A Leader’s Challenge On Virtual Employment

The internet is a wonderful thing.  It’s one of the greatest communication tools to ever be created.  Information on most subjects imaginable is readily available to anyone connected to the web.  The added bonus is that it’s also given rise to the “virtual employee”.   With more and more businesses embracing the idea of employees working from home, leaders are now facing some problems that didn’t exist when all employees came into the office to work. 

For virtual employees, there are many benefits to working from home:

-There’s no need to commute.

-You have your own quiet workplace.

-You get to work in your pajamas (unless you need to use a webcam).

However, there can also be a disconnect between these virtual employees and those who lead them.  The interactions that might normally take place if they were in the office might no longer happen as consistently as they should (or even may not take place at all).  I’m talking about connectedness with their leader, discussions around their own work and their career development, and even their own connectedness with the other team members.  All of these things can have an impact on employee performance, morale, and even retention.  It can also create tension within the team, itself.

“Out of sight, out of mind” sounds like a fitting statement for this predicament.

To address some of these challenges, use the following tips:

1)      Stop the multitasking! - We’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another.  It’s hard enough to gauge someone’s reaction to what you’re saying through a phone line or an email.  If you don’t focus on what you or the other individual is saying, things can become misinterpreted and create complications.

2)      Create a virtual seating chart for team meetings – It can become difficult to involve everyone in a team discussion when not everyone is in the same location and has to share a conference line to speak.  Create a seating chart of all of your team members and check off each individual to ensure each one has had a chance to share their opinions

3)      Learn each team member’s communication preferences – Do you prefer phone calls or emails?  Do you like spontaneous meetings or should someone book a meeting with you?  What’s your preferred learning style when it comes to learning something new?  Everyone has their own preferences, including your team members.  Learning their preferences will create better interaction between you and them.

4)      Be mindful of time zone differences – I get to interact with a variety of leaders from various industries in my current role, and a lot of them have direct reports in different states and even countries.  It’s an increasing trend, so as leaders, we need to be mindful of people’s schedules based on their time zones.  If you need to schedule a meeting, try to accommodate all time zones involved, if possible.

I should add that these tips can also apply to onsite leaders and team members (minus the time zone differences).  If you fall into that category and you’ve ever sent an email, sent an instant message, or made a phone call to someone in the same building as you, you were also working “virtually” with those employees.  Those same potential pitfalls that exist with employees in another time zone also exist with those in the same office.

Leave your comments!

5 Things I Forbid You To Do This Labor Day Weekend

On Monday, we celebrate the social and economic accomplishments of the American worker. In an effort to truly honor the spirit of the holiday, here are 5 things I forbid you to do this Labor Day weekend:

  1. Set Your Alarm Clock. Sleep in. You work hard. You deserve it.
  2. Check Your E-Mail. Don’t worry, those “urgent” e-mails will still be there when you log in on Tuesday.
  3. Make or Take Business Calls. Please step away from the cell phone. Turn it off or send those calls straight to voice mail. Just like your e-mail, the messages will still be there for you on Tuesday.
  4. Engage Your Professional Social Network. I know you’re concerned about your Klout score but a couple days away shouldn’t cause any irreparable damage. Besides, we’ve got something in common with your e-mail and voice mail, we’ll also be here on Tuesday.
  5. Neglect Your Family and/or Friends. Spend some time with those other people in your life who you don’t get the chance to see while you’re in the office.

Hope you all have a fantastic, relaxing, and disconnected three-day weekend!

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21
(…just wait until Tuesday.)

The new manager has a target on his back…

I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the term “seagull manager”.  If you’re not, think about a manager whose behavior is to fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, and then fly away.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This term is used a lot in the leadership industry, but what about the term “seagull employee”?  They act just like a seagull manager except that they do not have an official leadership role.  You just might know one or two in your own work environment.  They are the employee(s) that everyone loves to hate.  They might do excellent work (which is why they still might be employed), but they annoy their fellow coworkers to no end.  You question whether they really think about what they say to you and others before they say it, or whether they do really mean to put someone down emotionally.

In some organizations, seagull employees do not last long, while in others, they might wind up becoming the new boss…

Over the weekend, I met up with a few friends.   I found out that one of them was recently promoted to the role of District Sales Manager at the company he worked for (we’ll call him “Sam” for the purposes of this posting).  Sam told me that the reason he was promoted was because the existing district manager was also being promoted and thought Sam would be an excellent fit to keep pushing the other sales reps to reach their quotas.  After all, Sam had consistently been the number one rep in terms of sales month-after-month for a long period of time.

