The Leadership Podcast, co-hosted by Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos, is my go-to resource for leadership discussions.

They’ve got extraordinary episodes with some of the world’s most respected leaders.

I was gratified when they asked me to discuss ways that leaders can deal with workplace bullying and help their subordinates be the best versions of themselves.

One of my mentors, Michele Flournoy, connected us (thank you, Michele!).

As you know, bullies, predators, and jerks can ruin your team and peace of mind.

By the time they become managers, most of them have mastered the art of kiss-up and kick-down.

These creeps exist in the workplace. They are very intentional about what they are doing and are quite unlikely to change.

More common is behavior that is not intended to be bullying but is perceived that way.

This situation damages the trust, mutual respect, and morale that’s essential for your team’s success.

Turnover is the #1 indicator of this problem.

With the economy in such horrible shape, people are understandably reluctant to leave their jobs.

As the economy recovers, though, expect to see a mass exodus from toxic work environments.

Gallup reports that seventy-five percent of Americans who leave their jobs voluntarily do so to get away from their managers.

There are common-sense ways to deal with unconscious bullying.

First, make your values explicit. There’s a direct correlation between expectations and results.

Clear leader and employee behaviors for each value set important boundaries and will help you hold people accountable.

Second, discuss your values routinely at meetings and during your one-on-one counseling sessions.  

Third, give people ways to disarm bullying behavior. Merely repeating back what a person said and asking for confirmation can be enough to correct the behavior.

Finally, coach your direct reports to be the best versions of themselves. Subconscious cloning – trying to turn people into mini-versions of you – damages your relationship and undermines performance.

The best gauge of success is when your most vulnerable employees feel that they can always contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

I was proud to discuss this issue with Jan and Jim on The Leadership Podcast.

Check it out here.

P.S. Nailing your next 100 days gives you the escape velocity to launch, reboot, or scale your solo or small business. Check out the replay of this free masterclass on the 8 steps you need to take to achieve the escape velocity you need.

Schedule your strategy call today. We’ll discuss your goals and obstacles, and I’ll give you 2-3 specific action steps to take now to power through roadblocks and get you closer to your goals. No sales, no B.S.

 

Here’s what I’m reading about race in America.

Peniel E. Joseph, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

The Economist, Tackling racism: The new ideology of race and what is wrong with it.

John McWhorter, The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility, The Atlantic.

Ruchika Tulshyan, How to Reduce Personal Bias When Hiring, Harvard Business Review.

Sabrina Siddiqui, Majority of Voters Say U.S. Society Is Racist as Support Grows for Black Lives Matter, The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post, How John Lewis caught the conscience of the nation

I highlight these books and articles because they contain a range of viewpoints on this challenging and delicate subject.

One takeaway for business leaders is that there’s a difference between attitudinal and affinity bias.

Attitudinal bias is prejudice. It is a conscious choice to de-value someone based on race, sex, creed, color, or any other distinction.

It is disgusting, abhorrent, and pathetic.

Affinity bias, on the other hand, is a common, unconscious tendency to gravitate towards those who look, think, and act the way you do.

Both biases tilt the playing field for some groups over others. One does so intentionally; one does not.

Fifty-six percent of Americans, according to a recent WSJ/NBC poll, believe that Black and Hispanic Americans face discrimination.

Intentions matter.

Once you know about affinity bias and accept that you probably have it, you can do something about it.

And now you know about it.

What is your top takeaway from this article?

P.S. Do you want counter affinity bias as you nail your next 100 days? Here’s the free training that will help you do exactly that. It’s perfect for solo-entrepreneurs, consultants, and micro-business owners.

Sign up now while this article is in front of you. You are one decision away from nailing your next 100 days.

You would have to be an idiot not to take diversity and inclusion seriously.

Study after study shows the economic power of diversity.

A diverse, high-performing team is more productive, your leaders make better decisions, and you avoid the drama that makes for a toxic workplace.

