330: Startup Babies – How to Manage the Other Side of Growth in Your Team
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In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about Startup babies.
These are certain life moments that happen to people on your team, moments like when team members have babies, get married or less joyous moments like a death in the family. Moments like these impact everyone on the team and how you manage it is crucial.
Tune in to this week’s episode to hear Steli and Hiten thoughts on how to manage life-changing moments when they occur in a team and much more.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:00 About today’s topic.
01:00 Hiten gives examples of life moments that can affect a team.
0:30 Why this topic was chosen.
02:20 Why teams are not one dimensional.
02:33 Why being mindful when you manage these kinds of situation is crucial.
03:15 The emotional support you can give to team members when they have a life-changing event.
03:36 Why it’s important to communicate openly and freely.
05:50 Why your company should be supportive and help team members manage these situations.
06:48 The importance of out of office messages.
10:37 Why planning ahead is super important when managing these kinds of situations.
3 Key Points:
- We’re not just launching products and features. We’re launching babies like there’s no tomorrow.
- Teams are not one dimensional.
- Being mindful as a company is super crucial when it comes to how you approach these events.
Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.
Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today we’re going to talk about startup babies. Not your baby as a startup, so don’t get it twisted.
Steli Efti: Don’t get it twisted.
Hiten Shah: We’re not talking about treating your baby, or your startup as your baby, we’re actually talking about something, I think, really important, which is, there are certain life moments. We’re going to call it startup babies, because I think that’s a good way to think about it. But there’s certain life moments that happen to people on your team, when you’re on a team. I think babies are one, when people start having babies, and I know Stanley, you have some stories around this. Another one is when people get married, right? And, there’s a number of other ones that happen that are even less joyous, and more about, like, when there’s a death in the family, or there’s some news of something more negative. These are the things that we want to talk about because as an organization, as a team, as a company, that stuff impacts everybody one way or another, especially when it happens to somebody, a positive, negative, whatever. And so we wanted to dig into that and give our thoughts on.
Steli Efti: Yeah, absolutely. One of the reasons why this episode or this topic prompted up is that in our team, it seems like it’s baby season, right? We’re not just launching features and new products, we’re launching babies like there’s no tomorrow, I think. We literally just this morning had somebody on the team have their firstborn son being launched. But this year, I think we already had, I don’t know, like, I’m losing track. Four kids that were born? And we have another two or three coming up? It seems like everybody is launching a baby at . This is a topic that’s really top of mind for me, and I think it’s an important topic as you said, because it shines a light on like, people are not one dimensional, teams are not one dimensional. There’s a lot of growth and challenges that we all work together as a team in the company and in the startup, but people have personal lives, private lives, and there’s big changing events happening in their personal lives. These events impact their life, and therefore also their work. I think being mindful, as an organization, as a team, as a company … Excuse me, is super crucial when it comes to how you as a company approach these events, and how do you support your people when it comes to this. I don’t really want to get into the policy making of like, do you have maternity and paternity leaves? And what is your policy? How long should they be? Are they paid or unpaid, all that. I leave all that up to people to make up their own minds on that. I don’t really want to … I personally don’t want to talk about that as much, but I want to talk about the emotional support, the personal human support that you need to give people, I think, once they have an event like having a baby. For us, I’ll rattle through a few things that’s done out there. We’ve gone through that, that seemed to work well, and then we can just bounce back ideas back and forth. But to us, I think open communication, communicating openly early and frequently, “Hey, I am pregnant,” “My wife is pregnant,” “My partner is pregnant,” “We’re expecting a kid,” let’s talk about planning this time off, let’s plan let’s talk about how this impacts my team and my work. I think starting the dialogue really early on is super important, and realizing as a business in my mind that you have to in certain situations, you have to prioritize the human a little bit above the business, and people feel that, I think it’s really crucial zone. When we talk to people in those situations, I hope, and that’s the feedback I’ve gotten from a number of people. I think one thing that stands out to our team members is that when we talk to them about this, they can feel that our priority is their happiness, they’re the health of their family, and that this is going to be a good experience for them. And then also, we try to consider how this impacts our team, and the business, and everything, and our customers. But they can feel like we’re putting them first, and it makes a huge difference in the way they feel about the whole experience, the amount of stress they have, and the amount of connection and commitment and loyalty they feel then towards the team in the company. Because they feel like, “Wow, in this situation where this big thing is happening in my life, the company is trying to support me and put me first, and it’s not a selfish conversation where they try to squeeze out as much as possible from me, and they’re annoyed, quote unquote, or inconvenient. “Oh, my god, you’re getting a baby.” Well, that we have this big launches. I mean, you’re going to work, right?” Because that in that situation, when you approach people that way, I think you can lose their trust forever, you can sour the relationship forever, and rightfully so. And it can create a situation where their baby launch is not just going to be like a part of the shared journey, but their baby launch becomes the event that makes them think, “I need to leave this company.”
