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Remote Management Skills for High Team Performance

Use the 3-C Framework

We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time…So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work.

May Wong, Stanford News

If you haven’t guessed by now, remote work is the new normal. What’s not new is that some teams are high performing and others languish in mediocrity.

Virtual work is not the barrier. The barrier is the “affinity distance”– the perception amongst team members of how mentally and emotionally connected they feel with each other.

So, why should managers pay attention to this soft and fuzzy notion?

Teams that have high virtual distance suffer a 90% drop in innovation effectiveness, more than 80% plunge in trust, and 60% decline in finishing projects on time and within budget, among other negative effects.

Keith Ferrazzi, Harvard Business Review

We know that high trust teams with a clear purpose, roles, and responsibilities, and shared accountability set the context for high performance. There’s actually nothing warm and fuzzy about creating these conditions.

Use the 3-C framework – get your team on track

Connection. The well-known Gallup Q12 survey statement “I have a best friend at work” correlates close interpersonal relationships with engagement and productivity.

Coaching Tip: Create remote buddy duos/trios. Require buddies to meet every week for 15-20 minute check-ins (that’s your management what). Let the buddies determine the how they want to meet and discuss. Rotate buddies monthly (the who changes, allowing for more diverse connections).

Communication. As goes communication, goes the team. Create a cadence of predictable and quality communication.

Coaching Tip: Apply the sturdy triad of communications:

  • Weekly team meetings. Keep it under 50 minutes.
  • Weekly one-on-ones. 20–30 minutes per employee.
  • Daily huddles. At beginning or end of day. Maximum of 10 minutes.

Collaboration. Require your teams to regularly co-develop solutions, action plans, and lines of accountability.

Coaching Tip: Proactively address these common pesky questions to effective team collaboration:

  • What are normal work hours?
    • For example, 9am to 5pm
  • What are common available blocks of time for collaborating?
    • For example, parents may only be available during school hours
  • What are healthy boundaries?
    • For example, are folks expected to answer emails and calls after agreed upon normal work hours?
  • What are designated channels of communications?
    • For example, is it appropriate to call a co-worker’s personal cellphone?
  • What are timeliness expectations for returning communications?
    • For example, emails must be responded to within 24 hours
  • What are the established processes for different scenarios?
    • For example, what decisions require the whole team (decision by committee) and what decisions can be made by individuals (executive action)?

To point out the obvious, there is nothing “soft” about building a high performing remote team. As the management adage goes – the soft skills are the hard skills. Managing remotely is difficult, especially for those of us doing it for the first time. However, by intentionally leveraging the 3-C Framework, your team will lower their “affinity distance,” grow closer, increase collaboration, and elevate performance.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

Check out my other blog posts!

Remote Work from Dining Room

Special Issue: 5 Skills for Managing a Remote Team

Plus 5 Coaching Tips!

Managing Remotely Webinar Series

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted work from the office to your employees’ living rooms. For many managers, the challenge of coaching a remote team is vexing. How do you ensure high productivity while maintaining a positive and collaborative culture?

Here are 5 Core Manager Skills to create an accountable, engaged, and healthy remote team:

Skill #1 – Elevate Engagement by Stepping Up Yours. The lack of daily in-person interactions creates an energy vacuum. Your team doesn’t need a cheerleader. But they do crave intentional leadership that provides clear direction, facilitates esprit de corps, and brings a positive outlook during uncertain times.

Coaching Tip: Communicate regular appreciation to your team for their energy, collaboration, and results during these challenging times.

Skill #2 – Be Vigilant About Tending to Your Culture. Passionate and unified cultures are strongly correlated with improving performance across a host of key business outcomes (Gallup). Complacency or business-as-usual is your enemy. Cultures, like gardens, are healthiest when receiving attentive care.

Coaching Tip: Begin your weekly team meeting asking each member to quickly share A) what success they had the past week, B) where they are struggling, and C) what help or input they need from the team.

Skill #3 – Establish Sacred Meeting Schedules. It’s vital to understand that “employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings” (Harvard Business Review). Clear routines, like meetings, provide team members with structure that fosters certainty, lowers anxiety, and enables high productivity.

Coaching Tip: Three meeting examples that drive Kevin Kruse’s, CEO LeadX, team’s remote work.

  • Weekly One-on-Ones
  • Weekly Action Review (WAR)
  • End-of-Day Check In

Skill #4 – Clarify RRA (Roles, Responsibilities, Accountabilities). Gallup’s research found that high employee engagement was most strongly correlated with a positive response to the statement – I know what is expected of me at work. Further, the ultimate prize of effective collaboration is enhanced when each team member understands how everyone’s part fits into the big picture. Ambiguity is a remote manager’s worst enemy.

Coaching Tip: Post everyone’s RRA to a project management software or a Google document for high visibility.

