Parents are essential to my company. When we started to create the culture frameworks for Drop, I gave a lot of thought to how to help parents fit.
Drop, like many companies, is in a perpetual hiring cycle. We look for the brightest minds in science, engineering and marketing to join our mission. While ‘bright’ implies several qualities like a high rate of learning, it doesn’t necessarily mean young. Bright minds are also experienced hands, and in most specialities, including science and engineering, experience comes with time. And a major life change that comes with time can be becoming a parent.
Here is how I think about the value proposition for parents in a startup. I’d also love to hear your thoughts too. Leave a comment below or email me here.
What you’re about to read can also apply to more mature companies. But startups are uniquely unpredictable and an environment where patience and urgency need to be carefully regulated to ensure survival to achieve product/market fit.
My thesis is that working parents understand the value of time because they have two full-time jobs. One a parent and one as a professional. By creating an environment that simultaneously rewards each role, they will thrive, become more productive and feel more fulfilled at work and home.
Three principles help this thesis come to life.
Family comes first, period. This first principle means that when an issue arises, the team member can focus all effort on supporting their family member in need. This principle also means that the team finds a way to maintain momentum in their colleague’s physical or emotional absence.
Second, experience and expertise shouldn’t be traded off against being a great parent. As parents, we are in the memory creation game for our children. They are the mission, and this can co-exist with the purpose of our venture(s).
Third, most pressures felt by people, as a parent or not, arise from an issue at home or with family.
Parents of today and tomorrow
Parenting is tough and beautiful in equal measure. Parents with children living at home face different challenges to those with children living their own life. And it’s difficult for people without children to understand these challenges and the wonder that comes with being a parent.
Conversations at work between team members that introduce their family members and situations go a long way to establishing context. It’s an essential first step, but I think the real opportunity with implementing a parent value proposition involves creating ongoing compassion for the parenting balancing act. That means founders need to own and reward the behaviours that make this proposition part of company culture or ‘how things are done around here’.
I also want to be clear that developing a parent value proposition does not mean that founders are hiring people to join ‘their family’. A parent value proposition should acknowledge that performance is essential and expected from every team member. In the same way that ongoing compassion for parenting is critical, this performance expectation helps to manage potential tensions between those team members with and without children.
Beyond a paid audition, the core ingredients of a parent value proposition should be the same as other team members. They should include specific details about the role, remuneration (cash, options and equity), leave and desired objectives from their tour of duty with the company.
This last point is possibly the single most significant people and culture revelation in today’s networked age. Reid Hoffman presented this in The Alliance, a book he co-authored which also introduces the idea of employees and employers entering into ‘tour of duty’ agreements as a means to reframe the working relationship.
The underlying philosophy of The Alliance is compelling and grounded in the idea of turning employees and employers into allies where they can develop a relationship based on adding value to each other.
In addition to helping leaders move away from archaic methods used to engage with employees, it sets the groundwork for developing incremental trust between employees and employers no matter what level they enter or grow within the company.
Here are the five parent-specific elements I think are essential to startup employee value propositions for parents:
- Office time – This includes nominating the earliest and latest meeting times that can work for parents involved in school runs. This means having a conversation to determine when meetings should start and not nominating an arbitrary time like 8:30 am because that’s when the people think work should start. This ingredient also extends to how often team members should be encouraged to work from home. We know how productive meeting-free time can be.
- Memory time – I mentioned before that parents are in the memory creation game. Occasions like concerts and sports days, most of which don’t require a full day off, are marked as time off. Parents should be available to help create those memories.
- Professional development – Parenting is a constant outflow of energy. Relevant and exciting professional development goes a long way to increasing company capability and meeting your commitment as an ally, as well as helping to re-fill the energy tank.
- Time optimisation tools – Introduce a list of tools that can complement parents’ existing practices or expose new ways to optimise time. Any tool that helps to manage administration and logistics is usually well-received.
- Team communication – Giving a new team member access to Slack and showing them how to ‘chat’ falls a long way short of effective team communication. This ingredient focused on teaching people how to use specific and sometimes unfamiliar tools, so they enable productivity and don’t create another level of complexity and frustration. It also extends to time-based practices, for example scheduling emails to send at 8 am the following morning for any emails ready to be sent after 9 pm. This gesture goes a long way to removing any undercurrent of ‘performance agenda.’
Other interesting tactics to include:
- Circulating holiday activities to help alleviate the pressure that comes with juggling holiday childcare
- Sharing a list of date-night events to inspire busy couples to find time to nurture their relationships
- Asking about the family during 1: 1’s to enable a better understanding of life outside of work. This context can be beneficial as issues arise and to help leaders understand that parents face different challenges.
Making it work
Implementing a startup employee value proposition for parents is not complicated, but it does require deliberate behaviours. Both on the part of the founders and their teams. And like any system, there is potential for abuse.
One way to manage this risk is to set reasonable limits. For example, one leave day per child per term which doesn’t accrue if unused. A second strategy is to insist that leave for memory time is booked at least six months in advance.
Parents who leverage ‘memory time’ through planning and exceed expectations on workload understand that productivity is based on outcomes and not hours worked. They rarely abuse this system.
Those who leverage memory time and consistently fall short on expected workloads may not be the right fit for the company.
One last thing…
As reported recently in the New York Times, founders of successful tech companies are mostly middle-aged. These people and their teams are in the same perpetual hiring cycle for great talent. A key differentiator can be an employee value proposition for parents.
My message to founders is to own the hiring environment and conditions for parents.
We have the tools to enable work to happen differently and respect the downtime required to have a career and be a great parent. I chose to enable those careers at Drop and hire both young and experienced talent to advance our mission.
The question is, will you?