Hiten Shah: Yeah, that sucks. That person’s … Great. These life changes are definitely something you’re not just managing on your own as a person, your company should be able to be supportive and help you manage it. Because these things happen to everybody. The way I treat these, and I know this is going to be interesting, potentially, as a way to say it, but the way I treat them as I treat them like a vacation. Because when someone goes on vacation, and they’re a critical part of organization, which is everybody, they make sure their shit gets done before, right?
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: They’re prepared, the team is prepared. And then the person goes, and then the person comes back, and is back to work, right? There’s for lack of a better way to say it, there’s an out of office message. Whether it’s a message on slack of your dates that you’re out of office, which I think is appropriate, one of those status messages there, which I found to be really useful, actually. And there’s potentially auto reply. Auto replies are a little, I don’t know, but the slack stuff is super important. If the person is receiving a lot of email from outside the company people, it’s important to have an out of office message and say who that person can reach if they actually need help. You can make it fun and cute, like, show a picture of your baby or whatever, right? But I think that there’s some tactical stuff, and my opinion, is treat it like a vacation. Because we know what to do when someone’s on vacation. We might not know what to do when someone has a baby, we might not want to know what to do when there’s a death in the family, but we do know what to do when someone’s on vacation. Right Stanley?
Steli Efti: Right.
Hiten Shah: I feel like this is very, very complicated when you think of it like, “Oh, they’re having a baby,” or “Oh, this happened, or that happened, or they need to be out for this amount of time.” But honestly, it’s a vacation. We know what to do when someone goes on vacation. Why don’t we just treat it the same way. Because in effect, they are out of pocket, they’re out of the office, they are not working, right? They are completely not working. And if that’s the case, it’s the same as what you would expect when someone’s on vacation. You want them to have a good vacation. If you are taking a vacation, do not work unless you re a culture where that is what’s required. I will throw that caveat out. We had an interesting experience where at Kissmetrics many years ago, we hired a product manager. She was, I think, six months pregnant when we hired her. We knew that, she knew that, and we hired her. And it was a startup at the time, like, less than 12 people or something. She had an important role. She’s a product manager. We all dealt with it very gracefully. I mean, the whole thing was like, she came in, did some work, helped us with a bunch of stuff, and we knew she was gonna be gone. She was someone who just got back to work pretty fast, but we weren’t expecting that. We told her, “Just let us know how much time you need, we’re going to consider you not able to work during that time.” Just give people space. I think a lot of this has to do with giving people space and knowing … One of the issues that comes, and I will say this where just … I’ve had one issue with this, which is pretty important to talk about. What if the person doesn’t know how long? That is not a vacation, right?
