Leading Virtually Part 3: Feedback and Maintaining the Relationship

Feedback circle

The tips in this post were co-written by my colleague, Stefanie Heiter of Bridging Distance. This is part three of a three part series.

For the past two weeks, I’ve shared tips with you for creating results and managing performance when leading a virtual team. Last week’s tips focused on discussing both the ends and the means and creating a game plan. This week’s tips are about creating a feedback and coaching loop and maintaining the relationship.

Tip 5: Create a feedback and coaching loop. Feedback on performance is most effective when it is timely and about performance that you’ve directly observed. In a virtual world, the ability to physically see someone’s performance is not always possible. Create processes that allow you to gain meaningful information about an individual’s performance. For example, a sales director uses a survey with customers to get input into a sales person’s performance. While she created the survey to get direct feedback from customers who interact with her salespeople in live situations that she is unable to attend, it has created better customer relationships. The customers have told her that they are thrilled to be asked because it allows them to be heard. Also use technology to coach. For example, virtual meeting software could allow a less experienced team member to simulate a client presentation to you, providing you with the opportunity to coach them in real time.

Tip 6: Maintain the relationship. Our first tip was about relationship building. Once you’ve built the relationship, take steps to maintain it. When we primarily use technology to communicate, we often feel like we need to have a reason to communicate. Develop a culture that says it’s ok to just check in – not check up on – by calling or initiating contact without a specific need. Make it clear that you don’t see this as a sign that someone doesn’t have enough to do. Also, make a point to communicate the positive. Say thank you, recognize an individual’s achievements and results. If we are in the habit of using technology as a vehicle for only task oriented communication, we miss an opportunity to use it as a vehicle for building capabilities and engagement. Model this behavior with our team and you’ll find that when you do need to communicate because of a specific need, those conversations are more productive.

Effectively leading performance in a virtual world is similar in many ways to effectively leading performance in a more traditional work configuration. Leaders need to communicate expectations, monitor behavior and results, and establish an effective relationship so that we can work through the invariable issues and problems that arise. Ina a virtual world, we have an ever growing toolkit to help leaders be more effective. By understanding how to use each appropriately, leaders can get strong performance in any of the many work arrangements we find today.

Creating Space for Innovation

Biogen Huddle 260 x 176There was an interesting article in the Boston Globe recently about my client, Biogen Idec’s, new space. It doesn’t have offices or cubes (finally, the death of the cube). It has open adaptive space, workstations connected to treadmills and huddle rooms for impromptu meetings. The hope for this radically different design is to drive innovation, speed and allow for more informal, unplanned communication.

Many, many companies are talking about how to drive innovation in the workplace. The design of physical space definitely plays a part. But, it only helps if people can free up mental space and time to take advantage of the space. There doesn’t seem to be enough of either in the world of work. In many of my client’s work environments; there is no time for informal, unplanned communication because people are scheduled into back to back meetings day after day after day. They have so many things on their ‘to do’ list and little time to prioritize so the focus is on getting them done but not on what if we did this instead? Or how can it be done better? Colleagues are unavailable because they are on the road or in other meetings.

If innovation is part of your company’s mantra these days, look at how you spend your days.

• Is there enough time for informal conversations that are spurred by an idea or new issue?
• Are there scheduled meetings that can be combined or don’t need to happen at all?
• How easy is it for me to get in touch with colleagues either in person or through technology?
• Have interactions become so formalized that there’s no time for what’s not on the agenda?

You may also want to think about bringing down a few cubicle walls.

 

The Story Stays the Same

man loves his job 396 x 260Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report has just been released. Here’s the highlights:

  • 30% of employees are engaged and inspired at work — up from 28% in 2010
  • 18% are actively disengaged
  • 52% are showing up

What drives engagement?

  • Job satisfaction – having a great boss, room to grow and job tasks that are stimulating
  • Workplace culture, especially those that encourage people to voice their opinions and work together.

Before you think about providing free lunches and massages on site, look at how you’re doing on the fundamentals. “If you don’t have those fundamentals, the perks aren’t going to fix it,” says Randy Allen, the associate dean of Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.. “You may keep them for a while, but at some point they’re going to leave.”

Enough said?