Skill #5 – Focus on Growing Talent. Telework is an excellent opportunity to engage your team members in career or skill development conversations. The International Coaching Federation reports that “83% of employees indicated career support positively impacts their engagement.” The same study showed “85% of individuals agreed, or strongly agreed, there is nothing wrong with staying in the same job if they can try new things or develop new skills.”

Coaching Tip: Your weekly one-on-one meetings are the mechanism for providing effective feedback. These deeper conversations strengthen your relationships and send a sincere message that you care about each team member.

Managers who are intentional about prioritizing relationships, collaboration, and accountability will engage their teams in healthy and productive remote work!

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring. –Steve

Managing Remotely Webinar Series

Active Listening

Active Listening: One of the Most Important Manager Skills

With 4 Great Tips on How to Improve Active Listening Skills

Listening is the simplest “soft” skill that a manager can have, but it may have the most impact. Workplace communication is the key to understanding your people and your organization. Often, the difference between success and failure will be determined by if your employees feel comfortable talking to you and if you listen to what they say. To ensure that your employees communicate, be an active listener.

“The human brain discloses information in layers, therefore our questions should match this biology.”

The Science of Selling by David Hoffeld

4 Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

  1. Ask Questions. Questions are a fantastic way to show people that you’re listening. When you ask a question, people see you as engaged in the conversation. Ask “what” and “how” questions to expand the conversation and get at the root of the topic. But be careful to never ask a question that the person has already addressed. And, try to avoid “why” questions unless absolutely necessary. People get defensive when they are asked to justify something.
  2. Maintain Eye Contact and Positive Posture. Eye contact is essential to show that you’re actively listening. According to Michigan State University, eye contact shows that you’re alert and interested in the conversation. Body posture is just as important. Sit up straight, keep your hands uncrossed, and don’t fidget.
  3. Use Visual and Verbal Cues. In addition to the cues you give with proper eye contact and body posture, don’t forget to be active in the conversation. Positive visual cues include nodding your head and smiling. They’ll put the speaker at ease and assure them that you’re listening. Likewise, use simple phrases like “right” and “go on” to encourage the person to keep talking.
  4. Paraphrase, Summarize, and Clarify. Paraphrasing and summarization are perfect to show that you’ve been listening after the speaker is done with a particular point. Something like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” shows the speaker that you’ve processed their information and gives them a chance to clarify their meaning. But, clarification goes both ways. If you aren’t quite sure about what the speaker means, then get some clarification by using Tip #1! Asking questions is the best way to make sure you understand everything.

Active listening can go a long way to help your business run smoothly. Not only will your team members trust you to communicate, but active listening will trickle down your organization. In due time, you’ll find that your team will actively listen to customers more. And, customers love to be listened to!

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

Flight Crew in Cockpit

Managers – Build a Culture Like an Aviation Flight Crew

4 Best Practices to Safely Land Your Business Plane in 2019

Analysis of many commercial flight disasters concludes that faulty communication between the flight crew and captain, not mechanical failure, led to tragedy.  In other words, first officers and flight engineers had critical information of concern but failed to communicate that information in a direct and effective manner. CRM (crew resource management), in part, aims to train flight crews to assertively and respectfully speak up when they possess critical data. Averting disaster is achieved at the intersection of quality communications, leadership, and decision-making.

Managers, like flight captains, need to create psychologically safe environments that encourage reps to share real time data and concerns. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, a rich flow of relevant information enables collective sensemaking to occur.

“Business agility is creating a learning organization this is faster and better at learning about themselves and their customers.”

-Jason Bloomberg (Forbes)

Managers – Create a CRM-like work culture by implementing these 4 best practices

  1. Problems First, Solution Forward Meetings. You’ve hired smart people, right? One-on-ones and team meetings should leverage people’s intelligence by solving significant problems. Top of agenda should always be – What are you seeing? What are your challenges? Where are the opportunities? What aren’t we talking about that we should be? What solutions will move positive action forward?
  2. Establish Collaborative Learning as a Core Value. Humble leaders understand that none of us is as smart as all of us. Continuous learning, together, is espoused as a competitive business strategy, not a nice to have cultural element. Agile managers models and embodies a “we” oriented team culture.
  3. Teach and Coach Effective Communication Skills. This is a primary goal of CRM training. Team members learn how to respectively and effectively “speak up” to the chain of command. This isn’t easy for most team members. Leaders recognize that their formal authority often impedes candid feedback. Therefore, ongoing coaching and reinforcement feedback is a preferred management style.
  4. Develop a Tolerance for Failure.  Unlike commercial aviation, a failure in the business world rarely leads to tragedy. Effective managers who reframe failures into forward-learning events foster a team of agile learners.

