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It Takes Only a Moment

April 11th, 2014 by Linda Dausend in Coaching, Talent Management

How long does it take to hold a coaching session with someone in the workplace?

We often think about coaching as a formal process—one that is scheduled, that occurs in a formal setting, and that typically includes a set agenda.

And while a formal setting and process can indeed provide a good environment for coaching, it doesn’t need to be so structured. Coaching can take place on the spot and need take only a moment.

Most of our opportunities to coach, in fact, do occur spontaneously. As leaders we have a responsibility to seize those moments when we can immediately provide coaching to a peer, a direct report, or a boss. Corporate Coach U defines these as Coachable Moments®—those times “when an individual is open to taking in new information that will affect a shift in his or her knowledge or behavior.”

For example, say that you’re walking out of a meeting with a colleague who has just presented a report to the board. Your colleague says she feels she did a terrible job and asks you what you think. Just by asking, your colleague has indicated that she is open to your thoughts and is encouraging your feedback. That’s your sign of an opportunity to offer a little peer-to-peer coaching. You can start with a question (always the best way to start a coaching conversation) such as, “What about the presentation makes you feel this way?” Then you can help establish focus for the conversation and ask some follow-up questions to drive toward actions.

Of course, we don’t always have people directly asking for feedback. Sometimes we are the ones who identify a behavior that we’d like to correct or an opportunity to help a colleague “think things through.” In these times, as a leader, you have to make the decision to seize the Coachable Moment®.

Sometimes we even have to create Coachable Moments® ourselves. And the more we look for them and act on them, the greater the opportunity we have to foster interaction and promote behavior shift.

Here are some actions you can take to create Coachable Moments®:

  • Be aware (Part One). Be on the lookout for behaviors that you want to correct or improve, then take action. Often it seems easier to make a “mental note” of that behavior so you can discuss it later, at an update meeting or performance evaluation. Change that “mental note” to a “coaching action” that you address right away.
  • Be aware (Part Two). Be on the lookout for good behaviors and coach to them. Again, don’t file it in your brain for later. Seize the opportunity to recognize the behavior and help the individual see what he or she did right (and should repeat!).
  • Take coaching action. Pull the employee aside and help him or her to identify actions and consequences. Ask great questions to help the employee think through ways to correct behaviors or to continue great behaviors.
  • Be focused in order to help the employee to focus. Ask open-ended questions that are direct and focused on actions. Let the employee talk and get to solutions quickly.
  • Don’t expect to solve all the problems in a moment. Sometimes the focus will be on taking just one action. (You may then want to schedule follow-up meetings to solve the rest of the problems that are out there!)
  • Repeat. The more you create Coachable Moments®, the more your employees will too! Providing regular, consistent, in-the-moment coaching will generate more team members who are open to feedback and who will shift their knowledge and behavior. Not only that, they’ll begin to create their own Coachable Moments®!

So remember—seize the chance to identify and capitalize on coaching opportunities. It takes only a moment to make a difference.

Linda Dausend is a consultant at FlashPoint. She collaborates with clients to develop more strategic approaches toward managing talent and to help them prepare leaders who actually lead.

Image: digitalart

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Like the Tortoise and the Hare

April 7th, 2014 by Kristi Gaynor in Talent Development, Talent Management

We all know the fable of the tortoise and the hare and its important lesson that “slow and steady wins the race.”  It’s advice that we should also take to heart in today’s competitive business environment. Our organizations are constantly considering the next great event, product, investment, or acquisition that will make us stand out among the pack and race to the top of our industry.  But amid the hurry, we should take time to ask ourselves: what do we need to do regularly and consistently to impact our bottom line over the long term?

Training is one of those things.  Development of employees at all levels should be an ongoing, long-term investment—not something that’s done quickly and checked off the list. According to “Train Your Front Line,” an article in the December 2013 issue of HR Magazine, it‘s important to treat training as a process, not an event.

