Why Going Back to The Office Might Not Be Such a Bad Idea After All

Let’s face it – the world of work is unlikely to ever be the same again. Most companies that have been remote over the last two years are unlikely to ever require 100% office attendance of all their employees. And that’s a good thing.

No two employees are exactly alike.  They have differing capabilities for working productively at home, and different work-life balance needs. Companies are recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all. The best companies will find ways to accommodate the best talent. And every company will make decisions about how flexible they want to be. Likewise, every person will make decisions about which organization is the best fit for them.

Even with this increased flexibility, there are benefits to going into the office … at least a couple of days per week:

  • Your career – good companies will work to create a culture where your work location doesn’t dictate opportunities. All other things being equal, there will still be an unspoken bias that favors those who come to the workplace more often than their peers. For most executives and managers, this won’t be consciously planned. It’s just human nature.  People give opportunity to those they trust the most. And trust is built through relationships. Relationships that include face-to-face time are typically built more quickly and deeply. Grabbing lunch, a chance meeting walking down the hall, or popping into their office for a quick chat. That VP who just hired you? You’re sitting in her office and notice that picture off to the side with her golfing friends and begin a discussion about your favorite courses in the area. Those are meaningful ways that people develop closer personal ties. And they happen more effortlessly and more deeply face-to-face.
  • Your sanity – some people don’t miss going to work one bit. Maybe it’s the commute. Or you’re a complete introvert and don’t need or want social connection as much as the next guy. It could be you’ve just gotten used to the convenience of crawling out of bed, pouring yourself a cup of coffee, and firing up the laptop. Most people, however, need social interaction to maintain their mental health. Covid has been difficult for all of us for numerous reasons and social isolation is a big part of it. Even if you have a bunch of friends that you’ve been able to stay close to for the last two years, being at work provides a greater variety and number of interactions – both of which are healthier for most people. And sometimes we just need to get away from our home because there are distractions that we need a break from. For some people, there are times when “quiet time” to reflect and get things done is more doable at the office than at home.
  • Your options– being at work at least part-time opens up options that aren’t as easily available if you work from home full-time. Here is a partial list of things that are often done more easily, effectively, or enjoyably from the office:
      • Collaborating on the fly
      • Improving your health as you get up and move around. (It takes many more steps to go grab a coffee or lunch at the office than going to your kitchen.)
      • Work / life balance: the kind where work ends when you walk out the door, not when you finally eat dinner or go to bed
      • Networking before, during or after work
      • Developing a new set of daytime acquaintances that aren’t tied to family and “weekend friends,” which promotes mental health
      • Shopping for the perfect gift at that cool store around the corner
      • Celebrating team and individual successes, holidays and birthdays, and important milestones like promotions and retirements

There is no question that returning to work will also be difficult for many people, and that’s to be expected. It was a big change when you abruptly started staying home and it will be a big change if and when you go back to the office, even if only for a day or two per week. There are steps you can take to help yourself prepare and adjust once you’re back. And make no mistake, your attitude toward going back will impact how hard it is for you to return.

No one is better at gauging how to best meet your personal and professional needs than you are. And that’s why taking a second look at what you’ve gained… and lost… over the last two Covid years might lead you to a more nuanced view of the benefits of going back to the office at least part time. Even if it’s not your choice, appreciating the silver lining is good for your mental health and probably your career.

What’s Going On With You? A Little Introspection Can Improve Personal Performance

Recently, I’ve been talking with leaders, including mid-level leaders, about the challenges they are facing with staff shortages, continued ambiguity from COVID, and end of year pressures. In these conversations, the underlying theme is the toll these issues are taking on their emotions and their continual effort to push those emotions away or to simply plow through them.