The return on investment is such a no-brainer that companies spend millions each year on diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs.

The likelihood that these programs deliver diverse AND high-performing teams, though, is too limited.

A recent Wall Street Journal study shows that companies are doing well in hiring diverse talent, but not in promoting them.

The first management rung seems to be the hardest to climb.

What’s happening?

Systemic bigotry is part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that companies set their employees up for failure when they fail to align work with people’s natural inclinations.

When your hiring focuses mostly on diversity-that-you-can-see, you heighten the risk of putting the round peg in the square hole.

You know the results: heightened frustration, less productivity, and faster burnout.

People who report using their natural inclinations – their superpowers – each day are two-to-three times more productive than those who do not.

Using your superpowers each day means higher engagement, better performance, and less frustration and burnout.

Aligning work with natural inclinations is the best way to set up your employees for success so that you are more likely to retain and promote them.

We’ve developed a straightforward and free tool that you can use to promote diversity of natural strengths and make your leaders successful.

Servant leaders come in four broad archetypes: Pioneers (innovators), Reconcilers (team-builders), Operators (implementers), and Mavericks (game-changers).

Your subordinates are more likely to thrive when you put them in positions aligned with their superpowers.

You will be a better mentor when you help each person be the best version of themselves rather than sub-consciously encouraging them to copycat you.

You will also avoid what my mentor Michele Flournoy calls the mini-me syndrome – the tendency to surround yourself with people who think and act as you do.

The combination of physical and cognitive diversity will power your growth, limit expensive mistakes, and make your company a better place to work.

Do your most vulnerable employees feel that they can contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Get the tool here.

What’s your top leadership takeaway from this article?

Add a comment or email me at [email protected] 

Decide’s Latin origin means to kill off or to sever.

To make a decision thus means to kill off the alternatives.

Common decision-making errors result in you killing off the better alternatives – they are short cuts to expensive failure

Here are two doozies.

Confirmation bias happens when leaders place excessive weight on data that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and discounts contrary information.

We are living this problem right now. 

People on one side of the political spectrum highlight worst-case data on COVID-19. Their opponents emphasize opposite data. 

So many “expert” assessments and statements by political leaders are tainted by confirmation bias that ordinary people like you and me lose faith in their credibility.

It’s not just a political problem.

I fell into the confirmation bias trap myself. 

I wanted to take people on leadership trips to Normandy battlefields. I know the impact these experiences have on leaders and teams, and I’m very good at delivering them.

I wanted to do a lot of good for a lot of people, so I was eager to get going.

I believed that a good social media campaign could lead to mass interest.

A digital marketing agency I hired felt the same and suggested that Facebook ads would be a winner. They had had success with Facebook ads before, with a life-coach. They believed that they could replicate the outcomes. 

We made a series of (really cool) videos, created a complicated sales funnel, and crafted the ads carefully. 

We launched the ads. The videos were really popular and we saw superb engagement rates.

No prospects. 

We needed to create enough volume, we told ourselves, and the ads would pay off. Even if only .1 percent were interested, one million views should lead to 1000 prospects. 

We spent more.

We got nearly 2 million views and 300k “likes.” 

No prospects. No buyers.

I finally shut off the ads.

It turns out that we had tapped into an audience that loved military history, but they were not leaders or buyers.

Most entrepreneurs and leaders go to Facebook to keep up with friends and family, not for business advice.

That was an expensive lesson. 

******

We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

*******

Status quo bias, on the other hand, increases resistance to change, even if your situation sucks and your plan is failing.

Leaders perceive that the status quo is safe. After all, the executive team signed up for the approach at one time.  

Board members or executives poke holes in alternatives, shoot-down proposals, and emphasize the risks of change.

Some resist change for fear of being “wrong” in adopting the current plan. 

Others do not have an apples-to-apples comparison of risk, so they place more confidence in managing the challenges of the failing plan they know than in a proposed alternative that they don’t. 

