Managing Remote Teams

Managing Remote Teams: How to Increase Engagement and Performance

Managing Remote Teams: Relationships First

Dear Karin and David,

Do you have any best practices for managing remote teams? I’m finding it hard to build genuine connection and to stay on top of performance when the team is so dispersed.

Signed,

On the Road Again #AskingForAFriend

How to Increase Engagement and Performance in a Remote Team

Employees working from home, virtual teams, and global teams in multiple time zones are an increasingly common reality for managers across industries. While some organizations are insisting everyone come to the office to work, the trend is undeniably toward geographically dispersed teams. To be an effective leader, you’ll want to master the art of managing remote teams.

When David talks with leaders about remote teams, one of the common problems he sees is diving into technology first, without thinking about why you’re using it.

To succeed with virtual teams and remote employees, think relationships first, tools second. As with a face-to-face team, what does your team need in order to succeed? The answers here are the same as for any team, eg: trust, connection to purpose, clear expectations, encouragement.
When it comes to managing remote teams, think relationships first, tools second. (Tweet this)
Once you’ve re-clarified these foundational team needs, then you can look for tools and methods to fulfill them. Key areas to focus on include communication, trust or connection with one another, mission alignment, and accountability.

Karin first tackled this topic back in 2012 when she was still at Verizon leading a remote team of 300 people around the country who were supporting 10,000 outsourced employees from 7 different companies.

In that post, she shared that despite the challenges, when done well, there are also some real benefits to managing remote teams.

  • Every interaction counts, people plan more for the time they have.
  • Both the leader and the team make extra effort to show up strong.
  • Teams and team members gain more confidence in self-direction.
  • Teams feel more encouraged to take risks.
  • It’s easier to be creative when no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • When teams are together they work hard to create relationships and are deliberate about maintaining them across distances.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder—remote teams call on one another when needed, and have quality interaction.
  • They make better use of tools and technology.
  • They listen more closely because they are not distracted by the daily noise.

You can read additional insights here. 

Many of our clients work extensively in remote teams, and in fact, we often leverage a variety of technical solutions to keep communication going across continents to create high-engagement while training these teams together, virtually.

Here are a few behaviors to focus on as your working to increase engagement and productivity while you’re managing remote teams.

  1. Establish and over-communicate a crystal clear vision and expectations.
    Managing a remote team forces you to be very clear and organized about your priorities and goals. Everything we share in Winning Well about establishing clear MITs (most important things), checking for understanding, and communicating frequently through multiple channels is EVEN MORE important when leading a remote team. Be sure your team knows what’s most important and why. It is more important than ever to check for understanding and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

    For example, to ensure meetings translate into action, an international project manager we worked with relied on agendas that are built entirely around the Winning Well meeting formula. Every item on the agenda is detailed as to the decision to be made and includes a clear ‘who is doing what, by when, and how will the team know’ outcome.

  2. Formalize your approach to informal communication.
    When you work together it’s easy to pop into the next office or catch someone in the elevator for casual updates. Don’t leave communication to chance. It’s helpful to formalize a communication process, even for informal updates, to keep your remote team informed. This is particularly important if some of your team are in other time zones.
    Mix it up – a common mistake when working with remote employees is to default to only one form of communication. Remember that people receive and retain information differently. In addition to project management software, chat platforms, and email, use a mix of more personal communication as well. There’s no substitute for a real human voice. We’re big fans of using video over phone calls whenever possible. Find creative ways to leverage technology.
  3. Be real.
    Building trust can be extra hard when face to face interaction is limited. A little vulnerability can go a long way. Find ways to get to know one another as human beings. Ditch the Diaper Genie® (or as this Fast Company article says, make an effort to  “talk about the tough stuff.” ) When people don’t have information, they make it up. And most of the time what they dream up is way worse than the truth. Reduce this tendency by taking time to intentionally “re-humanize” yourself and your team. Be vulnerable, be real, and use tools to help you make these connections. For example, one manager we worked with use a private Facebook group where her team had different fun and personal activities from sharing a meaningful object in their office to discussing what in their life mattered more to them than their work.
  4. Foster collaboration.
    One overlooked part of leading remote teams, is fostering peer collaboration. As the leader, it’s easy to become the hub of the communication, which can be extremely time consuming and limits creativity. Invest in building up the communication skills on your team. Encourage them to reach out to one another and to meet without you.
  5. Show up face-to-face more than is practical.
    Even with a solid communication plan, it’s hard to beat the benefits of spending some informal time together getting to know one another as human beings. If your budget allows, travel to your remote teams from time to time and invest great skip level interactions, roll-up-your-sleeves work, and some time to grab dinner or take a walk.

Your turn. What is your best advice for managing remote teams? 

Do you have a leadership or career question? Would you like some additional insight? Submit your question here and we’ll do our best to offer our perspective.

how to mbwa without getting in the way

How to MBWA Without Getting in the Way

My phone rang, “Karin, she’s here …”

“Crud, just what we needed today! Bad MBWA. Aghhh. You know the drill, warn the others. I’ll let John (my boss) know.”

John picked up the phone, “Okay, is your team ready? Remember there’s no such thing as a good executive visit with her, let’s just keep it from being a bad one. We don’t need the team distracted, we’ve got important work to do. We don’t need any more fire drills.”

