Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan are rightly two of the most respected chief executives of two of our smartest companies. They are both so smart that they each announced their return-to-work policy for all their employees. Tim Cook announced that all his employees will return to work at their campus three days a week. Jamie Dimon announced that all his employees will return to their offices full-time.
When I was growing up one of the most popular TV shows was Father Knows Best. It was filmed in black and white. Mr. Anderson (Robert Young) arrived home from work every day and was met by his beautiful wife (Jane Wyatt) always wearing a dress covered by an apron to announce that dinner was ready. Of course, there was always a minor drama as one of the children had created some mess, but don’t worry…. Father always knew best.
The employees of Apple have written to Tim Cook to inform him that we are no longer filming in black and white. The social experiment forced by Covid19 have proven that the conformity of workplace routine are now filmed in Technicolor. Every employee, every team, every department in every company is different from the next and its work practice, remote, hybrid, and flexible, must be designed by the employees in that area. This is the purpose of my new course on Managing the Post-Covid Hybrid Work System. It is about flexible design, self-management, and employee responsibility.
Please read this article about the Apple decision and the employee response in Quartz. It perfectly describes why the CEO, even the smartest of them, should not be telling all the employees what their work system will look like in the future. Father doesn’t know best!
The letter from employees to Tim Cook was written by more than 80 collaborating employees. A few quotes from the letter are instructive:
“For many of us at Apple, we have succeeded not despite working from home, but in large part because of being able to work outside the office,” the letter stated. “The last year has felt like we have truly been able to do the best work of our lives for the first time, unconstrained by the challenges that daily commutes to offices and in-person co-located offices themselves inevitably impose; all while still being able to take better care of ourselves and the people around us.”
“Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored. Messages like, “we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office,” with no messaging acknowledging that there are directly contradictory feelings amongst us feels dismissive and invalidating.
“We are living proof that there is no one-size-fits-all policy for people. For Inclusion and Diversity to work, we have to recognize how different we all are, and with those differences, come different needs and different ways to thrive. We feel that Apple has both the responsibility to recognize these differences, as well as the capability to fully embrace them.”
Apple employees made specific recommendation, all related to the need for a bottom design process:
- We are formally requesting that Apple considers remote and location-flexible work decisions to be as autonomous for a team to decide as are hiring decisions.
- We are formally requesting a company-wide recurring short survey with a clearly structured and transparent communication / feedback process at the company-wide level, organization-wide level, and team-wide level, covering topics listed below.
- We are formally requesting a question about employee churn due to remote work be added to exit interviews.
- We are formally requesting a transparent, clear plan of action to accommodate disabilities via onsite, offsite, remote, hybrid, or otherwise location-flexible work.
- We are formally requesting insight into the environmental impact of returning to onsite in-person work, and how permanent remote-and-location-flexibility could offset that impact.
Whether it is the process I have defined in my course, or some other, this is a time to recognize that the children have grown up, they are capable of designing their own work system, within boundaries and to support the company’s goals.
Having recently completed my course on the Hybrid Organization it has occurred to me how essential it is that employees develop effective self-management skills. From the culture of control dominant in the 20th Century manufacturing organization to the knowledge-work economy of the 21st Century there has been a gradual path from top-down to bottom-up, from a culture of control to a culture of self-control and self-management. In between has been the focus on small groups, the work team, that is still the essential unit of organization.
The pandemic lockdown of 2020 greatly accelerated that transition as most corporations are now wrestling with the design of a post-Covid organization and work practices. While some executives such as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan are insisting that employees return to the office, he may be creating a competitive disadvantage as employees report they are willing to change jobs if required to return to the old in-office requirement.
It is very clear to me that the future will be dominated by flexible organizations with flexible (hybrid) work arrangements. But what are the key skills that will enable that organization to be successful? I think there are two and they are not about technology. First, effective team leadership and facilitation to assure rapid problem-solving and continuous improvement; second, promoting the skills of employee self-management, enabling bottom-up management of performance.
Several surveys, including my own which you can find here, point to the belief among employees that they were more productive working from home and had higher job satisfaction. This is a benefit to all concerned.