Solo-entrepreneurs and small business leaders with status quo bias make a decision one day and then talk themselves out of moving forward the next morning. 

You get trapped in the hamster wheel.

Here are two action steps to deal with these problems.

First, assess your assumptions. 

Ask “what must be true” for the plan to work. Those are your assumptions. 

Do a sanity check on the validity of the assumptions.

Do the same with alternate plans. 

This approach gives you an apples-to-apples comparison of the risks and opportunities.

It also helps you check your confirmation bias.

Second, use premortems.

A premortem is a story or two about how the plan failed so that you can identify the indicators and warnings. 

Make those indicators and warnings part of your risk assessment.

When the indicators and warnings light up in the wrong direction, you know it’s time to make a change.

Red-teams or designated critics can be helpful, too, but I prefer the pre-mortems. 

Leaders may rationalize away the former because they are supposed to point out problems. 

They go with the plan anyway and lose the benefit of the premortem’s indicators and warnings.

The premortem is something the decision-makers own, so they are more likely to take them seriously.

We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

Yes, it’s free and takes only ten seconds to sign-up. There are no sales, no gimmicks, just value for you.

Sign up now while this article is in front of you. You are one decision away from making even better decisions :0)

Get the peace of mind that you have decided to work ON your business

What is your top takeaway from this article? 

P.S. Do you want to nail your next 100 days? Of course, you do. Here’s the free training that will help you do exactly that. It’s perfect for solo-entrepreneurs, consultants, and micro-business owners.

You are one decision away from nailing your next 100 days.

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Do you know what it’s like to live every day feeling like you’ve got a target on your back?

Can you understand what it’s like to feel that society has stacked the deck against you?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel that your co-workers and managers look down on you because you are different?

If you are like me, you cannot answer the first two from personal experience. You can read about it, talk to people who have lived it, and you can empathize.

But you cannot fully understand.

You can do your part to treat everyone with dignity and respect; to make a positive ripple in a lake of prejudice and injustice.

As a leader, you need to get question #3 and fix it. The buck stops with you.

There’s no excuse for ignorance, complacency, or self-deception.

Make your team a lake of dignity and respect that does not tolerate anyone who tries to put a toxic ripple in it.  

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s also smart.

I was bullied and sexually assaulted as a teenager. I couldn’t concentrate in school afterward or when I felt the predators were circling.

I’ve also, unintentionally, said and done stupid things that hurt other people.

I was fortunate to have had people who told me the truth – lessons I do not forget.

Employees who feel that they have to hide, live a lie, put up with disrespect, or look over their shoulders are less engaged and productive.

Wouldn’t you be?

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

If you were to use a 1-5 scale, with 5 being “Always,” anything less than 5 from every employee means you are wasting talent and money.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to find out.

1. Get some objective data. You can’t see the label when you are inside the jar. The combination of anonymous questionnaires, focus groups, and interviews provides you points of view you are not going to get by yourself.

2. Shop your Culture. You shop your business to see how well your sales team performs, and if your processes are user-friendly, why don’t you do the same for your culture?

3. Look for the signals. What do people put in their workspace? How well do your employees care for your bathrooms and facilities? Do people cluster in like-groups or diverse groups?

Look at your workplace from a vulnerable employee’s point of view so you don’t walk past problems anymore.

Once you know the data, you can take action.

How well are these steps working for you?

Let me know: [email protected]

Accountability is a four-way intersection.

Accountability means being answerable to someone for something important.

When you lead with accountability, you keep your commitments to your vision and mission, your employees, your customers, and your partners.

Lack of accountability leads to neglect, poor performance, abuse, and backbiting.

When you uphold accountability fairly, you show that you are sincere, you set the example, and you don’t play favorites.

Accountability improves commitment to your vision, mission, goals, and values.

Accountability reduces your need to micromanage and spend energy on compliance.

Accountability is possible when you make your goals and expectations clear.

Accountability improves when you share your goals and expectations.

