How to ensure a strong first 90 days back in the saddle
In a nutshell? “Agree a transition phase with your line manager, prioritise re-connecting with key people and focus on quick wins to build confidence."
When you're back at work
Jenny Allan, senior associate, CMS Cameron McKenna
Carly Mason, associate, MacRoberts LLP
If you've not already talked with your line manager about your return to work being period of transition (perhaps on a KIT day, for example) it's good to talk about this on day one. Transition simply means a period of adjustment where the expectations of you are different (more leeway, fewer demands made of you, time allowed for training/non-client facing activity for a number of weeks). Some organisations have formal transition policies - for example, employees at the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP who are returning from maternity leave have a 50% reduction in their targets for the four weeks before they leave and the four weeks after they return. Do signpost your line manager to the guide for them in this series. It's also useful to co-create a written plan of what you're going to do over the first 90 days or work to a shorter plan of 30 days if that suits your business better. You may need to explicitly ask your line manager to make (re)introductions to new and existing clients to put you in a good position to reach billing targets once you are out of an agreed transition period.
Kate Gillies, solicitor, Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP
Janet Hood, solicitor, Janet Hood Consulting
Claire Whyte, legal counsel, RBS
Do get out of the office to eat lunch and have fresh air. You might find it useful to find somewhere you can go to close your eyes and rest your mind without disturbance. It is likely to be a false economy to push on through so, when your mind needs a break, take it.
Anna McLaggan, associate, Brodies LLP
It's normal to question and compare your performance with the member(s) of staff covering your role, asking yourself ‘Has s/he done a better job than me? Do people like him/her more than me?’ Do put all that to one side though and make a beeline for him/her/them to bring yourself up to date - and also the junior members of the team, who will have been keen to impress in your absence. What's gone well? What's been challenging? What's the most pressing priority now? What do they wish they'd known when they first took over that could be useful to you now? Listen intently and without any feeling of having to have any answers - you're in transition and you're getting the lie of the land. Also see the guide "How to ensure a smooth handover to and from your cover”.
Katy Wedderburn, partner, MacRoberts LLP
Solicitor, private practice
Siobhan Darlington, assistant to solicitor, Munro & Noble Solicitors
Make a list of all the work-related people (team members, other colleagues, suppliers, clients) who are relevant to you having a smooth return and/or onward career success and prioritise having a one-to-one catch-up with each in your first month. Returning from maternity is a great 'excuse' for recalibrating relationships that could have been better before you left as well as getting on the radar of people you don't know particularly well - even very senior people, so make the most of it. The table below might be a useful format.
"Don't expect everything to be the same, take your time to re establish yourself. Get to know any new people."
Kate Temple, solicitor, in-house public sector
Joanna Clark, director, DLA Piper LLP
Partner, private practice
Kate Gillies, solicitor, Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP
Planning key conversations
|Who?||Why?||What do I want him/her to THINK, FEEL and DO as a result of our meeting?||Priority ranking||By when?|
|Katy||Been my cover - got inside track on everything - and she's going to be staying in the team.||THINK - that I'm interested in her achievements and that I'm looking forward to working with her.|
FEEL - she can trust me; positive about working with me.
DO - give me the detail I need at the pace I need it.
|Veenu||Line manager||#1||First Day|
Research shows that performance drops off if line manager-team member one-to-ones happen less frequently than once every fortnight - and that there's not much gained from having them more frequently than that. That might be much more frequently than either of you is used to and now's a good time to put them in both your diaries for the first three months. Keep talking honestly, making adjustments accordingly and seeking feedback on your performance if it's not being volunteered.
Nicole Conroy, trainee solicitor, Caird Vaughan
The transition period you've agreed with your line manager probably needs to include some quick wins. Naturally, being successful feels good and it also builds self-esteem and a readiness for taking on bigger projects. If you find you're being asked to take on more than you're ready for (for example, a 'benevolent' line manager who thinks he or she is signalling their trust and confidence in you by putting something demanding on you) flag it and/or say what extra resources you'll need.
Karen Baird, solicitor, Williamson and Henry
Lindsey Anderson, solicitor, Stewart and Watson
Katherine Allan, solicitor, RBS
It's much easier for people to give feedback when you give them permission. Maximise the chances of hearing something that will make a helpful difference to you by asking people you trust to give honest, specific feedback. Ask questions, such as: ’I'm really keen to know how I come across in X meeting and I know you'll be honest. What's your impression?’ or ’I've been back four weeks and I want to gauge where I am - could you let me know three things you think I've done well (behaviours or output) and a couple of suggestions for what I can do better?’ It’s better to ask the questions than wait for feedback (and not get it). Some people interpret absence of feedback as 'I'm doing a terrible job, they'd tell me if was doing well’, whereas others don't think to give praise and instead operate on the basis of 'I'll let them know when something's wrong'.
Line managers who are keen on order and following protocol might be keen to get performance development plans/objectives written down as soon as you're back. In reality, it's probably better to wait until you've been back a month or so and can see where your focus needs to be for the remainder of the performance development cycle. You can use outputs from all the conversations you've had with colleagues and clients to make a case for what you put forward to be included in your plan. If you have a hands-off manager, you may need to drive this aspect of your return yourself, which is a great way to demonstrate your commitment and being on the front foot.
Use the time you discuss performance development plans to agree to have a broader conversation about your longer-term aspirations in another couple of months - or now, if you feel ready. There's no right or wrong timing and most returners report it taking anywhere between two and six months to feel as though they are operating as comfortably as they were pre-leave. If you've worked with a coach and used a strengths profiling tool, it's worth sharing this with your line manager. It could help him/her see how they can get the best out of you now and link in with other opportunities on the horizon that might be satisfyingly stretching for you.
Over to you
- How and when will you position transition time with your line manager? Do you need to sell it in?
- Who do you need to reconnect with? What's the first step with each person?
- What are the benefits of co-creating a plan with your line manager? Any thoughts on what you'd like to include as quick wins and longer-term projects?
- Also see the other 11 guides in the our Parents in the Profession series
- R2 strengths profiling tool
- Skiffington, S. and Zeus, P. (2003). Behavioural Coaching: How to Build Sustainable Personal and Organizational Strength. Sydney: McGraw-Hill
- Case study of 'transition time' at law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP
- Maternity comeback coaching - information for you and your line manager
- Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work by Jessica Chivers (Hay House, 2011)