The challenge now is to both design this hybrid/flexible organization and to increase the capability of team members to manage their own performance in a remote setting. I believe that there has been almost no attention paid by corporations to the development of self-management skills. Why not? I think the answer is that the assumption has always been that you aren’t managed by yourself, but by your manager. Hence, billions of dollars spent on management training, and none devoted to building self-management skills. I don’t know whether this will change soon, but the logic of it seems obvious to me. For this reason, I devoted about a third of my course to employee self-management skills. It is a subject on which I would love to have input and feedback.
The following is a checklist of sixteen self-management practices that I suggest as a self-assessment in my course. What would you add to this list? I would love to hear your suggestions.
I have a “place of work” at home that I can control and be in a “work mindset.”
|I have a regular time at which I enter my “place of work.”|
|I have a regular “order of work” such as first read and respond to emails, then begin work on projects, etc.|
|I assure that my place of work is not cluttered with distractions and is in a regular order when I am finished for the day.|
|I know the scorecard, what and when we are to accomplish milestones, for my team.|
|I set my own short-term goals for my own work accomplishments.|
|I set my own long-term goals for my work accomplishments.|
|I share my goals with some family or friend who can provide encouragement.|
|I have some form of visual display that indicates my progress toward my goals.|
|If I live with family members or friends, I have reached agreements regarding the use of my time, when I can be with them and when I must be left to my work.|
|Breaks and exercise are essential to healthy work. I have a regular schedule to exercise (walk the dog, etc.)|
|I get help from a team member with whom I agree to share my work and work schedule so that I get feedback and encouragement from that team member.|
|I reward myself for either intermediate or long-term goal achievement.|
|I schedule time with my manager to receive his/her feedback and coaching.|
|When I receive feedback or coaching from my manager, I write down actions I can take to improve my own performance and I share those actions with my manager.|
|When I commit to any action to improve, I write that down and visually display a note to remind myself of that action.|
Post Covid We Enter a New Age of Hybrid, Flexible Work System Built on Trust and Self-Management,
In the year 2020 we experienced the most massive social experiment in human history. In every company, in every country, on every continent we suddenly went from the necessity of “going to work” to the necessity of NOT going to work. There are lessons from this unintended experiment that will change our models of work forever. We are now entering an age of hybrid organizations with a flexible mix of at home and onsite work. Now we must figure out how to make this successful. That is the subject of this course.
Every organization must redesign its own work, teams and relationships to take advantage of the lessons that we can both perform much of our work from home and experience increased job satisfaction and productivity. Even the U.S. Federal Governments has accepted the new reality of hybrid organizations and is engaged in creating new rules and a new culture.
This course is based on many years of designing organizations to be self-managing. It not only addresses management’s responsibility to redesign systems and structures and management need to adopt new skills and style; but also, the employee’s responsibility to manage their own work, space and motivation and to become great team members taking ownership of their own performance. Please have a look at the free introductory lectures.
The course includes action learning assignments and recommends a blended learning model with learning teams and coaching. It also includes 30 downloadable case studies, exercises, and other resources.
The Social Responsibilities of Corporations and Their Leaders
Or, why you should not just “shut up and dribble!”
Business is not only about making money. It is about creating wealth – not merely personal wealth but the aggregate wealth of society. Peter Drucker said that business has only two functions – innovation and marketing. Innovations in technology, services and products are exactly what creates wealth.
As a leader in your business market, you are responsible for developing conscious knowledge of your larger purpose and your impact on society. From Henry Ford to Jamie Dimon our corporate leaders have taken a stand on the social issues impacting their customers and country. In each of my courses I have attempted to create a foundation in worthy purpose, and most specifically in my course on Transformational Leadership I propose a system of corporate values.
Two things happened this week that prompt my writing today. First, Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the Senate “warned” (his word) that “corporations should stay out of politics.” The irony was thick. He quickly followed up with “I am not speaking about donating to political parties, they should continue to donate.” A politician once told LeBron James, after he spoke out on a social issue that “he should just shut up and dribble!” I have some advice for Mitch McConnell. I would not advise telling LeBron James to just shut and dribble; and I would not “warn” the CEO’s of J.P. Morgan, Coca-Cola, or Delta Airlines to stay out of politics. I have worked with CEOs of major corporations for many years. To put it in simple language, these are tough guys (or gals). You simply do not “warn” them to do or not do anything. They will not react well. You might suggest, advise, ask… but not warn! The Republican party has long argued that corporations have the same rights as individual citizens to freedom of expression and to support political causes. They are, and will continue to do so.
