Employee Engagement

Long-Distance Leadership

Businesses everywhere are becoming larger and more global.  This inherently increases the number of employees working remotely and the urgency to know how to lead them. 

Common Remote Challenges
When I speak with leaders across the U.S., I often hear about their challenges of leading remote employees: 

  • What are “they” doing?

  • How are “they” doing?

  • Not enough communication

  • Unclear expectations

  • What and how work is being done

  • Less opportunity to “check in”

  • I need to be connected 24/7/365

  • A lack of trust

Do any of these ring true for you?  If so, you’re not alone.  As leaders we have the responsibility to overcome these challenges.  We have to take responsibility to fix it. 

We Need To Be Intentional
When employees are working remotely we can still have great interaction and communication.  We just have to work harder at it and do it differently than we did before. 

When we work together in the same building—or down the same hallway, the communication happens serendipitously.  We walk by and we say something.  The next thing you know a problem is being asked about, or a problem is being solved.  Trust is getting built with these small interactions over time.  Relationships are improved and productivity is grown. The same can happen with remote teams.  We just do it with more intentionality.

5 Skills To Sharpen
Here are some traits of Long-Distance Leaders that I found in the book the Long-Distance Leader.

Communication-  Our ability and need to communicate grows as our teams become remote.  I’ve never worked in an organization (even without remote teams) that ever said we communicate too much.  All organizations need more communication.  When you add the remote piece in, it gets even more important. And necessary.  We can’t just assume it’s happening.  We need to work on it.

Relationship building skills—People want to follow people that they know, like, and trust.  If we don’t have a relationship with the people who lead us, we will be less engaged and less satisfied. It’s important for leaders to have strong relationships with their teams.  At a distance it’s even more important.  There are specific things we need to think about doing and specific times we need to think about doing it.  We can’t take it for granted.

Higher EQ- All of the things you think that might be called ‘soft skills’ take on a greater meaning because we have fewer interactions when our employees work remotely.  Each of those interactions take on a greater importance and role.  A lot of it is being mediated by technology.  We need to work on our Emotional Intelligence skills because they play a bigger role. 

Technology skills - If I’m leading at a distance there are some technology skills I better have.  No one wants to be on a phone or a laptop when a meeting is supposed to begin and not be connected to the group.  Or think about the time that is wasted when the leader is fumbling during a meeting to open a document or find something and the team is just waiting. 

Greater intentionality –This is probably the most important on the list.  Leaders must be more intentional.  We allow more room for error when we see people in the hallway or see them 4-5 times during the day.  When we see people casually we are building trust.  It’s easier to engage our team and easier to know if they’re not engaged when we see them, are around them, or we walk in from the parking lot with them. 

So when our folks are remote, either part of the time or all of the time, we’ve got to be more intentional.  We need to be thinking about what we need to do, planning it out, making the other skills on this list a part of our day.  We can’t walk through the day the way we used to do and try to get the same results.  Even if we’re an excellent leader.  We’ve got to do some things differently.

There are probably more traits that could be on the list, but if you do these 5 well, you will be in better shape than most.  When we do these better, we will lead at a distance better.

Nothing Soft About Cold, Hard Cash

To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.
— Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell's Soup

For companies looking for ways to boost their financial health, studies suggest that focusing on employee happiness, often referred to as employee engagement, is essential. Although the idea of employee “happiness” may be seen in the corporate world as fluffy or soft, you cannot argue the connection studies have found between employee engagement and a company’s profit margin.  Here are 8 tips to get you started:

  1. Paint a vision of the future that excites employees and connects to what’s important to them.

  2. Tell employees how they are making a difference and adding value for your customers, community, culture, company and team.

  3. Each person is motivated differently. Take the time to understand what inspires them and how they are driven.   

  4. Help employees create goals towards their career development plans. Then meet with them regularly to discuss their progress and help eliminate any hurdles they are experiencing.

  5. Appreciate and recognize employees in big and small ways throughout the year that aligns to what’s important to them.

  6. Practice flexibility in your approach and communication style to best meet the needs of their employee.

  7. Provide opportunities for employees to learn and challenge themselves in a way that is exciting to them (ex. participate in a cross functional team, pioneer a new project, lead a meeting, attend specialized training, be a mentor/coach)

  8. Engage in activities that focus on building team trust and unity such as communicating candidly about problems. Be flexible in your communication style to meet the needs of the employee.

Employee engagement is not something that companies can afford to ignore, since so many studies back up the idea that engaged employees result in profits. Companies today need to learn the drivers of employee engagement and happiness in order to enjoy increased profit margins. There is nothing soft about cold, hard cash. 

