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Managing Remote Teams

Managing remote teams: how to lead from a distance

Now that technology has made it easier than ever to telecommute, companies are relying more and more on teams of remote employees. However, these long-distance workers can pose unique challenges for the managers who supervise them. Without the traditional trappings of an office, coffee breaks, and face-to-face communication, managers need to find new ways to coach and connect. Here are three best-practice tips that are proving successful in managing remote teams:

  1. Focus on outcomes

Are you accustomed to judging your employees’ productivity according to whether they show up on time and look like they’re busy? If so, managing a team of people you can’t see will force you to find other evaluation methods and rely more on employee accountability. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, points out that, “It’s much harder to fake productivity when you work remotely, as long as managers are focusing on goals and outcomes for their employees and teams.” She notes that successful managers set “granular tasks,” with weekly and possibly even daily milestones. If your employee is hitting all their productivity marks, you don’t need to worry about how many hours they’re actually at their desk, or whether they take a break to move their laundry.

  1. Encourage multi-function communication

Staying in touch with your remote workforce means using a range of communication channels. Regular phone conversations are important, as are emails and texting. Collaboration platforms allow remote team members to share projects at a distance, and teleconferencing software lets you gather your team together in one virtual location. In addition to these formal communication channels, Harvard Business Review recommends the use of technology to “create water cooler moments.” Impromptu conversations between colleagues are one of the most valuable aspects of in-person work, and setting up an open video link between offices is the best way to reproduce this casual team-building friendliness.

  1. Develop a strong onboarding process

Traditional onboarding involves setting up an employee’s workspace and showing them around, so it may seem less relevant to your remote workers. In fact, a carefully thought-out onboarding process is essential for building your remote team. The underlying purpose of onboarding isn’t merely to introduce logistical details; its real value lies in aligning new hires with company culture and helping them feel like part of the team. Eric Siu, CEO of San Francisco marketing company Single Grain, has set up an internal wiki using Hackpad for sharing logistical information, but he also reminds managers “Don’t skimp on face time.” Personal connections, especially at the beginning of employment, are vital to laying the foundation for employee loyalty.

Managing remote teams effectively doesn’t mean you have to develop an entirely new set of skills. If you rely on your professional instincts and simply adjust a few of your methods, you’ll find yourself leading a productive, engaged team.

 

Bad Bosses

Repairing the damage done by bad bosses

If you’re entering a leadership role after your team has suffered the ill effects of a bad boss, you’ve got a list of important tasks ahead of you to repair the damage. You may find your employees discouraged and unproductive in the wake of poor management, and you will need to introduce an entirely new climate for team operations. While this is a tricky task, it’s an important one, because you’ll be making the workplace a much more pleasant and productive place for everyone.

Encourage employee feedback

There are different kinds of bad bosses, from the micromanagers to the inept, to the disconnected and the downright mean. Find out what kind of damage control you need to do by asking employees to submit anonymous, written responses to a few questions. The anonymity will provide a sense of safety and encourage people to be honest, and open-ended questions such as, “What changes would you like to see in our operations?” allow the real problems to surface. Follow up this input with face-to-face meetings dedicated to creating a new team atmosphere. On an ongoing basis, make clear that feedback in your organization goes in both directions: Explain that supervisors and managers will continue to seek feedback from direct reports.

Build positive team relationships

You and your direct reports can set the tone for a productive workplace environment by using a multi-pronged approach:

  • Transparency: Share department goals and strategy openly with all members of your staff so that everyone feels that they have a share in working toward those goals.
  • Employee Wellness: Encourage workers to take their vacation days and get plenty of exercise, so they can recharge their energy.
  • Better Work-Life Balance: Introduce options for flexible scheduling and working from home, to ease pressure on employees with family caregiving responsibilities.
  • Employee Recognition: Give workers a boost by recognizing them when they put in extra effort on a project. Noticing and rewarding individuals who show dedication is an essential part of building employee loyalty.

“Chase the vision, not the money.” This quote, from Zappo’s uber-successful CEO Tony Hsieh, points out that the most important element to long-term success is building an organization where people love to work. It’s not easy to alleviate the disruption and disillusionment that bad bosses create within a team, but with focused effort, it’s very possible. The outcome is happier workers in the short term and a stronger department in the years to come.

