Can You Hear Me NOW?: The Struggle of Introverts to Find Their Voice in the Workplace

Can You Hear Me NOW?: The Struggle of Introverts to Find Their Voice in the Workplace

Can You Hear Me NOW?: The Struggle of Introverts to Find Their Voice in the Workplace

by

Spencer Washington

MBA Training Associate

 

You’ve heard the sayings. We all have.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Blow your own trumpet.

Play to the crowd.

 The list goes on and on. In essence, the message being conveyed by these sayings is that you have to be a standout, that finding a way to separate yourself from the crowd is essential to getting ahead. In doing so, you have to be an excellent salesperson in order to convince others of your value and worth.

 Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well for some people like John, it can feel like a horrible nightmare. John works in Accounting. He has been employed at the same company for 10 years. In fact, John has spent his entire 10 years in the same department. John arrives on time, rarely calls in sick, and crunches numbers like no one’s business. John has seen quite a bit of turnover in his department in the last 10 years, yet he’s remained steadfast and and loyal. Committed to a fault, you might say. He’s the best at what he does, but he’s a pretty quiet guy. John doesn’t get caught up in office gossip and he doesn’t socialize much with his coworkers outside of office hours. He tends to form real relationships with others and personally invests himself in everything he does. If you were to ask anyone in the department about John, they would all describe him as knowledgeable. He’s usually selected to train new hires on the ins and outs of the job. Ironically, John has yet to be selected for a promotion. He’s had his eye on that corner office since he was hired and believes that he’s more than qualified to move up in the company. He continues to toil away, day after day, hoping that his opportunity will soon come.                                 

You see, “John” is a fictional character, but his experiences are the reality for many. John fits the description of an introvert. Introverts are often described as quiet, reserved, and thoughtful. They don’t seek out social engagements or undue attention, as they have limited toleration for stimulation. They prefer to be around smaller groups with more intimate interaction and conversation. Introverts can appear as the complete antithesis to those employees who are comfortable with marketing and selling themselves. For this reason, introverts–as talented and qualified as they may be–are habitually overlooked for promotions.

 Author Susan Cain discussed this phenomenon in astonishing detail in her 2013 New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She historically examined how charisma and extroversion came to be so highly favored in society. She even devoted an entire chapter to The Myth of Charismatic Leadership. Her book revealed how undervalued introverts are. Through discussion of contemporary research, she responsibly highlighted the benefits of introversion, such as creativity, introversion, and perseverance. Throughout her book, she interviewed several prominent individuals who identify as introverts. Their conversations revealed both the challenges and the benefits that introversion has brought to their personal and professional lives.

 Ilya Pozin, the founder of Pluto TV, outlined four reasons why introverts make great leaders in her 2018 contributing article to Inc.com. Those reasons include 1) being motivated by productivity instead of ambition, 2) building more meaningful connections, 3) not getting easily distracted, and 4) solving problems in thoroughness rather than in haste.

 So it seems that there’s hope indeed for John and everyone like John. But that hope hinges on organizations understanding the importance of intentionally recognizing people like John. People who possess talents and abilities but may not seek out the spotlight, people who may not be the life of the office party, people who are thoughtfully devoted to doing things the right way. It would behoove companies to really take stock of the power of their introverted employees rather than continuing to favor and promote those who are extroverted. If they don’t, managers and executives could find themselves lamenting a very popular saying: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

Spencer Washington

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part IV

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part IV

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler

Part IV

 

In Part I of this this series on “Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler,” I  (1) shared with  the readers of this column the experiences which I felt qualified me to call  myself an “organization remodeler” and (2) explained that the lessons I had learned as an organizational remodeler led me to the conclusion that the keys to having an effective organization are the development of:

The correct organizational design,
A clear and compelling vision and mission,
A well-coached team of talented and highly motivated individuals,
A culture based on effective communication, collaboration, shared values and personal accountability, and
A strategy for developing each of the above.

and (3) discussed why organizational design is important.

In Part II, I described the various types of organizational designs and the strengths and weaknesses of each. 

In Part III, we explored “having a clear and compelling vision and mission.”

Staffing your organization with a team of talented and highly motivated individuals and creating a culture based on effective communication, collaboration, shared values and personal accountability requires:

Selecting and keeping team members who share your values and beliefs.

   Do not misunderstand me on this point.  I am not talking about hiring “yes” people, but people who share the same values and beliefs that I do. 

   It has been my experience that most organizations do not do a good job of this.  First of all, they do not spend enough time defining exactly what they are looking for in an employee and, secondly, they don’t ask questions that cause applicants to give answers that reveal whether an applicant is appropriate for the organization and even more importantly whether the person is appropriate for the position they are filling. 

