I’m having a baby tomorrow (maybe sooner, we’ll see) and then I’ll be home with baby Marcus John. For a few weeks at least, I’ll be dealing with lack of sleep, no set routine, and hundreds of diaper changes. The big questions that always pop up when speaking with family, friends, staff, clients and vendors are: How much time are you taking off and how will your office survive without you?
The answer to the first question (how much time are you taking off?) is not clear cut. When you’re a small business owner, you can’t exactly just disappear for a few months. When you’re the owner, the business is your baby, it’s part of your life and your identity. That said, I’m giving myself the flexibility to work as much or as little as I want, come in when I feel I need to, and decide when I’m ready to come back to the office full-time.
The answer to the second question (how will the office survive without you?) is “Just fine, thank you very much.” In fact, just like the last time I was out with my first son, I expect the office to thrive. Here’s what I’ve done to prepare myself and the office for my absence:
What Is It That Only I Do, or Can Do, At the Office?
When I first announced to my management team that I was going to have a baby, the questions I asked of myself, the Directors and Project Managers was: “What is it that I do, that only I can do, that you rely on me to do?” Then we got to work documenting the list and figuring out a plan for getting those tasks done in my absence.
For example, I review the monthly billing reports after the Project Managers (PMs) have reviewed them to double check that we are properly marking work as billable or unbillable. Over a period of a couple of weeks, I went over dozens of reports with the PMs, discussed why I question certain items and provided suggestions for how to handle ambiguous items and make sure clients are never surprised by their invoices. The Director of Client Services will also now review invoices in my absence.
Documenting What’s in JP’s Brain
When you’ve been in the Web business for as long as I have (since 1994 but please don’t try to calculate my age!) and when you’re responsible for landing a lot of the company’s business, you just accumulate a lot of knowledge about clients, process, and projects. Even though I use our intranet religiously to document all of my communications with clients and prospects, there’s just a lot of knowledge that I carry around in my brain.
So over the past few months, I worked with my team to document the strategies, best practices, and potential land mines I’ve encountered while working on myriad projects. I paid special attention to the project components that I tend to spearhead, including Goals and Personas, Content Strategy, Integration with a Back Office CRM (customer relationship management system) or AMS (association management system), CMS (content management system) reviews, and Social Media. These are now called PM Guides and they live in our wiki. All staff are encouraged to modify them as needed. The guides are reviewed before the start of each project, and the PMs are loving the sample agendas and notes for running meetings.
Letting Staff Shine
When I took time off with my first son, a great thing happened: the vast majority of my staff rose to the occasion, took on more responsibility and did a great job. Some of them said they wanted to do a great job so that I could be at home with CJ and rest easy knowing that the office was in great shape. Others saw the time as a terrific opportunity to show what superstars they are. Still others ran with projects, figuring they should act first, apologize later. The results were great.
This time around, I’m trusting that the recruiting, training, practices, guides and team process that we have in place will ensure that my stellar staff can do what they need to do, not encounter bottlenecks while I’m out, and do a great job for clients.
Getting Rid of Overhang
Once we all realized I would be out,my team and I identified tasks and initiatives that had been hanging out for a while and didn’t have any movement. We either abandoned them, moved the deadline or completed them. For example, we got cracking on our mobile strategy, updated the Meet Your Team page on our client extranet, set-up our new data center in Chicago, and moved the deadline for redesigning our demo site.
Protocol for Contacting JP Re: Urgent Items
No matter how much I plan, I know the office is going to need me for certain things, like complex contract negotiations and developing a strategy for responding to big, hairy RFPs (requests for proposals). So I’ve alerted the admin team that after a few weeks, I will call once a day; whoever needs to speak with me needs to be ready with their list. And to help me wade through the mountains of e-mail that will collect in my inbox, we selected a codeword that staff will enter in the subject line to indicate that a certain message is urgent and needs my attention. This way, if all I have is 10 minutes to check e-mail on any given day, I can filter by the code word and see the most important and urgent messages of the day. No, I’m not divulging the code word here, but suffice it to say that it involves Star Wars.
There Will Be Hiccups
Are the plan and system perfect? Absolutely not. In the end, I will rely on my sterling staff to do a great job while I’m out, which I know they will do. I’ve warned everyone that there will be hiccups, errors and crises, but if they keep the interests of their clients and staff in mind, overcommunicate, and stay on top of deadlines, they’ll be great.
How about you? How has your company prepared for an extended absence of your CEO or any key staff member for that matter? What worked? What did you learn? Please share!
Now, I’m off to have some spicy food and go for a brisk walk. I have a baby to birth!