An accountability group accelerates your performance because you are sharing your goals with people who are committed to your success.

Accountability gives you the focus to work on your business.

Accountability strengthens your promise to sharpen yourself so you can lead to greater success.

Accountability puts you back in command.

There’s a direct line from accountability to success.

Only you can draw it.

Leadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to your team’s success (check out the free Leading Well masterclass) – accountability builds commitment so that people do what’s right even when no one is watching.

What’s your top takeaway from this article? Write me at [email protected]

A New Culture Paradigm

While COVID-19 has forced changes in our lives, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has forced the movement of a lifetime. It has spurred action we have never seen in this country, and it is bringing together people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and ages to work towards a unifying goal—ending the systemic racism and police brutality against black Americans. 

Like COVID-19, racism is a pandemic. Biological pandemics bring together experts from around the globe in a united effort, with government support, to eradicate the disease. Racism, on the other hand, sadly continues to exist with the occasional conference or short-lived protest. Add the racial disparities of the COVID-19 response and its impact on communities of color, and the tragic truth of racism in our nation is apparent. Enough. The pressure of decades’ worth of oppression, hate, indifference, and bigotry towards black citizens of the United States has reached its breaking point. The people of the United States and the world are telling experts and governments “enough.” The eradication of this moral pandemic may finally be upon us.    

Writing this final article of the series, I reflected on part one and the irony of how the same ideas to combat COVID-19 apply to eradicating racism. Let us mobilize our collective resources to rid ourselves of racism using lessons learned from battling the pandemic. Consider how you may have assessed your organization for COVID-19, and now do a similar assessment for racism. 

  • Priority 1 – Care for those in your charge. What is the plan for you and employees who may experience racism? (Are you ready to engage the offended and terminate the offender?) 
  • What are your touchpoints with customers/clients/students—those you serve? (What do you stand for? What is your values message to your stakeholders? Is it authentic?) 
  • Are you organized correctly for the circumstances? (Does your board, C-suite or senior leader team reflect the diversity, the strength, of our nation?)
  • What functions continue; what functions stop? (How will you bolster diversity and inclusion in your organization? Better yet, how will you remove the current culture and instead make diversity and inclusion organic?)
  • How are you making and documenting decisions? (Will you be authentic and transparent in taking action?)
  • Who else needs to know? (Is your values message transcending your workplace and reaching communities, the nation, and the world? Brands that do not stand up will suffer.)

Racism cuts across organizations and has severe impacts on teams, families, and individuals. Yet again, we need humanness—the quality of being human. Your high human skills are being put to the test. Your empathy, trustworthiness, respect…those critical elements of leadership are in full view. In previous articles, I posited the notion that when we get beyond the COVID-19 peak, you would imagine that your leadership, your humanness, is on trial. There is no need to imagine anymore. This movement has begun the trial. Will you be convicted?   

A New Corporate Culture  

The original title of this article was Strengthen Your Culture. Despite professional and personal efforts, that title revealed that I was too accepting of the current corporate culture. Enough. Leaders across the nation and throughout the world should be preparing their movement to make real change in the workplace. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts have increased profits, employee recruiting and retention, and production. But it is time to change the fundamental way we do business.  

Instead of making D&I the end goal, make removing the current culture the aim. Let the goodness of D&I be foundational to the values of a new common good that achieves a new corporate culture. Make it a culture that includes and supports everyone naturally. Experience shows that such change is institutionalized when people are promoted or selected for career-enhancing positions or development under a new paradigm. Aspirational? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely. It starts with a self-assessment of both you and your business.

You

Look back on your experiences and recall those times you were left out, dismissed, ignored, or ridiculed. How did it make you feel? Why did it happen? Was it your sex, accent, skin color, social status, ethnicity, beliefs, or educational background? Did it make you want to contribute your absolute best effort, or did it make you want to pack your things and move on? Did the experience create fear? Did you feel safe? Conversely, consider your privilege—not what you have, but when and why you do not have to worry about things happening to you.      