How many times has your organization offered training where:

  • It was randomly placed on your calendar and you were given no context for its purpose?
  • You were inspired by the program and committed to applying the content, but you got wrapped up in your daily job dues and soon forgot about it?
  • No one followed up with you or the other participants about any of the learnings?

Unfortunately, these are common scenarios—little preparation, no support for applying the learning, and no follow-up. This means that all too often training fails to deliver results. To be effective, training requires a commitment from both the organization and from the participant, and several components must be put in place (before, during, and after the training) to ensure a return on the investment.  These include:

  • Direct Manager Involvement: Managers must be committed to the training. Ideally, the manager should meet with the participant before the training to agree on expectations.  This conversation enables the employee to understand the results the manager is seeking.  It also establishes the foundation that the manager is supporting the employee’s growth and development.  The manager may also want to participate in the training. At the very least he or she should check in afterward to see what the participant has learned and how he or she can support the participant’s learning.
  • Multiple Training Formats: People learn in different ways. Consider right brain/left brain tendencies and the need for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic options. Providing various training opportunities is the key to developing the full team.  Various training formats could include online learning, action learning, coaching, mentoring, and the more formal classroom training.
  • Follow-up opportunities: We all want our investments to pay off.  That is why it’s necessary to ensure follow-up to the training.  There are many opportunities.  Depending on the instruction, one-on-one coaching might be necessary.  Group coaching can also be an effective tool, allowing participants to share their experiences in applying the skills they have learned.  Action learning offers practice through on-the-job experiences, often via post-training assignments or group project work.  Finally, follow-up training on certain skill sets could be beneficial.

Creating and implementing a comprehensive and multilayered training program aligned with your organization’s core objectives is a considerable investment.  It is a commitment that must be supported over time, with many resources, at all levels of management.  By taking such a careful and well-planned approach, you’ll give your employees the skills they need to help you meet your organizational objectives and win against your competitors.

Remember that—similar to the tortoise and the hare—learning and development is a marathon, not a sprint.

Kristi Gaynor is business development manager at FlashPoint. She directs FlashPoint’s clients toward outcomes-oriented systems and processes that drive accountability, execution, and results.

Image: Danilo Rizzuti

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When Talent’s Not Enough: The Cultural Considerations of Recruiting

March 30th, 2014 by FlashPoint in Talent Management, Talent Systems and Processes

 

Above the airline’s ticketing counter was an enormous banner that read, “Customer Service Is Our Business.” It was a magnificent display of marketing that was impossible to miss as one walked through that terminal’s ticketing floor. Unfortunately, however, the airline’s agent was not living up to the promise. “Customer Service is Our Business” is a great tagline, but if you want to embody a culture of exceptional customer service, you’ve got to deliver more than just a marketing campaign.

Culture is a fundamental part of who you are as an organization, and while many are talking about company culture, very few understand their own culture or can articulate precisely what it is. Even fewer are able to identify which employees are best suited to blend into and enhance that company culture. As the economy continues to improve, and the demand increases for high-potential employees who will develop into the leadership of tomorrow, we run the risk of approaching recruitment with a blind eye toward company culture and job fit. We see a need, so we go through the motions of filling spots for right now without paying attention to the bigger picture.

Consider, for example, a company whose recruitment strategy was to hire its competitors’ top producers. On the surface, this seemed like a smart strategy. The products were essentially the same, and the skills and experience that a person needed to succeed at “Company A” were essentially the same at “Company B.” The problem was, the company didn’t account for a difference in culture. The first few months after implementing this strategy, the leadership was baffled. Here were these top performers who had been so successful in their previous role, and yet they were struggling. The company never considered that the culture of the organization could play such a key role in their employees’ success. Being able to identify and articulate your company’s culture is imperative so you can then assess how well talent will fit into that culture and then enhance it.

So before you dive into recruitment, take the time to identify yourself as a company. Who are you really? What kind of culture does your organization embody? Then as you look at candidates, consider whether there’s a strong cultural fit and methodically place high-potential employees into the right roles within your organization.