The context for these conversations is a broader discussion about leading with emotional agility. Susan David and Christina Congleton, in their Harvard Business Review article, define emotional agility as the ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings in a mindful, productive way. When most of us get hooked by our negative thoughts, especially at work, we have one of two reactions. We buy into them (“I always do something stupid that gets in the way of my success.”) and avoid the situations that may evoke them. Or, we rationalize them away (“I shouldn’t have these thoughts. Just get on with it.”)

When we get hooked and choose one of these two common reactions, we are not giving ourselves the opportunity to respond effectively and intentionally. To choose to respond rather than react, the first step you must take is to recognize what is going on with you.

When I talk with these leaders, I ask them how many times a day they check in with themselves to assess what they are feeling. The overwhelming response is never. Some will say rarely. A very small fraction will say regularly. Then we do the following exercise:

First, we pause the conversation right there and I give them 30 seconds to just stop and check in with themselves.

Before the pause, I encourage them to work hard to accurately name what they are feeling. Don’t just tell themselves they are feeling stressed. Rather become more granular in the assessment. Are you angry? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Constrained? To respond, rather than react, the first step is to accurately identify and understand what you are feeling. You can’t create an effective response or strategy if you are unable to clearly define what you are responding to.

At the end of 30 seconds, I ask them about their experience. They often say it makes them feel more centered, have more clarity, and are better able to manage those emotions than have the emotions manage them. It provides them the space to choose a response.

We then discuss how pausing 1-2 times a day – taking 1 minute out of an 8, 10 or 12 hour workday– can significantly impact the ability to become more emotionally agile and the impact of that agility on their ability to lead in challenging times.

Over the next few weeks, take a moment or two throughout the day to check in with yourself. What are you feeling? How are you reacting to those emotions? What opportunities do you have to pause to make the choice of how you will respond?

These are stressful times. You’ll find that this technique also works quite well at home.

Has Your Team’s Leadership Been Tested in 2021?

The Hard Truth: It’s Not Going to Get Easier.   Here Are the Trends and What You Can Do…

Adapting to rapidly changing market, technology and client-demand trends will consume organizations in 2022.  Which means that the risk of change burnout for employees and leaders alike is soaring.  Leaders at all levels will need to improve their change leadership capability quickly and continually.

Consider the following trends:

  • Hybrid work models are here to stay and will continue to evolve. 63% of high-growth companies already have enabled hybrid work models.  While 69% of negative or no-growth companies are focused on complete on-site or all-remote models.  McKinsey
  • Hybrid models will fail for 30% of businesses on their first try.  Why?  According to Forrester, shifting to a permanent hybrid model won’t be easy.  There are significant, competing demands between face-to-face and remote work along a myriad of dimensions: including roles, processes, and promotion opportunities.
  • The “great attrition” will continue.  64% of workers said they are at least somewhat likely to leave their job in the next 3-6 months, according to PwC.

What talent development strategies are most organizations focused on?

  • Skill building is the number one action taken by businesses to close pandemic-era skill gaps – for 69% of businesses.  That’s 13 points higher than redeploying, 17 points higher than hiring and 33 points higher than contracting.  McKinsey.
  • Social, emotional, and advanced cognitive skills are the most focused-on development targets.  What’s #1? Leadership and managing others.  McKinsey.
  • Top two priorities for 2022 according to 550 HR Leaders surveyed by Gartner?  #1 is Building critical skills and #2 is organizational design / change management.
  • Start with strategy.  How will your organization respond to both the business and talent changes coming your way? Link team objectives and people development to your strategy. Be sure to set expectations that priorities will shift over the course of 2022.
  • Increase engagement.  Seems like you’ve heard this before? It gets more important in 2022. To ensure your hybrid model works, make sure you have a thorough DEI plan.  Get a balance of both office and remote voices when you consider policy, plans, and assignments. Align your reward and recognition strategy with your DEI objectives.
  • Don’t fall behind. This is not the year to be playing catch up.  Your 2022 organizational strategy and planning must account for the massive market and talent changes taking place. Uncover what’s worked over the last 18 months, what hasn’t worked, and build some projections about how things will be different in 2022. And that includes assessing the leadership skills necessary to implement and continually adapt your hybrid model.