Employees which believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person - not just an employee - are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability
— Anne M Mulcahy, American Business Woman

7 Tips on Creating a Culture to Drool Over

Trying to create a winning business culture?  It might not be as complicated as you think.  Much has been written on the value of a great work culture and how it can support the goals of the business and maximize profitability.  Companies that have bought into this are Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Google, and Edward Jones.  They seem to be on the ‘best of’ lists all the time.  It can be a significant differentiator from your competition and can create a competitive advantage for your company.  Who wouldn’t want to work for a company named on Fortune 100’s best companies list?  Imagine how much easier it would be to recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent.  Yet it’s amazing how many businesses fail to make the long term investment needed to achieve this success.  Many focus instead on slick marketing campaigns, reducing expenses such as rightsizing, implementing new technology and spending a wealth of resources on any of these and more.  According to Steven Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People this is focusing on what’s urgent rather than what’s important.  There is no harm in the short term, but in the long term, this is just firefighting and not getting to the crux of what will make you truly a company that will be touted by your existing employees and creating a line of applicants of the highly skilled waiting at the door.  Here are 7 steps to get you started in the right direction to create a culture for which anyone would drool.

  1. Hire the right fit for the culture you are creating. This means being clear on what that culture is and even more importantly what it is not.
  2. Move the wrong ones off of the bus. This can be hard with long tenured staff who have provided much value in the past or are still contributing.  Offering a severance package and signed release of claims allows them to leave the business with dignity and grace and giving them security for the short term.
  3. Start at the top with senior leaders and have well defined values that you hire and fire to.
  4. Hold others accountable to the values you have defined. Incorporate these into your HR and business practices.
  5. Start with your own team. Invest in them and help them become more effective as a unit.  This is a great way to ignite other areas of the business once they have seen the positive change from within your group.
  6. Assess where you are and what needs to change. Conduct “stay interviews” to find out why your best and brightest stay and what they value in the current culture.  They have their boots on the ground and will be able to give specifics about what needs changing.
  7. Develop an action plan and stay the course. Changing culture is not for the faint of heart.  It takes perseverance but the rewards are plentiful.

Social and Emotional Intelligence

Have you ever met someone who is “book smart” but not “street smart,” or maybe seems to lack “people skills?”  The phrase “emotional intelligence” was not part of the public lexicon 10-15 years ago, but Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, moved the phrase from academia to the general public.  Today, in the world of business and leadership, it is well understood that high intelligence (a high IQ) does not necessarily mean that the person has high emotional intelligence (a high EQ).  There are certainly some very smart people who are not in touch with their own emotions or the emotions of others. When we talk about social and emotional intelligence, we are referring to the ability to be aware of our own emotions and those of others, in the moment, and then using that information to manage ourselves and our relationships.  In essence, social and emotional intelligence is about awareness of ourselves and others while being able to manage ourselves and our relationships with others. Managers who are lacking in social and emotional intelligence are often called “bullies” and “jerks.”  They can be angry, hostile, and emotionally immature.  Leaders who lack social and emotional intelligence induce stress in the workplace and cost their companies in both productivity and talent.  Research from Stanford University, and from the Center for Creative Leadership, has found that some of the top reasons for executive derailment include poor interpersonal relationships, rigidity, and the inability to work with a team -- in other words, poor social and emotional intelligence. On the flip side, leaders with high social and emotional intelligence tend to be more successful.  In a study of 2000 managers in 12 large organizations, it was found that 81% of the competencies that distinguished outstanding leaders were related to social and emotional intelligence.  In an additional study of 15 global businesses, it was found that 90% of the difference between the average and best performing leaders was in social and emotional competencies.  One of the 26 social and emotional intelligence competencies is trust, and high trust teams outperform low trust teams by 300%. The good news for leaders, managers, organizations, and even individuals just looking to improve their skills is that the social and emotional intelligence competencies are both measurable and learnable.  It all starts with awareness, and to best understand your current social and emotional intelligence level, that means taking an assessment.  Once you know your areas of strength and weakness, you can improve your social and emotional intelligence through coaching, training, and (perhaps most importantly) practice.  Moreover, these skills are easiest to improve and produce the best ROI when the methods for improving social and emotional intelligence are integrated into organizational culture. How can social and emotional intelligence coaching and training help organizations?  Sheraton Hotels and Resorts introduced social and emotional intelligence training and coaching with the goal of building a service culture.  They were able to increase their market share by 24%.  Sanofi-Aventis trained a group of sales representatives in social and emotional intelligence.  The training resulted in an 18% increase in social and emotional intelligence over the control group.  Furthermore, the trained sales representatives outsold the control group by an average of 12% ($55,200) each per month.  At Pepsico, social and emotional intelligence programs generated a 10% increase in productivity and an 87% decrease in turnover. Social and emotional intelligence training can work for both individuals and organizations of all sizes.  These programs have a proven positive return on investment and benefit employees throughout all levels of an organization.  Are you interested in learning more about social and emotional intelligence assessments or training programs?  Aspen Edge Consulting can help make your organization happier and more profitable.