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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.

The Crisis Lifecycle

Where Are You Looking?

Focus on priorities

The fears are real.  Coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) is upon us and will affect every individual in some way.  Whether you are now tele-working from home with three kids “helping” you, working double shifts at the hospital, or simply hoping to feel better since your test came back positive, we will all be affected by COVID-19.  Leaders across the nation and throughout the world are implementing measures that were unfathomable only a short month ago. So, what now?  

More than ever, 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.  And while we continue to stress social distancing, it is time for a reframe. Say no to social distancing and yes to physical distancing. Yep, keep that six feet between you and others but allow your heart, mind, ideas, kindness, love, and words to flourish.  Be creative, leverage technology and lean in deep to be more socially connected more than ever. Who are you inviting for a virtual dinner this evening? 

The fears are real.  They cut across organizations and have a real impact on teams, families, and individuals.  Heed the experts’ advice on how to minimize exposure to COVID-19. When we get beyond the peak, imagine that your leadership, your humanness is on trial.  Will you be convicted?  

This series of articles will share a view of working through a crisis and where to look to shape success.  It is intended to help you assess your leadership, culture, and strategy by discussing four phases: react, adjust, manage, and prosper (RAMP), and how they may affect you and your organization or business.  

React is the crisis mode where we implement our continuity plans—establish communications, account for people, and focus on select tasks.  This is also the time to assess your planning assumptions, something that will continue throughout the crisis.   

Adjust will help identify what elements of the plan proved useful, what was unnecessary, and what was missing.  Consider key variables that will shape the new normal.

Manage, unleash the power of your middle management, the heart and soul of your organization.  Get ahead of the curve by framing likely new normal scenarios and key indicators.  Plan the reintegration of your employees with new opportunities in a new and perhaps unchartered territory, market, or mission space.    

Prosper is your adjustments and new opportunities, with a strengthened core of middle managers, ready for a new normal.  Improve your team’s post-crisis outcomes by using a simple set of intelligence and planning techniques that keep you agile and oriented on the future.

While your teams and organization attempt to settle into new routines, where are you looking?  The reaction to this crisis is still on-going. As we enter this second week of change, many are still refining, or in some cases creating, procedures.  You have met with your senior leaders or C-suite, established and communicated your priorities. Now, assess yourself and your organization’s situation: 

  • Priority 1 – care for those in your charge; what is the succession plan for you and employees who may fall ill?
  • What are your touch points with customers/clients/students—those you serve?
  • Are you organized correctly for the circumstances?
  • What functions continue; what functions stop?
  • How are you making and documenting decisions?
  • Who else needs to know?  

There are a host of questions surrounding you and your team’s reaction.  Keep asking and let your employees surprise you with their innovation. Moreover, appreciate your improved self and organizational cultural awareness by conducting this assessment.  This crisis is extremely fluid so keep a view on the reaction but don’t be afraid to “raze your gaze” to what might be next. On that note, do not fail to imagine. Be well, stay healthy and safe!

Also check out part 2, part 3 and part 4.

RAMP – The Major Crisis Lifecycle™:

The Four Phases you need to Know

RAMP Crisis

When biking, do you focus on the pothole or where you want to go? 

I learned that lesson the hard way. The more I focused on the pothole, the more likely that I smacked right into it. 

That all changed when I focused on where I wanted to go instead. I maintained awareness of the pothole but concentrated on the path forward. 

Whew. No more face-plants or blown tires! 

Major crises tend to have a specific life-cycle. We call it RAMP: React, Adjust, Manage, Prosper. 

Organizations that fixate on the crisis tend to stay mired in it. They adapt too late to the new normal and often fail. The ones most likely to power through the crisis and prosper, put an eye on the future and begin working toward it. 

By now, you have gotten tons of advice on crisis management from some very talented people and organizations, like Jan Rutherford, Stan McChrystal, Bill Watkins, Harvard Business Review, and McKinsey, to name a few. 

You have put the best ideas into practice. You are starting to get on top of things again.