As noted in part three of this series, trust is the counterbalance to fear. Trust partners with respect and empathy to form the foundation of humanness. Remember, you are on trial. What are your biases, and how will you contend with those feelings? How do you want your employees to feel? You want their best effort, so create an inclusive culture where they can flourish. Commit yourself to removing the behaviors that create fear. Approach problems with authentic curiosity, not accusations. If appropriate, acknowledge that there are some things you do not have to worry about, and make sure your employees do not either. 

Your Business 

Nearly 70 percent of American employees are unengaged at work, a figure that rises to 90 percent worldwide. Why? Culture. Imagine, seven out of ten employees find their work to be a soul-sucking experience. Get culture wrong, people leave, and you are now facing an estimated turnover cost of $14K per person. If it is an executive or middle manager, expect a turnover cost equating to their annual salary. Combine a negative culture with the challenges of a crisis, and the stakes are too high to ignore.  

Culture started revealing itself right about the time you made the first phone call or sent the first email altering the work situation for COVID-19. The national movement to eradicate racism pulled the curtain back on your culture even more. For those whose culture is rooted in trust, commitment, and the common good, they are likely faring well. For those who have culture wrong, leaders and employees are frustrated, the strategy is meaningless, and the struggle continues. Unfortunately, in those instances, organizations may crumble. You need a culture that thrives and is sustainable regardless of the crisis.    

Your workplace culture is not what is written on the walls. It is the total of what happens in the halls and on Zoom calls. It is your team’s behavioral and performance norms. Culture is those things that are encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected and anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns. Assess your organization’s level of commitment and how it aligns with the strength of the common good—vision, mission, goals, values, standards, and strategy. The intersection of the common good and level of commitment reveals the type of culture being cultivated in your organization—compliant, chaotic, contingent, or empowered, as shown here:  

  • A well-defined common good and a low level of commitment is a compliant culture where leaders use coercion to gain desired behavior. It is a carrot and stick type of approach.  
  • A poorly defined common good and a low level of commitment is a chaotic culture characterized by toxic and dominant behavior.  
  • A poorly defined common good and a high level of commitment is a contingent culture where teammates typically have great chemistry and rally around an informal, undefined common good. They have an implicit understanding of what is important, but with growth and changes in people, the implicit common good begins to fade.  
  • A well-defined common good and a high level of commitment is an empowered culture where there is a high degree of trust. Leaders can think and act strategically because their middle management, the heart and soul of their organization, is strong. Behavior is the same whether the leader is present or absent. Managers have their guideposts and make decisions because they know they have the trust and support of their leadership. Leaders talk and live their values and will not tolerate indifference to the organization’s common good.   

Assess and Articulate Culture  

Where do you see your culture? Given the current national movement to eradicate both racism and COVID-19, what do you stand for? As you shape your new normal, people are looking TO you for guidance and AT you as an example, more than ever. Espouse values to strengthen your common good while increasing your level of commitment to move towards an empowered culture. Here are three steps to help you assess and determine a path for your culture.   

1. Get a detailed understanding of your current culture by asking yourself and others a series of questions. Be honest and vulnerable. Plot your answers on the Culture Archetypes Chart, and as you do, decide what employees you are going to ask to answer the same questions. Do not let it be your clones or besties. Have the courage to seek those you trust and who think differently than you. 

  • Do leaders walk their talk? 
  • What are the “unwritten rules” for success? 
  • How do leaders respond to conflict, feedback, and missed suspenses?  
  • What motivates employees?

2.  Culture should be rising to the top of your priority list, so delegate other priorities so that you can work ON your business. Along with your C-suite, engage your middle management. Studies prove that corporate culture and employee engagement go hand in hand. With employees’ help, craft your new manifesto—those elements that will be the foundation of your common good. Make your values explicit.  