 I think is even more of a problem for detention facilities and residential programs because they have to maintain a staff-resident   ratio.   As  a  result,  the  administrator   feels pressured to hire someone even if there was not a good candidate in the interview pool.   

This is a mistake.  I can assure you that the employee who will give you the most problems, the most grief, and be the most difficult to supervise is the one you never should have hired in the first place. You can hire easy and make managing tough or you can hire smart and manage easy. 

You cannot build a team of talented and highly motivated individuals and create a culture based on effective communication, collaboration, shared values and personal accountability if you are hiring the wrong kind of staff.  You are not being fair to your current staff when you hire people who do not share the organizations values and/or are not highly motivated.

If you don’t have a good pool of candidates, tell your staff what happened. Ask them to help with coverage until you can find a candidate who will be someone they would like to work with, who will be a team player and shares the organization’s values and philosophy. 

Notice, that not only do you want hire people who share the same values and beliefs as you do, you also want to be able to keep the employees who share your values and beliefs.  In order to do that you have to train them, develop them so that they can easily find a job somewhere else and then treat them so well they don’t want to leave.

Indoctrinating and socializing individuals to your way of thinking and feeling: Once you have them on board, invest in your employees. It is important in creating a culture that there be shared beliefs and values. That does not come easy, nor does it happen overnight, but it is worth what it takes to accomplish it.
Your behavior serving as a role model that encourages employees to identify with you and thereby internalizing your beliefs, values and assumptions.

These three steps are not easy, but whether you are the director of the agency, the supervisor of a unit, or anyone else who supervises people, these three things are the things a super supervisor does.

During my career of remodeling and changing organizations, the first thing I did when I assumed the top position in the organization, or the division for which I was responsible, was to figure out who the leaders were – not who was in a leadership position, but who actually had followers, regardless  of  what position  they held  in  the  organization.   I started working on selling those people on how we could make the organization a better place to work and how they could be a part of that.  If I could sell it to the leaders and get them on board, their followers would follow them even if they did not follow me. 

 Once I felt that I had successfully hired and/or socialized and indoctrinated enough people to the new way of thinking, I appointed a committee consisting of people who had bought into the new way of thinking and charged them with developing a new mission statement and a new vision statement for the organization which would serve as the guide posts for the organization.  Even though I love facilitating vision and mission development, I brought in an experienced facilitator to work with the group so that the vision and mission would not be seen as something I had developed.  It would be the group’s vision and mission and since it was their vision and mission, they would be more committed to selling it to the rest of the organization.

When you start remodeling or changing an organization, you will need to deal effectively with the various reactions you will get employees within the organization. 

You might find the research by the Hay Group, a worldwide human resources firm, helpful.  Their research  identified four types of employees, based upon how they adapt to change. Those four groups are the Superstars, the  Open-minders, the Skeptics and the Resisters. 

Dealing effectively with the four groups should be a part of the strategy you develop before you start remodeling process in  your  organization.

Let’s look at each group and what needs to be done in dealing with each. 

Superstars – This is a group of high performers who understand and buy into the organization’s mission and vision and they know what it takes to achieve it.

         What you need to do with this group is whatever it takes to keep them (e.g. recognition, rewards, compensation, the choice assignments).  In exchange, they                  help drive the change by serving as examples for the rest of the organization.

Open-minders – These are top performers, but they are not ready to sign on to the plan. However, they are willing to listen to the reasons they should.   You can develop their talent and increase their contributions to the group.  It’s worth the effort and cost to get them on board quickly.

         What you need to do with the Open-Minders is to make sure they understand how both they and the organization   will benefit from the changes you are                         introducing. Spend time coaching, provide formal training and development, and provide rewards for improved performance.     

Skeptics – This is a critical group because they’re good workers. They’ll wait and see how the changes shake out. If you identify them early and help them adjust, roughly half of this group will become Superstars.  The other half will be dead weight and become resisters.

         You need to identify the ones in the group who are worthy of keeping, then invest heavily in mentoring and coaching them.  Make sure that they clearly                           understand what is expected of them and tie their rewards to attitudes and behaviors that support the change that is being introduced.

Resisters – This group comprises about 15% of employees in most organizations. They are likely to be strong producers, but they worship the status quo.  They are not going to buy into the change and some will attempt to sabotage the remodeling process. Your only choice may be helping them to move on.

          What you do with this group is constantly address their inappropriate behaviors with appropriate sanctions and spend your time concentrating on developing              the other three groups.

