What’s the best way to do a maternity leave handoff? I’m so delighted today to be joined by Christina Schneider Dagand. She is mom to a wonderful baby girl, an American expat living in Paris, and, most recently, a back-to-work mama, to give us some advice on this front.
When she took the October session of the Mindful Return Course, she shared with the group the overwhelmingly positive feedback she had received on her maternity leave handoff and transition plan. In light of these accolades, I’ve invited her to share with us her successful strategy for navigating maternity-leave hand-offs.
(Also check out the official Mindful Return Maternity Leave Template!)
If your job is anything like mine (busy, complicated, hard to explain), the thought of writing a hand-off memo before maternity leave makes you feel as anxious as you do about going into labor. For my leave, I was planning to divide my job between my boss and six direct reports, which meant I had a lot of instructions to leave and delegating to do. Dropping the ball on projects was not an option, and leaving things to the last minute seemed like a bad idea.
So I got started on my report very early. As soon as I announced my pregnancy, in fact. For months, I culled and curated and clarified until I had a very concise report that I felt good about sharing with my team. One person told me it was the best hand-over report he’d ever seen. Being the Type A person that I am, I took that as a huge compliment!
Here are a few strategies that saved me from having to send frantic emails from the delivery room:
- Keep a laundry list of things you’ll need to hand off. Make a daily habit of writing down activities you do regularly that will need to be done by someone else. Jot down thoughts about important projects that will be underway while you’re out.
- Create an electronic folder for documents that others will need to access. Whenever you come across a file that might be useful to someone covering for you, save it to your folder.
- Don’t worry about organizing this until closer to your leave date. Just knowing that you’ve captured a few months’ worth of daily activity and thoughts will help you feel calmer once you start drafting your report.
Set a Deadline
- Mark a date in your calendar for completing your hand-over, ideally two weeks before your expected leave date. Your tired, nine-months-pregnant self will thank you for wrapping things up early!
- Book meetings weeks in advance with anyone who will need a briefing.
Organize and Prioritize
Once you are ready to create your report, organize your laundry list into a few big categories. I chose the following groupings, but anything that puts structure to your report will work:
- Strategic Projects: high-priority initiatives that are currently in progress or that will start after your leave begins. These should go at the top of the report.
- Day-to-Day: the regularly-occurring parts of your job, like meetings, budget planning, or reporting.
- Team Performance: I wanted to contribute to any employee performance reviews that would take place during my leave to make sure my feedback was included. I wrote employee evaluations and shared them with HR so later they could be incorporated into each person’s review. You can do this kind of advanced contribution for any major project that will take place while you’re out.
Select a Format
Consider your audience and what they will do with the information you are giving them. PowerPoint is my company’s go-to application. Excel and online file sharing were also critical, because the information I was passing on had to be easily searchable and accessible by multiple people.
The key is to make sure whatever format you use is easy to digest and actionable.
My report consisted of three files:
- A PowerPoint presentation with slides for each Strategic Project, including objectives, action items, and deadlines. Since this was the most important part of my hand-off, I wanted it to stand out, and PowerPoint made it easy to present visually. If Excel or project management software is your thing, that will work too.
- An Excel spreadsheet with a list of day-to-day stuff that could be quickly sorted by action, owner or deadline.
- A Word document for each of my employees’ performance evaluations, so text could be cut and pasted when it came time for their official reviews.
Complete the Maternity Leave Hand-Off
- Once you are ready to present your beautifully organized report, save it, along with all supporting documents, to an online collaboration program such as Box or Dropbox. Grant access to everyone who will need it while you are out.
- Hold your hand-over meetings in person or by phone.
- Beware of information overload! Cover only critical information during your meeting. Let people ask questions and review the supporting materials on their own.
- Send an email with the link to your shared files and instructions on how to access them.
- Let people know if you’re ok being contacted during your leave, and if so, how you can be reached.
When the time comes to walk out the door for your leave, you’ll feel relaxed, confident and ready to focus on your most exciting project ever: motherhood!
Christina Schneider Dagand is a new mama and a communications executive for multinational technology company. As a Californian living in Paris with her French husband, she is discovering the joy of raising a child in a bicultural, bilingual home.
How did your own maternity leave handoff experience go? Any tips you’d add for making it a success? Leave them in comments below!
To better plan your leave and return – and become part of a community of amazing new working mamas – join the next session of Mindful Return. (And when you purchase the Mindful Return Maternity Leave Template, you get $25 off the Mindful Return e-course price.)
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.