The problem was that Sam had been a seagull employee.  He said he would go out, make his sales fairly quickly, and then would drop off his orders at the office with plenty of the work day left and would go out and play golf all the time.  Other reps in the office who were struggling to hit their quotas would see this while working through leads and would become jealous.  By the way, “Sam the seagull” would also talk trash to other sales reps while he was in the office visiting.  This wasn’t playful banter among competitive reps.  He admitted that what he said was actually mean in most cases, and that most of his coworkers thought he was a jerk.

Now it’s all come back to bite him and he has a real problem on his hands.  He’s a brand new manager and he already has a negative perception of himself in the office.  All those things that start out neutral between most new managers and those who report to them are already in the red. 

He knows the way he behaved around other his coworkers wasn’t right, and he’s sincerely regretting it.  He still has a very large mountain to climb in order for him to regain the trust and respect of those ex-coworkers who now report to him.  If he can’t gain those two things, he might have an office mutiny on his hands and could even find himself unemployed because of it.

To all those seagull employees out there: you may not wabout how you’re perceived in your workplace now, Sam wants you to know it may come back to haunt you in the future…

Leave your comments!

Exploring the Hidden Secrets of Employee Engagement (pt.1)

As I walked out the door of our air conditioned building to go to lunch, I stepped though a stifling wall of heat that took my breath away. It was high noon and the temperature was 95 degrees farenheit…a stunning 20-25 degree difference from the comforts of my office. At that moment, I felt my energy level plummet and a number of thoughts began to run through my mind, including but not limited to, “I can’t wait to get home and put some shorts on,” and “I’d rather be at the beach or in the pool right now,” and “an ice cold beer would really hit the spot,” and “will I be able to recover and have a productive afternoon?”

In an instant, my level of engagement had been shifted by, yes, the weather. Is this example extreme? Perhaps, but is it really that far-fetched to think of a time when the weather outside affected your mood? In contrast to the previous example, a very cold day may have you daydreaming about snuggling up with your favorite blanket and sitting in front of the fireplace with your favorite book. When your mind wanders off to these places during your working hours or, in some cases, leads you to turn your daydream into reality, is that a reflection of your level of engagement and work passion?

My colleagues at The Ken Blanchard Companies have done some amazing research on the subject of employee engagement and work passion. To date, Blanchard has published four white papers on the subject which you can access by clicking here. In the latest installment, Blanchard identified 12 employee work passion factors within three different categories:

  • Job Factors – Autonomy, Meaninful Work, Feedback, Workload Balance, and Task Variety
  • Organizational Factors – Collaboration, Performance Expectations, Growth, Procedural Justice (process fairness), and Distributive Justice (rewards, pay, and benefits)
  • Relationship Factors – Connectedness with Colleagues and Connectedness with Leader

Without question, all of these factors are vital toward achieving an engaged and passionate workforce. What jumps out at me, and with most other’s research on the subject, is that the focus areas all tend to be very, for lack of a better word, work-centric. Whether you subscribe to the notion of work-life balance or work-life integration, my belief is that, in addition to these crucial work-centric factors, any number of outside personal factors may significantly influence an individual’s level of engagement and passion at any given time. And yes, this may even include an individual’s reaction to the weather outside.

It’s important to remember that regardless of your industry, you’re in the people business. Your colleagues and customers are human beings who are affected by other life experiences, both good and bad, besides those that occur while they’re working. We are individuals with unique needs, wants, situations, and emotions. In future posts in this series, we’ll further discuss situations and possible solutions to achieve a deeper understanding of what drives the engagement and passion of the unique individuals who make up your workforce.

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

The Excellent Employee

*Part One of a Six Part Series on The Excellent Employee

Excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. —Aristotle

Nobody willingly pays a person to be average or mediocre. Or at least, they shouldn’t! And individuals shouldn’t be content being paid to be average or mediocre either!

Imagine going into a job interview or pitching a new project with the premise of retaining an individual’s services through the commitment to a steady dose of procrastination and indifference toward key tasks and reasonabilities. It’s an absurd notion. That organization would be foolish to hire for such a promise. It would be foolish for a person to settle for being average as an employee.

So then, why do organizations hire for excellence and settle for mediocrity? Why do teams within organizations get away with doing just enough to “get the job done?” Why do so many individuals settle for coming to work and being average, at best?