Good luck on the remodeling project. Keep me posted about how it is going and let me know if you have any questions.

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part II

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler – Part II

Lessons Learned as an

Organization Remodeler

Part II

 

Part I of “Lessons Learned as an Organizational Remodeler” contained an introduction to the topic and Lesson 1 which was “Organizational Design is Important.”  In discussing this lesson, I emphasized “Each organization is unique. Organizations need to be designed to meet their unique circumstances, cultures, environments, needs and purposes.” 

Last month’s column ended with me saying that in this month’s column “we will explore how to develop:

Correct organizational designs,
Clear and compelling visions and missions,
Well coached teams of highly motivated individuals,
Cultures based on effective communication, collaboration and shared values, and
Strategies for developing each of the above.”

However, in order to adequately address some of the questions we have received about organizational structure, some of the items I had planned to cover this month will have to be postponed to next month. 

With that explanation, let’s return to the point in last month’s column, “organizational design is important.” 

At some point in your career, you may have been asked to provide an organization chart for an employee handbook, an annual report, as part of a budget request, for your organization’s website, or for something else.  If you did and I had to guess what that the structure looked like, I would guess that it looked like a pyramid. At the top would be the chief executive officer (or whatever the title is of the highest ranking person in the organization) with lines stretching down to middle management, then to supervisors, and finally to staff-level employees. 

The problem is that not every organization functions best with a hierarchical organizational structure and other types of organizational structures exist. Let’s examine the basic types of organizational structures and the strengths and weakness of each.

The Hierarchical Organizational Structure – This is the type of structure just mentioned above. It is the most common type of organizational structure — the chain of command goes from the top position down to the entry level positions and each employee in the organization has a supervisor.

 

The strengths of the Hierarchical Structure are that it:

Better defines levels of authority and responsibility,
Shows who each person reports to or who to talk to about specific projects,
Motivates employees with clear career paths and chances for promotion,     
Gives each employee a specialty, and
Creates camaraderie between employees within the same department

 

The weaknesses of the Hierarchical structure are that it:

Can slow down innovation or important changes due to increased bureaucracy,
Can cause employees to act in interest of their department instead of the company as a whole, and
Can make lower-level employees feel like they have less ownership and can’t express their ideas for the organization.

Functional Organization Structure – This is similar to the hierarchical organizational structure. It starts with positions with the highest levels of responsibility at the top and goes down from there. However, employees are organized according to their specific skills and their corresponding function in the organization and each separate department is managed independently. 

 

The strengths of the Functional Structure are that it:

Allows employees to focus on their role,
Encourages specialization,
Helps teams and departments feel self-determined, and
Is easily scalable in any sized organization.

 

The weaknesses of the Functional Structure are that it:

Can create silos within an organization,
Hampers interdepartmental communication, and
Obscures processes and strategies for different markets or products of an organization (Most MBA’s clients are criminal justice agencies and this is seldom a concern for the organizations with which we work).

Horizonal or Flat Organizational Structure – This structure organizations with few levels between upper management and staff-level employees. Many start-up organizations use a horizontal structure before they grow large enough to build out different departments, but some organizations maintain this structure since it encourages less supervision and more involvement from all employees.

The strengths of the Flat Structure are that it:

Gives employees more responsibility,
Fosters more open communication, and    
Improves coordination and speed of implementing new ideas                           

The weaknesses of the Flat Structure are that it:

Can create confusion since employees do not have a clear supervisor to report to,
Can produce employees with more generalized, rather than specific, skills and knowledge, and
Can be difficult to maintain once the company grows be-yond start-up status.   

Divisional Organizational Structure — In divisional organizational structures, an organization’s divisions have control over their own resources, essentially operating like their own company within the larger organization. Each division can have its own purchasing team, IT team, accounting team, etc. This structure works well for large organizations as it empowers the various divisions to make decisions without everyone having to report to just a few executives.

Depending on your organization’s focus, there’s a few variations of the Divisional organization to consider.  Among them are the Market-Based Divisional structure, the Product-Based Divisional structure and the Geo-graphical Based Divisional structure.

As mentioned earlier, the Market-Based and the Product-Based Divisional Structures are not applicable to MBA’s clients; therefore, I will address only the Geographical-Based Divisional Structure.  In this structure, division are separated by region, territories, or districts, offering more effective localization and logistics. An organization might establish satellite offices across a county, state, country or the world in order to stay close to their customers.

The strengths of the Divisional Organizational structure are that it:

Helps large organizations stay flexible,
Allows for a quicker response to industry changes or local needs, and
Promotes independence, autonomy, and a customized approach

The weaknesses of the Divisional Organizational structure are that it:

Can easily lead to duplicate resources,
Can mean muddled or insufficient communication between the headquarters and its divisions, and
Can result in an organization competing with itself.