To continue to be successful, organizations will need to do some or all of the following:

  • restructure jobs
  • figure out how to organize work processes differently
  • rethink how your teams need to work together
  • build trust and rapport with your employees
  • work hard to maintain or recreate a better business culture
  • address the change burnout problem we’re all facing
  • develop new leadership mindsets and skills

Could You Use a Partner to Help Boost Your Team’s Leadership Capability and Business Culture? 

We’ve been working with our clients for over 20 years to help solve these kinds of challenges. As your leadership team develops your 2022 plans, we’re here to partner with you.

In recent months we’ve seen an uptick in inquiries into how we can help leaders and their organizations work, lead, and organize differently. Our clients have been benefitting from our newest suite of programs and consulting services, Solving the Hybrid Puzzle.

Or contact us for more information. 978-475-8424 info@nextbridgeconsulting.com

 

When Your Team Needs to Redefine Itself

Most organizations are either operating in a permanent hybrid model or they’re planning to go there early in 2022. That means redefining who you are as an organization and as a team. How will you do that successfully?

Lots of Questions

How’s your team adjusting to hybrid work or planning for a hybrid future? This next-new-normal way of working will be most successful if you start the transition by deeply reflecting on who you are now and, often, redefining who you will be 

 –as an individual and a team. What goals are a priority? How will you prepare for the inevitable shift in priorities? How will people really work together? How will you navigate and build our relationships? Even in ‘normal’ years, these questions take center stage during the business planning cycles many of you are immersed in right now.

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with two executive teams. Their businesses are very different. One is over 20 years old with almost 4000 employees. The second is a start-up driving towards commercializing its first product. While different, both of them were exploring a common question…

Who are we today and who do we want to be?

In both cases we started with who the team wanted to be so we could frame that sometimes more difficult conversation – who are we now?

Answering this question requires that these executives become aware of and more comfortable with the answers to several other, deeper questions about themselves and the team:

  • Do we fully understand who each of us is?  Do we understand how each of us filters information, makes decisions, and communicates?
  • Are we aligned around a common vision of where this company or department is going? And how are we, as a team, are leading it? This may seem obvious, but misalignment amongst leadership is a common cause of organizational dysfunction and average performance.
  • Are we role-modelling the characteristics we want this organization to exhibit?
  • How are we pushing each other to step out of our comfort zones in a productive and effective way? Innovation doesn’t happen when everyone is comfortable.
  • How do we provide impactful feedback to each other so that we increase the team’s effectiveness rather than diminishing it?
  • What about when the inevitable happens – when we’re sometimes annoying each other? Are we avoiding certain people? Aggressively confronting them? How well is it working? Is there a another option that gets better results.
Why so many questions? Because good answers require good questions… and these are all stones that need to be turned over.  In today’s environment, personal and organizational curiosity is a prerequisite for leadership and business growth. And if you’re not digging deeply enough, you’re limiting the depth and speed of your growth.
Want some guidance on asking the right questions and ensuring you get meaningful answers? We’ve been helping individual leaders, teams and organizations do just that for over 20 years.  Let’s talk.  978-475-8424 or e.onderick-harvey@NextBridgeConsulting.com

 

Unintended Consequences of Hot Desking

Is your company considering hot desking as it returns to the office in a hybrid model? Hot Desking is a flexible workspace arrangement similar to hoteling. It saves companies a lot of money. It can also have unintended consequences.

As companies are planning their back-to-work hybrid models, hot desking is becoming an idea that’s being explored again. I say again because it’s not completely new. I first experienced it in the early 90’s when I worked for a global consulting firm. Colleagues of mine experienced something similar when their companies developed broader telework options over the past decade or so. Hot desking is similar to hoteling. In a hoteling model, individuals reserve space prior to coming to the office. Pure hot desking removes the reservation system. Individuals choose a workstation that best meets their criteria when they are in the office.

