We think having a kid hinders our ability to perform our best at work--especially if you have an all-consuming job as CEO of a growing company. When I met Karen Clark Cole, the CEO of Blink UX, a user experience firm in Seattle, she said having her daughter ended up being a key influencing factor to tripling business growth year after year. I was so struck by this; I had to share her story.
Most people think starting a family hampers success at work. How did having your daughter disprove that theory?
I shifted my focus, shortly after I had my daughter, to what the needs were of the company's individuals. Before, I was leading and directing and it was all about the work. Now, it's all about the people doing the work.
Attachment style parenting forces you to be fully present with your child. I had to make a choice: focus on the baby (who is all encompassing) or think about my work, projects and chores. Having the baby forced the issue. She needed me and I decided to be there 100%. Literally, for the first 3 months I was 100% with her. I didn't (and still don't) do anything else; I didn't check email, fix dinner or Facebook. As a result, I was able to do the same at work. When I am at work, I don't think of my daughter or family unless I need to. I have my phone, and if my nanny needs me I'm there, otherwise I am very focused. The benefit is people at work get my focus. At home, there is no work. On the weekends, if need be, I set aside time for short work moments, and I don't do both.
How has being more present directly impacted your business results?
I tracked the revenue before my daughter: the company was growing 5-10% a year on average, and post-birth, we have grown 20-50% with a 35% average over the last 6 years. My daughter is 6. More importantly than growth, it's about the people. They say the past 3-4 years the company is totally different--mostly because I am leading in a completely different way. Before, I had answers to solve problems, and I'd make decisions and roll them out. Now, I identify the problems but have others come up with solutions. I, ultimately, make and implement the final decisions, but they aren't my ideas anymore. Nowadays, no one bothers to send emails, they just come to me and we talk. That availability is directly related to my experience with my daughter.
Can you give specific examples of being more present at work and how it shifted the culture of your organization?
I'll give an example of a daily activity that has shifted. People no longer bring their laptops or phones to meetings. I said we're making a change and I want everyone to come to meetings and be fully present. Now, being present in meetings is the norm and part of the culture. That is the single thing I am most proud of--insisting on us being present with each other.
Another example is that we decided to reorganize and get rid of management. We have a flat structure with project leads, but no titles. We created a leadership group. Instead of an annual review process, we have a check-in process (I meet with everyone one-on-one, two times a year for an hour). The leadership team guides people in their careers rather than direct reports. I am responsible for hiring and firing, but in terms of responsibility, everyone is responsible for himself or herself. We have the Grow Tool, so people can get the feedback they need. We create channels for feedback and encourage them, through training, how to reach their potential at work and home. We look at people holistically. As a result, our retention is amazing--people don't leave.
What advice do you give to entrepreneurial mothers and fathers-to-be who want to do it all?
The thing that I say the most is "turn off the noise and enjoy the big moments." Really enjoy it. Family, and particularly your kids, are just one shot and you don't want to miss it. Jobs come and go, and work will always be there. Realize that all the different experiences make you a better person.