Matrix Organizational Structure — A matrix organizational chart looks like a grid, and it shows cross-functional teams that form for special projects. For example, an IT employee may regularly belong to the IT Department (led by an IT Director) or a security employee may regularly belong to the security department (led by a Security Director), but work on a temporary project (led by a project manager). The matrix organizational chart accounts for both of the employees’ roles and reporting relationships.

The strengths of the Matrix Organizational Structure are that it:

Allows supervisors to easily choose individuals by the needs of a project,
Gives a more dynamic view of the organization, and
Encourages employees to use their skills in various capacities aside from their original role

                

The weaknesses of the Matrix Organizational Structure are that it:

Presents a conflict between department managers and project managers, and
Can change more frequently than other organizational structure types.

Team Based Organizational Structure – After reading the name of this organizational structure, it is probably no surprise to you that this type of organizational structure groups employees according to teams. A team organizational structure is meant to disrupt the traditional hierarchy, focusing more on problem solving, cooperation, and giving employees more control.

The strengths of the Team Based Organizational structure are that it:

Increases productivity, performance, and transparency by breaking down silos,
Promotes a growth mindset,
Changes the traditional career models by getting people to move laterally,
Values experience rather than seniority, and
Requires minimal management.

 

The weaknesses of the Team Based Organizational structure are that it:

Goes against many companies’ natural inclination of a purely hierarchical structure, and
Might make promotional paths less clear for employees.

Network Organizational Structure – In today’s world, few organizations have all their operations under one roof, and dealing with a multitude of vendors, offsite locations and satellite offices can become confusing.

A Network Organizational structure makes sense of the spread of resources. It can also describe an internal structure that focuses more on open communication and relationships rather than hierarchy.

The strengths of the Network Organizational structure are that it:

Visualizes the complex web of onsite and offsite relation-ships in organizations,
Allows organizations to be more flexible and agile,
Gives more power to all employees to collaborate, take initiative, and make decisions, and
Helps employees and stakeholders understand workflows and processes.

 

The weaknesses of the Network Organizational Structure are that it:

Can quickly become overly complex when dealing with lots of offsite processes, and
Can make it more difficult for employees to know who has final say

Organizational structure is not a one size fits all option. The structure that worked in one organization may not work in another.  In addition, the structure that served the organization well in one phase of its existence may not be as effective in the next phase.

In remodeling various criminal justice agencies in which I worked, I considered the size of the organization, the different types of services to be offered, the geographical area which needed to be served, the political environment in which I was working, and the culture I wanted to create. I would advise anyone to do the same.

In the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the Grail Knight said, “Choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”  The same is true of choosing an organizational structure.  The right structure can help bring life to your organization and the wrong one can snuff the life out of it.

I hope that addressed the questions that were raised about organizational structure.

Next month we will pick up the lessons learned with where I had planned to start this month’s column – developing a clear and compelling vision.

If you have questions about this column or would like to suggest topics to be addressed in future columns, email them to ceo@melbrown.org.

Lessons Learned as an Organization Remodeler

Lessons Learned as an  Organization Remodeler

Part 1

 Introduction

Before I share with you the lessons I learned as an “Organization Remodeler,” I need to share with you my experiences so you will understand why I chose to call myself an “organization remodeler.”

 Early in my career, I made a decision to never accept a position that had been vacated by a great leader.  While it would be easier to manage an organization that had been finely tuned and was running like a well-oiled machine, I knew I would have always been compared to my predecessor and it would be very difficult to measure up to the high standards he or she had set.

When I was selected for my first supervisor position, I began reading everything I could find on leadership and management and I began seeking advice from people I knew who had been successful as supervisors, managers and leaders. I also made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I decided to use those mistakes as learning experiences. 

After I began to rise up through the ranks from front line supervisory to mid-manager positions, I made another decision that served me well in my career.  I decided that not only would I not accept a position vacated by a great leader/manager, but I would deliberately seek out positions in which the previous person in the position had been a terrible leader or manager and the unit, division or organization for which I was to be responsible was experiencing difficulties. That decision brought two results: (1)  Every time I accepted a new job, I had a tremendous challenge ahead of me, and (2) there was no way I could look bad. Anything I did would be an improvement over what my predecessor had done.

Shortly after making that second decision, I was offered a position as the director of a detention center from which there had been 37 escapes during the previous 12 months,  which had very little programming, and which room confinement was the primary tool for dealing with behavioral problems.