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Finding and Developing Talent after Raising the Competencies Bar

March 21st, 2014 by Nancy S. Ahlrichs in Talent Development, Talent Management

The end of the recession has brought with it new strategic plans, new markets, new products, and the need to hire employees who have new skills. Organizations have spent many hours zeroing in on the specific skills and behaviors—called core competencies—that are needed across the employee population in order to take the company forward in the future. And while they’re in the process of developing training plans for existing employees, many organizations want immediately to raise the bar on hiring by selecting only those job candidates who come into the organization with these requisite core competencies. This is a good tactic as long as there is an equal effort to develop internal employees. Without an opportunity to move up in the “new” culture, existing employees might leave—which will only make recruiting more difficult.

When it comes to hiring, it can sometimes feel downright impossible to find the right people with the added requirement of new skills and behaviors. There can be a false sense that no one with the needed core competencies is in the market for a new job. But if everything else is new—strategic plan, markets, products and so on—why wouldn’t new recruiting tactics be needed?  In fact, a fresh look at recruiting is critical to successful hiring outcomes. Here are a few tactics that can provide different results.

  • Add new talent pools. If traditional recruiting sources no longer provide quality candidates, look in new places such as different communities and non-traditional talent pools. Consider not-for-profits that place talented disabled or older candidates. Consider ethnically specific professional organizations. Consider contacting churches and the American Legion to post your job openings. Consider your own top employees as referral sources. Brainstorm with colleagues to strengthen your recruiting process and identify talent where you have not looked before. Avoid dismissing ideas you have not tested recently.
  • Assess the trainability of your candidates. As you evaluate your top finalists, assess their motivation to do the work, as well as their ability to learn the necessary skills. Even if candidates come with a strong set of core competencies, they’re going to have to learn your processes and systems. And as quickly as things change in today’s environment, the core competencies that you’re looking for now are going to shift. Make sure you hire someone who can learn and adapt, so you have the skills you need for both today and the future.
  • Sweeten your offer. Are you losing “the good ones” to your talent competition? What are they offering? Often the differentiators are not base pay and vacation days but flexible hours, better benefits, career mobility, on-the-job training, and other perks. Learn what your most qualified workers value the most and realign your rewards accordingly.

Simultaneous with efforts to expand external talent pools, you need to develop a high-quality internal talent pool. Your training and development staff needs to work closely with HR to enable the greatest number of internal employees to become promotion ready.

  • Cross-train everyone. The manager with a cross-trained staff does not fear flu season, vacations, or filling an open position. Why? Because cross-trained employees become the talent pool from which to choose the next new hires. Aggressively strengthen your existing workforce with cross-training to create a more flexible workforce. Reward your best workers with additional training and career opportunities. This not only makes your workforce more productive but creates a positive reputation that yours is company that invests in its people.
  • Use automation to create training time for existing employees. How many times have you heard employers say that they cannot “take people off the floor” to train them in new skills? By automating routine aspects of work in your organization, you will lift the workload from many employees—creating time to focus on more strategic needs, including training.

Refocus your efforts. By strengthening your recruiting process, improving the offer you make to qualified candidates, aggressively training and cross-training workers, and automating routine work, you should be able more effectively compete for—and develop—top talent.

Nancy S. Ahlrichs is strategic account manager at FlashPoint where she interacts with human resource professionals, executives, and business owners in order to understand their organizational needs. She collaborates with our other team members to develop appropriate consulting solutions and supports prospects throughout the sales process.

Image: jesadaphorn

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Be Prepared: It’s a Motto for Managers Too

March 14th, 2014 by Kristi Gaynor in Talent Development, Talent Management

Have you ever delivered a successful presentation without preparing materials and practicing?

Have you ever made a sale without first researching the prospect and understanding the company’s need?

While in some cases you might have been able to pull things off by “winging it,” chances are that you answered no to both of these questions. After all, most situations, whether personal or professional, typically require basic preparation.