The second thing that happened this week is that corporations and their leaders took an assertive stand on several critical social issues, in particular the issue of voting rights. Many chief executives write an annual letter to shareholders and some of these letters are expressions, not only of the past year’s performance and future business plans, but of the greater values of the corporation and its leaders. This week Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan-Chase published his annual letter to shareholders, and it is worth studying for its implications for the role of corporations in our society. You can download it here.
If you scroll down to page 10 of his letter, past the financial performance section, you will find an outline of what he chooses to discuss in the remaining 66 pages. I will point you particularly to the first and second section: The Corporate Citizen: The Purpose of a Corporation; and Lessons from Leadership. While it is all worth reading, let me point to a couple highlights under each.
The Corporate Citizen:
When you read Dimon’s discussion of shareholder value he makes clear that he is not just speaking of short-term profits returned to shareholders. The following are a few quotes regarding Dimon’s understanding of Corporate Citizenship:
- “The problem with the American public’s impression of “shareholder value” is that too many people interpret it to mean short-term, rapacious profit taking – which, ironically is the last thing that leads to building real, long-term shareholder value…. A company is like a team. We must do many things well to succeed, and, ultimately, that leads to creating shareholder value.”
- “JPMorgan Chase takes an active role in large-scale public policy issues. We are fully engaged in trying to solve some of the world’s biggest issues – climate change, poverty, economic development and racial inequality – and the accompanying features that follow describe the extensive efforts we are making.”
- “JPMorgan Chase introduced The Path Forward in October 2020, committing $30 billion over the next five years to address the key drivers of the racial wealth divide, reduce systemic racism against Black and Latinx people, and support employees. The firm has made tangible progress to date.”
Lessons from Leadership:
I think we learn to be effective leaders by observing and modeling the behavior of other successful leaders. In my courses I attempt to present many models of highly effective leaders. It is worth hearing from this successful leader what he considers to be some key lessons currently.
- “A good decision-making process involves having the right people in the room with all information fully shared (all too often I have seen precisely the opposite). There is also the need for constant feedback and follow-up. A bad decision-making process kills.”
- “It is helpful to try to separate and examine actual raw data versus calculated numbers.” (This is the equivalent in bankers’ terms of the lean principle of “go-and-see” or Go to the Gemba.)
- “While I am fanatical about detail and multi-year analysis, it’s important to be cautious about its application… Bureaucrats can torture people with analysis, stifling innovation, new products, testing and intuition.”
- “As companies get bigger and more complex, leaders need to be more like coaches and conductors than players. If CEOs are running a smaller business, they can literally be involved in virtually everything and make most of the decisions – they often rely on traditional command-and-control tactics. This approach does not work as companies get bigger – the CEOs simply cannot be involved in every major decision.”
There is a lot more good advice in the letter, and I recommend that you read it in its entirety. It is a good lesson in both corporate citizenship and leadership. We need all corporate leaders to be socially aware and responsible for more than their short-term financial performance, but for their contribution to the creation of the aggregate wealth of society. Do not just “shut up and dribble!”
Let’s get to the point. Udemy’s Black Friday sale is on and now is the time invest in courses at the lowest price and which will build your own personal value in the marketplace, your brand equity.
Let me make two recommendations that you may not have considered. Most of those who will receive this are managers or change agents and you do not think of yourself as a “salesperson.” But… please consider this. Those who rise in organizations, those who become partners in the law firm, principles in the consulting firm, or directors/VPs in any corporation are not only skilled in their function. They know how to bring in the business. They know how to build long-term trusting relationships. That is the essence of Consultative Selling. It is the low anxiety way to sell in the true spirit of service. Nothing will enhance your value more than consultative selling skills.
One of the most critical, and too often missing skills, in our organizations is the ability to think through and redesign the system and structures that determine human behavior and performance. High performing, lean organizations, are designed! They are not an accident. My course on Strategy Execution is a comprehensive course on designing your organization’s systems and structure – its culture – to achieve strategic improvement. If you can do this, you are among the most valued members of your organizations team.