“We should really let her know that her visits are backfiring,” I said, trying to solve this problem once and for all. I was a big fan of “no diaper genie,” even back then, “No way,” John warned. “She won’t hear you, and you’ll just get on her bad side.”

And so we did our best to protect the team, tell her what she wanted to hear and prayed that she got back on the private jet to headquarters as quickly as possible.

I’m sure her intentions were good—get out in the field, stay close to the people serving our customers, inspect what you expect, be visible… but her reactionary nature and sarcastic communication style left a destructive wake of frustration, low morale, and petty clean up that distracted the team from their MITs (Most Important Things).

When MBWA (management by walking around),  becomes OCHTC “Oh crap here they come” you’re better off staying in the office.

Seven Ways to Add Value During Your MBWA Skip Level Visits

Once I became an executive, I understood why these MBWA visits can be so hard. In any large team, there’s a 100% probability that someone is doing or saying something stupid at any minute, and tripping over that is enough to distract you from the real reason you’re there. Heading into your visits with a solid game plan will ensure your visits leave a positive impact on results and relationships.

  1. Be clear on your most important message.
    I’ve seen so many executives leave their teams with 37 action items after their visit. The team then runs around fixing things and checking them off to report back, but don’t really learn or refocus their efforts for long-term change. It’s far more impactful to pick a few key priorities and focus your messaging. Connect what you’re asking them to do and why. Plan your key messages in advance and ensure they are the focal point of your visit.
  2. Ask your middle managers how you can be most helpful.
    Your managers are working hard to keep their teams focused. Ask them how you can help reinforce their priorities. Be as helpful as possible to reinforce their influence and credibility. If they’re not focused on what you care about, WAY better to deal with that directly than to react at the front line.

  3. Talk behaviors, not numbers.
    As executives, we spend lots of time looking at numbers and trends. We get impatient for results to improve. A common practice is to leave the team with a numerical challenge, “Improve by 10% by the time I come back,” which can be inspiring … but works much better when you focus on the one or two behaviors that will help them get there, and help them find a way to measure that.
  4. Celebrate what’s working.
    You get more of what you celebrate and encourage. Look for what’s working and point it out. Thank them. Make a big deal of the good behaviors (not just the outcomes) so that everyone around notices you noticing.
  5. Ask great questions.
    If you want to know what’s really going on ask open-ended questions and really listen to the answers. What’s frustrating our customers? What is the most difficult part of your day? How is this new system making your job easier? How is it making it more difficult? Why is this metric so hard to move?
  6. Catalyze the sharing of practices.
    If you’re out and about, chances are you are seeing people in other offices or locations with some great best practices. Leverage this for some cross-pollination. “You know who’s doing this well, Laura in Poughkeepsie. You should give her a call. Tell her I sent you.”
  7. Follow up.
    Find one or two ways to be helpful and follow-up. “Here’s the additional funding you need.” “I talked to IT about that fix you were needing and they’ll have it done by next week.”

Your Turn

What would you add?  What are your best practices for more meaningful MBWA?

How to Motivate Your Team - Not Your Goals

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

Wondering How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals? Hint: Don’t Motivate, Cultivate

Have you ever been given a goal by your supervisors and thought, “Ugh! What are they thinking? My team’s gonna hate this!” If so, you’re not alone. Every manager has to figure how to motivate your team in situations like these.

People don’t like it when they feel goals are ‘shoved down their throats’ – goals that might have been set by people who may not have all the facts and didn’t ask for input.

The good news is that you and your team can still thrive in these situations – there are ways to motivate your team even when you didn’t set the goals.

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

  1. Understand that you don’t actually motivate anyone.
    A person’s motivation always comes from inside them. Your responsibility is to help release that motivation. The first step when you’re wondering how to motivate your team is to remember that you can’t actually motivate anyone. Don’t motivate, cultivate.
  2. Take Responsibility.
    In these situations, the very worst thing you can possibly do is walk into your team meeting and say, “Those clueless jerks gave us these goals and I guess we’re stuck with them.” These kind of statements are leadership suicide. They kill your credibility, disempower you and your team, and make your team wonder who they should be talking to, if not you. Do not shirk this responsibility. Own it.
  3. Be Transparent.
    While you don’t want to act like a victim nor encourage victim-thinking in your team, it is also okay to acknowledge the situation. If the goals are difficult, say so. Remember, the most important currency you have with your team is their trust. If the team is clearly feeling that the situation is unfair or challenging, it is okay to voice those feelings for the team. Eg: “You may be feeling that this is tough or even a little unfair, and I get that.”
  4. Believe In Them.
    Your team needs to hear you voice your belief in what is possible. This is the “vision” work of leadership – picture your team succeeding and let them know their own potential.” Yes, these are difficult goals and I know you haven’t done anything like this before, and I also believe we are up to the challenge. In fact, this will be the most significant achievement we do together.”
  5. Help Them.
    Rather than, “These are your goals, go figure it out and stop your complaining…” Try, “This will be our greatest achievement…and, you won’t be alone. I will be with you each step of the way. I’m committed to helping all of us succeed together.” Note: you MUST back this offer of help with real action or you won’t be asking how to motivate your team, but how to reclaim your lost credibility.
  6. Own the Problem.
    Top-down goals are difficult because people feel disempowered. Motivation drops when they don’t feel they have control over their own fate.Your job as a leader is to restore some of that power. You may not have had input into the goals, but as a team, you can have full ownership over how you will accomplish them. Ask: “How can we solve this problem?”As you settle on specific strategies and tactics, make sure to get people working out of their natural talents and energy wherever possible.When you help the team own the solution, you will have restored some of their power (and their motivation!)
  7. Advocate for Your Team.
    Part of your responsibility as a leader is to advocate for your team, department, or organization. Actively manage up and get as much information about why goals were set the way they were. The more information you can share with your team, the better. Also, take the opportunity to share any facts the decision-makers may not be aware of – be sure to share it in a way that will help them with their needs and goals. Note: you will not always succeed in changing the decision-making, but your credibility with your team and the organization will grow. Your team knows you have their back and, over time, you will gain more opportunity to speak into the goal-setting process.
  8. Do It.
    Whatever strategy your team developed – do it! Become its biggest champion. Remind everyone of their potential, the process, and their input into the decision. Hold yourself and the team accountable for results.
  9. Celebrate.
    When you get it done – make it a big deal! Thank individuals for their efforts. Celebrate the team effort. Fly the flag and let your own supervisors know what the team did and how they did it.

