Back to work from my hospital bed
The day after Jane Sparrow had her baby she got to work planning her book. Three months later she began writing it.
She had decided to write the book – The Culture Builders - when she got pregnant. “I wanted to write something that put the tools for getting the most out of people in the hands of people who could use them,” she says. “But on the first day after I had the baby I realised why people had maternity leave and it was not to write books.”
Jane had contributed to two books before, but had never written an entire book on her own. She had been director of employee communication and engagement at Sony Europe and then ran a leadership development company in Europe before starting up her own consultancy working with leaders and managers. She was working right up to two days before her daughter was born through a planned c-section.
She started work on the book from her bed. She says it was a good thing she had had a c-section or she would have been running around trying to do things at home, including dealing with heating problems caused by a building accident. She used the recovery time to formulate her ideas for the book.
She says for the writing part of the book it was vital that she had a good support network around her. “This was really important in the last months when I just had to grind through and write,” she says. Her husband and other members of the family helped out, but there were times during the night when her daughter would wake up and she would have her lying next to her and would rock her while she was typing.
She had to do a few interviews for the book. She would try to do these when the baby was sleeping, but sometimes she would be sleeping on top of Jane while she tried to take notes. “At times I had to train my brain to take in all that people said and then write it down later,” she says. She also had some embarrassing moments in corporate situations when a dummy or a nappy fell out of her bag at an inappropriate time.
Because a young baby's sleep patterns are not set, she would sometimes have to put her daughter in the car and drive around till she fell asleep then park in a supermarket car park and write until the baby woke up. “I couldn't predict when she would sleep so I would carry my laptop and notebook everywhere I went,” she says.
Her book, which she handed to her publisher just before Christmas, addresses issues like what motivates particular employees. “It's important for managers to think how they can get the most out of employees, for instance, who have children. Flexible working might be more important to them than extra money,” says Jane.
She says a lot of money is put into leadership programmes for top executives, but it is the middle managers who are dealing with issues day in and day out who need help. “There is more pressure on them,” she says, adding that her book is about enabling those people to get the best out of their team. The book includes interviews with managers who make good role models. “I wanted to find out what they do and capture their experience in a way that was really practical,” she says.
The book is designed as a compendium that people can dip into. There are tips on issues like giving feedback and coaching conversations. Jane says many people are promoted to management positions because they are good at their jobs, but have no idea how to manage people. They need more help and support.
Jane is now working on her consultancy and marketing her book, although she quite fancies writing a “racy novel” next. Her aim is to work three to four days a week, but she thinks at the moment she is probably doing about six days, including evenings and early mornings. “I'm taking it day to day, but I'm trying to be flexible,” she says. She has cut down on work overseas. Before her daughter was born she used to be on plane around once a week. However, she finds it difficult to turn down work since she works for herself.
The main issue she has to deal with is logistics. “Before working mums leave for work they have to deal with a whole load of logistical problems,” she says. “If I had known what it was like before I would probably have managed women with children differently and been more appreciative and flexible.”
She has a working mum of four who works for her now and they try to plan for less work during the school holidays. “She is so grateful for that and it is something I wouldn't have thought about before,” says Jane, who adds that her experience shows that people work best when they are happiest. “If you give people a four-day week they will do their utmost to deliver. You will probably get more from them in the end,” she says.
Jane has tried using a childminder, but it didn't work out as her daughter suffered really bad separation anxiety. Her mother, who lives an hour and a half away, helps out a lot, even driving down to her house at 4am some days if she has a big meeting in London or Jane drops her daughter off at her mums's on her way to a client. She also has friends around who help. “We just make it work,” she says.
*The Culture Builders is out on 30th September and can be pre-ordered on Amazon now. Check out Jane's blog here - it has tips and advice for managers and her website has tools, including video footage of leadership role models.