Steli Efti: That’s the thing I wanted to bring up, actually. Because I love the vacation, quote unquote metaphor or framework, because it makes it a much simpler thing, something you can refer to, “Well, I’ve done this before. It’s easy.” It’s not just like new thing that nobody knows how to deal with, so I love that. The one difference, I mean, there’s a bunch of differences, but the one major difference that I would highlight is that timeframes, dates, are not as clear, but I think there’s a simple way to deal with this. I think, and this is definitely going to be my tip for this episode, is that you need to realize that most people, especially like super ambitious, super caring people that work at your startup, they will try to do right by the company, and the start up, and the business, and sometimes they will over commit, right? They’ll try to be like, “Well, the birth is scheduled officially by this date, so I’m working exactly till that date. This problem is probably going to take this amount …” Or, “I’m planning to take this amount of time off, but I might be able to do a little less.” They’ll estimate too aggressively on when they’re going to be off from work, and how quickly they’re going to be back, oftentimes. Not always, but oftentimes, they’re very aggressive on those things, and my experience has been to coach people and team members to say, listen, I’d rather you plan on being out of pockets a week or two before the date that you were planning to, so that by that time, the entire team knows that you’re not around anymore and you have finished all the important and crucial work and everything is prepared. And if you’re willing, and able, and excited, and happy to work a little longer, that’s a plus. Nobody expects you to, you don’t have to, if you want to you’re capable of, you can, that’s a bonus. Same thing with the amount of time you’re gone. I’d rather have people be giving themselves a bit more of a buffer versus being super conservative and taking the least amount of days off as possible. Take a bit more. And if you don’t need it, and you don’t want it, you can come back a little earlier, everybody’s going to be excited. But if you estimate too aggressively on the amount of time off, and when you’re going to be off, it just creates so much more stress for you and for the team if you just miss it by a few days, or by a week, or have to leave earlier or later. It’s just going to create a lot more stress personally for the person that’s leaving and also for the team they’re leaving behind. Giving themselves some buffer and getting the explicit permission from the company, “Hey, you should take some more time off, you should think about ramping down a little bit earlier,” I think can create a really good setup. I’ve seen this time and time again that we’ve done it, where people were amazed by the suggestion, took up that offer, and then either didn’t need it by felt really, really great how well prepared they were, and how this was all a bonus. On one case somebody needed that, and then they were really grateful that they had that time, and that they didn’t stick with their original suggestion of time off and on timelines. I would just say because there’s a certain level of unpredictability in terms of when the launch of the baby will happen, right? Baby launches can be as unpredictable as engineering feature estimate launches, right? It’s the best-
Hiten Shah: You went there?
Steli Efti: Yeah, I did. We had some internal joke about this, I didn’t remember it anymore what we were saying, but since the baby has a say in all of this, you can’t really predict it perfectly. Being a bit lenient and giving people a bit more time and then saying, “If you can come back earlier, if it takes less time, that’s awesome. But if it doesn’t, you’re still in a good place,” I think it’s a much better way to go. Because if you just lean on what people will tell you that are leaving, my experience is that these people will estimate too aggressively because they want to do right by the company, and then they just create a lot of personal stress and also team stress. They’re just not … They have to leave three weeks before their original plan of the baby launch because the baby came early, and now the entire team is unprepared that there’s still a bunch of things to finish, and it just creates issues. That will be my big tip on the transition out in transition back in.
Hiten Shah: I love that. I’m gonna give my tip based on an experience I recently had. Basically, there’s someone on our team, and they want to basically leave for a week, maybe let’s say, go on a vacation, right? It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the simple way to say it. They have the authority to come up with how long they do it. I am essentially forcing them to do it for two weeks. That’s mainly because I think two weeks is better than one for this person. There’s a whole bunch of several reasons, but my tip there is if you’re helping someone decide and have that opportunity of work, and they should take more time and just stick to that, you can encourage that. Because our tendency is to encourage this person to take as little time as possible, kind of riffing on what you’re saying, right? I think our tendency should be to encourage them to take as much time as makes sense, and as much time as possible, not as little time as possible when it comes to those life event. Because the thing is, again, riffing on some of the stuff you’re saying, you wouldn’t want someone to ever have regret about not being able to take the time for a life event.
Steli Efti: Yeah, I think that’s such a beautiful way of putting it, like take the amount of time that makes sense, and not the least amount of time possible. It pays such dividends, like the loyalty that people will feel towards the company, and also the work they’re going to do. They’re going to come back refreshed it was not as stressful as an experience as they thought, so now they’re coming back so enthusiastic and excited to get back to work versus feeling like it was way too little time, they’re now having all these personal challenges and problems because they have to leave much earlier, they had way too little time off work, and now work will suffer. Nobody really benefits when you’re trying to optimize for as little time as possible, irregardless of what we’re talking about. The topic that we picked, the example we pick with a baby is a really, really big fucking life changing event, right?
Hiten Shah: The biggest, yeah.
Steli Efti: That makes perfect sense, and I think that oftentimes most people think of founders and leadership and management and ownership of a business, always trying to squeeze as much out of every person as possible. That’s such a short sighted way of thinking about it versus trying to get … You want to get the best work possible in the longest term possible from everybody, and give them an amazing experience to work with you and for you and your company, and do the best work they’ve ever done, versus just getting them to commit to as many hours and be gone as little hours as possible. That’s a very short sighted way of thinking about it, and that can lead to great results. I think that’s it from us for this episode.
Hiten Shah: Later.
Steli Efti: Later.