Note: This is the second 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 3: Perfect Team Communications
- Part 4: Acquire and Develop the “Right” Talent
Part 2: Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
I’m relaxing on the couch browsing my evening news feed, while occasionally peeping over at my youngest son (Jacob) who is playing the memory game Simon. I notice he’s not paying much attention, lacks engagement, and is only making it to Rounds 3 or 4 each time.
I put my phone down and lock eyes with him. Without exchanging any words, Jacob knows I’m going to give his next attempt my sole focus. He perks up, smiles and then the colors and beeps begin. He makes it 9 rounds this time! Granted, occasionally he asked me for help during those rounds, but he got there…we got there. During his previous attempts, I was there, but I wasn’t present.
Leadership presence. This is the focus of Part 2 of 4 in our “Leading a Virtual Team” series. As with all topics we are exploring during this series, they apply to all leaders – not just those of virtual teams; however, we are diving into them through the lens of a virtual leader.
What do we need from our leaders in the workplace? Historically, and now thankfully archaically, it was things like very specific direction, punch lists and tracking records, 1x per year reviews, etc. Luckily the workplace environment has evolved, and thus the role of organizational leaders has changed.
Let’s take a look at what your virtual team needs to “feel” from you as their leader and how you can establish a consistent leadership presence for them in these three critical areas.
- Motivation & Recognition
Establishing a strong presence in these areas doesn’t get accomplished through regular conference calls where you punch through to-do lists and share updates. Below are a few things you can try to grow your presence in these three areas for your virtual team. It is then that you will become their valued leader and not just a manager who they have to dial into each week to touch base.
Regularly remind the team of the future vision. Articulate it in a compelling and inspirational way. I know, hard to do virtually, but entirely possible.
Time to tap into the right side of your brain! Rely on new media – infographics, video, images, audio. Start a virtual Vision Board that you and your team can add to whenever you come across something that speaks to where you are heading; what your ultimate aim is. Pinterest might be a good platform for this (read this article for more info), or you might already be using some type of online community with functionality that would enable you to create this.
You could also start a YouTube channel and/or blog that becomes an inspirational forum, where content is very much future-oriented. Quotes, little nuggets from a recent business trip, a TED Talk you want to share, etc. Just make sure you keep it focused on a consistent message of where you’re heading as a team or organization – to develop a belief in and excitement for the future.
Motivation & Recognition
Each one of your team members has unique motivators. Invest the time to learn what their “carrots” are and dangle them throughout the race. A few motivators and forms of recognition to consider for your virtual team are:
- Sending hand written thank-you notes to their home (be specific about what behaviors you’re thankful for)
- Sending gifts that are meaningful to them (hence the need to spend the time learning what they like) – flowers, tickets to a local sporting event in their city, gift cards, spa retreat day, charitable donation on their behalf, etc.
- If you have a *healthy* competitive environment amongst the team, consider using a leaderboard or other digital gamification techniques for certain projects/initiatives
- You’re not around to pop your head into their cube and say “nice job” after a presentation, so after you hang up with the client, pick your phone back up and call them to say “nice job.” Or use a team Chat forum to send the same message. Point being – take an extra minute of your day to reach out virtually with a simple pat on the back.
- Take personal note of your employees’ birthdays and send birthday cake to their home. Make it a tradition to leave a voicemail of a version of Happy Birthday by an artist or music genre that would resonate with that person (click here for an example). It’s the little things. Make sure you send enough birthday cake for the entire family if they live with others.
- After a long week, send them a note at 3:00 on Friday telling everyone to log off and that happy hour or Friday Night Family Night is on you. Allow them to expense their Friday evening shenanigans to the boss! (within reason of course)
- Consider offering a Dream Manager program to your employees. This could easily be supported virtually.