In addition, to dealing with the problems of the detention center, I was charged with establishing a residential program for status offenders a few miles from the detention center.

It was at that point that I realized I needed to not only learn as much about leading and managing people, but also about developing effective organizational structures that helped me more effectively address the needs of the organization.  The structure of the portion of the department for which I was responsible had to be remodeled to accommodate the adding of a different facility and additional programming.

Later I accepted a position in Montgomery County, Texas as “Director of Juvenile services.” I inherited a department  in which the previous director was a former sheriff and which was staffed with certified peace officers whose duties con-sisted of investigating crimes committed by or against youth. It functioned much like the youth division of every law enforcement agencies in the county. 

If, in the investigating of a crime, local law enforcement officials discovered either the perpetrator or the victim was a juvenile, the case was turned over to the juvenile department for investigation. 

The  former sheriff was the only one in the department who actually supervised offenders and supervision consisted of the juvenile reporting to the office once per month, filling out a form and answering questions such as, “Are you behaving yourself?” “Are you minding your parents?” “Are you going to school?” The department had no case management system and children who were detained were in cells in the adult jail which was located on the top two floors of the courthouse.

A little less than five and a half years later, with the detention facility fulfilling its functions and the “juvenile department” having been converted from a law enforcement agency to a probation agency, I applied for a position as Director of a much larger juvenile probation department which was experiencing problems.

During the first five and a half years I had been Director of Juvenile Services, the adult probation department had been under the leadership of three different  directors and the pos-ition was vacant again.

The judges offered to match the salary of the position for which I was applying if I would stay and run both the juvenile and adult probation departments. I accepted that challenge only to find out that there was a history of employee distrust of management that had to be resolved before employees would be willing to buy into what needed to be accomplished. While I eventually earned their confidence, it was not something that happened overnight.

Approximately five years later, the judges asked me to also assume responsibility for the county’s Pre-Trial Release Pro-gram, which I did.  

In addition to the merging of the three departments into a single organization, the adult and juvenile arenas were also adding new programs and establishing satellite offices to better serve the 1,077 square miles the county covered.

Eventually, I had responsibility for Juvenile Services (juvenile court intake, Juvenile detention, juvenile probation super-vision, a juvenile justice alternative school, and through a con-tract with the state,  we  also  assumed  responsibility  for supervision of juvenile parolees in our county), Adult Community Supervision (pre-trial supervision, court services, and probation supervision, offender employment Program) and Adult  Community  Corrections (a residential treatment facility with two different in-house treatment programs).

As the organization was repurposed, grew in size, merged with other organizations, began providing more diverse services, and increased its locations, the structure of the organization was “remodeled” a number of times. 

Lessons Learned

The reason I think of myself as an “organization remodeler” is that I had to redesign the organization nearly everywhere I have been employed. 

The lessons I learned as I remodeled organizations led me to the conclusion that the keys to having an effective organization are the development of:

The correct organizational design,
A clear and compelling vision and mission,
A well-coached team of talented and highly motivated individuals,
A culture based on effective communication, collaboration and shared values, and
A strategy for developing each of the above.

Organizational Design is Important – Organization Design is more than just drawing boxes on paper. Organizational design is a systematic process for establishing the principles and structures that guide an organization toward achieving its goals. 

Successful  organizational design consists of the following elements:

Strategy – A detailed plan of action or policy designed to achieve major or overall goals,
Structure – How people are organized hierarchically,
Systems – The processes for submitting departmental re-ports, rewarding employees, or allocating resources,
Processes – The methods and technologies people use to get their work done,
People – The type of talent that should be hired across departments in order to meet organizational goals, and
Culture – Communication, collaboration, values, and  managerial styles

Ineffective, nonexistent, or outdated organizational  structures often lead to:

Rigid silos caused by too much structure and not enough systems or cultural practices to counter-balance them,
A culture where people don’t feel empowered to take responsibility, resist doing tasks outside their job descriptions, or defer decision making for fear of stepping on someone else’s toes, and
Inefficient operations and redundancies caused by poorly designed systems.

One of the problems I have observed in most of the organizations in which I have worked is that administrators did not rethink and redesign their organization as the environment in which they worked changed.

The recent pandemic caused every organization to deliver their services in new ways.  Any administrator who assumes that when the pandemic is over that we can return to doing business as usual is deluding him or herself. We must apply what we learn from that experience.

Another problem I have observed is that many times when  administrators move from one organization to another, they try to transplant the structure from their former organization to their new organization.

That never works.  Each organization is unique. Organizations need to be designed to meet their unique circumstances, cultures, environment, needs and purpose.

