Nick Kozak for the Toronto Star
Case Studies

Recruiter seeks balance between busy firm and new baby

Vital Stats
Name:
Boost Agents Inc.
Owner:
Trina Boos
Address:
675 King St West, Suite 302, Toronto, M5V 1M9
Field:
recruitment
Active:
3 years
Offering:
Specialist recruitment provider to the advertising, marketing, creative and communications industries

Trina Boos has bolstered the ranks of her company, written a meticulous four-month maternity-leave strategic plan and has a nanny waiting in the wings. Still, when the small business owner gives birth later this month, she is not completely sure that the plan devised to both steer her business and afford her bonding time with her baby will work.

“I need to ensure that the company’s long term plans stay on track,” says Boos, founder and president of Toronto recruiting firm Boost Agents.

Despite increasing numbers of women occupying the CEO’s chair these days, according to Boos, maternity-leave resources to guide female business owners with thriving service-based businesses, like hers, are scarce.

She has uncovered plenty of online information and strategies for mompreneurs with smaller home-based businesses. But she discovered a serious lack of information for female entrepreneurs who own fast-growing bricks and mortar businesses like Boost Agents.

“I’ve found little to help me feel that I’m not going at this alone,” says Boos, whose firm has grown from one to nine employees in three years. Its clients span software development, consumer electronics, technology, advertising, PR, marketing and design companies.

Boos was eager to learn how to best prepare employees for a boss’s pregnancy leave and how to get employees excited about this kind of major workplace change. She was also hoping to find ideas for integrating and noise-proofing an office nursery, as well as considerations for adding a nanny to the office mix.

But she came up empty. So Boos devised her own strategy, and she’ll have to wait and see how well it works.
After giving up the idea she could take off a full 12 months — “The recruiting business is too demanding,” she says — Boos plans to be away for six weeks with her newborn and then to set up a nursery at the office, with a full-time nanny.

She admits to concern around the possibility of a crying baby or breastfeeding demands interrupting phone calls, candidate interviews and staff meetings. And, although her predominantly male staff have told her they are a mix of excited and worried, Boos wonders how an on-site baby will impact the current youthful and energetic work environment where none of her employees are yet parents themselves.

“I’ve told them that if I’m breastfeeding at a staff meeting, they’ll just have to deal with it,” she says with a laugh.

if the baby proves to be too big a distraction, Boos’ back-up plan is to relocate the baby and nanny to her home, which is two blocks from the office.

Linda Duxbury is a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University and has studied work-life issues for several decades. She notes that work-life balance is increasingly challenging for both women and men, so much so that many delay having children or decide to have none at all.

“The benefit of being a successful business owner with children is that you can set your own rules that give you flexibility and help you cope,” she says. “High quality daycare and feeling that your baby is safe and happy while you’re at work is one of the keys to successful work-life balance.”

Boos is no stranger to juggling a new baby and business. She planned the creation of Boost Agents three years ago during her first maternity leave.

“I wrote the business plan on sticky notes on the living room wall while breastfeeding the baby and while I was selecting technologies, and working with lawyers, designers, web developers and real estate agents,” she says.

But this time around, she’ll be juggling a newborn with a business that is going full tilt.

“Success in a service-based industry is based on high-touch relationships which require your personal time,” she says, adding that new local and international competitors are continually entering the Toronto recruiting market.

With all this in mind, Boos has passed about 100 of her clients to her staff, introducing them to one another at lunches or connecting them from the outset of the relationship.

She’s promoted one part-time staff member to full-time and also hired a consultant to mentor and support the team for a minimum of four months.

In addition, Boos hired Your Planning Partners, a management consulting company, to assist with the maternity plan, hiring and budgeting related to her leave, to ensure the business’s long-term strategy is properly managed while she is gone and to support Boost’s marketing manager.

But the results of all the planning and the new staffing model remain to be seen.

And Boos says she’s not sure how much of those six weeks will truly be a leave. She’s told her team that she’s only a phone call away, hasn’t changed her voicemail (“If you don’t answer, they call someone else”), and she expects to be on email throughout the day. Despite her preparations, tuning out just isn’t an option.

“In the best of scenarios, in my absence the team will continue filling jobs successfully, we’ll continue to get outstanding client and candidate feedback and the business will grow, all while I enjoy a bonding time with my baby,” she says. “I have great confidence in my amazing staff and have the best plan in place as possible, but I’ve never done this before.”

EXPERT VIEWS

As Interviewed by:

Boos has been organized, thoughtful, and proactive in her maternity-leave planning — taking all the conceivable steps to ensuring downtime with her newborn. The challenge is that Boos doubts that she will actually get this time given the nature of her business. First, Boos’ doubt might be its own self-fulfilling prophecy — we yield what we plan for and believe in — Boos’ doubt might have transferred to her employees, who probably get some sense that she’ll be around to support them ultimately. Second, believing in the competency of your staff means putting actions behind words: while watching them struggle or fail in places can be hard, employees have to be given a chance to ‘sink or swim’ as it is the best way they really develop the learning and self-efficacy to meet the goals laid out for them. Finally, Boos should trust the instincts that have served her so well already: the unconventional solutions (e.g. nursing stations, an in-office nanny) she implements might ultimately become a longer-term cultural enabler as opposed to a shorter-term organizational hindrance.

by Brynn Winegard - SEEC

Despite all of her planning, which appears to be quite professionally done, Trina is still apprehensive about leaving. She’s taken a 12-month leave down to six weeks, and still plans to be available even then. This is not a question of whether or not all of the support structures are in place and whether or not they will work. Rather Trina needs to ask herself if she is really prepared to step back and allow the people she has hired, be it full-time staff or professional consultants, do the job she believed they were the right people for. The risk here is if Trina micro-manages, drops in and tries to catch up in order to ensure that all is well. Rather than run interference, or perhaps potentially creating some, Trina should step back and let the office run as planned, without her, for 12 months. Of course as the owner she needs to be aware of any major events, be they positive or not. Trina could then participate as needed, and as requested. Otherwise, she should bond with her newborn, take the pleasure in those days. Then, return in twelve months ready to take the company to the next level, to grow the firm, with the help of her dedicated staff and support network.

by Steve Tissenbaum, Ryerson

I’ve got a picture of me sitting at my desk three days after my baby was born, after my boss begged me to come back to work — with my baby. So I’ve been there. This is a really great opportunity for Trina to empower, develop and build trust with her employees. More than saying she has confidence in her employees, she has to show she has great confidence. One way is to get the staff together in a room and lay out the plans so far, and then ask if there is something missing, anything her employees have to add. Implementing those suggestions empowers the team, helps them engage, shows her confidence in them and gives them added buying to the plan. And if she doesn’t implement their suggestions, she should explain why. If she empowers them, they’ll have the confidence to make decisions while she’s away and not need call her. Its an opportunity for the team to develop new skills and expertise. That also means giving them the opportunity to make some mistakes, so she should embrace that. Don’t be afraid of it, so long as everyone learns and moves forward. She might even want to set stretch goals they can work towards. Sounds like she has a lot of policies in place, but great leadership also means being able to step back and and let your team do what you hired them for!

by Deirdre Fitzpatrick - GBC

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