3.  Like promoting a new strategy, promote culture. It is one of the three legs of the stool, the organizational trinity, if you will, along with strategy and leadership. And remember, your microphone is always on, and someone is always watching. Be authentic and human, and let that openness be your competitive advantage.   

Enough 

Unanswered questions, soulless video calls, briefings, empty predictions about return dates, and budget cuts have filled the past three months. Add in the past few weeks, and the country has been overwhelmed with heartbreak, fear, frustration, confusion, and indignation. The sadness and uncertainty are gut-wrenching. Enough. As a veteran, I recall often hearing that we do not see color; we see Army green. I understand that we fight for and with each other—but no, I see you. I see your color and all the good things that you represent and contribute to our nation. I celebrate you.  

There is good on the horizon. You have the right tools to lead your team through these crises and create the foundations to prosper in the new normal of distributed workplaces. We will eradicate COVID-19, and with our collective energy, spirit, and humanness, we can end racism. As you align your internal compass, think about your team. Think about what you and they celebrate. Be a guiding light of certainty. Whether your employees return to work or you emerge out of COVID-19 as a distributed workplace, champion a culture where the common good will reign. Champion a culture where diversity and inclusion are as organic and natural to the collective mindset as revenue streams and inventory. It will take time, and you should be ready to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Recall the adage, evil triumphs when good people look the other way. Enough. Not today, COVID. Not today, racism. Not today, not any day.  

Also check out part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Are you trying to put the eggs back together or are you making omelets?

There’s a world of difference between the two approaches.

COVID-19 and the economic shutdown have wrecked the economy and created new social expectations.

People are unlikely to gather closely together until there’s a vaccine or herd immunity.

Open office plans – Good riddance.

Work from home or from remote locations is no longer scary. More employees are going to demand these options. Your culture needs to treat in-office and remote as equals or you will have two classes of employees.

Online conferences and training are productive and far less expensive than doing them in-person. There are trade-offs, of course, but leaders now have options.

It’s tempting to want to put the broken eggs back together, to return to the way things were in January 2020.

For some leaders, that’s reasonable.

For many, though, it’s a fool’s errand.

You will miss opportunities to restore your growth as you cling stubbornly to past practices and expectations.

You won’t adapt your flywheel, so your competitors will pass you by as you spend time, energy, and resources trying to recreate the past.

Your top talent will leave because you are out-of-step with people’s expectations. It’s like asking Millenials to accept a Mad Men workplace. Not going to happen.

Imagine what it would be like to be making omelets while everyone else is fumbling around with the eggshells?

This is exactly where you want to be – ahead of the curve.

Here are some practical questions to help you do that.

1. What emerging social and economic trends are affecting your customers?

2. What steps can you take to meet these new needs and expectations?

3. What trends, such as remote workplaces, are affecting your culture?

4. What steps should you take to meet these expectations?

5. What resources do you need to take these steps?

You got it. Five clarifying questions that help you make omelets when everyone else is staring at the broken shell and drifting yolk.

Overcommunicate is a terrible term, because it’s imprecise, confusing, and can lead to all sorts of goofy outcomes.

What, exactly, does overcommunicate mean: talk more, have more meetings, speculate out loud?

We have seen the outcomes of these kinds of practices. Some teams have tried cyber-micromanagement – keeping their people on an open video line all day.

Others have ramped up the frequency of meetings – many that have no clear agenda or outcomes.

We have seen the fear, anxiety, and confusion that comes from leaders speculating out loud, ruminating about internal deliberations, and providing fact-free timelines and promises.

Stop overcommunicating.

Start communicating clearly and building confidence that you’ve got the judgment to lead your team through the COVID crisis and into the recovery.

Here are some practical tips for doing that.

1. Set your cadence. Your rhythm of meetings and routines needs to be purposeful and predictable. These become your team’s handrails through the uncertainty as you cross the COVID-chasm below.

2.  Open channels. Make informal town-halls part of your cadence. Take questions from people during the session. Stick to the facts as you know them. Feel free to say, “I don’t know” and “We’re still discussing that and haven’t made a decision. I’m very interested in your ideas, too.” Make sure these are sessions where people feel safe to voice ideas, opinions, and concerns.