Leaders who able to rethink and redesign their organization’s structure based upon the vision, mission, culture, and environment can see these high-level benefits.

Increased innovation supported by a holistically designed organizational structure, efficient resource allocation, and a culture of collaboration.
Increased efficiency and productivity thanks to customer-centric innovations combined with faster production cycles.
Happier and more engaged employees who thrive in a culture of collaboration and feel their efforts aren’t wasted on inefficient processes.
A clear vision and roadmap for the organization’s future, which is understood by everyone at every level of the organization.

In next  month’s column, we will explore how to develop:

Correct organizational designs,
Clear and compelling visions and missions,
Well coached teams of highly motivated individuals,
Cultures based on effective communication, collaboration and shared values, and
Strategies for developing each of the above.

The Art of Managing Virtual Teams

The Art of Managing Virtual Teams

During the last few months, the operations of probation and parole agencies have been greatly impacted by the “Stay-at-Home” orders issued by governors as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic (also referred to as the Coronavirus Pandemic).

The requirement of having offenders report to the office of the supervising officer and the practice of having officers conducting home visits were both discontinued. In most cases, officers began to meet with offenders through the use of video conferencing software such as Zoom or GoToMeeting.

Surprisingly, officers in many jurisdictions have reported that offenders appear more relaxed and more open about what is happening in their lives than they are when they report to the probation or parole office or when the officer conducts a home visit. Officers are reporting that there is a totally different relationship developing between the officer and the offender. Many offenders are beginning to see the officer not just as someone to whom they have to report and who oversees the conditions of their probation, but as someone who is trying to help them.

Pre-sentence Investigation officers are discovering that it is easier to obtain from offenders the information they need for the Pre-sentence Investigation Reports (PSI) prepared for the courts and that it takes them less time to prepare the PSIs because they are not interrupted by telephone calls, other officers stopping by their office to chat and other activities that accompany working in an office environment.

Some agency administrators are looking at these positive results and realizing that supervising offenders after COVID-19 is going to be different than it was before. This will mean that not only will the way the officers supervise offenders change, but if agencies continue the practice of allowing staff to work from home (WFH) the supervision of employees and management of probation and parole operations will also have to change.

Tips for Managing a Virtual Workforce

Some administrators may already have managerial and leader-ship techniques for staff in remote locations, such as satellite offices and institutions and some of those skills may also work with leading and managing the virtual work force, but some will not.

Just as we had to develop new methods of leading and man-aging staff when we established satellite offices and residential facilities, the same will prove true with leading and managing WFH employees. Simply put, we cannot lead and manage the virtual workplace the same way we lead and managed before. We must learn new and better ways to lead and manage in the new environment. As Eric Hoffer pointed out, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some tips to improve your effectiveness in the art of managing virtual teams.

1. View it as an Opportunity to Grow

Regardless of your comfort level in managing a virtual team, view it as an opportunity to increase your leadership and management effectiveness. Embrace early disruptions and focus on implementing the infrastructure, revised processes and new rituals that will enable your team’s success. As the world moves towards more remote and virtual models, your efforts won’t be wasted.

2. Understand the Challenges of Managing a Virtual Workplace

To lead a virtual team well, managers may discover they need to loosen their reins a little while finding ways to continue to hold employees accountable.

Without the ability to continuously monitor employees in a shared office space, they may find success by focusing more on what gets done and whether it meets well-defined quality standards than whether they are working the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. In managing a virtual team, the manager should establish two measurements for work to meet: (1) quality, which should be defined as the completion of a task or responsibility in a manner that meets all standards of excellence for that task or responsibility, and (2) timeliness, which should be defined as completing a task or responsibility on or before the stated deadline for that task or responsibility.

It’s helpful, too, to be willing to experiment a little with technology and how meetings are conducted.

Adopt New Ways of Communicating

While most leaders/managers are aware that communication will be an obvious challenge with managing the virtual workplace, some challenges aren’t so obvious. Not only do you lose some of those hallway conversations, and quick in-office chats, but it goes deeper than that. When you don’t have enough face-to-face communication, it can become difficult to sense intent in messages between you and the person you are supervising. It’s harder to understand a message when it’s only text, or you don’t know the employee as well as other in-office employees.

When you first begin managing a virtual workforce, it will quickly become obvious that people have different preferences when it comes to communication. Some people prefer to be contacted by text, some by a phone call, some by email, some by instant messaging, and some prefer video conferencing even if it is a two-person meeting.

The most effective administrators will establish ways to effectively manage the communication styles of your entire team and create a structure that supports collaboration.