There are benefits to hot desking. On a macro level, it provides flexibility and cost-savings for the company from a facilities perspective. Optimally, space will be used based on what kind of work needs to be done that day. If a team needs to do highly collaborative work, they could grab a collaborative workspace. If someone needs to do work that requires more individual focus, they would choose an individual workspace. Facilities costs are adapted to the hybrid model, saving the company money and leveraging the desire for flexibility.

On the flip side, it can have unintended consequences on engagement, productivity, and team performance – all predictors of increased revenue and higher returns. When I think about the execution of this model, based on my 30+ years exploring how to create organizations that allow people to be as engaged and impactful as possible, I wonder about potential unintended consequences:

  • Is it detrimental to diversity, equity and inclusion? Humans are naturally social creatures who tend to think of the world as groups we belong to and groups we don’t. When given a choice, most people will gravitate towards people they are familiar with or who seem, in some way, to be like them. Will this natural propensity actually get in the way of great diversity, equity, and inclusion? Even putting aside the most obvious forms of diversity, could hot desking make it easier to exclude the team member who is shy or difficult to get along with, or allow certain people to choose those workstations that give them greater visibility to senior leaders or decision makers just because they got to work first?
  • Will hierarchy undermine the model? Even the flattest, most egalitarian organizations have a degree of hierarchy. In the hot-seat model I experienced in the consulting firm, partners and managers had dedicated offices. Consultants were able to use one of the manager offices when we were in the office, which was somewhat infrequent. Of course, if all the manager offices were full that day, there was a problem. Let’s fast forward to 2021 and a purely hotseat model.  What happens if a senior leader arrives at the office to find that the type of workspace they need is already filled? If you modify the hot-desk approach and have advanced reservations for space, is it first-come, first-serve or do some people get priority? If hierarchy influences the decisions too much, does it lower trust and feel unfair? These are two key components of high performing organizations.
  • What impact will the need for confidentiality have? Some people in organizations have highly confidential information and highly confidential conversations. Think HR or Finance. It is reasonable that these roles would require dedicated spaces of their own. People managers also often need to have confidential conversations. Do they also get dedicated spaces? If not, how will your model account for that need? Will managers be expected to schedule space based on planned confidential conversations? That works some of the time. Does your model have enough private space for unplanned confidential conversations that can pop up at any time?  Otherwise, it forces managers to choose between delaying important conversations and having them in a semi-public setting.
  • Does it penalize those who can be less flexible? If someone chooses a space when they get to the office, the ‘prime’ spots typically go to those who arrive earlier in the day. Does that penalize those who are tied to a particular train schedule or need to drop a child at school or simply prefer to come in later and work later? Does it create a less equitable model for some, at least on the days they are in the office?

These are just a few potential unintended consequences that need to be considered if hot desking is part of your hybrid model. We can help you think through your model and get your team ready for Day One.

What other potential consequences could you see?

Tell the Truth – Are You Bored at Work?

It’s the dreaded phrase all parents hear that makes them want to pull their hair out –“I’m bored.”  Boredom isn’t just a complaint of many an eight-year-old.  It’s emerging as a key contributor to what people are calling “The Great Resignation.” Proactive leadership can make a difference.

Chances are, You’re Not Alone

The BBC recently had an article about the rise of a condition they call “boreout.” We’re much more familiar with its fellow work ailment, burnout. Boreout is defined as being bored by your work to the point that one feels it is meaningless. It can be created by an environment that feels demoralizing, by feeling underchallenged for a prolonged period of time, and, yes, from being confined to Zoom and the same four walls for months on end.  Burnout and boreout have very similar impacts. Among them are higher turnover, checking-the-box behavior, lost productivity, decreased strategic thinking and innovation, and lost opportunity.

