Category: Internal Communication
Core Growth, Core Consulting’s emerging leaders program, often features guest speakers from various walks of life who share experiences and lessons learned that participants can then reflect on and take back to their own industries. Current class members are in month 6 of the program’s third installment and recently gathered at Bad Girl Ventures to hear from Nancy Aichholz, the accelerator’s Executive Director, and UpTech’s Managing Director JB Woodruff. Participants, who have all been selected by their respective companies to be in this leadership program, focused during this particular session on the importance of alignment in propelling an organization forward. Below are some bits of advice provided by Nancy and JB about the role of alignment in their professional and personal lives.
Nancy’s professional journey spans from the Director of Marketing at Chiquita to the ownership and operation of her own start-up, NanBrands (whose carrot cakes were featured in Nordstrom). This past experience led to her role at Bad Girl Ventures, supporting female entrepreneurs like herself. Having taken time off to raise her children and focus on political fundraising in between careers and starting her own business, Nancy is familiar with the importance of alignment. She recently hired her 7th employee at BGV.
-Engage the old and embrace the new
-Focus on recruitment and on-boarding to secure the right talent for your team and integrate them into the culture of your organization
-Clearly define and communicate roles at every level to avoid confusion
-Share the highest level of information appropriate to everyone involved; though this may be intuitive, it can also be mapped out
-Stay on the same page by engaging team members (with staff retreats, for example)
Now in a leadership position at UpTech, an accelerator for data-driven start-ups, JB graduated from Penn State with a degree in Information Science and Technology. After quitting as a tech consultant in 2012, he went to Kenya for 3 months to work at a startup accelerator, then spent another 3 months in Cape Town, ZA working with the same program. After this experience, he was hooked on the start-up scene and worked on his own projects before landing his current position in 2015. JB has had to juggle aligning his corporate, personal, and non-profit endeavors.
-Set your expectations and make sure they are known and understood; eliminate ambiguity
-Understand and appreciate the context of interactions; personally, culturally, etc.
-Respect the necessity of employees to feel valued
-Build trust through actions and over-delivery on promises
-Find advocates through dialogue and clarity
-Combat groupthink; bounce ideas off those outside your organization and industry
-Never make assumptions
-Stay vigilant in reporting and checkpoints so initial alignment becomes continued alignment
Core Growth participants, in hearing success stories from these two prominent leaders in the start-up community, are able to apply the concept of alignment to their own leadership roles. Learn more about Core’s emerging leaders program here. Next cohort kicks off in September!
Note: This is the third post in a 4-part series on Leading a Virtual Team. I’ve listed links below to the other three posts:
- Part 1: Connect & Build Relationships
- Part 2: Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
- Part 4: Acquire and Develop the “Right” Talent
Part 3: Perfect Team Communications
Ahhh…communication (sigh). Why is it that nearly every conversation I have about something gone wrong includes the word “communication” as a key focal point? We’ve been practicing human communication since our Neanderthal days and studying it as an academic field as early on as Ancient Greece (to my knowledge, possibly prior), but we just can’t seem to get it right.
Termed by many as a “soft skill” (argh!), communication is hard – very hard. Add on the growing existence of virtual teams in today’s workforce, and you probably feel like just hanging up your hat when it comes to perfecting communications.
BUT (here’s where this somber story takes a turn in the protagonist’s favor), you CAN enhance communications amongst your virtual team. How, you ask? I’ve rounded up a few tips in this third installment of Core’s Leading a Virtual Team series.
Create a Game Plan
Communicate about your communications. Don’t just assume that everyone has the same practices when it comes to text vs. email vs. conference calls vs. IM vs. [insert any number of virtual comms platforms here]. Because there are so many channels out there at your disposal, it’s important that you create a game plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.
What channels do we use to communicate what?
For example, you might determine as a group to use:
- Group chat for brief back-and-forth throughout the day (preventing a mess in your inbox)
- Email for lengthier messages; communication with clients; communicating across time zones that prohibit real-time chat; etc.
- Phone when something is more efficient to discuss during a quick 5-10 minute call versus lots of back and forth on chat or email
- Google Drive for file sharing and collaboration
- Shared calendar for out-of-office schedules
- Weekly digital newsletter for sales success stories and industry trends/thought leadership
- Private team Facebook page for leisure and social content
- Weekly webcam calls for team touch points /updates
What’s appropriate and what’s not?