Managing people is no exception. It takes a lot of practice to be a good manager, and the challenges are greater than ever. Looking at talent management trends, it becomes clear that attracting and retaining top talent is going to be a significant issue in the years ahead. The Hay Group anticipates that in 2014 alone, global turnover will accelerate by nearly 13 percent. Employee expectations are shifting, talent is fleeing, and companies are finding a lack of essential skill sets. Managers are on the front lines dealing with this, and often those in managerial positions find themselves rushed into those roles without much experience.

To be effective, managers must develop key skills, and their employers should provide them with the training they need to build those skills. It’s not enough just to be proficient with the technical aspects of the job. A good manager should also be able to:

  • Communicate effectively with team members and company leaders
  • Give constructive feedback related to employee performance
  • Observe and document behavior
  • Develop goals with team members
  • Work with a variety of individuals from different backgrounds and build strong teams.

Providing managers with training in these areas can have a significant impact on how well they perform their roles. And the fact that the organization is investing in them can be an incredible boost to the managers’ outlook and engagement. We’ve heard feedback from one manager, for example, who said that training helped him to completely turn around his management style. He says that his instructions are now clearer, his attitude has changed, and the way he treats people is vastly different than in the days before he received training.

Meanwhile, companies also feel the results when they prepare managers to lead. These results often include higher employee engagement rates, better retention, increased productivity, and greater customer satisfaction.

Preparing managers through training is well worth the investment—and it is, in fact, critical to the success of the company. Managers are in charge of one of the organization’s greatest assets—its human capital. Providing them with the knowledge and skills to successfully manage this important resource will improve the bottom line and protect the long-term health of the organization.

Kristi Gaynor is business development manager at FlashPoint. She directs FlashPoint’s clients toward outcomes-oriented systems and processes that drive accountability, execution, and results.

Looking to prepare your managers and supervisors through training? Consider FlashPoint’s Management Vitals program. In June we’ll offer a session that’s open to the public. You can learn more on our website

Image: 89studio

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Prerequisites for Successful Succession Planning

March 8th, 2014 by Bill Mugavin in Talent Development, Talent Management

As organizations look to the future, it’s more important than ever that they focus on succession planning. Two key trends are driving the need. First is the impending exodus of long-tenured employees (many who are eager to retire after holding off during the recession). The second is a growing mismatch between the skill demands of employers and the skill supply of the workforce; as baby boomers leave the workforce, a lot of employees today don’t have the skills they need to step up.

Having an effective succession program in place can help you to prepare replacements to fill critical roles, deepen the pool of talent in your organization, advance diversity efforts, and promote the development and growth of your top talent. But alarmingly, in its report High Impact Succession Management, talent management research firm Bersin by Deloitte reports that 36 percent of organizations fall short of having a succession plan even for their C-Suite positions. That is, they either have no succession planning program in place or are strictly focused on replacement planning. Replacement planning involves identifying high-potential employees and matching them to either specific jobs or job types—but it’s usually presumed that these high potentials will simply go on to fill the positions, without much thought to actually developing them.

Recently, FlashPoint hosted a webinar to discuss the topic of succession planning, and during our discussions we learned that over 60 percent of the organizations participating had either no succession planning program or were operating at the replacement planning level. As such, there organizations’ HR and business leaders are feeling a great sense of urgency to get a succession program in place. They’re working to develop processes to identify key positions, conduct talent review sessions, create development plans, and monitor the results of the program. All of this is good.

As they work on building their programs, however, they should make sure they have in place key prerequisites before they start. If they don’t, they may find that they’re missing essential data or are lacking core processes to best support succession planning.

So what are the prerequisites one needs to have in place before developing a succession program? The following are important ones.