Adopt a servant leadership mindset. Your role is to align, develop and engage your team members and ensure their ultimate success with the organization. Implement the following practices to serve as a constant source of support during their tenure:
- Hold a weekly one-on-one via webcam with each of your direct reports. (I very much believe that using a webcam is critical in building a virtual leadership presence with your team.) Unless an apocalypse is upon us, don’t cancel these weekly touch points or move them around.
- Always ask, “What can I do to help?” and/or “What do you need from me to be successful this week?” during your discussion.
- Set aside separate monthly coaching calls (using webcam as well). Focus this time on discussing career development plans, performance feedback, where they want to grow expertise in their field, etc. Distinguish this from your weekly touch points. Make them feel different. If you worked in an office with your team, you might make your coaching sessions feel different by holding them at a local coffee shop. Virtually, you can make them feel different by holding them on a different day of the week and time of day than your regular weekly calls. You can even hold them in the morning from a coffee shop; you’ll just be at two different coffee shops. Point being – do something with the virtual environment that distinguishes these coaching conversations from your regular weekly dialogue. It will enhance the quality of the conversation.
They need to feel your presence in these three areas regularly…not just on “slow” weeks when you happen to have the time to focus on it (this is actually probably the least valuable time for them to feel your presence). Build it into your regular interactions with the team and watch performance BOOM! Jacob’s performance increased by nearly 200%. Imagine the possibilities.
Continue to follow along in this series and add your insights and experiences in the Comments section below. Here are the next two strategies we’ll explore, so stay tuned!
- Perfect Team Communications
- Acquire & Develop the “Right” Talent for Virtual Teams
Do you know how long it took Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Just over four years. Four years. On one project. Wow. Good thing Michelangelo doesn’t live in an era where our average attention span is 8 seconds.
But look at what resulted. One of the most globally recognized paintings in history.
Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel randomly came to mind this weekend as I was reflecting on a project I’ve been working on for about six months now. I needed to remind myself that achieving goals requires PERSISTENCE.
You can’t expect overnight success and immediate results, particularly when you’re aiming for sustainability. Think about campaigns, new programs, or change efforts for example. Right about the time you start to get sick of it, others are just starting to tune in and get curious about it.
So how can we be persistent about the goals we’ve set out to achieve? And, how can we cultivate persistence amongst others when we’re working as part of a larger team?
Keep your eye on the prize. If it’s an extensive project, you’re bound to get lost in the weeds. Pull yourself out from time to time and remind yourself of the larger end goal. Make sure your actions are always strategically directed at that end goal.
Assess the project rationally. Don’t let emotions like frustration and possibly even rejection take over. When we throw in the towel and stomp away, no one wins. Think about what changes you might need to make to your original approach and be willing to make them.
Put yourself in others’ shoes. Think about those less involved in the day-to-day details of the project; maybe even the target audience you’re trying to impact. Meet them where they are and make sure you’re addressing the needs they need fulfilled. You will likely already be three steps ahead, which isn’t always a good thing.
Keep the project team engaged and motivated. You can do this in several ways, such as:
- Break the larger project into smaller chunks so that a “newness” comes with each phase.
- Recognize and celebrate milestones at various points along the way.
- Take time off to focus on something else…even if just very temporarily. You’ll come back refreshed.
Mentally prepare yourself to deal with unforeseen roadblocks. Michelangelo didn’t want the Sistine Chapel project to take four years, and in fact, several of the reasons it took so long were beyond his control – damp weather and illness to name a few. But these things came up, and he dealt with them, and his original game plan changed. There will be detours and roadblocks that effect your project. Period. Persistence will help you get through them.
But (There’s Always A “But”)
Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance. ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo
Sometimes we give it our all and it just wasn’t the right path, for whatever reason. Trust good mentors and colleagues and be receptive to feedback to know when to let your persistence go.
How has the role of a manager changed?
The role of a manger in today’s world is far different than what it used to be even just a decade ago. It’s no longer about assigning tasks, tracking attendance, and delivering a top-down authoritative style to get your team to produce results. This transformation is largely due to the type of workforce we have seen emerge in the second decade of the 21st century. Today’s workforce
- seeks meaning in their work – it’s about more than a paycheck.