The difference between the two is that burnout can be seen as a badge of honor.  You suffer from it because you’ve really been driven and making things happen.  Suffering from boreout is perceived as not being motivated enough.

We probably can sense boreout quickly when (or if) it happens to our high performers and we will jump into to help them re-engage. For our poor performers, we assume they lack motivation. It can go unrecognized in the core of our team – those 60-80% who are good, solid performers who are less likely to actively voice what they are experiencing. Boreout among this group is going to have the most significant impact. That’s because of the sheer volume of that segment of our workforce… and because it goes undiagnosed for a longer period of time. But make no mistake, if you miss the signs of boreout with your top tier talent, or don’t address it effectively, it’s impact is obvious and has long-term leadership consequences. Top performers are more likely to leave because they know they have more career mobility.

We shouldn’t assume that boreout only happens to front-line team members. Senior leaders sometimes confide in me that they feel a strong need to find something new because they aren’t challenged by their role anymore. Our conversations then focus on how we can make that happen within their organization.

No matter what level of leader you’re managing, making it okay to talk about prolonged boredom or lack of challenge has to be the first step in addressing the issue. It’s not a sign that they are unmotivated. Actually, quite the opposite. Boredom means they’re motivated to do more. So, create relationships built on high levels of trust.  Make sure there is the safety to talk about tough issues – boredom being only one of them.  Let people know that you don’t see boredom as their failing, but as an opportunity to expand or change their role so that they have new challenges. The organization gains from their increased engagement, productivity and impact. Some people will still perform well, for a certain period of time, when bored. But don’t wait to check in until you see a drop off in performance, or worse, see talent walking out the door. Be proactive about it.

5 Powerful Tools for Quick Situation Analysis

Today’s leaders need to rapidly understand evolving situations. How can analytical tools help you make these assessments? By providing a structure to help you brainstorm and organize your thoughts in a relatively timely manner… which in turn provides the building blocks for better decision-making. While many of these tools are meant to provide in-depth assessments, they can also be used for more abbreviated uses, including “back of the envelope” type analysis when speed is important. Here are five tools that can be used to help you analyze a variety of situations.

Analytical tools are a staple of business. They are available to assist with everything from strategic planning to problem solving to communications planning. You can use these tools by yourself, as a team, or at an organizational level. They range from conceptual frameworks to highly structured models that include formal step by step processes. Here are five tools that give you a wide range of options:

1. People-Process-Technology/Tools (PPT): This is my personal favorite because of the simplicity and flexibility it offers. Originally, this framework was used to understand and maintain balance between those three dynamics in business situations, particularly with process design and reorganization… and typically related to technology impact. However, it also can be used quickly to frame up any number of things; for yourself, or when brainstorming with teams.

I add Financial to this to make it more robust. Hundreds of times, I’ve used this construct as a “white board” exercise. I’ve used it to understand the implications of a new client satisfaction initiative for my own teams, to prepare a recommendation about adopting a new technology, and with clients to help them work through potential organizational changes. It’s amazing what you can uncover with this exercise… including downstream impacts, important ancillary issues, and traps to avoid. And yes, I have literally done this on the back of an envelope in “emergency” situations, where I had less than 10 minutes to prepare. I wrote the situation (or question) at the top of the page or envelope, drew 4 swim lanes with category headings and jotted down some quick details. I went into the meeting better prepared and mentally more organized.

There have been numerous updated versions of this construct over the years. Here is some additional information on the original People Process Technology.

2. MOST: stands for Mission, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics. A lot of leaders have a hard time understanding (or, at least, explaining) how lofty mission statements become specific processes, actions steps or behaviors on the part of their team members. This powerful alignment tool helps you analyze how mission translates into action. It’s effective for both leadership teams and work groups alike. MOST helps refocus teams or business areas on organizational goals and better alignment from one level to the next. Again, while it’s an effective in-depth tool, it can be used to do a “quick study” of a situation. Here’s more on MOST.