3. Get moving. Put together three-to-five simple scenario plans. What are the common elements? Once you identify those you can start moving forward. Identify the forks down the road and the information you need to know to decide which path to take.  

4. Keep everyone engaged. Let people know the what and the why as you get moving. Empower them to figure out how. This simple practice lowers the chaos, boosts confidence, and increases your command of the situation.

5. Watch, Listen and Learn. You’ve got two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. Watch and listen at least four times more than you speak. Ask questions and get people thinking and solving problems.

You got it. Five tips to stop the babble and build confidence in success. Bam!

How well are these tips working for you?  Send me a message and let me know.

We do not know what the post-crisis new normal will look like, but we can reasonably guess that distributed workplaces will be more norm than exception.

A distributed workforce creates distinct dilemmas for leaders. 

Monitoring work is much easier when everyone is in one place. For some, the open-office was the ultimate micro-management tool. Even so, two-thirds of American employees report being unengaged at work (Gallup). 

Micro-management ensures physical presence but does not seem to help much with engagement and productivity.

As more employees work from distributed locations, micromanagement becomes harder. 

A discussant at a recent webinar told us about a manager who required his employees to work in front of a live web-conferencing camera, so he could see that they were working. Others report incessant check-ins in which people need to explain what they are doing each hour of the day.

Yes, that’s a ton of time lost in micromanaging.

Culture is another dilemma. There is a considerable risk that managers will treat distributed or telework employees as second-class citizens, which is terrible for morale. 

Employees will vote with their feet and computers to a team that values their productivity.

Employee disengagement and turnover are a silent killer; they are the highest costs most companies face.

Here are three ways you can strengthen your culture is a distributed workplace.

First, Hire and Promote for Common-Good Fit.

There are a lot of essential cautions about hiring for culture fit, including undermining diversity and inclusion. Even if done well, hiring for culture fit is too-narrow. 

Hire and promote people who demonstrate a commitment to your Common Good: Vision, Mission, Goals, Values, Standards & Expectations, and Strategy.

Second, Align Work with Strengths.

Leaders should design work to fit employee strengths, rather than treating everyone as interchangeable cogs.

People who report that they use their strengths each day at work are likely to be two-three-times more engaged and productive than those who don’t (Buckingham and Goodall, Nine Lies About Work). 

Leaders who do this well use two frames

Broad Framing. Use archetypes, such as SLA’s PROM™ Archetypes (Pioneers, Reconcilers, Operators, and Mavericks), so they have a clear mental picture of their team and how to put the right people in the right roles. 

Pioneers are innovators, Reconcilers are consensus builders, Operators implement your plans to a high standard, and Mavericks solve big, wicked problems. 

Narrow framing. Assign specific tasks based on particular strengths and inclinations. Programs like Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder can help leaders and employees identify the tight framing best for each person.

Third, Develop your Team Leaders.

Your workplace culture is not what’s written on the walls. It’s the total of what happens in the halls and on the zoom calls. 

Your team leaders, all the way down to your first-line managers, are the ones who create your workplace culture, one interaction at a time. 

You can strengthen your culture by improving the quality of one-on-one engagements. 

Each leader, from CEO to first-line manager, should engage with their direct reports at least once per week. If you cannot do that, you have probably exceeded your span of control. 

These one-on-ones are the most impact meetings in your organization because their quality directly correlates to levels of productivity and engagement. 

There are four great questions you can use as a foundation for these weekly one-on-ones. SLA has created this tool that guides you through these simple questions. Use it with each of your direct reports. 

Pro-Tip: Have your direct reports complete the worksheet and send it to you in advance of the meeting

The distributed workplace is probably here to stay. These three action steps will help you strengthen your culture and morale as you lead your team through this crisis and create the foundations to prosper in the post-crisis new-normal.