Preparing for maternity leave is a big undertaking.
This is especially true for community folk — those who have built products that rely heavily on relationships with their members, and who have become the go-to person in their communities. Being out of touch for even a few days (let alone a few months) can be a real engagement risk, and reduce the overall impact your community can make.
With this pressure serving as my fuel, I began to prepare for my leave a few months ago. Below are some key learnings from my journey — the most important being that preparing for maternity leave ended up being a great opportunity to establish the structural foundation of my Community team, allowing me to scale the experience we were able to provide for our members and decentralize.
Some more context before I dive in: I am currently the Head of Community at Venwise, a members-only network of +250 C-level executives at growth-stage start-ups. Our community is our product so I sit on our leadership team, report to our CEO, and have two team members who report to me.
I told my team I was pregnant at three months when my husband and I started telling our family and friends.
I recognize how scary that might feel both from a vulnerability standpoint and a career development standpoint, but I’ve found that being honest and straightforward is one of the things that’s made our team successful.
Under normal circumstances, six months may feel way too early to start planning but when you’re expecting, you’ll be shocked at how quickly time flies by, in both your personal and professional life.
From a personal perspective, sharing early meant that when I needed a slower day or had a doctor's appointment, others understood.
From a professional standpoint, it allowed our team to incorporate my absence into our overall 2022 strategy and hiring plan thoughtfully. It also took a while to communicate this transition to our membership, help them form a new behavior, and build trust with the new team members they'd be interacting with.
Now that the big news had been communicated, we needed to come up with our plan for my time away.
I started by dreaming up an ideal scenario, which actually led me to a clear vision for restructuring our team moving forward, even beyond my maternity leave.
Until now, I had been serving as our main point of contact for all members (which quickly became much less manageable as our membership grew). Moving forward, I began to transition us into a model where each member was assigned an 'Experience Manager' who would be their point of contact as they engage with the community.
Maternity leave aside, getting the Head of Community out of day-to-day community work is so important because it allows you to think on a more strategic level and spend less time on individual interactions between members.
It can also be risky since early community members have a direct relationship with you, and transferring it to others can diminish their perceived value of your product/experience. Naturally, the new Experience Manager won’t know the member as well as you do. But the reality is that if your community truly scales, you won’t be able to personally know your members the way you did at the very beginning — that’s just the nature of a growing community.
By taking me out of the day-to-day goings-on, we’re now able to serve so many more people throughout the community and still give them a high-touch experience.
Naturally, with my absence, we were preparing to have less bandwidth on our overall team. That’s where introducing automation became essential.
Increasing automation was always on my wish list, but again, my maternity leave allowed me to finally prioritize it. Automation isn’t always straightforward, so I drew inspiration from those who have done it successfully before.
I spent hours with our operations team redesigning several processes. We met to review each manual process that the Community team was managing, identified ones that could be automated without diminishing the member experience and began looking for ways to automate those.
For example, our onboarding process went from several people sending individual emails and remembering to follow up when we didn't hear back from members to an automated experience built with Zapier, Airtable, Mailchimp, and MemberSpace. We immediately saw an increase in early member engagement and an increase in team bandwidth.
Though it was a lot of upfront work, we now have less to keep track of in the operational weeds, which is a major relief. As a result, I can empower my team to spend time on much more interesting relationship-building work, which is their strength.
All of our automation is done through no-code tools so it required a very small budget, no engineering time, and allows for quick tweaks and changes when needed.
I started logging what I do daily about three months out from my due date. It helped me grasp the more granular tasks that I still need coverage for (which, in the long term, I could take off my plate to free up more time for strategic projects). With this done, I was able to figure out who I could transition the work to and what training materials I would need to build out for them.
For example, because of both my leave and the need to scale, I would no longer be able to lead our community onboarding calls. I used to lead every one of them, but through this process, I realized that that wouldn’t be possible anymore. It also prevented the rest of my team from building relationships with the members they were serving.
I put together a ‘welcome call’ script (documentation we never had) and invited a teammate to join me for every call, which unlocked an entirely new level of engagement between our members and our team. This was a game-changer!
Now, when I’m gone, the members won’t feel the difference since they’ll be in direct touch with one of our Experience Managers.
When it came time for training to begin, I used a quick model my CEO shared with me, which helped us ease into our new roles.
Observe: Have your trainee join the call as a silent observer to understand how the 'script' comes to life with customers and the nature of the overall conversation.
Share: Split the content of the call so that your trainee owns the part they feel comfortable with and you do the rest. Increase their portion as they become more comfortable with the content. Don’t wait for them to be comfortable with all of the content before they start taking the lead.
Lead: Have your trainee lead the call and jump in to support only where needed (knowing when it's time to jump in is key here).
Observe: You join as a silent observer and give feedback afterward so they can continue to improve.
This simple model is a great way to not only train people but also to build trust and put someone like me at ease that I’m leaving everything in capable hands.
At the time of writing this, I am three weeks out, and the bulk of my preparatory work is done. Yay!
I feel so lucky to have a team that not only understands but also supports me in taking my maternity leave. Though I tried hard to fight against it, I forced myself to be realistic about starting anything new over the last few weeks. The two big projects I did take on have officially been launched, and I’ll spend the next few weeks making sure they’re starting strong. Not overloading my plate was a great exercise in saying no (a skill I’m working on improving, regardless).
With all of this in mind, the reality remains that I haven’t left for maternity leave yet. How will all this play out in actuality? I don’t have a clue.
But, for now, what’s important is that I’m walking away feeling confident in my team and all they’re capable of doing while I’m gone. Having this assurance is huge and will give me the space mentally to prioritize my child. I can’t wait!
Want to talk about scaling, automating, or prepping for maternity leave? Always feel free to reach out, I’ll get back to you (in three months 😊).