Your Turn

When you’re wondering how to motivate your team, remember that you don’t actually motivate anyone. Cultivate an environment where you honor them and bring out their best.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts on how to motivate your team – especially when you don’t set the goals?

surprising reason nonprofit struggles to grow

One Surprising Reason Your Nonprofit Struggles to Grow

I regularly speak with nonprofit leaders who wonder why their nonprofit struggles to grow. They have a great theory of change, clear intended impact, enthusiastic donors, but … something is wrong.

Here are a few quotes from some of these leaders. I’ve disguised their identities. Let’s see if you can spot the problem:

“We didn’t hire our staff to be leaders, we hired them because they’re good with clients.” –Human Service Nonprofit Founder

“We’re a family. We don’t want to become corporate with managers and all that.” –Healthcare Nonprofit President

“The last time we did leadership development? Oh, I should do some of that, shouldn’t I? Anyhow, I’m frustrated that people aren’t committed to our work. What do you think is wrong with them?” –Education Nonprofit CEO

It’s a little obvious, isn’t it?

In my experience, the number one reason an otherwise healthy nonprofit struggles to grow is the failure to develop leaders.

Insidious Consequences

Would you be surprised to learn that employee engagement in nonprofit organizations is among the lowest in any sector?

At first, this might seem like a contradiction. After all, we know that connection of work to meaning and purpose is one of the big drivers of energized, motivated employees. Shouldn’t there be a lot of meaning and purpose in charitable organizations?

Of course, there is. But when that passion for the cause is used to justify poor leadership or governance, it creates dangerous pitfalls for culture, leadership, employee retention, and financial resources.

With healthy leadership at every level, your charitable nonprofit can be some of the most fulfilling, productive work you’ll ever do. Without that leadership, however, it can feel like a treadmill of futility and growth is all but impossible.

How to Build Leaders and Get Ready to Grow

Your mission matters. Your people are working hard. Your donors deserve the best impact for every dollar they contribute. Build the leaders you need at every level of your nonprofit to be the best steward of the time, talent, and money you received.

“Every person that gives their life for a cause deserves a competent, diligent leader who invests in their development. It’s time for nonprofits to step up to the challenge of developing healthy organizational cultures. Real human lives are in the balance.”  – John Oliver, Chief Program Officer, National Education Nonprofit

If you’ve got a clear mission, an articulate theory of change, and motivated donors, but your nonprofit struggles to grow, here are five steps you can take to build the leadership you need to get to the next level.

  1. Train Every Leader. No Excuses. No Exceptions.

Don’t give anyone responsibility for people without fundamental leadership and management training.

You would never entrust your life to an untrained surgeon – why would you entrust your most important resources, your people, time and money, to an untrained manager? (Tweet This)

No excuses.

If you’re a smaller organization, you can start internally. Create a leadership development circle (you can download the free Winning Well Facilitator’s Guide to get you started). If you’re a growing organization, consider bringing in experts to help you create a common leadership language, use consistent, practical management skills, and create a performance-oriented, people-centered culture in your organization.

  1. Expect Performance.

As you invest in leaders and equip them with the skills they need to be effective with people, expect them to excel in their leadership responsibilities. Clarify the MITs (Most Important Thing) and ensure you’re both on the same page about what successful performance looks like. Celebrate success and hold one another accountable when performance drops.

I’ve watched too many nonprofit take a few hours with a volunteer trainer to share some leadership tools and then never mention the tools and training again. Don’t undermine your training. Evaluate your leaders based on how well they’re achieving results and building healthy relationships. (Use our Winning Well MIT Huddle Planner to help you and your leaders stay focused.)

  1. Measure What Matters.

Don’t lose yourself in the metrics maze and focus on meaningless measurements. If this year’s 75% functional program expense allows you to double your impact next year, great! Help your Board and donors understand how they’ll have more to celebrate.

Rigorous performance evaluation is a hallmark of effective nonprofits. Every investment you make should have a clear path to increased mission impact. As you invest in your leaders, demonstrate the value: reduced attrition, improved talent recruiting, improved efficiency with donor dollars, greater impact on your clients and cause, and a “next-one-up” succession plan that guarantees effective work long into the future.

  1. Boards, Get Serious.

Boards have an important role to play by setting clear expectations regarding leadership development and regularly reviewing these processes to ensure it is happening. Hold your executive staff accountable for developing their talent and ensuring the organization’s current and future success.

