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Who Covers Your Work While You’re on Sabbatical? First Steps to Extraordinary Success.

Your boots on the ground in Patagonia; back in the office your work completed superbly. Ideal.

Planning a sabbatical is fraught with challenges.

How do I  find the cheapest airfare to Bhutan?

What is the most valuable professional experience for my time away?

Can I fit my family into a small Airstream?

When you decide to take a sabbatical offered by the company or negotiate your own six-weeks away, the most immediate concern is about your “work.”

Common questions haunting enough to often cause an individual to reconsider the sabbatical altogether are:

How will my work get done while I am gone?

How do I keep the business running?

Can my work flow continue and progress?

Who will do my job get done while I am gone?

(And, who will not mess things up?)

Challenges of trust, resistance of co-workers or a competitive work culture can complicate the challenge.

While some small business owners choose to carry on a skeletal business, others shut down with a “bye-bye, I’ll be back” online message. Neither choice is good for growing a business nor or even feasible for careers within a company.

The work must go on.

With enthusiastic individuals who want to learn and build skills accomplishing the work in extraordinary fashion, worries diminish and the challenge overcome. Finding those individuals is the first and most critical part of your work coverage plan.

But, first, what is “the work”?

Face Your Internal Thoughts

Ask a sabbatical goer to break down his/her role into activities and outcomes, and the response is, “That’s impossible. What I do is very unique and complicated.”

With help and prodding from us, those same individuals discover, “Ahhh, yeah, okay, yes, – I can break my job down.”

That’s the first internal thought that challenges individuals – thinking your job is much to complicated to break into manageable parts.

Get over that hurdle and another looms. If you are a successful, high achiever this second hurdle is higher than the first.

Fed by an ego-centric view of our talents and abilities accompanied by a dose of distrust, your second internal challenge is when you hear yourself say: “But, no one can do the work better than me.”

And this may be true, (maybe – for one or two things. But not, everything.)

In our experience individuals who successfully implemented solid work coverage plans return to find big surprises after six weeks to three months of complete disconnect from the workplace.

The work was done well and/or in exemplary ways often with a flair of unforeseen creativity.

A scary discovery perhaps – to find someone else can execute parts of your job as well as or better than you – but good for growing talent into a succession pipeline for the organization.

And ultimately, good for the sabbatical goer who can now delegate more confidently and move on to add other dimensions to his talent development.

Find Your Best Candidates

At times, all of us make decisions based on our first inclinations.  But the first individuals to cover your work that come to mind might not be the best. The best individuals can be those less obvious.

Someone, for example,  with more passion than skills, outside of your immediate team, or who is less outgoing should become part of the pool of candidates to consider.

These questions help identify possible work partners:

  • What competencies are necessary to be successful in this work?
  • Who are the candidates who have the skills to be successful?
  • Are there others who have a component of the necessary skill set who would grow with this experience?
  • Are there individuals who might have the passion for doing the tasks but not be fully fledged in the skill set?
  • What is the pay-off for someone covering this aspect of your job?
  • What other parts of the company could benefit from being involved?

Lower-risk tasks in your job are prime opportunities for stretch assignments for those who may never have had the exact same responsibility, while higher-complexity work may need a more seasoned person to cover the work.  But remember, the best work coverage partners often come from the most unexpected places.

Time to Ask Your Best Candidates?  No, Not Yet!

Outstanding work coverage outcomes with individuals beaming at the chance to learn and shine at parts of your job. This is the goal.

Let’s say you’ve locked your ego safely away and established a solid collection of candidates to consider. Maybe you’re even planning to initiate a conversation with the best individuals.  Great!

But first you need to answer the question those individuals will ask themselves:

Why would I want to cover her work when I’m up to my ears with my own work and career to manage?

Your approach to every best candidate answers this question. Be able to communicate your ideas about the benefits as well as be open to dialog with each candidate.

The benefit for your company and team is the vast training and development platform that the sabbatical experience provides.

As the sabbatical-goer your peace of mind about the work left behind and the anticipated delivery of positive outcomes will make or break this career opportunity.


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