While modern thinkers like Jim Collins, in Good to Great, have evolved the meaning of the word “good” to mean something less than great, ancient writers, teachers, philosophers like Aristotle defined “good” as something extraordinary – exceedingly great. The classic notion of good is manifest excellence—actively pursuing behavior that excels beyond the normal, everyday basics of our mere existence—encouraging us to thrive, rather than simply survive. The pursuit of excellence has led individuals to a greater happiness in living and working throughout history.

The Nicomachean Ethics is one of the most important books in the whole history of philosophy and certainly the most influential works of Aristotle. It is a collection of his most profound thoughts and was based on an exhortation to his son to live the best possible life.

Though taught thousands of years ago, Aristotle’s thoughts on excellence—becoming exceedingly good, still serves as a call to action for those who desire and are willing to lead themselves at a higher level. Although there are many narratives that can be culled out from Aristotle’s epic work, there are a several broad narratives that have practical application in our modern workplace.

A Greater Good

For an individual to perform exceedingly “good,” they must believe that “good” is something beyond just their own need, but also the good of the community, organization, or society they live in. According to Aristotle, excellence is a mindset rather than just a set of activities. Most activities are a means to a higher end, or at least they should be, and our work is no exception.

When individuals start showing up to work just to pull a pay check or organizations get too focused on the profit margins, they loose site of why they exist—to serve a greater good. Excellent employees focus on using their skills and knowledge to serve a purpose greater than themselves and in the process meet their basic needs while achieving excellence.

Virtue, Vision, and Values

Excellence depends on living in accordance with appropriate virtues, vision, and values. A virtuous individual is naturally inspired to behave in the right ways and for the right reasons, finding happiness in behaving according to a set of higher standards of excellence—personal standards as well as the standards expected of them by their community.

The Excellent Employee performs all of their duties with clear expectations of their role and responsibilities, in alignment with the core values of the company. Aristotle is not referring to some imaginary notion of perfection, and neither should organizations expect that of employees. But striving for higher levels of behavioral excellence, creating a greater value in products and projects, should be the goal of every employee.

Know Thyself

The phrase, Know Thyself was inscribed above the entrance to the Lyceum that Aristotle attended as a young man in Athens. Most historians attribute the phrase as an admonition to those entering the sacred temple to remember or know their place before entering into the learning process. Modern philosophies and leadership theories have expanded the notion of self awareness as a means to become more in tune with one’s own personal strengths and weaknesses, beliefs and behaviors.

Excellent employees are committed to knowing themselves through a daily process of understanding the vision and values of the organization, and then aligning them with their own Key Areas of Responsibility. They are also keenly aware of their own assumptions about the organization or a project that may be holding them back. They are aware of where they are at in their own learning process, and what they need from others to successfully complete their daily tasks. Most individuals struggle to move beyond periods of disillusionment and conflict, settling for something less than exceedingly good. The Excellent Employee is equipped to understand their own needs and move through those periods of doubt and disillusionment efficiently and effectively.

Relationships

Aristotle believed that the bonds that tie citizens together are so important that it would be unthinkable to suggest that true happiness can be found in a life isolated from others. This understanding applies to the modern workplace as well. But excellent employees aren’t just good at building effective social and professional networks on Facebook and Linked In, they are dedicated to building intimate and meaningful relationships through personal one on one communication. They’re also aware of the fact that there are more ways to getting a job done by gaining the support of people in positions of power, but rather influencing peers and colleagues through other types of personal power in order to meet the needs of the greater good and do an exceedingly good work.

Action

Aristotle did not think that virtue could be taught in a classroom down at the local Lyceum or simply by means of a “good” argument, but rather by applying virtue and values to your daily actions. His claim that virtue can be learned only through constant practice implies that there are no set rules we can learn from in just a workbook or a presentation alone; rather we must find a means of transferring that knowledge into action. The Excellent Employee is committed to training in the skills sets that will help them excel beyond average. They are consumed with creating solutions and meaningful results, rather than wallowing in the challenges, setbacks, and conflicts that arise in the workplace.

Become Excellent

The Excellent Employee has a strategy to consistently align their vision and values to the organization’s vision and values, through a clear understanding of themselves and their needs. They also utilize key relationships and apply their knowledge and skills to their everyday workflow, aligning it with the greater good of their company and their clients.

Life is short. Be activly committed to living and working at a higher level, for yourself and the greater good. Aristotle would challenge today’s modern employee to become excellent by doing excellent acts.

Jason Diamond Arnold

Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

Unlocking That New Leadership Confidence

The time has come!  You’ve been a rock star at your job and management has been watching you for some time.  The decision has been made to promote you into a management role.  You’re feeling like the big man/woman on campus.  However, you start to realize that the type of work you’re doing has changed.  You’re no longer feeling like you can do your job in your sleep.  That rock star confidence you had no longer exists.  What now?