Employee Coaching

How to improve your 1:1 manager meetings

Holding regular one-on-one meetings with your employees is a major component of employee alignment, coaching, and good management. Not only are they a great way to build individual relationships with your employees, but there is often information that’s not appropriate to cover in a group setting. Handled correctly, these meetings offer abundant benefits for you, your staff, and your entire company. Here’s a quick look at how you can optimize the benefits of your individual meetings with employees:

How you benefit from 1:1 meetings with your direct reports

Meeting with your individual employee allows you to see beyond their output, giving you insight into their essential wellbeing. You will know ahead of time if the person is anticipating difficulties accomplishing their work, and you’re also likely to learn about any conflicts occurring between employees. Effective management depends on your awareness of what underlies high productivity, as well as the nature of existing and future obstacles. Furthermore, you will become a better manager as you absorb and learn from your employees’ feedback.

How your employees benefit from 1:1 meetings with you

Your direct reports rely on you to help them clear any work-related roadblocks they are experiencing. When you provide employee coaching and constructive feedback, you’re showing that you value each individual worker, enhancing your relationship and enabling them to work at their highest capability.

How your company benefits from your 1:1 meetings

Employee wellbeing has a direct effect on productivity. When you take the time to have regular one-on-one meetings, you are creating an environment in which personnel problems are solved before they become acute. Your organization saves money when employee turnover is reduced, and employee loyalty is strengthened when workers understand how their tasks align with the mission and goals of the company as a whole.

5 best-practice tips for one-on-one meetings

Follow these 5 tips to maximize the benefit of your one-on-one meetings:

  • Hold them in a private, non-distracting environment.
  • Don’t use the meeting time to deal with disciplinary issues.
  • Prepare your agenda and share it ahead of time with your employee.
  • Ask open questions and encourage your employee to initiate new topics.
  • Send a short set of “minutes” to the employee afterward to strengthen and formalize the points you discussed.

When handled correctly, individual meetings enable you and your employees to effectively navigate the sometimes complex web of managerial relationships.

Executive Onboarding

3 high-powered onboarding tips for new executives

The cost of losing an employee at any level is significant. Losing an entry-level employee can cost you up to half their salary, but losing a senior level executive can cost more than 400 percent of their salary.

Those are just the direct turnover costs. When you lose executives, there are other costs to the company, including loss of momentum and sometimes damage to the company’s reputation. That’s why companies invest so much time in the executive search process. Despite all that effort, 40 percent of executives who take a new position fail during their first 18 months in the job.

A strong executive onboarding program can help reduce that risk of failure. Many companies have a standard onboarding program for employees that focuses on administrative matters, such as providing information about healthcare, 401K programs, and computer passwords. While those tasks need to be handled, they don’t meet the special needs of executives, whose work relies on relationships moreso than software.

An effective executive onboarding program needs to establish the new executive’s authority, provide an understanding of the organization’s culture, establish key stakeholder relationships, and clarify expectations and priorities. This requires an onboarding process that extends over weeks or months and provides the executive with the following:

  1. A customized overview of the organization

Onboarding should provide the executive a customized, in-depth review of the teams they’ll need to work with and the challenges they’ll need to address. This should be tailored to the department the executive will be responsible for and the issues they will be tackling.

  1. A detailed review of stakeholders

Stakeholders aren’t always obvious from an official organization chart. New executives need to understand exactly who has input into decision-making and the informal processes through which policies are discussed and consensus reached. Because management’s decisions succeed or fail based on how well lower-level employees carry them out, the new executive also needs insight into how those workers feel about the organization, their work, and the current processes.

  1. A statement of expectations

No executives can succeed when it isn’t clear what they are expected to do. Organizations should provide new executives with clear priorities, along with the metrics that will be used to measure success. Those guidelines let the new executive know where to focus his or her efforts and how to track progress.

Along with that information, new executives need a defined process that provides ongoing support for success. There should be a partnership between the new executive, management, and HR to make sure he or she gets the information needed to succeed, whether it’s day one or day 100 on the job.