3. STEEPLE: is primarily used as an external environmental scanning construct. The acronym stands for Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethical. It helps you look, as an organization, at all these factors in a structured way to better understand the external forces impacting your organization. For example, what are the trends around emerging technologies that could force major changes in your business, like your own early adoption, service delivery models, or pricing implications? For more on STEEPLE.

4. The 5C Analysis model is used for marketing purposes. It helps you analyze both internal and external factors impacting your marketing decisions. 5C stands for Customers, Competitors, Company, Collaborators, Climate. This is usually meant for in-depth assessment and strategic planning. Each one of these factors has you focus on multiple sub-factors. For example, Customers looks at: market segments, customer requirements and demands, market size and growth, retail channel and information sources, buying process, consumer trends, etc. I haven’t used this approach, but I know that it can be highly effective for those taking a deep dive. For more on 5C Analysis.

5. McKinsey 7S Framework: This is the ultimate organizational alignment tool. It guides you through a process that to understand where seven key internal elements are in sync and where they’re not. This framework was originally developed by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, who once worked for McKinsey. Terminology commonly used to discuss organizational dynamics has changed since then, but the basic construct is still very effective. It has been used for performance improvement, to aid strategy implementation, and for organizational change initiatives. The model is broken down into three Hard elements; Strategy, Structure, Systems, and Soft elements: Shared Values, Skills, Style and Staff. There’s a great Mind Tools article on how to use this model that includes worksheets.

I didn’t include tools like SWOT Analysis and Stakeholder Analysis because they’re very well-known and you’ve probably used one or both of them at some point in your careers. I also didn’t cover things like mind-mapping for similar reasons. However, the links above provide good explanations and tools.

For each of these analytical constructs, you can literally find dozens of sites that provide good content and supplementary tools for each of them. And there are many more analysis constructs to explore. Some people blend concepts or steps from one construct into another for a tool that better fits their unique business needs or analytical styles. Whether you use them to do in-depth assessment at an organizational level, a 10-minute “emergency” exercise, or anything in-between, you’ll develop a more thorough analysis of the situation at hand. And that typically leads to better decision-making.

11 Decisions To Make About Your Hybrid Team

What does it mean to return to work? For a lot of people, it means their organization is implementing a hybrid model. My question is — what does that mean? I’m sure you’re grappling with this question, too.


At one level, it’s about flexibility. Organizations are allowing more flexibility about who needs to be in the office, and when. On another level, it’s cost – financial, psychological, emotional. The hybrid solution is not one-size-fits-all. An organization I partner with is implementing a hybrid model that means everyone is in the office Tuesday through Thursday with flexibility on Monday and Friday. Others are viewing it as some people come back to the office full-time and others stay remote full-time. For others, the model will vary by work function. I could fill the better part of this blog with the various options that will be implemented.

No matter the option, the question leaders and their teams should be asking on a deeper level is what does this really mean for us? For how we operate? For how we build our team?

As you and your team move into the next new-way-of-working, here are some decisions you need to make:

11 Key Decisions About Hybrid Teams

  1. How will we fulfill our vision or purpose working this way?
  2. What does success look like for us in our hybrid model?
  3. How do we ensure we don’t slip back into patterns that no longer serve us?
  4. How will we apply the lessons learned from how we worked during the pandemic?
  5. How will we communicate to our customers – internal or external – about our work arrangements?
  6. How will we ensure strong collaboration across boundaries and silos?
  7. Will we need to be more intentional about how we build or maintain our culture?
  8. How will we measure performance?  Does our current approach to measuring performance give an advantage to people who are in the office? What if it was built for a completely onsite workforce?
  9. How will we ensure career growth?  How will we create visibility for those who are remote?
  10. How will you onboard remote team members?  Will it look different from team members who are in the office?  How do you make it feel highly engaging for both?
  11. How will we increase our diversity, equity and inclusion in our version of the hybrid model?
It’s a lot to think about.  How many of these decisions have you already made?
We partner with leaders who know they need to change how their teams or organizations operate and need help making it happen more quickly. Working with teams at inflection points is one of the things we do best.