A fast paced and complex marketplace demands that managers create a feedback-rich work environment where reality is being openly and accurately discussed. Flawed communication may not result in tragedy at work, unlike on an airplane, but it can be the deciding factor between success and failure. Managers who think like successful flight captains greatly increase their chances of landing the plane safely!

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.

Check out our other blog posts too!

The Hero-Manager Complex and 4 Tips on How to Avoid it

The townspeople are in trouble, the enemy is at the gates. There is only one who can stop the threat, it’s superman(ager).

The drive for accomplishment, to be the champion for your team, and win the day for your organization are traits of excellence. However, when these traits are coupled with frenetic leadership, crisis addiction, and overstretching, you end up working against yourself.

The impact on the organization can feel like you are pushing the accelerator with one foot while simultaneously braking with the other.

“In addition to having a commitment to a mission or a desire to establish a meaningful legacy, heroic stature is just one of several hallmarks of transformational leaders. But this particular quality is most often distorted and poorly managed.” –Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fortune

If you chase every shiny object, your people will burn-out. When you create a constant state of crisis, your team will lack development. If you manage based on individual personalities, your best people won’t get the recognition they need… and underperformers get by on a smile.

If anything above looks like you, you might be suffering from hero-manager complexgreat for your own ego but bad for developing your people’s capacity.

4 Tips for Avoiding the Hero-Manager Complex

Tip # 1 – Ease up on yourself. Really. The rewards for being the go-to gal or guy, whether internal (self-esteem, confidence, pride) or external (compensation, promotion, recognition), are powerful forces. Giving some control away by empowering others can be scary, but well worth it. Have patience with yourself as you learn to delegate and collaborate. The rewards of growing your people outweigh the risks of feeling a little bit out of control!

Tip # 2Don’t be afraid to fail. You can’t plan on failure, nor should you. Dare to assign novel, challenging projects that invite failure. The athlete or musician who never fails is most likely not pushing his or her limits. Be tolerant of “tolerable mistakes.” Follow Gore-Tex founder Bill Gore’s principle of action – “Never make mistakes below the waterline.”

Tip # 3 Coach up, coach into a position of strength, or coach out. High performers hate being on a team with laggards. Laggards, however, love playing with high performers; all the benefits, none of the sweat. Great managers aren’t fooled. Or look at it another way, effective talent managers, like dedicated gardeners, are always weeding out low performers and toxic attitudes to create more room for their top talent flowers to bloom. By tolerating low performance, you risk sending signals to high performers that perhaps they should jump the fence to more fertile ground.

Tip # 4 – Delegate. Delegation is so important that it merits repetition. Strategic delegators match individual strengths to project demands, thereby enhancing the whole team. Weak delegators can actually handicap an organization’s future performance. Effective delegation is an insurance policy against tomorrow’s marketplace uncertainties.

The key to overcoming the hero-manager complex is to trust and invest in your people, and to lift them up to face the challenges of your business.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring. –Steve

As always, check out the resources page for tons of great content that can help you improve your manager-coach skills today.

Learning Bulb Ideas

Learning and Performance: The Importance of Parallel Goal Setting

You want high performance, so you demand it. But without proper education and support, your employees lose morale. We all know what low morale does to a workplace. Failure to keep employees engaged, inspired, and rewarded creates more of what you don’t want: loss of hope, frustration, and—sometimes—unethical behavior. But a manager who couples performance expectations with learning and process goals is a manager with a winning team.

 

If you focus on results, you’ll never change.
If you focus on change, you’ll get results.” 
–Jack Dixon

 

Winning Managers Simultaneously Craft Two Types of Goals

#1—Performance Goals. These are often “the numbers,” and I warn you, be careful with them. Arbitrarily raising the bar may result in the negative actions above.

“The numbers” are tightly coupled with “forced ranking,” the management process made famous by Jack Welch at General Electric. Enlightened leaders and managers have long associated these archaic methods with Fredrick Taylor’s Scientific Management Theory. Rigorous coaching and development inspires and motivates people, not the pursuit of economic efficiencies at all costs.

 

“What’s measured improves” -Peter F. Drucker

 

#2—Learning/Process Goals. These are the identified competency areas necessary for the person to achieve the performance targets. It’s unethical for management to set performance goals but not provide the knowledge and training necessary for people to achieve success. However, front line teammates experience this shoddy implementation regularly.

Most of us would consider it ludicrous for a tennis coach to demand his player increase her first-serve speed (performance), but not train the athlete on the bio-mechanics (process) that generates more power. Sadly, the sloppy mandating of increased performance expectations happen every day in organizations. Talented managers act like talented coaches when setting performance targets.

Make sure you are nurturing and developing your people, and they’ll stick around longer, be stronger, and help you pave the way to more wins for your business.

 

Keep it Simple, Keep it Focused, and Keep it Inspiring. –Steve

 

art credit: Carlos Sarmento & Gregor Cresnar