Monday, July 13, 2009

Establising Trust & Respect

Many remote managers make the mistake of trying to establish their credibility through demands and force. Have you ever had a manager tell you a new policy or procedure is being implemented with the reason of “because that’s the way it is” or “that’s what I decided” or “it is what it is.” How did this make you feel? Did it bring back bad flashbacks of your parents telling you when you were a kid “because I said so?” People need reasons and explanations behind actions; this conveys that you respect their thoughts and feelings enough to include them in the rational. It doesn’t mean you need to evoke their consensus, but it will display your respect for them, which directly builds it in return. One manager told their employee they were making their decision because their “ego just couldn’t currently let them accept the other person’s idea.” As irrational a reason as this was, the fact that it was obviously truthful and that they were willing to share this reason behind their decision with the employee, earned their respect for the decision.

Respect is earned, not demanded. Those that demand respect actually destroy it. Have you ever known a manager that others display respect to when they interact with them, but immediately behind their back do the opposite? They complain about the manager’s decisions, delivery, goals, etc. . . This leads to a team that does not embrace the manager’s and company’s goals and initiatives. A successful team is one that is motivated by their manager and is behind their decisions (of their own free will – not by being forced). This allows a company to make quick changes, capture and develop innovative ideas, and stay competitive. Granted, not every employee will like every idea that their manager communicates, but if they genuinely respect their manager, they are more likely to support those decisions in conversation with others, rather than spread dissent. Because remote employees can more easily feel separated from the company, inter-team communication can spread like a brush fire and generate emotions not conducive to the team’s success.

Own your decisions.
Another common error made of managers is to do the opposite, when conveying a decision, by shirking ownership of it. Some managers convey reasons for directives to their employees as: “executive management made the rule” or “it’s a new company policy,” while at the same time communicating that they as a manager don’t necessarily agree but their “hands are tied.” This type of communication is generally motivated by a need to be liked by their employees. Even though managers should strive to earn the respect of their employees, it does not mean they necessarily need to be liked. The goal is not to be their friend, but to be their manager.

When a manger uses this type of communication they discredit themselves by not owning their decisions. Employees will read this as a sign of weakness. The result can be employees going above or outside of their management structure to get answers, approval, assistance, etc. . . or to question their manager’s decisions. Rather than saying “I personally wouldn’t mind if you took the day off, but I don’t think if would look good to executive management”, be the authority yourself. You are the face of the company for your employees. You do want to give them the “reasons why” behind the decision, when at all possible, but don’t defer to another power. Instead try something like,” We have a critical project right now and I need you to be here today to make sure we meet the deadlines.”

Credibility through commitments.
Another way to create respect and establish credibility is through commitments. This is especially critical in distributed workforce teams. A common compliant among these types of teams is that their manager does not get back to them when they try to contact them. Absent managers leave employees feeling isolated and will generate either unwanted maverick behavior (employees feeling that they can do whatever they want without following protocol), or employees that don’t reach set goals, based on excuses of “but you didn’t tell me to”, or “I didn’t know.” To keep employees motivated and feeling like they are part of the company and team, a manager needs to keep promises and commitments. Even if it is a small promise; if you say you will get them something by Tuesday, then do so. Set consistent schedules with employees and don’t change them unless there is an emergency. If you have a time scheduled to talk with a remote employee each week, don’t reschedule it. Otherwise this will send the message that you don’t think they are a high priority. This sends the message that it is OK for them to reschedule or find excuses not to attend meetings and calls as well.

Keep in mind that your communication style sets the tone for how you want your team to communicate with you, the client and each other. They will follow what you lead as far as your style. If you take the ego out of your communication style and respect them, it will encourage them to do the same.

Jenny Douras © All rights reserved

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Building a Team Culture with Remote Employees

Because employees of a distributed workforce are in different locations, it is tougher for them to feel a part of the company and team, which is critical to their overall motivation and drive behind company initiatives. That is why it takes a concentrated effort by remote managers to build a team community and culture for their employees. Many remote employees feel left out when they hear of their office or others that have company events such as: ditch days, breakfast or lunch brought in, costume contests, in office birthday celebrations, happy hours, bring your pet or child to work day, etc. . . These social engagements help to build that community in an office, but there are things that a remote manager can do to build that culture and community, for their team, as well.

1. Create and encourage inter-team communication – Communication amongst a distributed employee base helps to build camaraderie. This strengthens the team by fostering an environment where the team members rely on each other for help, support and ideas. This helps build trust within the team and fosters internal team partnerships to make it stronger and more productive.
2. Partner remote employees for projects – Find reasons to partner employees on the team, especially those that do not always work together, for projects. This can include mentoring, developing best practices, or preparing topics to present to the rest of the team on a conference call.
3. Create virtual water coolers – All of that time-consuming small talk that happens at the “water cooler” in office environments has an important purpose that is missed in distributed teams – it builds the team camaraderie and culture. A remote manager can find ways to create virtual environment to foster this “small talk.”
a. Plan a small amount of “open time” at the beginning or end of team conference calls for small talk.
b. User ice breakers, openers, and getting to know you exercises and games during team gatherings, calls, interactions, etc. . . This can also include a virtual bulletin board to post “getting to know you” related info about team members.
c. Find opportunities to celebrate together virtually by sending out team congratulatory emails, or on conference calls. One company sent out Starbucks gift cards for their next team call so everyone could have “breakfast together” on the call.
4. Re-live the past – Find opportunities to re-live shining moments from the team’s past. This brings back positive memories of the group and will help to renew that feeling again. This can be highlighting accomplishments made by the entire team, or even one employee. Even funny things that happened to team members when they were last together. Think of the memories that strengthen the bond with your group of personal friends. Talking about these always bring back those happy feelings of belonging to something good.

One item to avoid that can be a common pitfall of new managers in building a team: avoid pitting the team against another in comments and remarks, such as “our team is better than theirs,” or “this is the best team in the company.” This alienates other co-workers and the company. Although competitiveness can be a strong motivator, competitiveness such as this within the company can have potential negative effects in the future. What if a member of one of those other teams now becomes a member of yours, or vice versa? It will make it that much harder to assimilate them into the new team that they are an “outsider” of. Managers should tell a team how fantastic they are, but not at the demise or lacking of another.

Jenny Douras © All rights reserved