  1. Donors Make a Difference.

Educate your donors about why they should invest their money in organizations that build leaders at every level rather than with those who don’t.

As a donor, when you contribute to charitable organizations, look at their management team and leadership development. Ask questions about how the organization trains leaders at every level to be effective at achieving results and building relationships.

Your Turn

My favorite leadership development is with people who commit to making the world a better place. Whether you’re a part of a for-profit, nonprofit, or public organization, there is an energy, joy, and passion for performance in those teams that’s infectious.

If that’s not your team; if your mission and people are as important as you say they are; if you have the fundamentals covered but your nonprofit struggles to grow, then it’s time to invest in your leaders.

I’ve built these teams as a nonprofit leader and consulted with many leaders who have done the same – even with limited budgets. It’s not about money; it’s about mindset.

How do you ensure leaders at every level receive the training and skills they need to succeed?

Jennifer secret to retaining high performers

One Obvious Secret to Retaining High Performers

Recently, I received an incredibly strong message about retaining high performers.

The message came from Jennifer, a former store manager at a national women’s clothing chain. Jennifer is outgoing, incredibly gifted at making customers feel comfortable, and was considered a “high-potential” by her district and regional managers. Within a year, however, she had quit.

A few months later, she ran into her district manager at a coffee shop. As they talked, the district manager expressed surprise that Jennifer had left. “You were one of the most talented, capable, managers we had. You had so much to offer and you left. Do you mind if I ask why?”

Jennifer told me, “It took me a few moments to recover from the shock … the district manager had never shared any of those positives with me. I got a weekly, sometimes daily, breakdown of where I wasn’t good enough – and that was it.”

Jennifer told her former district manager, “I thought I was failing. I’m shocked to hear that I was doing anything right. I wish you had told me I was talented or capable at the time.”

A “Secret” to Retaining High Performers

This shouldn’t be that much of a secret. Sadly, however, it’s not as common as it should be:

Tell them.

Tell them they’re doing well. Be specific about what they’re doing well and why it matters. Build on that foundation with a path forward. How can they continue to grow? What future roles are available for them and what skills will they need to master to thrive in those roles?

Unfortunately, we still run into managers who ask (with a completely straight face) “Why should I have to encourage people for just doing their job?”

That depends … how important is retaining high performers? How much lost talent, energy, and productivity will a lack of encouragement cost you?

Human beings need encouragement. It’s a fact of life. You get more of what you encourage or celebrate and less of what you criticize or ignore. If you want a team that doesn’t need to be encouraged, get a cat. Otherwise, if you’re working with people, they need encouragement.

If you want a team that doesn’t need to be encouraged, get a cat. Otherwise, if you’re working with people, they need encouragement. (Tweet This)

If you’re married, imagine what would happen if, after your wedding, you never said “I love you” or never held hands or kissed the other person. You couldn’t expect your relationship to last very long.

That’s the equivalent of never saying “thank you” or encouraging your team members. Yes, it’s their job in that they’ve made a commitment to your company – just like spouses make a promise to commit to one another. That doesn’t mean you should take that commitment or your team’s work for granted.

3 Keys to Effective Encouragement

Recently, when I shared Jennifer’s story, an audience member asked, “How do I encourage people? I understand the concept, but struggle to do it well.” Effective encouragement requires three things. Try these:

  1. Avoid saying “Great job!” Instead, try something like: “I really appreciate the extra effort you put in on that project last Tuesday. The client loved the work and renewed their account.”
  2. Encourage people in ways that are meaningful to them. The easiest way to find out, is to ask. When you onboard people into your team, ask them, “How do you like to receive recognition for a job well done?”
  3. Make sure your encouragement is related to the work and business outcomes. It demoralizes everyone when you encourage someone for something that actually detracts from the team.

Consistent encouragement doesn’t need to take hours of your time. I often work with managers to create ‘micro-encouragement’ with their team members – small moments where you are specific, meaningful, and relevant in a sentence or two. These consistent micro-encouragements add up to massive influence, productivity, and yes, retaining high performers.

Your Turn

Remember, when it comes to retaining higher performers, you get more of what you encourage and celebrate. Start with encouragement. Everyone needs it in ways that are meaningful to them. (On that note: Thank YOU for investing in your leadership. You’re making a difference for the people you work with.)

Leave us a comment and share: How you make sure to give people the encouragement they need?

Leadership Training ROI Karin Hurt and David Dye

5 Powerful Ways to Ensure Leadership Training Sticks

“Don’t bother me with this crap. I don’t believe in leadership training. It’s a complete waste of time. It’s nothing against you as the new Training Director. I get that I have to work with you in some way. If you MUST talk training, please work through Joe (one of my directors), he’s the most touchy-feely of my direct reports, I’m sure he’ll be nice to you.”

Yikes. Those were the words I heard from Beth, one of the Presidents I was asked to support, in my new role as training director at Verizon.

The truth is, I appreciated her candor. She’s not alone. A lot of senior leaders are skeptical of training ROI.

“You want me to take my people out of the field, where they could be serving customers and bringing in new business for theory and games? No thank you.”

And I get it. No one wants that kind of training. I’ve certainly been to my fair share of flavor-of-the-month training, and have my own bookshelf of binders full of good ideas, not implemented.

I’ve also attended great training that helped me change the game.

