There is a sad reality within American business and one I hope to do something about, even if it is in a small way. I call it “Pretend Time Off” syndrome.
This concept says business leaders are unable to truly unplug during a vacation and cannot fully dedicate ourselves to our loved ones when we have an opportunity to flee the hustle and bustle of our organization.
This is simply not true. I have laid out five tactics you can implement to have a vacation without having your team or your organization fall apart in your absence. These easy steps, if followed (and that is a massive if!), will allow you to enjoy your trip and, more importantly, allow your loved ones to enjoy you on your trip!
1) Plan, Plan, Plan… Oh, and Prepare
It is amazing how most unforeseen issues could be resolved prior to you leaving with a little bit of planning and a lot of preparation. The one unifying factor is having the ability to trust your team to execute on your plan.
The problem many leaders face isn’t that they can’t unplug, it is that they don’t fully trust their team. This problem is on you, and is one you must resolve before you can execute on any of the steps I am about to discuss.
If you don’t trust your job to any person within your team, you either need to find a whole new team or you need to help those untrustworthy team members transition out of yours.
- Meet with your leaders and discuss potential upcoming issues: The best way to avoid potential pitfalls before they happen is to have a frank discussion with your team about what they might be. You would be amazed as to how many problems can be avoided if you take the time to listen to your team in aggregate on a weekly basis. Conduct a meeting with your leaders and simply ask, “Do you see any potential fires coming over the next week?” Even unlikely events should be discussed and solutions evaluated.
- Assign executive decision-making authority to those you trust: This is difficult, but it is essential to avoid your team coming to a grinding halt waiting for simple decisions in your absence. We aren’t talking about make or break strategic decisions, but the day-to-day slog of approvals and rejections. The more you trust your team to come up with solutions, the more they will feel valued. An added benefit is potential leaders might emerge in your absence.
- Set your email away notification with a single point of contact: Do it! Let the people who are reaching out know that you are gone and that they have someone to contact if they need help. Make sure that you include, “in case of emergencies…”, so they know to only reach out if it is dire. Otherwise, they need to relax and wait till you get back.
- Meet with key external stakeholders to discuss potential requirements: I am not talking about setting 30 minutes with each stakeholder, but a few minutes stopping by their office can do wonders. Tell them that you are going on vacation and ask if there is anything you can do for them before you go. That should also set expectations and prevent fires.
2) Set Expectations
Tell those who report to you that though you will be available; you are on vacation. Many of us have one or two eam members who work too much and don’t value their work life balance. It is essential that those people understand you do value your work life balance and make sure they understand unless there is an emergency they need to hold onto the problem until your return or work to resolve the issue internally.
Make sure they understand your methods for responding to issues and your communications plan. Make sure they understand they have to respect these boundaries and your vacation. While you are at it, make sure you do the same with those who you report to, yourself. Make sure you do it in a respectful way in both instances, but be firm.
Tell your family that this trip will be different! Tell them this time; you are going to focus on spending time with them and that you are committing to not allowing work to ruin yet another vacation. Let this be your chance to show them you don’t live to work. Ask them to hold you accountable for this change.
This is a difficult transition to make and you will need help. Make sure they understand emergencies might pop up, but you will deal with them quickly, and your primary concern is to love them and to enjoy time with them. Telling them about your communication plan and everything you have done to make sure this trip is amazing will go a long way.
3) The “Power of the Phone Call” Limited to One Person
This is a biggie. Make sure ou have one person on your team with the authority to call you if there is an emergency. That’s right, a single solitary human being with the permission to interrupt your vacation if your team is unable to deal with something.
If you have a succession plan (which everyone should), this should be the person. Let everyone in your line of direct reports know who this is and that they are only to use the power of the phone call if someone is bleeding or dying (or of similar level).
4) One Hour a Day for Email
This was a game changer for me. I know, personally, I would spend at least two days going through emails after a vacation. Just the thought of the emails piling up in my inbox would give me heartburn. A wise friend of mine told me about his method of spending one hour every night triaging his emails to clean up his inbox and to deal with emergencies.
The best part about this strategy is you are working off business hours, so you won’t get pulled into any conversations by responding. Make sure you either give an immediate solution or imply that you will deal with the problem when you get back (if possible).
An added benefit is you can clean up all the emails you were copied on but that they were just for your information. I do this after the kids go to sleep and while my wife is getting ready for bed, but you will find the best time for you.
5) Put Your Phone Down and Enjoy Your Family
No really. Don’t even look at your phone or even better, uninstall your email client. You don’t need it and you know that if there is a true emergency that someone will call you. This is the hardest part of the whole list, but one that will prevent you from ruining yet another trip.
Your family wants to spend time with you. They love you and care about you and deserve your undivided attention. It is amazing how many of us actually get frustrated with our families for having the nerve to want to spend time with us! Particularly since in the scheme of life, these things aren’t all that important.
Take the time to prepare and then simply enjoy your family. They are worth it.
One final thought. Make sure you give your team members the same respect during their family time. Set an expectation and even go so far as to threaten discipline if they don’t unplug and enjoy time away from work. You will be amazed as to what that simple act can do for a work culture, and for everyone’s sanity.
What are some reasons why your particular work situation makes taking a real vacation more difficult?
Images: Of author’s family. Used with permission.
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