Micromanager

How to reform a micromanager

Simply by position alone, managers have a major impact on employee productivity. This is good when the manager has the skills and experience to get the best work out of their direct reports. It’s not so good when managing slides into micromanaging. As anyone who has ever worked under a micromanager can tell you, it’s a surefire method of making employees feel stressed and disengaged. Here are a few tips on how you can recognize when supervisors are veering into micromanagement terrain and guide them back to supporting their staff members in a healthy way.

Identify your micromanagers

Harvard Business Review provides a handy checklist for identifying micromanaging behavior. It finds that micromanagers:

  • Are never quite satisfied with deliverables
  • Often feel frustrated because they would have gone about the task differently
  • Laser in on the details and take great pride and/or pain in making corrections
  • Constantly want to know where all their team members are and what they’re working on
  • Ask for frequent updates on where things stand and prefer to be cc’d on all emails

Productively reform your micromanager

First, it’s essential to realize that people with a tendency to micromanage are usually passionately dedicated to their work and deeply invested in good outcomes. As you assist them in taking a step back from the jungle of details they’re wading through, you can express your appreciation for their commitment to organizational goals.

Next, help your micromanagers articulate why they feel they must take responsibility for everything. Their reasons are often based in fear that too much is at stake or that the work won’t get completed correctly. Once they clearly identify their concerns, you’ll be in a position to help them logically examine these issues. In some cases, you may uncover actual personnel problems that need to be addressed, but usually you can ease their worries by presenting the benefits of stepping back a bit.

It’s also beneficial to encourage micromanagers to ask for feedback from their teams. In many instances, overly involved supervisors sincerely believe they’re being helpful by shouldering responsibilities, and they may try to change their habits if they hear from direct reports that their approach is actually counterproductive.

Strengthen productivity by improving management practices

Managing the managers is one of the trickier interpersonal challenges facing HR directors and executives, but it’s a crucial element of organizational success. Employee engagement and productivity throughout your company are nurtured when workers feel trusted to carry out tasks on their own.

The Peter Principle

Promotions & the Peter Principle: how to find the sweet spot where employees succeed

How do you choose which employees to promote? If you’re like most managers, your answer is straightforward: You move up the workers who perform their duties most competently. Unfortunately, relying on strong performance as your only criterion for promotion may cause your organization to suffer from the Peter Principle. This principle was identified over four decades ago by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. They observed that as workers were steadily moved upward in a hierarchy, they eventually reached a position where their competence could no longer warrant further promotion. As a manager, it’s crucial that you understand and guard against the Peter Principle operating in your organization. Here are some insights to help you build an effective promotion strategy and make sure each employee is positioned at the level of his or her greatest strength.

Maintain a fluid organizational structure

Steve Jobs encouraged innovation at Apple by moving workers around from one project to another, taking advantage of individual skills and combating stagnation. Likewise, Zappos fueled its vigorous profit margin by eliminating the classic management hierarchy in favor of a model made up of team “circles.” By sidestepping the traditional hierarchies, these successful companies enable workers to display a wider range of abilities. People skilled at a particular function receive pay raises rather than promotions, thus rewarding them while maintaining them where they excel. Individuals with leadership skills are able to put their talents to use in an organic way, emerging over time as natural leaders.

Identify the unique skills each position requires

Each successive level of responsibility doesn’t necessarily require more the same skills as the previous position. Proctor and Gamble chairman A.G. Lafley observes in Harvard Business Review that promotions can be a “jump shift,” especially at the executive level. Humana Board Member William J. McDonald adds, “I think one of the biggest mistakes boards make is to assess people only in the context of their current jobs.” If you clarify the precise skill set of the new position, you can objectively decide which candidate is best equipped for the job.

Test out and nurture leadership ability

There is no magic formula for recognizing intrinsic leadership talent among the ranks of your employees. But if you make a practice of giving everyone occasional responsibilities outside of their usual duties, you can discover unexpected abilities. Switching up the standard task allotment has the additional benefit of breaking up boredom and increasing worker motivation. Management development expert Jeanette Suflita advises, “Provide your potential leaders with temporary leadership opportunities. It’s an excellent way for them to try out their skills and to identify both strengths and areas for improvement.” Those with standout management talent can be offered mentoring, coaching and formal leadership development training so that they’ll be ready when a new position becomes available.