I imagine you have too. What makes the difference?

5 Ways to Make Leadership Training Stick and Increase ROI

Training is only valuable when it leads to sustained behavior change and improved business results.

Great leadership training is a process, not an event.

Great leadership training is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.

Great leadership training inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.

Great leadership training creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.

I’m grateful for Beth’s challenge in the first few weeks of a job that what was to become a formative role, both in my Verizon career and now, running my own leadership development company.

I was sure that Beth couldn’t hate training that truly made her people and results stronger. She just hated bad training. Who doesn’t? (P.S. Beth later promoted me into my most significant operations role at Verizon where I reported directly to her).

Here are 5 ways to ensure a stronger ROI and to make training stick:

  1. Design the training around business outcomes.
    Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
  2. Build programs that include the participant’s manager.
    Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. We love to do an executive briefing session before our programs so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions, and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application.
  3. Include teams in implementation.
    It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Be sure your managers know how to talk with their teams about what they are doing differently and why. The best leadership training has an ROI that cascades beyond the manager being trained.
  4. Deliver training in digestible learning over time.
    You can’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. We love to leverage new technology that incorporates simple micro-learning push-technology to learners’ phones via text message between sessions to inspire and reinforce real-world application.
  5. Welcome new ideas, insights, and help them take the next step
    Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Listen to their insights and find ways say “Yes” to what might happen next. When they come back with ideas to improve the business, listen. If it’s something you’ve tried before, invite them to the next step. Rather than “We tried that, it doesn’t work” you might try: “In the past when we’ve tried that, we ran into an issue with X. I’d love for you to think about how we might overcome that and implement your idea.”

Your Turn

How do you ensure your leadership training create real behavior change and lasting results?

secrets to an actionable talent review

7 Big Rules For a Successful Talent Review

Their faces turned a little green when they realized I was in earshot. “I’ll talk up your candidate if you talk up mine,” and “Let’s be sure to downplay their developmental opportunities so they end up in the right box (referring to the performance potential grid),” AND worst of all, “He’s not perfect, but who is, and we’ve been friends a long time, and he’s paid his dues,” is not what the HR Director (the role I was playing at the time) wants to hear before a talent review.

“Guys… (and yup, they were all guys)… You get why this is completely counter-productive right?”

We fixed that scene.

But the truth is, we all know these kinds of conversations are happening right outside the door of many talent review sessions, just beyond HR’s earshot.

That’s why when a client asks me to help with their talent review process, we always agree to these rules up front. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty grid that many hope will be ignored. That doesn’t advance the talent strategy of the organization and just leads to frustration.

Seven Big Rules For a Successful Talent Review

  1. Think forward. What skills does our future require?
    This is particularly tricky for leaders doing a talent review for the first time. Human nature says “Pick me (or someone who looks and thinks like me).” But if you’re really focused on a future succession plan, a long step back to consider the skills needed for the future is vital. Take a few minutes (having an objective third party can help) to really define the KSAs needed for your most strategic positions (and BTW, some of your most strategic positions may be highly skilled folks at the front line.)
  2. We speak the truth.
    Yes, talent reviews are important for identifying successors, but the EVEN MORE important part is finding the gaps and working on ways to grow the team to address them. If “John” is AWESOME, but still needs work in critical thinking, for &%@#$(@3% sake tell us that, so we can help John and get him the training and experience he needs for success.
  3. We care about the business, and the human beings we are talking about.
    We’re not trying to derail careers, we are looking to be helpful. Take a deep look at what the business and the people within it need. Let’s build a plan to leverage strengths and support development. Ask: EXACTLY how will we help people grow people into these roles?
  4. Every resource is a corporate resource.
    When we identify someone as high-performance/high potential, we’re all committed to developing them and looking out for the best opportunities for them and for the business. We’re committed to letting go of “mine” and “yours” and working together to seek out lateral assignments (that may feel like cutting off our right arm) and promotions.
  5. The list we create will guide our staffing decisions.
    This is perhaps the most vital. Building a map that no one has any intention of following is a big waste of times. If your team is not aligned on the decisions made in the session, take a pause and revisit the outcomes.
  6. How do we support and grow the hi-po individual contributors?
    They’re at the front-line, you need them, they may even be leading a small team, but they’re not your next CTO. How do you re-recruit these A-players and help them build a successful career, here?
  7. BONUS:  Take some time and talk about the other big rules you care about and want to agree to.
    Linger here as needed. Go to go fast, to have a successful talent review.

Your turn. What are the most important “rules” for a successful talent review?

how to build a best in class new hire orientation

Make Your New Hire’s Day: 7 Ways to Improve the New HIre Experience

Your new hire is driving home from her very first day. What’s she feeling? What’s she going to tell her kids about mommy’s new job? When she wakes up at 3 am anticipating Day 2, what’s on her mind?

The statistics are astounding. There’s no question that the first day, and the 89 days that follow, have a huge impact on retention, engagement, and productivity. You can’t undo that first impression. Here are seven ways to make your new-hire orientation more memorable and meaningful.

7 Easy and Innovative Ways to Make Your New Hire’s Day

I’m going to assume you’ve got the basics down–who needs to sign what, security and confidentiality, and the shortest way the bathroom. Consider weaving a few of these ideas into your new hire’s first day.