  • The executive team must support the succession planning. It is the role of the executive team to consistently communicate the priority and importance of succession planning (and more important, to actually execute on the plan). If not driven by the executive team, leaders will naturally gravitate to carrying out day-to-day job responsibilities and handling other pressing business issues instead of focusing on the future.
  • Stakeholders must possess a comprehensive understanding of the target positions that will be included in the succession effort. It is important that everyone have a clear idea of what success looks like for each job/role. After all, it would be very difficult to groom a successor for a target position if we don’t know what a person in that position actually needs to do! Typically, this takes the form of position profiles or job descriptions.
  • A strong performance management system should be in place. Creating individual development plans, monitoring successor progress against development goals, and ensuring successors are on track for moving into their target positions is the heart of succession doing. Performance management is the mechanism for achieving succession doing.
  • Competencies for target positions should be in place. This is key to understanding the jobs/roles identified for succession. Having competencies in place also makes it easier to build development plans later on. According to Bersin by Deloitte’s High Impact Succession Management report, 20 percent of the participating companies indicated that they do not have a defined set of core competencies. Of the 80 percent that did, only 45 percent use their leadership programs to “teach to the competencies.” These findings show us what a limiting effect not having competencies can have on effective successor development.

Of course you can still move forward with developing your succession program if the elements above are not in place. Simply factor the development of any missing elements (or the enhancement of elements that are partially in place) into your overall succession program development timeline. Yes, this will require more patience, more effort, more resources, and more time. However, building your succession program on a strong foundation will help ensure you realize the succession outcomes you want: better bench strength, shorter time to fill for key positions, retention of critical talent, and stronger engagement.

Bill Mugavin is a consultant at FlashPoint. He focuses his consulting on talent systems and processes, as well as leadership and management development.

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The Most Important Ingredient When Coaching Your Employees

March 2nd, 2014 by Linda Dausend in Coaching, Talent Management

An important skill for leading is having the ability to coach others, to help them come up with answers to problems they want to solve, to help them see what possibilities exist to improve a situation or a relationship . . . to help them to realize their potential. Unless a leader has the skill of coaching, he or she will have a difficult time leading at all.

But coaching is not standing by the sideline, as at a basketball game, barking out commands, yelling out the next action, calling the plays. In fact, coaching has little to do with “telling” at all. According to Corporate Coach U, coaching is the process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to fully develop and be effective in their commitment to themselves, the company, and their work. The emphasis I’ve added highlights an important fact: people being coached must find solutions on their own. Coaching is more about asking people questions than telling them what to do, and good coaches ask the right questions to help the “coachees” discover the answers (which are already inside them or which they know where to find).

Because of openness required, the coach and coachee must build an environment where they trust each other. Without trust, the coachee might be suspicious of the coach’s questioning and respond without complete truth. The coachee might say what she thinks she should say, not what she feels. Bottom line, without trust, the coachee won’t be coached—she’ll simply be half-heartedly responding to questions.

So how do you create trust in the coaching environment? Consider these three cornerstones that need to be in place during an effective coaching interaction:

  • Intention: When leaders coach, the focus needs to be on the coachee and on his or her goals, objectives, and definition of success. If the leader sets the agenda without consideration for what the coachee wants, the coachee will not be able to focus on what he or she needs to do. The coachee will focus only on what the leader wants to have happen.
  • Relationship: Coaching is successful when an established reason to work together and a mutual respect of the participants exists. It’s unlikely you’ll get any satisfying change if you try to coach a grocery store bagger to pack your groceries better, but the relationship you have with a coworker or boss or direct report is an important one because you are working together, typically for a common purpose. The strength of this relationship is what is needed in a successful coaching environment.
  • Words: We select the words we use when coaching for the ease of understanding, importance and relevance to the coachee’s unique situation. We use them with a sense of economy. They are not judgmental in nature and are delivered in a neutral manner so that they are fully heard by the coachee.

Trust is possible when the coach’s intention and words are aligned with the agenda of the coachee and the two have a supportive relationship. Leaders are responsible for creating this coaching environment so that the real work of identifying potential answers and working together to find those answers can begin.

Linda Dausend is a consultant at FlashPoint. She collaborates with clients to develop more strategic approaches toward managing talent and to help them prepare leaders who actually lead.