Once you’ve determined what each channel should be used for, you might want to consider crafting general behavioral guidelines. Have your team develop these “rules of thumb” themselves. For example:
Email Do’s And Don’ts
|Acknowledge via a reply within a 24-hr period||Include people who don’t need to know or take action|
|Be as brief as possible and use bullets/lists whenever possible||Use ALL CAPS|
|Use the red flag sparingly – only in true cases of urgency||Reply All unless everyone needs to see your response|
|Avoid after-hours and weekend emails to respect personal time and wellness||Use email to address a sensitive topic that deserves a more personal delivery|
Virtual Meeting Do’s and Don’ts
|Have a clear purpose and agenda||Schedule on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons (team members need this time to adequately prepare for their week ahead and tie up any loose ends)|
|Start and end on time if you are the host and arrive a few minutes early as a participant||Send call-in details right before it starts (include them in original appt.)|
|Turn your webcam on (often helps avoid people talking over each other and keeps everyone more engaged in the discussion)||Invite unnecessary participants who are not needed to advance the topic forward|
|Open the virtual meeting space up 10 minutes prior to start time if you are the host||Fail to address the details of who is responsible for what (be specific!)|
|Mute your phone when not speaking to minimize background noise (and unmute before you speak!)||Interrupt/announce yourself if you log in late; the Host will be able to see that you have joined|
|Be aware of all time zones when scheduling your meeting||Turn beeping notifications on for attendees entering and leaving the meeting space|
|Conclude by recapping discussion and summarizing next steps||Have your email notifications on when sharing your screen|
As an aside, check out this funny YouTube clip. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but just had to share:
With a plan like this in place, your team now knows what communication channels to use for what purpose and how to appropriately use each one. You will really start rocking and rolling now!
Three implementation tips for your virtual team’s communications strategy:
- Turn it into something visual. A quick reference page for your team to keep visible at their home office would be helpful.
- Make sure you onboard every new team member with your communications strategy from Day 1.
- Revisit every 6-12 months and tweak as needed. With the number of digital communication tools entering the market each day, you never know what might work better. However, also don’t feel a need to change just because the latest trendy product or service has launched. If it’s working – stick with it.
Become Tech Savvy & Provide Access to Tools
As the leader of a virtual team, it’s imperative that you are very aware of digital workplace tools and that you provide your team members with the tools they need to be successful as a virtual worker. Don’t skimp in this area. It will make your team feel inadequately equipped, and thus less valued.
Ask yourself – Does my team have the right digital infrastructure in place to most efficiently and effectively support each other and our clients?
Consider needs such as:
- IM/Chat (I’ve had colleagues recommend HipChat and Slack during this series)
- Shared calendaring
- Files sharing and collaboration – Check out Google Drive, Evernote, Basecamp and Dropbox just to name a few
- Screen sharing & web conferencing – Check out join.me, Google Hangouts, or any number of web conferencing solutions
- Social networks – You can use public sites like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (that have the capability to set up private collaboration), or you can consider internal enterprise solutions such as Jive, Share Point and Yammer
- Hardware – Don’t forget about critical physical devices such as smart phones, laptops, tablets, hot spots, etc. Make sure your team members are equipped with reliable devices; otherwise it can really hinder productivity.
As always, please share your own thoughts and resources below. There are so many useful tools to help virtual teams these days, and I’ve only skimmed the surface here with some of what I’ve shared. I’d love to hear what is working well for your virtual team.
Stay tuned for our last piece on this series, which will be “Acquire & Develop the Right Talent.”
Till next time…
This post strays a little bit from my normal blogging, but it’s been something on my mind lately that I need to hash out on my keyboard.
We have a problem with trust in organizations today. Nothing earth shattering about that statement. I personally believe it’s closely connected (unfortunately) to a much larger issue of trust in today’s world. I can’t blame anyone for feeling this widespread lack of trust. Our trust has been broken…too many times in recent years…often by tragic events…leaving us feeling vulnerable, yet also determined to look out for ourselves and those we love the most. This sometimes comes at the expense of not developing relationships with those we don’t know.
The larger issue of lack of trust in today’s world deserves its own series of blog posts (and more!) that I cannot provide, nor am I qualified to provide. What I can do though is reflect on how I’ve seen this lack of trust play out in organizational life and offer at least one suggestion for how we can start making it better.
I’ve been working in some facet of organizational development for more than 10 years, most recently running an OD consulting practice. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with organizations of all different sizes, industries and global footprints, and I can say that all of them (and they would agree) could benefit from making one thing a priority:
Developing the ability within their employees to have honest conversations with each other.