- wants to be involved in decision making. They don’t like hierarchical layers, so come on out of that stuffy board room.
- interacts more and more naturally every day in a social and collaborative online environment.
- will “follow” you not because of a title, but rather because you are trusted, respected, and communicate a compelling vision.
- is fairly capable of “managing” themselves, in the traditional sense of the word (and prefers that autonomy).
- is smart and driven.
So, where does that leave managers? Well, in a very critical role actually. Just as the workforce has evolved, the competencies of organizational managers and leaders have evolved as well. Take the following list for example…a decade ago, we didn’t hear much about the following terms in a business context:
- Emotional intelligence
- Employee engagement
- Virtual teams
- Talent management
- Results-oriented work environments (ROWE)
- Social enterprise
In today’s world, we need to focus more on the function of management versus the role of a manager. The new(er) primary function of management is to create an environment in which employees thrive, accomplish personal and professional growth objectives, and therefore inherently contribute positive results to an organization’s bottom line. In short, the function of management is to drive individual and team performance, which drives organizational performance. You do this by putting on your coach, counselor (and sometime psychologist!) hats.
Focus on the 3 R’s
Time to put your coach hat on! Any runners out there? I’m an avid runner; it’s my Zen and just about the only thing in my life that keeps me sane. It has recently become very clear to me that the 3 R’s I adhere to in my running world translate directly into 3 R’s of effective management for today’s workforce. So, here they are…
Take time to REFLECT.
As I prepared for my long run this past weekend, I reflected on the following: How did last week’s run go – Mileage? Elevation? Time of day? Traffic? Ankle brace? Pre/Post nutrition?
You will similarly want to reflect with your team on past performance, and for two main reasons:
1. To learn from the past – Identify what went well so you can repeat it and what didn’t go so well so you don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t just look at individual roles and departments, but look more broadly across the entire organization to learn from other teams as well.
2. To build team spirit – Why does it feel so good to gather with friends and family over the holidays and share old stories, or REFLECT on times gone by? Because you’re creating shared meaning through storytelling, building camaraderie, and inadvertently solidifying the strength in your relationships with one another.
Make sure your team REFUELs.
When I run long distances, I strap a water bottle around my waist and take a sip every mile or so. In addition, I’ll eat a GU pack every 5 or 6 miles.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and be aware of when your employees need “refueling”…whether it be something quick in short intervals (the water sips each mile) or something a bit more substantial (the GU pack). Encourage them to refuel by creating an environment that makes this possible. Below are a few things they might need:
- A day at home after travel
- A walk outside during that rough 3:00 hour
- An early Friday Happy Hour and some social time with colleagues
- A new environment – maybe they’d like to take their laptop to a coffee shop for the rest of the day. Sometimes all we need to refuel is a change of scenery.
- A quick trip to the gym
- A vacation completely unplugged – don’t bother them and work with them in advance to put a plan in place to cover everything while they’re gone
- Sleep! A late start in the morning is very valuable every now and then.
- Sabbatical – sometimes a longer-term refueling is needed.
It’s important to Model the Way and demonstrate that their leader refuels too. This makes it acceptable. One of the first things you can do to help promote an environment that allows people to refuel is to visibly show your team when YOU refuel. Try some of the things above yourself, and your team will naturally follow.
REWARD your team for their achievements.
For those of you who know me well, you know about my obsession with ice cream. I absolutely eat a Dairy Queen blizzard, Sonic Blast, or UDF hot fudge sundae the night of every long run. Why? Because I earned it, and I love it. I look forward to it, and it feels so good when I get it. I even think about it during my long runs (no judging!), and it provides me with motivation to keep going.