Improve Remote Performance – The Power of Connection

High-performing individuals and teams feel well-connected to the things that matter most. That includes a deeper connection to mission and strategy, their goals, and to you and their fellow team members. Working remotely often leads to lower levels of connection. Here are some ways you can build a more connected – and better performing – team.

A good deal of research shows that remote employees are often more productive than their on-site peers.  But, as a manager, as a leader, you’re more interested in performance than productivity.  Productivity is a measure of how much you do… in other words, activity. “I get a lot done when I work from home.” Performance is about how effective your work is. “My team improved client satisfaction by 5% over last quarter.”  Certainly, productivity and performance often go hand in hand, but not always. We all know people who work hard and get a lot done; but, still, they just don’t seem to be able to move the needle far enough.

No doubt, over the last year or so, you’ve been flooded with all kinds of advice on how to keep your newly remote team of managers or professionals engaged and performing well .  Here’s a slightly different way of looking at how to make that happen – by leveraging key leadership techniques in ways that keep people connected. Connected to their mission, their goals and to you and their team.

Connect Your Team to Mission / Vision / Strategy 
Working through COVID conditions has meant facing and overcoming a lot of challenges.  People have had to deal with a myriad of urgent and often difficult changes to our personal and work lives.  When that happens, it’s easy to get distracted.  It’s critical that we focus and refocus our team members on why we’re here.  What’s our purpose? What’s our strategy for making that happen?
  • Keep it in front of them.  You can do this at team meetings.  “This new project aligns with our mission to…”  And when problem solving.  “Part of our strategy calls for cross selling more technology products.  With that as our primary criteria, let’s discuss which of these projects will make that happen more quickly?”  When answering questions.  “The reason we’re going to move to a 70/30 remote model is because of the upcoming business acquisition.  We’ll need maximum levels of trust and collaboration to make this work.  And that means more face-to-face time in the office.”
  • Make it personal.  Virtually every organization has a mission or vision and a business strategy. So too should every team. How does the overall business strategy map to your team? How do you make high-level strategy make sense in your part of the organization? In fact, how do you help each of your team members align what they do with mission and strategy? Take the time for a formal process of aligning your team’s mission and goals with the organization’s. One meeting isn’t likely to be enough. Make it a short project, assign a lead to it, and ask people to come prepared to the meetings with their own ideas.
Connect Them to Their Goals and Objectives
This is another important touchstone that drives connection and improves performance. With organizations facing an evolving post-pandemic world, significant changes are already taking place again. For many, if not most, that means more disruption. Another way to reel people back in is to help them stay focused on their goals.
  • Keep their formal goals up to date. Don’t wait until the end of the year to align their work goals to new business goals and initiatives and new ways of working.  These changes provide a perfect opportunity to get their attention. Talk about goals, find out what challenges they have, and help them create a plan for addressing them. Remember to make this a robust two-way conversation.
  • Set clear expectations.  Remote management is usually harder because communication is more difficult and less frequent. Don’t let distance get in the way of clarity. You’ll want to let your team and your employees know exactly what’s expected. For example, it’s not enough to tell them you want them to maintain or improve collaboration. How do you expect them to do that?  “Remember, we’ll be switching to Flowdock next quarter. I expect everyone to have 100% of their team members attend the product training by no later than September 15th.”
  • Hold people and teams accountable. Expectations without accountability are a half-measure. Even highly motivated people need to be accountable for how effectively they perform. Remember to role-model what you want to see. If you ask the managers who report to you to update their team’s performance goals, but you don’t do it with your own team, it’s likely to elicit a half-hearted and incomplete effort on their part as well.  For more on remote accountability, look for our upcoming article.
Connect Them to Their Team and to You
We’re saving the best for last. It’s a well-established fact that personal connectivity to one’s team and boss positively impact engagement, talent retention and performance. Even for those who love to work remotely, almost all of them still need to connect with the people they work with. In addition to holding regular individual and team meetings and events, here are some ways to improve personal connectivity.
  • Empathy (and loads of it), not Sympathy.  As organizations continue to sort out the future of their organization’s work structures and practices, it’s important that leaders be empathetic. Note that I did not say sympathetic. Here’s the difference. When a leader is empathetic, they understand and share the feelings of another person. They recognize the person’s challenges. “It must be hard to have to re-organize your personal life around the new work arrangements.” It’s supportive. On the other hand, when someone is sympathetic, they are signaling that they feel pity or distress for them. “I’m so sorry that you have to come back to work in the office full time. It really stinks.” This also sounds supportive. But managers who sympathize (instead of empathize) are more likely to excuse poor performance and lower their expectations. It also crosses the manager/employee boundary and makes it harder to be objective with an employee.
  • Help them help themselves.  People like and respect leaders who help them solve problems, not managers who dictate solutions. Ask questions. “You’ve been late getting the financials to me two months in a row. What’s going on? Why do you suppose that’s happening? What do you think will solve that problem?” Of course, if you see something else, you’ll want to mention it, but collaborative course corrections are the most effective. It’s also important to ask how you can help. This technique also works well for teams. Help them define and then solve the collaborative challenges they have, and ask what you can do to help.
  • Set team goals.  Individuals need to know that they will be held accountable for how well their team(s) perform, and that collaboration is critical to their success. See above.
  • Remain focused on professional development. Don’t lose sight of helping your team members develop their skills and acquire important experiences. Remote employees are more likely to be overlooked when it comes to development opportunities. Pick your times wisely, but make sure it remains part of the ongoing dialogue you have with them.