Becoming a new leader can certainly be intimidating.  Besides the normal “work”, you also now have to support the people you lead.  Others are looking to you to have all the answers.  Plus, dealing with tasks and working with individual behavior are two separate things.  Don’t forget about the issues people face in their personal lives that affect them in the work environment.

Let’s start with the basics: Most people understand that confidence comes with practice.  With enough practice, the confidence will naturally increase over time as you do more of what you’re learning.  This, however, does not apply to all situations.  Being in a management role, you are likely going to encounter various situations during your career that you’ve never faced before. 

Even for those who are not technically in management, most work in a variety of jobs where they are faced with new challenges on a regular basis. 

I was faced with my own personal challenge recently where I had to speak at a company meeting.  I am used to speaking to groups of individuals in virtual environments, but not so much in face-to-face situations.  Even though it seemed to go well, I was still extremely nervous the entire time I was in front everyone.  After all, no one wants to look like a fool in front of their colleagues.

I had a big “Aha!” moment shortly after that meeting.  Thanks to a posting over at Great Smitten, I realized that everyone is figuring things out as go, just as I am.  

No single individual has all the answers.  As Diane mentions in her post, everyone is “faking it”.  More importantly, she mentions that once you understand this, you no longer need to fake it, yourself, because you know you don’t know everything, and that’s ok. 

I look at this as a hidden piece of the puzzle when it comes to unlocking confidence.  Yes, practicing what you’re learning is still what will ultimately lead to the highest level of confidence over time.   Yet, for those just learning something for the first time, coming to this realization will help alleviate the fear that fills in the void when confidence is not present.

 If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend taking a looking at Diane’s posting.  It had a profound impact on me, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Leave your comments!

Wait! That’s not in the Customer Service playbook…

Another day, another angry customer… Many of you have probably seen this video, but if you haven’t, I’ve posted it below for your viewing pleasure.  This gentleman, upset that he was denied a refund from T-Mobile, decided that he would “redecorate” this T-Mobile store without asking for permission.  Still, he probably needed to brush up on his interior design skills because he simply removed a lot of the wall art and painted the floors white using a couple fire extinguishers.

Before I go any further, let me say that I do not condone his behavior.  After all, there are more civilized ways to work out problems with businesses.  I’ve found that in a lot of cases, issues can be resolved by making your way up the corporate chain.  I should also add that I do not know the full details of this story, especially in terms of who was being more “unreasonable”. Was it T-Mobile or the customer?

I’m not singling out T-Mobile, either. I’ve been through three different cell phone providers (four if you count the whole Cingular/AT&T merger) and ALL of them have done at least one thing that almost made me a YouTube sensation just like this man.  Even other types of businesses have pushed my buttons in the past in a way that made me dream of doing something like this just to get even.  Yet, in almost all of those cases including this one, these situations probably could have been avoided. 

I think the core issue comes down to businesses focusing on the wrong thing:

Money.

Yes, money is to businesses as to what blood is to humans.  If you’re injured and a doctor tells you that you’ve lost a lot of blood, that is obviously a cause for concern.  Without blood, we don’t survive, and without money, businesses don’t survive, either.

Does that mean that we should constantly be thinking of how much blood we have in our bodies, whether we are injured or not?  With that being said, why is it that a lot of businesses prioritize their policies around profits, even during profitable times? 

Ken has said time and again that money is a byproduct of doing business and should not be the primary focus.  Taking care of your employees should be the goal, in which case, your employees will take care of the customers which results in the money stream.  Taking care of your employees also includes making sure that the employees know that customers are the focus above all.

The same can be said of politics here in the US. For most elected officials, the goal isn’t to serve their constituents, but rather to get re-elected.  In order to do that, those elected officials need money to finance their campaigns.  The focus becomes making deals to acquire funds, rather than serve those who elected those officials to office.

When money is the primary focus, it typically leads to policies which can create unhappy customers just as we see in this video.  By denying this man his refund (or at least by not finding a compromise), the man caused hundreds of dollars in damages to the store.  Yes, T-Mobile could sue him for the cost of those damages, but that’s still going to cost T-Mobile additional time and resources.  Also, think of the bad publicity surrounding this video.  Someone who may have been considering T-Mobile as their new cell phone provider may now have second thoughts after seeing the video.  Again, these are funds lost due to policies put in place.

Without blood, we don’t survive, and without customers, businesses don’t survive, either…

Leave your comments!

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