Understanding the Peter Principle is essential for the health of your business, because an incompetent manager will drive your best employees to look for more satisfying positions. A recent Gallup study found that 50 percent of employees who left their jobs cited bad managers as their primary reason. If you promote your natural leaders to management roles, and leave the talented line workers in place to apply their unique competence, you can build a robust, productive organization.

Managing Millennials

3 reasons you should let Millennials manage

Are you hesitant to put Millennials in managerial roles because of their youth and lack of experience? This hesitancy is certainly understandable. As an experienced professional manager, you’re well aware that years in the industry provide insights that no newcomer can automatically acquire. However, it turns out that your company can still benefit from the unique skills younger staff members can bring to leadership roles. Here are three reasons you should look for Millennials with characteristics of a good leader and give them a chance to shine.

Millennials are big on transparency

Younger managers can command loyalty from their direct reports by creating an atmosphere of transparency throughout the work environment. This openness extends from compensation to strategy and company process. With this outlook, Millennial managers will expect productivity to rely on the shared efforts of the group. When problems arise, they can sidestep resentment of their authority, drawing on the collective mind for solutions.

Millennials seek networks, not hierarchy

Training Magazine points out that young adults grew up in a networked social media environment, where they’re related to a web of connections rather than a chain of command. Freed from a preoccupation with preserving authority, they can easily solicit and accept feedback. This willingness to put mutual goals ahead of personal aggrandizement can foster an open exchange of ideas, increasing company-wide trust and leading to valuable innovation.

Millennials give more frequent feedback

Millennials don’t measure productivity in terms of hours at a desk, and they’re not usually fans of formal, scheduled performance reviews. Instead, they’ll use their emotional intelligence to stay connected with their staff, rewarding effort and productivity with frequent, informal expressions of appreciation.

Fast Company reports that Millennials are ready and eager to lead: 82 percent of workers in this age group express an interest in managing, compared with only 57 percent of employees of other ages. Chief Executive Magazine advises that up-and-coming young leaders can be groomed by whetting their curiosity and exposing them to new ideas, then personalizing their contribution and activating their inherent desire to do good in the world.

When you give your most talented young leaders a chance to step forward, and balance their innovative style with the insights of more experienced staff, you’re taking steps toward establishing a robust basis for transitioning your company well into the coming decades.

Open Door Policy: 4 Links to Help Embrace Transparency at Work

The “open door” policy is ubiquitous in the business world, but following through on that practice can be a challenge. Many of us set out with the best intentions, but when we’re at the point of crossing the proverbial threshold, we chicken out.

Sound familiar? Don’t worry; you’re in good company. This week we’re sharing some of our favorite insights on infusing transparency, and creating a culture of constructive, consistent feedback in the office.

Whether your door is physical or virtual, creating a feedback-friendly environment doesn’t have to be scary. Keep these links handy for the next time you’re feeling squeamish about testing out that open door policy, and you’ll find transparency in the office opens the door to a collaborative, successful, workplace environment.

Maybe employees don’t leave managers, after all

hr_trends_and_analyst_findingsFor years, it’s been common knowledge that employees leave managers, not companies. But a new infographic from Glassdoor disagrees: according to their research, only 8 percent of employees attribute their departure to their managers. Far more common reasons were lack of career growth (33 percent), salary and compensation (27 percent), company culture (15 percent), work/life balance (14 percent), work environment (12 percent), and overall company performance (11 percent).

So why does conventional wisdom maintain that managers are the cause? The most-cited study on manager-driven turnover is the 1999 book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, which is based on 25 years of research by the Gallup Organization. But that report is 14 years old now; surely there’s more recent information than that?

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[Infographic] Overcome disengagement by tackling the recognition obstacle course

Is your employee engagement strategy directly tied to business results?

Top employers realize that highly engaged employees produce better business results than organizations with low levels of engagement. It just makes sense. Organizations with high engagement rates are 78 percent more productive than disengaged organizations.1 The powerful combination of engaged employees and brilliant performance is critical to business success. By implementing an employee recognition strategy to increase engagement, you amplify key behaviors that power business success.

To help you get started, we’re excited to unveil Achievers’ latest infographic, created to help you overcome the obstacles of disengagement and turn your employee engagement hurdles into results!

 

What do you believe is your company’s biggest challenge with employee engagement? Let us know in the comments below or when you share the infographic!