Here’s the problem with staying focused on crisis management: you fixate on the crisis rather than anticipate and shape the future.

You are at risk of staring at the pothole. 

You need to keep one eye on the crisis; you need to set your other eye forward.

Crises tend to follow a life-cycle. It goes something like this.

1. React. Government, business, and nonprofit leaders, and others take measures to address the crisis. T
he novelty of the situation and inadequate information undermine decision-making. Some actions turn out to be insufficient; many wind up being excessive; others are spot-on. The back and forth is a normal response to uncertainty, but it is not the new normal.   

2. Adjust. As the novelty wears off and better information becomes available, leaders adjust their policies for a more significant effect. They strengthen the inadequate measures and modify the excessive ones. Leaders and policy-makers are now making fine rather than coarse corrections. The downward spiral stops, and the situation begins to stabilize. 

3. Manage. The crisis wears off, and the situation stabilizes. Sound policies are in place and need only minor adjustments. This situation is the New Normal, a post-crisis status quo. New rules, written and unwritten, govern the marketplace. Many organizations that survived the worst parts of the crisis get caught flat-footed here because they presume things will return to the pre-crisis status quo. 

4. Prosper. The New Normal creates new opportunities and risks. Some of these are traditional ones in a post-crisis context. Others emerge as needs and interests adapt to the New Normal. Overall economic growth resumes.

Organizations that anticipate the New Normal are best positioned to power through the crisis and thrive afterward. High tech companies like Apple and Google did this well as the 2008 financial crisis subsided. Ford avoided a bailout. 

Most companies and nonprofits adjust too slowly because they do not keep an eye on the future. They follow the pack, which always swings way behind the pitch. Companies like General Motors and big banks survived thanks to government bailouts. Others managed to make the big leap on their own. 

1.8 million small businesses reportedly failed due to the financial crisis. The gap between capabilities and new opportunities was too big.

To help you follow the green line, we are putting together a series of free webinars.

During these sessions, you will:

  • Gain a clear eye on the future by discussing the RAMP stages and how they affect you and your business;
  • Boost your clarity and confidence as you exchange tips and insights with a high-performing peer group;
  • Slash engagement-distancing by examining ways to keep everyone focused, connected, and using their strengths;
  • Anticipate the New Normal by considering the key variables that will shape it;
  • Get ahead of the curve by framing likely New Normal scenarios and key indicators;
  • Improve your team’s post-crisis outcomes by using a simple set of intelligence and planning techniques that keep you agile and oriented on the future
  • Avoid the expensive mistakes of trying to crystal-ball the future and being locked into a losing plan.

The live webinar is on Friday, March 27, 3-4 pm Central Time. Register here.

When you are ready, here are four great ways to work together

Speaking: Do you want a professional keynote speaker to talk with your team on leadership, culture, and strategy? I’ve talked to business, NFL, academic, government, nonprofit, and military audiences. I always tailor the presentation to you, so the message inspires action for you and your team. I’m a professional member of the National Speakers Association, which means I have a proven track record of professionalism and performance.

Training: If you want an even higher impact for your team, training and workshops are a great way to go. I teach teams and organizations on a range of Leadership, Culture, and Strategy themes, to include: how to elevate your team’s performance, how to build a culture of excellence, how to slash employee burnout and turnover, how to develop a winning strategy and how to prevent expensive mistakes. Programs for you range from half-day primers to three-day intensives, to include offsite at places like Normandy and Gettysburg.

Self-Directed Courses: Do you want your team to stay engaged on these key themes but do not want to send them away to an executive education course? We have a suite of online programs that are perfect for you. The courses are excellent ways to follow-up a training event to keep your team learning at your own pace.

Consulting: Do you want to improve your leadership development programs, build a culture of excellence, and create a winning strategy? Unlike the big, gucci, consulting firms that are slow, bureaucratic, and stick you with junior MBAs, I work personally with you and your team, so you get results quickly and cost-effectively with no hassle.

What results can you expect? Check out these video testimonials.
Reach out to me anytime you are curious about working together.