Systems, sales and relationships: Managing the process

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barrieI’m in Barrie, Ontario today (see www.barrieconstructionnews.com), following an SMPS Ontario executive meeting in Toronto last night and before heading tomorrow afternoon to the Ontario General Contractors Association symposium at Blue Mountain. This four day journey is longer than I usually take from home, but the relationships, communications and association connections are relevant for our business, as I think they would be for anyone seeking to develop higher-value sales.

As I travel, I need to deal with internal business issues, including a shift in direction about the planned maternity leave for our key administrative employee. We had started the process of filling her spot with a term employee — using our hiring system to process more than 400 resumes, narrowing down a short list and interviewing finalists. However, the person we thought best and were ready to hire phoned me on Monday to say  she appreciate the offer but had reached the short-list stage for another job with better pay and a less stressful commute. We had the choice, it seemed, of hiring the “best”candidate, hoping she would not leave in a few weeks or selecting someone further down the list.

Then yesterday the administrative employee surprised me with an alternative proposal. Could she work part-time and bring her baby to the office in place of full maternity leave? My initial reaction: There is no “system” for this idea. Then I considered the ramifications and challenges. Administrative processes would be disrupted, to some extent, and obviously it will be hard for others to work in the office if the baby is crying (but the administrator is there alone, most of the time.) She is also a highly efficient employee; able to handle twice the workload in the same amount of time as previous administrative employees. From her perspective, she assessed the income decline from government-paid maternity benefits, and realized she would be better off financially working shorter hours but staying on the job part-time.

I weighed other considerations, including the fact that we’ve had challenges with some administrative employees in the past who created flex-time arrangements for their own personal needs, at the expense of the business. So, in this case, the systems concepts suggest she should go on leave. As well, of course, I wanted to be sure both the mother and baby would be healthy — there is a practical need for bonding and time with babies, and the office is an unconventional place at this time in both mother and baby’s life cycle.

Conclusion: After speaking with the employee, we’ll approve the continue-to-work strategy. Systematically, a healthy working environment  should provide provisions to accommodate employee proposals if they don’t hinder or interfere with the business and  provide a better quality of life for everyone. This experience will be a “first” for us — I’m not sure how things will go when someone phones the office and the baby is crying in the background. But I’m confident the work will get done.

Businesses of all sizes need to manage the mix of processes, procedures, rules, and individual accommodations. We are all individuals, and while you can study social science and learn from experience, the question always is when do you stick to your guns (and rules) and when do you make changes?

Clearly, if you are submitting proposals for public works projects, you should absolutely follow the RFP or tender document requirements — or you will rightfully be disqualified.  Obviously, as well, we all need to abide by the rules and laws in our jurisdictions. (In Canada, maternity leave is an employee right — though the employer is not required to pay the employee during leave, the job needs to be kept open for her return. Employees can generally access maternity leave benefits through the federal employment insurance system, and we would continue employee benefits during leave, but the employee would need to contribute the 50 per cent cost share during that time.)

Yet all systems have to take into account the human element, and some individual judgement. Here, I decided the employee’s proposal is reasonable — so we’ll move forward with it, as I prepare for the conference tomorrow.

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