The Undivided Life Blog


The Power of Being Proactive – Pro Tips for People Leadership

communication company culture leadership Jan 16, 2024
The Undivided Life Blog Image - The Power of Being Proactive

Business owners and executives often compliment themselves on creating “pretty good” company cultures with policies and organizational norms that work well. They share how employees view their policies for paid time off, medical leave, expenses, etc., as generally positive.

While I credit organizations with solid practices and governance, I find that most leaders miss the opportunity to be PROACTIVE in promoting the practical application of their policies. Rather than taking the time and energy to ensure that team members are clear and excited about what’s available to them, leaders often rest on the fact that the existing policies were told to the team at orientation or that they can be read in the employee handbook and, therefore, everything is good.

That would be great if handbook policies and the mere existence of something actually created a shared understanding and appreciation, but that is simply not the case. Too often, the employee’s experience is quite the opposite. Let’s look deeper into one of my favorite topics:

Maternity Leave

I recently asked a pair of founders (two men) in a textile startup about their staff and found that almost half of their growing team comprised young women in various stages of dating, engagement, or marriage. So far, none of these women have announced a pregnancy since beginning their careers with the company. I knew these founders were pro-family, so I asked more about their approach to parental leave and found their answers to be in line with expectations – new parents, through birth or adoption, are given ample time off to rest, recover, and most importantly, bond with their new child.

But something was lacking in their answers, so I continued with a barrage of questions.

  • What constitutes ample time?
  • How does the paternity leave compare to the maternity policies?
  • Will the entire leave be at full pay, or will they institute a reduced pay scale over time?
  • Do the young women in their organization know that the owners want to encourage family life?
  • What would be the initial reaction if a team member told either of the owners that she was pregnant?
  • What would you say, and what facial expressions would you make?
  • Is there a chance that a woman in your company might apologize for her pregnancy by stating, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but….”?
  • Would a newly pregnant mother struggle to believe that the policies in the company handbook are acceptable if she observed how leadership talks and acts regarding the parental leave of others?

As the conversation progressed, the founders’ expressions said it all.

Light bulbs were going off in their heads as they envisioned how they would react when an expecting mother announced her pregnancy, leaving the company short-staffed during these high-growth years. They both acknowledged that their initial facial expressions might convey a sense of letdown and defeat when, in their hearts, they both cheer for growing families.

Furthermore, they imagined that after an initial congratulations and question about the due date, both leaders were likely to make an immediate statement about the upcoming “busy season” or to inquire about how much time the woman expects to take off.

The founders’ natural tendencies to think about their business 24/7 will likely create a less-than-stellar experience for the newly pregnant mother. Even with reasonable policies and support, their employee would not likely shake the feeling she had when her bosses inadvertently made her feel guilty for being pregnant. And here is the worst part – any negative (or perceived negative) reaction or comments from the leaders would impact how every other employee faces their own similar situations in the future.

But remember, the founders in this story are very supportive of families. Their primary fault in this situation is a lack of preparation and a lack of being PROACTIVE.

Imagine this alternative situation instead.

A pair of founders, both male, are running a growing textile company and have recently started hiring employees, including many young women looking to start their own families.

From the start, the founders created clear policy guidelines for parental leave, including required minimums to set clear expectations for healthy family life. During orientation and semi-annually, the founders explicitly share their support for families and desire to create an incredible environment for expecting parents. They describe the maternity and paternity benefits in detail, orally and in writing, and create an open dialogue for questions and suggestions.

As they continue to grow, they encourage team members to share their exciting news as soon as they are comfortable to create the best possible planning for support throughout the pregnancy journey. They also seek the input and testimonials of employees who have already returned from parental leave, highlighting the openness and support they received from the company’s leadership.

In this second scenario, the founders are not just creating acceptable policies, they are being proactive in the messaging, deliver, and review of the policies and their execution all along the way. The proactive partners took something that could be a typical on the spectrum of benefits and turned it into a blessing for all.

That is the power of being proactive.

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