do anything! My email volume plummeted, and I when I asked, I heard no concerns from clients. I was… bored. (Gasp!) My final “act” was to report to my business unit that we are way ahead of forecast and working more efficiently than we ever have before. How many execs can say any of those things in their last few days before taking a few months off? I’m so proud of my team! It truly is a gift.

 

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!