#279 – Making Time for Leave
Friday Ship | December 3rd, 2021
This week, I returned to work as Parabol’s CEO from parental leave after the birth of our second child.
A few days before I went on parental leave, one of Parabol’s investors introduced me to a fellow CEO via email with a company serving a similar market at a similar scale. I let them know that I was going to be out for a few weeks and that I was looking forward to getting to know them when I was expected back to work in December. I got this reply:
Oh wow, congratulations! How do you manage being a sole founder and also going on parental leave? You must have an awesome leadership team? [When I tried to take parental leave] it honestly didn’t work out. [My team] couldn’t handle the pressure it created and ended up leaving for bigger companies with less stress.
Yikes! However, this wasn’t the only email that indicated the rarity of taking leave successfully for early-stage founders. An investor from a firm without a stake in Parabol wrote this:
The fact that you took paternity leave sets a great example for your company. I encourage all my founders to do the same if their company is far enough along to pull it off.
At early-stage companies providing and taking parental leave remains exceptional. Especially at American companies. Especially for fathers. Especially for founders. Especially for the CEO. This shouldn’t be the case, and at Parabol this isn’t the case.
How Parabol makes parental leave possible
Providing parental leave and taking it—even for leaders—is foremost a cultural choice. Parabol makes this choice not because we’re humanistic hippies running counter to capitalism or antagonistic to exponential startup growth, but because we believe that providing the time for people to take care of their needs creates better individual performance, a better life experience, and thus better organizational performance.
You can’t have a great company without people being able to perform at their best. Now, dear reader. I understand you might say, “ok fine, it’s your culture to let people take leave, but how do people take time away without things breaking?” The ingredients are simple, but the dish is not easy to prepare: good hiring and good documentation. Let me explain.
The bar to getting a job at Parabol is high. As a fully-distributed organization, we draw on talent from the entire globe so for any given role the right match is likely out there, we just have to find them. Our hiring process demands we get to know and evaluate what it’s like to work with a candidate on a trial project before we hire them full time.
Passing each potential hire through this filter builds a team with a prodigious amount of trust between teammates. Trust is the foundation of organizational resilience, and that resilience is evidenced when others cover the job responsibilities of a teammate who needs to step away.
Knowing which roles and routines need covering is the final ingredient that makes leave possible. Parabol maintains a detailed list of roles and responsibilities for each employee (with cadences to keep them up to date). Before leave begins, the person departing taps on their colleagues to cover their accountabilities. Here were my roles that needed coverage while I was out:
Parabol’s metrics were roughly flat when compared to data collected the week before Thanksgiving. We’re eager to see if there will be a spike on retrospectives as folks wrap up their year or if things quiet down.
This week we…
…produced another iteration of our upcoming agile stand-up designs. We’ll have some visuals to share soon—things are tightening up quite nicely.
…published a post on how to improve any meeting with agile thinking.
…looked at the data from our semi-viral Thanksgiving TikTok post. This one was seen more than 500k times. Pretty cool to know we got in front of that many folks.
…made a few finishing touches to our upcoming Spotlight feature before its beta release. Spotlight will let teams with dozens or hundreds of Reflection cards group them with ease. We’re excited to get this out into the world and in front of our users.
Next week we’ll…
…close our offices on December 8th for a team building day we’ve dubbed, “Parabol Snow and tell Day.” No doubt, we’ll have more to share on this in a future Friday Ship!
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