My friend just had a baby. A premature baby. A baby born 10 weeks early to be precise. Birth can be harrowing enough for any woman but going through the ordeal of having a premature baby and not knowing if they’re going to be ok is doubly harrowing. And what could make that worse? Having to return to work only 18 weeks after giving birth, when her baby had only been home with them for two months. That’s what my friend had to do. And I don’t think that’s ok for anyone to have to do at any company.
I’m lucky enough to work at GrantTree – a company where anyone can suggest a company change. From my friend’s experience, I decided to change GrantTree’s parental leave policy to make it more inclusive for new parents of preemies.
The policy change I suggested was substantial. It required a financial commitment from the company to guarantee preemie parents additional, fully-paid leave days.
Despite it being a major policy change, it was accepted in full within a week without endless rounds of discussions or push back.
So how could GrantTree accept such a ground-breaking policy so quickly? The answer is simple: we use an alternative management structure, holacracy.
Holacracy sits between the traditional hierarchical structures and companies that are completely flat. Its founder, Brian Robertson, explains its purpose as a way to “empower people to make meaningful decisions in pursuit of your organisation’s purpose.” In our case, at the core of GrantTree sits the idea that it’s a place for us to find our power and our truth and aliveness and bring it to the world. In short, adopting a policy that will allow preemie parents more time with their child seemed very much like a meaningful decision, one that helps people find their aliveness and full potential.
One of the key elements of holacracy is that everyone is responsible for finding solutions to his or her own problems. There are no managers to turn to for help. If you feel there’s a problem, in the way I felt our parental policy needed to be more inclusive, you bring up the issue and actively try and resolve it.
I could have brought my suggestion to a meeting, but instead I shared it among the team (or the general company circle), outlining my issue and my solution and called on the team to review. Anyone could have asked for a meeting to get more information or to debate the topic. Still, even if someone would have raised an objection then, because they would have felt my proposal might cause harm, we would have fixed it, together, to move things forward. In this case, however, there was no feedback and the policy change was adopted, just like that.
How do you think this would have happened in your company? Let’s face it, in most other companies I would have met major resistance to changing the parental leave policy. I could have raised my suggestion with my line manager, the HR department or perhaps within a staff forum. There would likely have been rounds of discussions, some of which I would have been completely excluded from. I might have faced a long battle with management that might have gone on for months or even years. And in the end, after all this, my policy suggestion could have been rejected without any explanation given.
To me, this seems an extraordinarily backward way of addressing issues. It’s an approach that suggests life, in particular family life, is in permanent conflict with work. GrantTree’s approach shows that this doesn’t have to be the case and proves the integration between work and life, is possible right now. And about time, too.