The most important things the manager of a virtual team can do is to establish clear expectations of team members which should begin with effectively communicating the team’s vision and mission. The manager’s focus should be on creating a shared purpose by engaging the team in answering the following questions: “What should be our contribution?”, “What are our objectives?”, “How are others depending on us as a team?” and “What are the key activities for successful performance as a team?”

In clarifying expectations, the manager should clearly define each team member’s role and responsibility, the specific tasks and outcomes to be accomplished and the standards by which performance will be measured.
It is also important that the manager establish clear check-in times for the team as a group and for one-on-one meeting between the manager and each team member.

Benefits of Having a Virtual Workforce

Considering hiring an employee and allowing them to work virtually could improve the pool of candidates when filling positions within your organization. For example, if you were interviewing for a Pre-Sentence Investigation Officer, an applicant with excellent interviewing and writing skills might be the best candidate for the position even though they did not live in your jurisdiction.

This would not be a totally new concept. Dr. Kelli Martin, who was employed by the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, accepted a position as a researcher for the Taylor, Bexar, and Hidalgo County CSCDs, but continues to live in Tarrant County.

A few years ago, El Paso County CSCD allowed an employee whose husband was transferred to move with her husband without giving up her position. She did all the visits to the state facilities for the other officers who had State Jail caseloads, which mean the other officers did not have to travel from El Paso to the locations where the State Jails were, thus reducing the travel costs of state jail visits.

Allowing some employees to continue to work at home would also reduce the amount of office space needed by the department even if employees were allowed to work from home only part of the time. Schedules could be arranged to accommodate the sharing of offices.

Once we adjust to having a virtual workforce, we may find that, with the right technology and the right management and leadership techniques, having a virtual workforce is not significantly different from leading and managing employees located in satellite offices.

The question we should be asking is not “Should we consider adopting components of the virtual workforce environment?”, but “How can we capture the advantages the virtual workforce provides and still effectively fulfill the organization’s vision and mission?”

What is your answer to that question?

The Art of Delegation – Part 2

The Art of Delegation
Part 2

At the end of April’s column, “What Are Your Leadership Priorities,” I suggested:

When you finish reading this column, ask yourself, “what is required of me?” “what gives me the greatest return?” and “what brings the greatest reward?” Then make a list of the things you do that do not fit into one of those categories. Those are the things you need to delegate or eliminate.

In May’s column I pointed out: (1) “Anyone taking that advice needs to ensure that when they delegate, they do it effectively. There is a difference between delegating responsibilities and abdicating responsibilities. Delegation is when a leader assigns a personally held task, project or responsibility to someone else while maintaining accountability. Your responsibility is to see that the job is accomplished in a way that meets all standards for quality and in a timely fashion,” and (2) effective delegation involves a process that includes the following components:

• Preparation for delegation
• Assignment
• Confirmation of understanding
• Confirmation of commitment
• Ensuring accountability.

“Preparation for Delegation” was explored in last month’s column, and if you followed the suggestions in part one, you have selected the person to whom you are going to delegate the task for one of two reasons: (1) The person is the best qualified and can deliver the best results or (2) the person is the one who will most benefit from the learning experience that comes from doing the job. Now, it is time to make the assignment.

Assignment: For delegation to be successful, the employee to whom the task is assigned must be provided the “big picture.” The employee should be given enough information to see how what he/she will be doing contributes to the overall operation of the organization. When making the assignment, you should describe what success looks like so that the employee has a clear picture of what you want accomplished.

Delegation is most effective when we are delegating responsibility, not just work. You should focus on the results not the process. The effective delegator focuses on the result and allows the employee to exercise initiative and to develop the methodology for achieving the desired result.

When assigning the project, it is essential the employee has the necessary resources to successfully complete the task. Point him/her in the right direction if the work involves other people or resources are needed to get the job done.

Let the employee know that you are available for guidance and advice and point out any roadblocks they may encounter.

Establish the parameters, conditions and terms before you delegate and do not impose controls after you have delegated. Conditions must be stated up front.

Confirmation of understanding: Delegation should be accomplished through a dialogue and in an environment that is conducive to fully explaining the project with a minimum of disruptions. Encourage the employee to ask questions and offer suggestions. Instead of asking “do you understand?” which almost always receives a “yes” answer, ask questions such as “at this point, do you have any ideas about what you will do to accomplish the result we have discussed?” or “What resources do you think you will need to get this done?” This will enable you to see whether or not the employee has a clear picture of what you have asked him/her to do.

Confirmation of commitment: This is the part of the delegation process that most managers overlook. Instead of confirming the employee’s commitment, they often just assume that employees have accepted the assignment.