Rewards in the workplace should work the same way. Whether it’s through something as small as a handwritten thank-you note, or something as complex and formal as compensation (and everything in between), make sure you are providing rewards and recognition in a timely manner when you observe behaviors that you would like to see continue.
Check out another Core Chat post for an easy-read on 3 Ways to Make Recognition Meaningful.
It’s not easy, but there’s a starting point for everything
All of this talk about the three R’s is a little more complicated than assigning tasks and tracking attendance. Your role as a manager in the 21st century is no easy feat. You’re dealing with human psychology and trying to motivate certain behaviors so that your organization will see repeat performances week after week, month after month, and year after year.
One place to start as you further develop yourself as a manger is to Reflect with your team on the past, Refuel your team for the work that lies ahead, and Reward positive behaviors all along the way.
I’d love to hear the strategies you use to accomplish the 3 R’s, so please share by commenting below!
When we were young, our teachers rewarded us with things like pizza parties, “You’re Super!” stickers, and the privilege of lining up first for recess. Our friends motivated us by attending our theatrical performances and yelling our name from the audience or writing on our car windows with shaving cream the night before a big game.
We’re not in grade school anymore, but our need for motivation hasn’t vanished. According to Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett Packard, “Men and women want to do a good job, a creative job, and if they are provided the proper environment, they will do so.”
As a manager, how can I create a motivating environment?
Gone are the days of old-school management. It’s an individual choice to perform or not— it can’t be a directive. You need to create that environment Bill Hewlett referenced. How, you ask?
- Catch your employees doing things right. Pop over to their desk and interrupt them to give thanks or say job well done…versus with a “fire” that needs to be put out.
- Hand over the wheel. Empowerment builds excitement! 92% of employees want to be asked for their opinions or ideas, and 89% want to be involved in decision-making.
- Don’t forget about pizza parties and stickers! The same simple and cost-effective forms of motivation work for adults too. Need ideas? Purchase the book 1501 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson, PhD.
As an individual contributor, how can I create a motivating environment?
Think you’re off the hook because you don’t manage people—wrong! We’re all responsible for creating a motivational environment, so do your part by:
- Igniting energy in others. Raise your own energy level while at work – it will be contagious.
- Sending along kudos. Recognize individuals or teams for something awesome they’ve done. You can do this by sending an email to their supervisor, calling attention to them in a team meeting, or submitting a note to the employee newsletter or intranet editorial team.
- Being nice and exuding positivity. Back to the basics on this one—please, thank-you, good morning, etc. People want to work with colleagues they get along with and will be motivated to work constructively with you if you’re pleasant.
I hope these “back-to-school” tips are a good reminder to us working adults that motivation drives performance!
Take the photos to the left for example. In the note, she is thanking me for two projects I took on that hit around the same time and consumed quite a bit of my energy – including some late nights and two back-to-back trips away from my family. What made this form of recognition so meaningful to me? Three things:
1. Her message was SPECIFIC. Although only a brief 2 sentences long, she called out exactly what she was grateful for. No guessing on my end why I got this note or what behaviors I should continue to emulate in the future to be appreciated.
2. It was TIMELY. She dropped this note off just slightly more than two weeks after the projects concluded. Many managers might wait until an annual performance review to give praise, or even worse not provide any recognition at all. It’s important to recognize positive behaviors as they happen to provide ongoing motivation to your employees.
3. She PERSONALIZED both the delivery and the gift. A hand-written note only takes a few minutes, and it’s much more meaningful than a verbal thank-you, email, or sometimes even public praise depending on the preferences of the receiver. She also personalized the gift by choosing a frozen yogurt joint she knows I frequent. Both of these gestures raise the “sincerity bar” significantly.
The next time you plan some type of recognition for your employees, make sure it’s Specific, Timely, and Personalized. The impact on their motivation will be much greater. And remember, it doesn’t need to be complex or expensive. Sometimes just a pen and paper is all you need.
I’d love to hear what you do to recognize employees and/or meaningful recognition you have received. Please post below!