Now is the time to build your skills with any of the following courses, and now is the time to capture them at the lowest possible cost!
- Sales Skills Training: Consultative Selling Master Class
- Lean Leadership, Lean Culture & Change Management: Designing the System of Continuous Improvement
- Leading Virtual Teams – A Quick Course
- Coaching Leaders for Success
- Giving and Receiving Feedback – A Quick Course
- Moral Leadership: The Principles of Transformational Leaders
- Management Skills: Essentials for the New Manager
- Leadership and Life Cycles
- Team Facilitation: The Core Skill of Great Team Leaders
- Motivation: The Science of Motivating Yourself and Your Team
- Lean Problem-Solving for Team Members and Team Leaders
- Team Leadership – Team Leadership Skills Master Class
- Strategy Execution – The Agile/Lean Way
Intellectual Curiosity and Reason:
I am reading Steven Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now in which he goes over the transformations in thought brought about by the Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century. Our Founding Fathers – Jefferson, Madison, Paine, etc. were the intellectual children of the enlightenment thinkers (Hobbs, Locke, Rousseau). The leaders who established our greatness were intellectuals and spoke several languages. The Jefferson library is a reflection of the workings of his mind. They knew history and thought deeply about the flow of civilization.
Pinker says there were four themes of the enlightenment: reason, science, humanism, and progress. What our founders did was to attempt to make those ideals the foundation of a system of government, which had never been done before. No King, no Divine Right, no adherence to religious dogma that characterized every prior government and no religious wars that had burdened Europe for centuries. Freedom of speech, press, and religion as foundational thoughts that were the essence of enlightenment thinking. As imperfect as their creation was, they were only human, it nevertheless established the expectation that you had the right to equal treatment under the law. It didn’t establish the reality of those expectations, but there would be no “good trouble” if those expectations were not established. The American story is the story of striving to achieve them.
It is an odd thing to say, but if you feel that you are not treated equally and you are upset about that, you owe that emotion to the expectations authored by Jefferson, Madison and Paine. If you lived in sixteenth century Europe the expectation of equal treatment would never occur to you and you would be spared that feeling of injustice. Cognitive dissonance is the root of progress.
2. Servant Leadership:
George Washington, who did not want to be president and did not campaign for it, established the ideal of the leader as servant of the people, unlike the reverse that had been true for millenniums. At the Constitutional Convention at which he was clearly the most revered man, he sat at the back of the room and only spoke twice and did not take sides in debates, which were many. Both times he spoke it was to remind the delegates to collect their papers. How is this then leadership? Sometimes leadership is to be present, to listen, to encourage, and to be a force of example rather than a dominant force. Sometimes strength is silence.
In my opinion every citizen should be required to read, no study, Washington’s Farewell Address in which he voiced his two greatest fears for the new nation: entanglement with and influence by foreign powers, and what he termed the “spirit of party” that he already saw emerging around Hamilton and Jefferson. He always encouraged unity and feared disunity. Every good general knows that you are strong when united and weak when divided.
If we want to make America great again, we must again have leaders who view themselves as servants and not as the center of greatness themselves, leaders who unite and do not divide.
3. Thomas Paine and the Age of Reason:
As Washington’s troops crossed the Delaware in a blizzard, some barefoot, hungry and freezing, he had the captains of each boat read aloud passages from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. It was the inspiration for the revolution. And then Paine wrote the Age of Reason in which he literally tears the Bible apart, pointing out contradiction after contradiction, and repeated genocidal madness allegedly in God’s name. Paine was a Deist, one who believes in God but finds the perfection of God in His own Creation, nature, and believes that the Bible and the religions of the day were an insult to God’s own perfect work. Imagine if you will, a modern politician having the nerve to write a blistering critique of the Bible. At the same time Jefferson was re-writing the Bible himself. Could a politician survive such a thing today? But, at the founding of this country the belief in reason, science and humanism were the foundation of what did make us great.
Thomas Paine was a man of incredible intellectual courage. After the American Revolution he wrote The Rights of Man in defense of the French Revolution, left for France and served in legislature and even in French prisons until rescued by James Monroe, then Ambassador to France. He was more dedicated to the ideas of constitutional government and natural rights than he was to any country. He influenced the course of government in the United States, France and Britain. He was a leader of thought and a revolutionary of ideas. This too is a form of leadership.
