If you run a team, there’s nothing more disruptive than someone taking a long leave of absence.

Whether for parental leave, an extended vacation, or medical reasons… it takes a toll on productivity overall.

In the case of parental leave, we have some time to prepare. 

Just like prepping yourself for time off, we can equip our team with some tools to make sure they have a smooth transition in and out of the business.

And the rest of your team doesn’t skip a beat while they’re away.

We’ll follow four simple phases and some things to focus on…

Step 1: Identification

Step 2: Audit

Step 3: Creation

Step 4: Optimization

First, let’s get strategic!

Step 1: Identify the key pieces of information 

A few questions we can ask ourselves and our team members to begin are:

  • How long is the leave?
  • How long do we have to prepare?

Ideally, there should be about as much prep time as leave time. So, if you are planning on being away from the business for 12 weeks, we should leave about 12 weeks to prep the plan, create material and roll things out to the team.

Once the timeline is decided, we need to take an inventory of what we need to prepare.

Some things we can ask are:

  • What are my daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks?
  • What are my key responsibilities and key performance indicators?

When we have a clear inventory identified, we can begin to take a look at the scope of what we need to prepare for anyone taking our place while we’re away.

Additionally, we can begin to take a look at some of the core functions of the role and stamp out any inefficiencies.

A great place to begin is with the individual’s job description. Sit down with them and discuss what responsibilities they have and which priorities to address prior to their leave.

A great rule of thumb is to tackle things in sequence with their leave timeline. 

For example, if you do inventory at the end of the year but their leave doesn’t coincide with that timeline, it should be pushed to a later priority.

If within the first week or two of their absence we’re tackling inventory, it should be one of the first pieces of information addressed.

Once you’ve identified your timeline, your scope of responsibilities, and their priority, it’s time to work on reallocating the tasks.

We can do this simply by asking ourselves two questions:

  • Can this be automated?
  • Do we have someone else to take this over? 

If the answer to the first question is no, we know we need a person to handle the task.

If the answer to both questions is no, we know we need to potentially make a new hire to replace the person going on leave in the interim. Add this to your scope.

When I was taking maternity leave with my first son, we had lots of people to cover most of my internal tasks for clients with the exception of leading strategic calls. 

I had to loop in another colleague to take this on and make sure to train them on how to actually deliver an operational strategy to clients after I had reviewed it behind the scenes.

Sometimes making a hire isn’t totally necessary. A temporary position can become very useful.

Step 2: Audit what we currently have

When we begin to create training, SOPs (standard operating procedures), and other behind-the-scenes elements of our business, it’s likely scattered. 

I can’t tell you how often I speak with business owners who say “oh yea, we have something like that in google docs” and it takes them FOREVER to locate it. 

When we crack open the drive or dropbox files to begin taking a look at what we have, we can easily organize it by a few categories…

GREEN: The content is created, used, and optimized. Ready to leverage for any new team member to begin implementing. 

ORANGE: The content is created, but needs some updating or is under construction.

RED: The content is not created or we have not begun to create it. BUT we know it’s a need.

I typically go through this categorization with my internal systems once per quarter, but it’s extremely critical that you sit down and go through this with your employee before they take leave. 

Use the list of content you created in the identification section and really be critical about what content you have to support it.

Disclaimer: it’s ok if you have lots of orange and red items. That’s why we’ve prepared ahead of time. 

Once you’ve categorized what you need, what you have, and what you need to make, it’s time to create some content!

Step 3: Create the items that will help the team thrive in your absence

This step becomes simple if we put in some good strategic and auditing work in steps 1 + 2. 

Truthfully, when we work with clients on this process the creation phase is always the easiest. 

There are a few types of content that you’ll want to begin creating in this phase of your prep.

  • Training videos: Simple how-to’s for other employees to take over tasks.
  • SOPs: Standard Operating Procedures. Step-by-step instructions in written format detailing the full process for tasks. Hint: you can use the training videos to help write the procedures.
  • Templates: Simple, repeatable tools to help the team get further, and faster without reinventing the wheel while someone is out.
  • Reference files: Examples of previous work done well. Eg. an old budget or design brief. 

When we begin creating, we may find that tasks need several different types of content to be able to pass them off completely. 

For example, we may decide that offloading the responsibility to onboarding new clients for a quarter, we need to create a training, a checklist, and a template in our project management system for someone to replicate.

It’s best to mark each responsibility with the breakdown of what needs to be made so that we don’t leave anything off the docket. 

Using a screencast tool like loom.com will save so much time and allow the creation of new processes and training videos to be simple and smooth.

Finally, we want to begin training our replacement and monitoring how things are going.

Step 4: Optimize the handoff

When we teach someone how to do something, we want to begin with simple concepts they can understand and build from there.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen responsibilities shift and the team was given no time at all to adapt to the new workload.

It leads to team burnout and frustration. And not to mention may end up in someone having a very stressful leave of absence and being reluctantly pulled back into daily operations.

We don’t want to be in a position where we rely on someone to do something for the business…especially if that someone is out on leave.

In this phase, we want to choose a few tasks to offload to team members or set up the automations and be able to monitor their performance over a period of time. 

In the example of onboarding new clients, perhaps we give a new employee just the agreement prep piece. See how they do. Then we can expand their set of responsibilities.

If we give ourselves plenty of time, we can catch mistakes with the handoff, omissions in the training, or any blind spots we missed before we send our teammates out on leave. 

We can also facilitate real-time feedback from the person taking over tasks, they’ll have an opportunity to ask questions without feeling like they’re burdening the trainer out on leave.

Allowing yourself and your team this time to plan, create and collaborate is hugely valuable to the transition of any employee, manager or owner of your organization into an extended leave. 

For more information about the questions, you should be asking while planning for maternity leave, head to mastermaternityleave.com for more support and guidance.

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