1- Make it a Celebration

It doesn’t take much to create a little ruckus. A few balloons, a cupcake or a little bling can go a long way. Even a big poster board on their cube with a “We’re so glad you’re here” signed by the team sets a tone of celebration. If all that feels too crazy for your culture, how about a sincere card with a few sentences about why you chose them?  The important part is to make it sincere and personal. The first day in a new job is a big deal to them. Show them that they are important to you, too.

2- Connect Through Stories

Tell some stories about what it’s really like to work here. Be strategic in your messaging to reinforce key values–you want to inspire, but even more importantly you want to connect.  Sharing “How I learned this the hard way” stories or “Whatever you do don’t make this crazy mistake” funny stories are a great way to make a human connection.

3-Create a Family Welcome Kit

Take them to lunch and find out a bit more about them and the other important people in their lives. Then before they leave at the end of the day, pull together a gift bag with some branded bling for their significant others, and a nice card from you: Logo lollipops for the kids, a branded coffee mug for their spouse, or even a branded Frisbee to play catch with their friends. Of course, this requires a bit of pre-planning to build your stash, but once you have it, it’s easy to pull together some personalized fun that shows you’re paying attention and care about the people in their lives beyond work.

4- Let Them Do Something Productive

So many companies spend the first day giving new hires a fire hose of information–it can be a lot to retain. Try mixing up the orientation with a bit of real work that lets them add value immediately and get a taste of the role. It will build confidence and help punctuate the learning with some doing.

5- Visualize the MIT (Most Important Thing)

Find fun ways to visualize and reinforce your MIT priorities. If their job is to expand in global markets, give them a dollar store globe squishy ball.  If recruiting and retaining talent is #1, give them a magnet. Visuals are a fun conversation starter about what’s most important and why.

6-Make it Really Easy to Ask Questions

When I would go talk to the new hire classes at Verizon, I learned if I just asked for questions, I got all the politically correct ones. But if I passed out index cards and encouraged people to ask me anything on their minds, that’s when the real conversation started. If you’re just hiring one person at a time, assign them one of the most approachable peers as a buddy and encourage them to ask anything they want. They may be embarrassed to ask you or HR. Do everything you can to shorten their learning curve and reduce anxiety.

7. Help Them Build a Plan

Make it easy for your new hire to make connections and learn the business. Identify a few key people (not just in your department) that can help accelerate their learning curve and make some introductions and set some follow-up appointments for the first few weeks.

You may also want to introduce them to the Let’s Grow Leader’s EOY Planning Letter (FREE TOOL) — and instructions. They won’t know enough the first day to complete it, but it’s a great assignment to tee-up on day one and getting them to visual an amazing year. Have them write this letter to you as if

Of course, a copy of Winning Well also makes a nice welcome gift for a new manager 😉

Your turn. Would love to hear your creative ideas for ensuring your new hire has an amazing first day.

 

What to do when your boss cant focus

What to Do When Your Boss Can’t Focus?

Have you ever had a boss who couldn’t focus? What advice would you have for Scattered?

Dear Karin & David,

What do you do with a boss who makes it impossible to focus? We agree on a direction and three days later he has seventeen new ideas, dumps them on us, and the managers are expected to somehow get their teams organized and performing. We can’t ever finish one project before starting three more. Of course, I’m asking for a friend.

                                                                                                Please help!

                                                                                                -Scattered

Dear Scattered,

We hear you.

It can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like you can’t focus. We have worked for, consulted with many, (and even been) leaders whose frequent new ideas leave their people gasping for breath and confused as to where to focus.

The good news is that these leaders can bring many strengths to their jobs and together you can be very effective.

Let’s start by appreciating what your boss is bringing to the relationship. It sounds like your boss is an innovator. These people see the world as a series of opportunities.

They’re energized by possibilities and can create new and exciting ways of doing things. They often think about the big picture, start initiatives noone’s ever thought of, and are the antidote to lethargic “business as usual.” All sorts of ideas excite them and their enthusiasm can be contagious and motivating.

Remember these assets as you consider the challenges: they get distracted, their excitement can be exhausting, and it’s easy for projects to get lost as they pile up.

Next, let’s look at how you can help yourself and your boss to maintain focus.

First, have a conversation to establish the MITs for the year and for the immediate quarter. What is the Most Important Thing you and your team will achieve? We recommend you initiate this conversation so it doesn’t seem like a reaction or negation of your boss’s latest idea.

Next, communicate weekly with your boss about how you are making progress toward the agreed-upon MITs. (We recommend using the MIT Huddle Planner to facilitate these conversations.) This serves two purposes: First, it lets your boss know what you’re doing. Second, it subtly reminds your boss what you both agreed were the Most Important Things you would do.

4 Ways to Help Your Boss Focus

Third, when your boss brings their latest new idea:

  1. Take time to listen. Make the effort to understand why it excites them and why they think it’s a good idea.
  2. Validate their reason for suggesting it by reflecting what you hear. e.g.: “That sounds like a great way to get in front of more customers.” Note that this isn’t a commitment to do it. You’re entering into the conversation by ensuring you’ve understood the reason for their suggestion.
  3. Ask how it aligns with other priorities. e.g.: “I know you’ve asked us to prioritize the new product development and customer retention this quarter. Is this an alternative to those priorities? Would you like resources reassigned this quarter or is this for the future? Which of these initiatives is the Most Important Thing?”When you ask these clarifying questions, your boss will often think about just how much of a priority the new idea should be. Sometimes they’ll say something like “It’s a fun idea, but let’s maintain our current focus for now.” Other times, however, they’ll have a good reason that the new idea ought to be pursued. It may achieve more than an existing initiative or meet a more urgent issue your boss has to respond to.
  4. Check for Understanding. e.g.: “Okay, let me make sure I’ve got it: we’re going to stick with new product development and customer retention as our MITs this quarter. We’ll reconvene in six weeks to look at this idea with an eye to scheduling it for next quarter. Do I have that right?”