We were not made great by rugged individualists doing their own thing. The pilgrims and other odd religious groups who came to these shores relied on their collective power, their community. And, when the Europeans moved west, they did so in groups that supported one another. Farmers worked together to build barns, to share seed, and to create collective marketing organizations. The term “farmers cooperatives” became common in the mid-west states. Communitarianism built the social fabric of the nation. Communal social effort has always been our strength. It was not the heroic charismatic leader, but the ability to enable to the collective power of community.,
5. Public Education:
Free and compulsory government funded education created the middle class in America. This was an American invention. In the early 1800’s, beginning in New England, public schools were established. Without public education only the wealthy could attend school, cementing the divide between an upper and lower class. This government funded social service expanded to the idea of land grant colleges and university so that today every state has a University of Georgia and a Georgia State or Georgia Tech universities. This was all established by our government in the shared believe that educated citizens were required for a democracy and for economic progress. One might call this a great experiment in “social engineering.” If one believes that government funded, and even required, services is a dictatorship of socialism than you can thank this socialism for creating this country as we know it.
I’ll stop. Those are some of the things that leaders did that I believe did make America great. As we consider our own standards of leadership, our expectations of leaders, perhaps there are some lessons for us in this history.
It is the job of leaders to create trust between leader and led, between the institutions of governance and those who are governed. Udemy recently asked me for comments on this topic that were just published in FastCompany Magazine. My friend, Payam Zamani, tech entrepreneur and CEO of OnePlanet also just published an article on the national crisis of trust and the danger of the decline of this nation.
For fear of mixing business and politics I have been hesitant to speak out on the current crisis in this country, which is much larger than the Covid19 pandemic. It is the crisis that will determine whether this country (the U.S.) remains a great nation. We have been great, precisely because we have been open to immigration and because we have embraced alliances around the world, promoting democracy and human rights, the values of this country. We have, in the past been united around the core values that did make this country great – opportunity, equality, democracy and justice for all – but, greatness requires vigilance and now is the time for us all to be vigilant.
Trust is the social glue that unites a cultures. All cultures are either in the process of integrating or disintegrating, creating cultural cohesion or dissension, and economic growth has proven to be correlated with high levels of trust and economic decline correlated with the absence of trust (see Francis Fukuyama’s book Trust). Trust is social capital and the World Bank has recognized the essential nature of building social capital to achieve economic development. The same is true within a corporation as it is in nations. High levels of internal trust result in high levels of creativity and problem solving. We create and expand in an environment of trust, and the reverse is true. We retreat when we fear the outside world, our competitors, and that retreat is followed by disintegration of brand equity. Leaders create trust and expansion; anti-leaders create fear and retreat.
Arnold Toynbee studied the rise and fall of 23 civilizations and among his conclusions was that great civilizations are never defeated by the external barbarians, but always by internal disintegration and what he called the “loss of self-determination.” They decline when they are at their most powerful and most wealthy, when they reach a “condition of ease.”
This is also a failure of leadership. Leaders emerge from the culture but they also shape and give direction to the culture. The first job of leaders is to create unity of purpose, common cause, common challenge and unite people in shared effort. Leaders must define our ennobling purpose, and challenge us to arise to that purpose. Purpose creates unity. If we don’t select leaders who will do that we will continue to disintegrate and decline. When leaders spread distrust they are essentially engaged in an act of collective suicide.
What can a leader do to build trust within his or her company (or country)?
- What is our worthy purpose? Why are we here? What will be our (or my) legacy when we are done? Defining our personal purpose and the purpose of the group of people whom we seek to lead is the essential cornerstone of leadership and growth. The President of the United States, like the president of a company, must define the purpose not only of their administration, but of the country at large. I always understood that our purpose was not only within, but was expansive – to promote democracy, free enterprise, human rights to the entire world. If we believe in these values we must speak up! We must promote them to the world and encourage countries and leaders who do the same.