Image: stockimages

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How to Hire a Road Warrior

February 21st, 2014 by Nancy S. Ahlrichs in Talent Development, Talent Management

Travel—much less heavy travel—is not for everyone, but it works well for organized people who enjoy a fast-paced life. Matching the right person to this job is critical to maintaining and developing client relationships, boosting sales and expanding the employer’s footprint in the industry. A bad hire costs more than aggravation and time—it could cost your organization clients, vendors or opportunities.

Here are eight elements that will help you attract and retain the right person for a heavy-travel position more successfully.

  1. Describe the job and travel honestly. Too much first-year turnover is caused by unrealistic job expectations. If the employer downplays travel in the job description—perhaps describing it as 25 percent travel when it is really 70 percent travel—the employee may react to the dishonesty by continuing his or her job search.
  2. “Clone” successful current and past “road warriors.” Team up with an assessment company to create a hiring profile that includes energy level, flexibility, responsiveness and any other traits deemed as differentiators between “stars” and average performers. Hire only those who match the profile.
  3. Use assessments as part of the interview process. In addition to asking behavioral interview questions to assess experience with travel in the past, check references and use assessments to uncover what interview questions cannot. Don’t forget to assess the candidate’s ability to use technology since that tool will be critical to communication and problem solving on the road.
  4. Involve other road warriors in the interview process itself. Staff members with current or recent heavy travel experience for the organization can quickly assess the travel skills and stamina of a job candidate. They can also help to “sell” the position to the job candidate by honestly discussing how changes and challenges are handled.
  5. Ask the candidate how they have handled unexpected overnights and even being stuck for multiple days. Many people have family, pets, or other obligations and need to have a Plan B. While not delving into their personal life, asking an open-ended question can reveal how prepared the job candidate would be for unexpected changes.
  6. Ask current road warrior job candidates what has helped to make them successful. Listen carefully to be sure that your organization can provide the needed support.
  7. Develop an excellent onboarding process for new hires with heavy travel. Travel is fraught with enough challenges, so make sure the new hire knows company procedures, whom to call with questions, etc. Introduce the new hire to the existing clients or vendors on whom he or she will call.
  8. Ensure that the manager of each road warrior checks in with him or her weekly and that the road warrior is included (via technology such as Skype) in meetings. Road warriors are tough—but they like to know what is going on and to feel included. Make sure that their travels don’t isolate them. And be sure to remember their anniversaries and birthdays!

Many organizations could not function without dedicated road warriors who open new markets and new accounts and who balance work and life. Hiring the right person for this job is especially critical because the right person can improve your bottom line!

Nancy S. Ahlrichs is strategic account manager at FlashPoint where she interacts with human resource professionals, executives, and business owners in order to understand their organizational needs. She collaborates with our other team members to develop appropriate consulting solutions and supports prospects throughout the sales process.

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It’s Not Just the C-Suite: How to Focus on Key Positions When Creating Succession Plans

February 14th, 2014 by Bill Mugavin in Talent Management, Talent Systems and Processes

Succession planning is commonly defined as having the right people in the right positions at the right time. So what are the right positions for succession planning? Many organizations that implement succession planning target only critical senior-level positions such as the CEO, CFO, and COO. However, succession planning is not just a tool for replacing senior leaders. The purpose of succession planning is to prepare your organization for the challenges and opportunities associated with changes in all key positions.

Key positions are those that are necessary for the organization to reach its business goals. They are the positions that have the most effect on the stability, production, and profitability of the organization. Because they are linked to operational and strategic objectives, senior management needs to be actively involved in identifying these positions.

Key positions do, of course, include higher-level management positions, such as executive and senior leadership. However, key positions may also include mid-level managers or individual contributors in occupational groups such as technology, accounting, or marketing. To determine if a position is a key position, ask yourself the following:

  • Is this one of the organization’s high-level leadership positions?
  • Is this position critical to the organization’s strategic plan?
  • Is this position linked directly to any current or upcoming business objectives?
  • Would it have a major effect if we didn’t replace this position?
  • Have high priorities been set on this position by executive input?
  • Would this position be difficult to fill because it requires particular skills, competencies, or corporate knowledge?