Honest conversations. They’re not easy. If they were, we wouldn’t have so many performance issues, miscommunication, ambiguous expectations and unclear definitions of success. As a consultant, I’ve seen this play out in a different light than when I was working inside organizations. I’m now hearing the honest conversations as an unbiased third party, but I’m the wrong person for them to be directed to.
One of many things we can do to increase levels of trust within our organizations is to start being honest with each other. We have to start somewhere, and I believe one place we can all make a difference is by making a personal commitment to have honest conversations with our colleagues, managers, and team members.
Try it this week. I venture to bet you’ll feel a sense of relief and will also realize more constructive outcomes than you’ve possibly had in years. What’s holding you back? Let’s work together to reframe our discussions in the workplace. Back to the basics with this one. #honesty
A few weeks ago I facilitated a team offsite for a client I’m working with on an engagement project. The location was this really cool art studio in a trendy part of town. As I pulled into the lot, I quickly noticed that the owners must value “green.” There were some vegetated swales and designated parking spots for fuel efficient and “HOV” vehicle parking. I was instantly lured in and appreciated the respect shown toward the business’ environmental impact…before even stepping foot in the door.
I wasn’t sure what HOV stood for, so it was the first question I asked the young man working in the reception area. His response – “I really don’t know. People ask me that all the time.”
Hmmm….I thought. Was this all for show? Was it the trendy thing to do? Are they just trying to keep up with competition?
About a week later I did some research on their website. It ends up it’s a LEED Silver Certified green building. The rooftop has a solar panel system, and their property features a monarch butterfly conservation waystation, a bioswale rain garden, and a garden of native plants and prairie grasses. Being married to an environmental scientist and having worked in an environmental industry, I know that this level of commitment to green takes an investment, not to mention motivation and passion.
So this was clearly an internal brand alignment issue, which resulted in my brand experience being compromised. I cared enough to do further research on my own, but I’m part of probably 1% who would. Most customers would have stopped with thinking, “This place is just trying to be trendy but has no idea what being green even means” and potentially take their business elsewhere due to a feeling of fakeness during their experience.
Even if it was a false perception of the brand due to this one comment made by the receptionist, we all know very well that perception is reality.
Two important takeaways from this story:
- Your employees ARE your brand.
- Your employees can make or break your customers’ brand experience.
How many employees are aligned with their organization’s brand?
When asked how much they agree with the following statement, “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors,” 2012 research conducted by Gallup found that only:
- 60% of executives strongly agreed
- 46% of managers strongly agreed
- 37% of all other employees strongly agreed
Maybe even more concerning is that 9% of other employees (non-executive, non-manager) strongly disagreed that they understand their company’s brand promise and brand differentiation.
Why is this more concerning? Because it’s typically your frontline that has the most touchpoints with your customers. It’s the receptionist greeting customers as they walk in, the customer service rep answering your customers’ calls, the entry-level sales associate running a Lunch & Learn webinar about your products and services.
What can I do to align my employees with my brand?
1. Answer: What is it?
First thing first – develop a brand strategy if you haven’t already. Be intentional about what you want your brand to feel like, look like, be differentiated by, etc. Include the following in your brand strategy:
- Brand platform/positioning
- Brand personality
- Brand naming and architecture
- Brand experience
- Brand imagery
- Brand alignment plan (!!!)
2. Embed it consistently into your internal communications.
Plot out your internal channels, create messaging around the brand, and insert it frequently and indefinitely into every employee touchpoint.
3. Reward and recognize brand-aligned behaviors.
Create recognition schemes that positively promote brand-boosting behavior. This could range anywhere from public “shout outs” to performance-driven compensation plans. Are your employees living your brand? Reward them for it!
4. Onboard every single new employee around the brand.
Even seasonals and temps if they are going to be interacting with your customers. It is highly likely that the young man at the art studio who didn’t know what HOV stood for was a summer temp. Have employees “drink the Kool-Aid” from Day 1 by not focusing solely on policies, forms, and medical benefits, but also on your brand promise. Have them “feel” it first-hand through experiential learning embedded into your onobaridng program.
5. Regularly solicit input from employees about the brand.
Where are they feeling a disconnect? What aspects of it do they feel the closest connections to and why? What are their clients saying? Make it an ongoing discussion, and address needs and/or make changes as warranted.
Oh, and just in case this has been eating at you since you started reading – HOV stands for High Occupancy Vehicle. 🙂