After this conversation, continue your weekly communications about the progress you’ve made on your MITs. This cadence of communication and conversation will help everyone think through priorities and shift them with clarity and purpose.

We’ve coached many managers on both sides of these conversations. In our experience, the idea-generating managers may initially be a little frustrated, but they come to value the questions.

In the words of Matt, a CFO who was frustrating his team with weekly new ideas:

“I hated it when my direct reports would ask me ‘How does this idea fit in with our other priorities?’ but after a few times, it helped me to really think it through and keep us focused on what mattered most.”

Let us know how you and ‘your friend’ use these conversations.

Your Question?

We love to hear from you. Send us your real leadership challenges (or ask for a friend!) and we’ll give you real answers.

See Also Forbes: 17 Tips For Dealing With a Disorganized Boss

why your team won't collaborate and what to do about it

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate (and What To Do About It)

“I’m sick of this crap! My team won’t collaborate – why can’t they just figure this out?”

Scott was CEO of an engineering firm that produced communications hardware and software for industries around the globe.

He had worked hard with his board and senior leadership team to settle on their strategic M.I.T. for the next 18 months. They needed to launch a new product to remain competitive in a market they had once led.

He held a company meeting where he made the goal painfully clear to everyone in the room. “We need to get this new product to market by this deadline, or we’re out of business in five years.”

Within six weeks he was exasperated. His people were at war with one another. Several senior VPs were about to quit and the do-or-die deadline was looking like a dream.

We see this frequently: leaders lay out a clear M.I.T. (for more on the Most Important Thing), they check for understanding, and they turn their people loose to get after it.

Before too long, customer service and sales are at each other’s throats. Engineering and marketing are having shouting matches in the halls while finance and human resources won’t talk at all.

When their team won’t collaborate we’ve watched executives get frustrated and shout, “Why can’t you guys figure this out? Just work together and solve the problem!”

Maybe you’re a frontline leader and you’ve worked hard to establish a clear, shared team vision and the M.I.T. initiative for this quarter, but your team ends up squabbling.

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate

When your people can’t unify in pursuit of a common, clearly established goal, the problem is usually that you’ve only established 50% clarity.

You’ve clarified results, but you haven’t clarified relationships – and that is frequently why your team won’t collaborate.

In Scott’s case (and this is VERY common) he had made the new product a priority, but was still evaluating individual departments based on other criteria.

For instance, customer service was evaluated on their ability to retain customers, but at the same time, engineering was all but ignoring response-to-existing-customer requests in favor of getting the new product to market. So customer service naturally saw stubborn engineering as a threat to their bonuses and even employment.

Customer service continually requested that sales lend some of their people to try to save existing accounts. Sales people were being assessed on quotas that were unrelated to the new product’s launch.

In short, everyone was doing what made the most sense for their individual success and was frustrated that their colleagues wouldn’t cooperate.

Scott had defined an overarching goal, but had left the organizational systems and processes untouched.

Those systems and processes were built to achieve different goals.

When his people came to him and asked whether the engineering prioritization of new product over customer retention was okay, he got frustrated. “Why can’t they just figure it out?”

The answer: Because he’d given them conflicting goals.

What To Do About It When Your Team Won’t Collaborate

Real teams succeed or fail together. They have a clear goal and they all have a clear role to play in achieving it.

Effective leaders establish clarity of results and relationships.

Clarity of results is often easier to define:

  • What’s the M.I.T. we must accomplish this year?
  • What are our three most important strategic M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the M.I.T. behaviors we need at the executive, manager, and frontline levels?

Clarity of relationships, however, requires you to address some additional questions:

  • How are roles and handoffs defined and communicated?
  • How do department or individual team member priorities align with M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the most important values, systems, and processes guiding everyone’s behavior?

In Scott’s case, this meant we had to ask and answer some tough questions:

  • Would customer retention goals be lowered or continue at prior levels?
  • Either way, how could these be achieved in ways that aligned with the timely new product launch?
  • How much attention should engineering give to resolving existing customer issues?
  • How would performance bonuses be changed to align with the stated M.I.T. of the new product launch?

Your Turn

If you’ve established a clear M.I.T. but people are siloed, caught in endless arguments, and the team won’t collaborate, take a hard look at the relational clarity and how you can get everyone aligned with the new goal – not just in theory, but in reality.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts: How do you ensure that everyone on your team understands their role in achieving a shared goal?

5 ways leaders can focus when everything is important

5 Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

How do leaders stay focused when everything feels so important?

“Mark, What’s your M.I.T.?”

Mark pushed back from his desk. “That’s a great question. I’ve so much flying at me…” He sighed. “I don’t have a clue.”

Mark’s calendar might look familiar: wall-to-wall meetings, often with two or three appointments competing for the same window of time.

Management means an unending stream of information, problems to solve, decisions to make, fires to put out, constant interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, messaging apps, and that’s not to mention the projects you want to work on to build a better future.