- Take Ownership of Performance: Can you image the president of a company openly disparaging his own company, disparaging the human resource department, the marketing or manufacturing and causing employees to not trust their own company? Impossible. He would be fired. The job of the president of a company or country is to make things work! It is a simple idea. But, a company president is judged by the performance of that company. To perform, all the pieces (engineering, marketing, etc.) must work together, united in both process and principles. Trust builds performance and distrust destroys performance.
- Fact Based Transparency: Some leaders believe in their own words, their theories, more than they believe in facts. Great executives are obsessed with understanding the facts. They study, they read, they listen to others with more expertise in different subjects. They are good students first, good executives second. Then they openly share the data, good or bad, and confront reality with action. Sharing the data and explaining the data to employees in frank and honest terms. Particularly in this time of the pandemic crisis, every employee understands that their company is being impacted by disruptions in markets and supply chains. Share the data and be absolutely frank in explaining what the data is telling you and how you are responding. This creates trust and loyalty in followers.
- Be absolutely humble! We don’t trust people who feel a need to congratulate themselves. Admit mistakes. You will gain respect for engaging in self-reflection. Arrogance is the enemy of learning and destroys trust. Humility is an attitude of learning that gains trust.
- Talk Continuous Improvement: In this age every employee understands that there are no absolutes – no perfect process, no final destination in performance. Talk about the journey… where we have been and where we are going and what we are doing to get there. Employees want to know that their leaders are themselves engaged in continuous improvement. Be the model! If employees hear you talk about your efforts to continuously improve, they will trust you more and they will be motivated to engage in continuous improvement.
- Give Credit to Others: Always share credit for any success with others. I want to be on your team if I see you sharing success with your team members. And, your team will then take responsibility for failures and for continued improvement.
I know the above comments have swung back and forth between business and larger societal issues. Principles that matter apply to leadership of self, company and country in almost identical ways. I tried, in my course on Transformational Leadership to capture the most important principles that I feel are essential for leaders who will build trust. It is the essence of leadership.
Virtual Teams are Now, Everywhere, and Everyone is on One! Lead them Well!
The Covid-19 crisis is changing everything… what we do in our spare time, our relationships, and how we do our work. It seems that almost everyone is working from home and many our struggling with the difficulties associated with virtual work and virtual team meetings.
I would love it if you would share some of your own experiences, challenges and tips for others. Email them two me at LMMiller@lmmiller.com and I will share them with others.
About two years ago I developed and published a course on Udemy presenting the critical skills of leading successful virtual team meetings. Instantly, so it seems, it is one of my best selling courses. This post is a reminder that it is there and you may find it useful now more than ever.
The issue of how best to manage virtual teams has become a significant issue for many organizations. It was one of the topics that Udemy for Business customers indicated was a high priority. You may have received a request to participate in an online survey on your experience with virtual teams a couple months back. I promised to share the results of that survey and I have developed an online course to train managers and facilitators to manage virtual or dispersed teams.
Here is a coupon for the Leading Virtual Teams.
You can see the complete results of the survey here: Virtual Team Survey
Here are some of the highlights from the survey:
The survey asked “What one piece of advice do you have for others leading virtual teams?”
- Make sure the team has a clear charter.
- The agenda is key
- Send agenda, send reminders, send action plans before and after meetings.
- Rotate facilitation
- Ensure engagement and ownership of tasks
- Pause and wait for others to respond
- Spell out the guidelines and enforce them
- Distinguish between “review/update” meetings vs. “problem solving.”
- Be as inclusive as possible.
- Make sure you can SEE each other.
- Keep and publish attendance record.
Somewhat to my surprise, those responding indicated that the technology was more problematic than the behavior of members.
I also asked about the software they were using and how satisfied they were with that software. The software that received the highest satisfaction was Zoom.
By far the biggest problem reported by those leading virtual meetings is simply keeping participants focused and engaged, rather than multi-tasking and distracted. In my course I recommend a number of strategies to maintain engagement of those participating in virtual team meetings.
“Also make it clear that multitasking on calls isn’t OK. According to a recent study,82% of people admit to doing other things—from surfing the web to using the bathroom—during team calls. But virtual collaboration requires that everyone be mentally present and engaged. Explain your policy, and when the group has a virtual meeting, regularly call on people to share their thoughts. Better yet, switch to video, which can essentially eliminate multitasking.” HBR Dec 2014
Many of the issues faced by leaders of virtual teams are the same as those facilitating in-person meetings. I have tried to address the key facilitaton skills that apply to both virtual and non-virtual meetings in my online course.