Overcome the Obstacle Course of Disengagement

Sources:

  1. “Hewitt point of view: What Makes a Company a Best Employer?” Hewitt and Associates. 2009. Web. 8 Apr 2013.

Analyst Insight: Empower your managers to drive employee success

employee_successBusiness Success may start with Employee Success™, but Employee Success starts with engaged managers.

In its latest report “Empowering Managers to Drive Employee Success,” the Aberdeen Group dives into the manager’s role in employee engagement. The report explores the importance of manager tools in driving success in the workplace. It found that in order to improve business results, managers need solutions to help them understand activity within their team and highlight areas to manage and optimize top talent.

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The flexibility trap: Jody Thompson tackles the telecommuting controversy in her recent webinar

webinarsJody Thompson has a message: managing sucks.

At least, managing people sucks, which is what most managers end up doing when they should be managing work. If you’re not sure what the difference is, you’re not alone. “Most managers don’t even realize they’re managing the wrong thing,” Thompson said during her recent webinar for Achievers.

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Want to be a better manager? Stop watching the clock.

webinarsManaging is a tough gig. 19 million Americans plan to leave their jobs in 2013, at an estimated turnover cost of $3 billion, and many of them will cite their managers as the cause. Meanwhile, the pressure is on for managers to transform into coaches who inspire, retain, and promote top talent. Are you getting nervous yet?

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Ask Amelia: How do you get managers engaged?

ask_achieversDear Amelia, I know managers play a key role in employees’ engagement, but how do you keep managers engaged?

I find one of the best ways to keep your leaders at all levels engaged in your organization is to show them the “what’s in it for me.” So I coach leaders to find connecting points; connect leaders around the organizational goals and connect teams and then individuals into those goals. Then praise, praise, praise!

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10 qualities of a “magnetic manager”

Like many people across the globe, I was glued to my TV for two weeks watching the Summer Olympics. Not only am I impressed by the Olympic talent, I’m also impressed by the coaches that trained them. It takes years to prepare for the games, and it’s admirable how these coaches inspire and challenge athletes to reach their greatest potential. They are the best coaches in the world because they are brilliant at leading their teams to success.

In the workplace, this type of leadership is displayed through great management. They inspire, motivate and lead employees to drive results, in addition to boosting employee retention. As I wrote in a previous post, when employees have a great relationship with their manager, there is a social cost to leaving.  Employees who are emotionally tied to their manager and company are less likely to be poached or coaxed with more money.

So what makes a great or “magnetic” manager?

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Managers need recognition, too! 3 steps for employee retention

Dear A Advisor,

I need your help! My company is having trouble with employee retention. We offer competitive salaries and we’re a strong competitor in our industry, but we just can’t seem to keep staff happy enough to stay with our company. What tools can we use to make our employees more satisfied and engaged?

Thanks for your help!

Mr. Lonely

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Warning: When recognition is needed most

“As stress, change, pressure and constraints increase in an organization, so too does the need for a concerted effort to enhance employee recognition. Managers can find it difficult to give positive feedback during tough times, and managers are least likely to use a recognition program when morale is low. Encourage leaders to recognize employees when it’s hardest to do so—that’s when it’s needed most!”

The top 3 improvements managers need to perfect the employee manager relationship

Picture this: you drag yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn for exercise boot camp. You’re barely awake but have already committed to the challenge; you just need a little guidance. The boot camp leader blows his whistle for warm up, yet remains seated and offers zero feedback during the session. Your workout falls flat and demotivation ensues.

There is nothing more demotivating than a poor leader. We’ve all experienced this trend and have suffered from the results. But it’s time to Change the Way the World Works, and send the poor managers of the world to leadership boot camp.

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SAY WHAT?! Why communication is key to employee engagement

Communication is vital to employee engagement. All high-performing organizations have great communication and, unsurprisingly, it is a top motivator for employees. Great communication within an organization can be defined as open, consistent, transparent and multi-directional.

This means that ideas and direction not only come from the top, but employees also contribute to the conversation. Dialogue is free-flowing and comes from both directions, as simple and basic as a homemade telephone with two soup cans and a string.  Managers who are great communicators are also available to their employees for support, encouragement and questions.  Finally, good leaders share the organization’s successes as well as its failures with employees because everyone has the right to know about it and transparency builds trust.

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