It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.

The first step to address this overwhelm is to accept the reality that you cannot do everything. I often refer to this as “Infinite need, finite me.” You can’t succeed by doing everything – only by doing what matters most.

Once you’ve made peace with the reality of infinite need, finite me, it’s time to get crystal clear about your M.I.T. or Most Important Thing. In your work, what are the one to three most important strategic objectives you and your team can achieve?

Your ability to Mind the M.I.T. is critical to your success, but what if you don’t know what’s most important?

It’s not always as straightforward as we might hope. In fact, we’ve seen many frontline leaders and middle-level managers in organizations we work with struggle to identify their M.I.T.s.

Five Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

Here are five ways to figure out what’s most important and where you and your team can have the most impact:

1. Ask Your Boss.

When you feel swamped with competing priorities and initiatives, start by asking your supervisor: “What is the most important thing my team can accomplish this year?”

We’ve often sat with befuddled leaders and invited their manager to the conversation. We’ll ask the manager to identify the MITs and they rattle off the top one, two, or three priorities for the next year. They may not have communicated them well, but they knew what they were.

2. Think Two-Levels Above.

If your boss isn’t clear about the MITs, trying thinking up a level. What keeps your boss’s boss awake at night? What are the goals they’ve got to achieve? How does what your team does contribute to these outcomes? You might even try initiating a skip-level meeting in order to align your team with strategic goals. If your boss is amenable, invite them to join you.

3. Ask What Matters Most to Your Customers.

If you can’t get clarity from your managers, the next place to look is at the value you add for your customers. Whether you provide a product or service and whether you do that for external or internal customers, they don’t care about your scorecard. What do they care about? What are the one or two things your customers most need from you? Focus on doing that exceptionally well.

4. Ask What Matters Most to You and Your Team.

If you’re still struggling for clarity, imagine a day six months or a year into the future where you and your team are congratulating one another for having done your very best. What did you achieve? What made you most proud? How do you know you did your very best?

5. Look for the Leverage.

Often, there is one action you can take or one result you can produce that will have a profound effect on everything else. What is that one point of leverage that, if you did it successfully, would change the game for you, your team, and your organization?

Your Turn

When everything’s important, you blunt your impact. When you take time to figure out your one, two, or three strategic M.I.T.s, then relentlessly focus on them every day you’ll energize your team and results can soar.

Today, Mark has his three M.I.T.s written on a whiteboard in his office. He reviews them every day and discusses them with everyone he talks to. The team focuses on the specific behaviors that will help them achieve their M.I.T.s.

Leave us a comment and let us know: When everything feels important, how do you choose what is actually the Most Important Thing?

Got Influence? An Easy Way to Show Up Stronger

Got Influence? An Easy Way to Show Up Stronger

Are you looking to improve your influence? So was Brad.

“Brad” was a solid manager with stagnated results. He was great at constructive feedback and holding his team accountable, but recognition did not come naturally to him.  “Why should I say thank you to someone for just doing their job?”  He was frustrated with his team’s apathetic approach, and his inability to influence it, which only made him less inclined to celebrate the good stuff. As you can imagine his team began to feel like they “couldn’t do anything right,” which led to a downward spiral of more apathy and frustration.

We asked him to just add one new influence behavior to his daily routine–notice people on his team doing something right and tell them.

Everything else could stay the same. He committed to conducting five informal recognition moments a day, which meant that he had to go out of his way to find the good things that were happening, say something about them, and to measure them.

He put five rubber bands in his left pocket, and each time he observed (and affirmed) a positive behavior, he could move one rubber band to the right pocket. The goal was to finish with all the rubber bands in the right pocket by the end of the day.

That one simple change made a huge impact on his influence and results. His team began to do more of the behaviors he was encouraging, and he had less negative behaviors to criticize, reversing the spiral.

One simple change. Executed and measured well, made the difference.

How To Develop One New Leadership Influence Habit in the New Year

You can live on old habits for a while, but the future depends on investing in finding and building some new ones with (and for) your customers. Or your family. Or yourself. The most powerful insight is that you can do it with intent. You can decide that you want some new habits, and then go get them. -Seth Godin

 

If you’re like many leaders we work with, you’ve got a long list of good intentions–habits and behaviors that you know could make you a stronger leader if you did them consistently. But it’s hard. Old habits are hard to break, and you’re busy. It’s easier to just keep leading the old way.

At what cost?

What would happen if you picked JUST ONE of those behaviors and made it a habit?

Perhaps for you, it’s…

  • Calling five detractor customers each day to understand what went wrong
  • Reading to your child 20 minutes each day
  • Blocking one hour each day of white space on your calendar to think and plan strategically
  • A proactive, organized approach to updating your boss each week
  • A 15-minute walk at lunchtime
  • Holding a meaningful 10-minute huddle with your team each day
  • Meeting with each direct report for 30 minutes each week

The Approach

  • Pick one behavior you know that if you performed it consistently would help your team.
  • Set a specific goal. Determine EXACTLY what will you do and how will you measure it.
  • Measure the times you do the behavior each day.
  • Repeat each day for one month.
  • Assess the impact–after one month look at the impact on both results and relationships.

Don’t worry about tackling your whole list of ways to be a better leader… just pick one new behavior and work on it consistently, every day, until it becomes a habit.

YOUR TURN: What could you do with five rubber bands in your pocket?