March 26, 2008
Closer to the Front Lines
When we started Return Path, we added a little clause to our employee handbook that entitled people to a sabbatical after 7 years of service (and then after every 5 incremental years). Six weeks off, 3/4 pay. Full pay if you do something “work related.” Sure, we thought. That’s an easy thing to give. We’ll never be 7 years old as a company.
Now, 8 1/2 years later, of course, the first wave of people are reaching their sabbatical date. A couple have already gone (one trip around the world, one quality time with the kids). A couple others are pending. Four of us at the exec level are overdue to take ours, and we all committed to take them this year, planning them out so we can back each other up. My colleague George Bilbrey is in the middle of his 6 weeks off now, and I’m his backup. And wow – is it a great experience. Busy, but great.
The reason it’s great is that I am one step closer to the action. Usually when someone on my team goes on vacation, we just let things run for that week or two. The people who report into that exec know I’m around if they need something, but I don’t take over actively working with them. Not so this time. Six weeks is too long for that. I’m actively subbing for George. I’m sitting in his office in Colorado every other week for the sabbatical. I have weekly meetings with his staff. I’m working with them on their Q2 goals (for added fun, we’re even working on George’s Q2 goals!). I’m attending meetings that George usually attends but that I’m not invited to.
The insight I’m getting into things in George’s area of the business is great. I’m learning more about the ins and outs of everyone’s work, more about the team dynamic, and more about how the team works with other groups in the company. Most important, I’m learning more about how George and I interact, and how I can manage that interaction better in the future. And I’m making or suggesting some small changes here and there on the margin. Hopefully I’m not messing things up too badly. Otherwise, I will hear about it in 3 1/2 weeks!
I strongly encourage everyone who is a Manager of Managers or higher in their company (especially if that company’s name rhymes with Geturn Fath) to use any vacation of someone on their team as an excuse to really substitute and get closer to the front lines.