Runners know that the most important part of a relay race is the handing of the baton to the next runner and they spend a huge amount of time learning this skill. Just as in running, the delegation process cannot be successful unless the employee takes the assignment he/she has been handed and successfully carries it to the finish line.

It is the delegator’s responsibility to confirm that the employee to whom the task has been delegated is committed both to the expected results and to the process that has been set out (including the schedule, budget, and tools) and that their overall goals for the task are aligned with the goals of the organization.

Ensuring Accountability: Accountability is key to the process of delegation. Finding out at the completion date that an assignment hasn’t been completed or has been done unsatisfactorily is the nightmare scenario of delegating.

To ensure accountability, you should establish deadlines and check-in dates when making the assignment. Make sure the employee clearly understands the due date for completion of the assigned task. By also assigning check-in dates, you can be aware of the status of the project without hovering and micromanaging and can offer guidance and advice without interfering. Two-way communication is an essential ingredient of the delegation process if accountability is to be achieved.

Once you have delegated the task, it belongs to the employee. Do not let them delegate it back to you. If the employee comes to you for guidance and advice, listen without assuming responsibility for the problem. If the employee asks you what you think, turn the question around and ask the employee what he/she thinks or what he/she recommends. Help the employee solve the problem. Give the guidance needed without taking the project back. There is a difference between rescuing an employee and providing guidance and support.

One other piece of advice (which was not included in the original outline for this article but which you should consider in delegating) is that when the job is done, give full credit and recognition to the employee who did it. However, if the employee was unsuccessful, take the blunt of the blame yourself. Do not use the employee as a scapegoat. Ultimately, as the manager, the responsibility for getting the job done is yours. Use the failure as a learning experience so you can become more effective in the delegation process.

By becoming an effective delegator, you enable yourself to tap into the strengths of others, free you up to do the things you are required to do or can only be done by you, and you enable others to grow and expand their capabilities.

Happy Delegating.

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Your Team Is Facing a Challenge: Do You Step Back or Step Up?

Being a part of the John Maxwell Team as a JMT certified independent coach, teacher and trainer, I have the opportunity to participate and interact with John a few times every month through his podcasts, webinars and blogs. 

In one of those recent interactions, he asked the question that is the title of this month’s Contemplation Corner – “your team is facing a challenge: do you step back or step up?” 

Before you read any farther, take the time to ask and answer that question for yourself.  As a leader, which do you do?

Now that you have asked and answered that question for yourself, let me ask you another question. “Did you do as I did?  Did you think, ‘Of course, I step up to the challenge?’”

As John pointed out to us, “We’ve all been there. There’s an obstacle at work and you think to yourself: ‘I really need to step up and perform.’ And while that attitude may have served you well as a member of a team, when you become a leader, that same attitude can become a defeating prospect. As a leader, sometimes it’s more important to step back than step up.”

With that statement, he now had my rapt attention! I was thinking “Step back? There is a challenge to be faced, a problem to be solved.  What do you mean step back?”

He then pointed out, “While this may seem like a paradigm shifting without a clutch, it actually makes perfect sense when you examine it further.”

If you are familiar with The John Maxwell Company’s Five Levels of Leadership, you will recall that when people become “Level 3” leaders, they drive productivity, but they don’t accomplish this simply through their own productivity.

As John pointed out to us, “It’s critical that a team’s productivity goes up as a result of the team’s efforts, not because their leader is simply working harder. And this only happens if a leader is willing to step back and focus on their leadership skills, instead of trying to do everything on their own. If a leader ‘steps up,’ it can mean that the team is unable to step up on their own and grow. Without the ability to produce on their own, the team can lose momentum, stagnate and underperform.”    

That raises the question “How does a leader step back to let the team step up?”

John says, “To be an effective leader, you must take all the productivity skills you have worked so hard to build up to that point and work to imprint those skills on your team. By stepping back and focusing on the productivity of others, you will help them to thrive on their own. That’s being a true leader.”

“To make a real difference, this effort must be intentional. You should track progress to see if there’s real improvement due to your leadership efforts. Ask yourself: Is the team relying on you or are they working to solve their own challenges? And don’t be afraid to let your team fail. Learning from failure is how you can create the right environment for their ultimate victories. Almost every great success comes on the other side of a roadblock that needed to be overcome.”

There is an old axiom that says “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same is true of leadership.  We may create positive results through our own efforts, but if we develop the leaders around us, those results can be multiplied exponentially.

Our most important job is the development of others; then step back and let them do what we have equipped them to do.

Are you willing to step back in order to move ahead?