Your team can determine which of these questions are most relevant for your organization and then rank each position based on the answers to these questions. This will allow you to create a scale, with the highest rankings representing your key positions.

Once you have narrowed the list of key positions to target with succession planning, it is important to ensure that there is a deep understanding of the strategic outcomes, specific competencies, responsibilities, and success measures of each job. To gather deep role-specific information about key positions, many organizations utilize data-gathering tools such as online questionnaires or benchmark interviews. Once you have that deeper level of information, you’ll be able to create written position profiles that outline all of the major aspects of your key positions.

Only at this point will you be ready to launch into the rest of the succession-planning process, which includes conducting talent reviews, identifying successors, assessing successor capabilities, creating individual development plans, and developing programs to support successor progress.

It’s important, then, that you give careful thought about what roles you will include in the succession-planning process. As you prepare your organization for the challenges and opportunities associated with change in the business environment, are you targeting the positions that will ensure organizational success?

Bill Mugavin is a consultant at FlashPoint. He focuses his consulting on talent systems and processes, as well as leadership and management development.

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Virtual Teams: Eight Tips for Managing Connections and Improving Productivity

February 9th, 2014 by Nancy S. Ahlrichs in Talent Management

Assembling just the right team to work on a particular project often requires the tradeoff of not having everyone under the same roof. Top talent may be located in different states or even different corners of the earth. As more organizations transition to managing outputs and inspiring innovation instead of managing desk time or “butts in chairs,” new management skills are needed to keep team members engaged, on track, and bonded to one another. Fascinating tasks alone are never enough to ensure engagement, productivity, and retention.

In my book Manager of Choice: 5 Competencies for Developing Top Talent, I explored how to use technology as both the enabler and the “glue” for virtual teams (whose members never meet due to time zone or other distances) and blended teams (made up of people who may physically work together as well as others who are off-site). As these teams become more common (some companies have no product development teams under one roof, for example), it becomes more important for managers to learn how to manage at a distance.

Here are eight ways that managers and the teams themselves can improve connectedness, speed relationship development, and use the resulting trust to accelerate projects.

  1. Hold a preliminary meeting to agree on regularly scheduled meeting times and dates, delineate responsibilities, etc. Be sensitive about meeting times that repeatedly inconvenience the same people. Consider alternating dates or times if no mutually convenient times can be found for the entire group. Publish the meetings well in advance.
  2. E-mail photos of the team members along with short bios to enhance “introductions” to one another. Ask team members what they want to know about one another. Don’t be surprised if questions about children and hobbies are as popular as work experience questions.
  3. Send meeting agendas at least a day before videoconference or teleconference meetings.
  4. Ask team members about preferred communication tools. (Social media? Instant messaging?) Unless another alternative is suggested, use instant messaging to get team questions answered quickly.
  5. If possible, use videoconferencing instead of teleconferencing to build additional dimension into the meetings. Prepare the participants for the lag between comments. Tell extroverts to be sure to ask everyone for comments. Do not let anyone on the team remain silent for an entire meeting.
  6. Encourage team members to use an electronic bulletin board to post questions.
  7. Use web-based team measurement tools to collect team interactions; e-mail minutes and reports to every team member.
  8. Augment regular meetings with opportunities to socialize.

It is important that virtual team members help one another, cooperate, and get to know one another beyond the project at hand. Otherwise, every day is just a list of tasks and transactions, and no one gets excited and engaged about that! If a virtual or blended team reports to you, it is even more important that you, the manager, use technology to develop an excellent relationship with each team member. Connecting to the organization through you, and to the other team members, provides the psychological fuel needed to take projects to the next level.

Nancy S. Ahlrichs is strategic account manager at FlashPoint where she interacts with human resource professionals, executives, and business owners in order to understand their organizational needs. She collaborates with our other team members to develop appropriate consulting solutions and supports prospects throughout the sales process.

Image: jscreationzs

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