Connection is Powerful. Connecting with others and with purpose are deep-seated personal needs, and that includes in one’s work life. High-performing teams thrive on the level of trust and respect that connection helps drive.

When is Bad News Better than Good News?

When is bad news better than good news?

When you put off communicating important information to your organization until you have something “good” to say to them.

There’s an old saying that “no news is good news.” That may still apply to some things in life, but it’s decidedly untrue when it comes to communicating important information to your organization.

When people don’t have any or enough information about what’s important to them, what happens? One typical result is that they get anxious. And anxious team members are more distracted and less productive. In fact, in a recent business survey reported by McKinsey, “Employees who felt included in detailed communications about what’s decided and what’s still uncertain were nearly five times more likely to report increased productivity.”

Employees (and leaders) who don’t have enough information will also begin to develop their own ideas about what’s going on. They suppose something is true without having evidence to confirm it.  And then you’re playing defense against a difficult foe with multiple tentacles: the rumor mill.

Decades of leadership research and best practice application support the “over-communication” of information to employees when an organization is facing change, particularly during the most trying of times. That means direct, open communication on the status of what’s important to employees on a regular basis through multiple channels from all levels of management.

Some leaders have a difficult time dealing with uncertainty themselves and assume others will too. For them it’s tempting to “wait until we get it all figured out before we let people know what direction we’re going in.” What these leaders often fail to realize is that it’s a lot easier as a more senior leader to deal with uncertainty when you have much more real-time information available to you; and this is especially true if you have some control over the decisions and direction the organization is heading in.

It’s better to be frank with your teams about what the challenges are, what decisions have been made and what is still pending. Explain the competing variables the organization faces and trust them understand the complexity. It allows people to process information along the way. That makes the eventual decisions that are made easier for people to accept and adjust to because they will have felt involved along the way.

The competition for talent is never over and the best talent wants to feel that their leaders are making them part of the dialogue about what’s important. It’s up to leadership at all levels to share the news… good, bad, or incomplete.