“Of 1,700 knowledge workers surveyed, 79% reported working always or frequently in dispersed teams. Armed with laptops, Wi-Fi, and mobile phones, most professionals can do their jobs from anywhere.” Harvard Business Review, Dec 2014
Here are some additional references that you may find helpful.
- Getting Virtual Teams Right – Harvard Business Review
- Making Virtual Teams Work: Ten Basic Principles
- Four Habits of Highly Effective Virtual Teams
- Make Remote Work Work
As I reflect on my own life and on human history with each crisis, each time I felt doom, or the world faced an apparent apocalypse there was an opportunity to be seized. Leadership is recognizing a challenge and responding creatively to that challenge.
With daily reports of the spread of the Covid-19 virus, cancelation of conferences, closing of schools and corporate travel restrictions it is time to think creatively about how to respond to the crisis. Within every crisis is the challenge of creativity, to try out new ways of thinking and getting the job done.
Most corporations are now cancelling gatherings of managers and employees for training and development. But that should not halt learning and development. Rather, it should force new ways of thinking about how we learn and develop our employees. We may discover more efficient and more effective ways of getting the job done.
I am not without bias. With sixteen online courses that can all be viewed from home or the workplace 24/7, I can’t help but think that this is a time when corporations should employ online courses to the maximum benefit.
But how can a company make the most of remote online learning during this crisis? Here are some suggestions:
First, don’t promote a scattered approach in which you say, “Here’s a catalog of courses, go take what you want.” That sounds too much like “we don’t have any plan, so make up your own.” Far better to have a change strategy and assign courses that contribute to that strategy. If you are pursuing lean culture than assign a course on that topic.
Employ a “blended learning” model that does not simply rely on watching videos or reading books, but combines knowledge acquisition, action-learning, group reflection and accountability. Let’s break that down.
1. Make it an Assignment: Let me assume you are pursuing lean management, eliminating waste and engaging all employees. My course TEAM KATA: Lean Leadership Skills for High Performing Teams is designed with that intention. Assign all the managers in a business unit to take that course over the next two months. Do not make it optional, a suggestion, or a nice thing to do. Explain that we are going to take this time to focus on developing the capacity of all of our teams to improve processes and eliminate waste. Let’s all do it together. There is power in group action. Be sure that the leadership teams in the organization are taking the same course and modeling the same behavior.
2. Structured Reflection and Action: Create a structure of study circles. If you have fifty managers in an organization create eight to ten groups who can go through the course together, and section by section, once a week meet to reflect on how they are applying their knowledge to their team. Sharing is critical to internalizing new habits. A good course presents assignments that are designed to turn knowledge into action in the workplace. By participating in a small group that shares the challenge of implementing the lessons, there is an inherent accountability. Learning often occurs from one’s peers who are discovering how best to develop a team scorecard, create standard work, emply process maps or problem solving.
3. Assign Team Coaches: You do not have to be a credentialed, certified coach to help others. Within every organization there is someone who can be selected to provide feedback, encouragement, and share knowledge and experience across teams. If you know that a coach is going to visit your team and observe your team meeting, and who then gives the leader feedback on how she facilitated the team, it is a strong encouragement to both learn and act.
4. Recognize and Celebrate Effort: At the outset of this structured learning process, make it clear that there are consequences for going through the course and for applying the knowledge to the workplace. What is the “so-what?” of the effort to go through the course and make the effort, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. One answer is to create a “belt” recognition within your company. You can award yellow, blue, whatever color belts for completing the course and for achieving results through action. Do not award recognition for simply watching videos. Award some symbol of recognition for action – behavior and performance.
Whether or not you are using my courses or someone else’s, these four components are essential to maximizing the value of remote learning. Of course, it is still beneficial to gather managers together for experiential learning, shared experience and listen to brilliant speakers. But the current crisis calls on all learning and development managers to experiment with improved methods of remote learning.
Remote or online learning is most effective when combined with coaching, action assignments and recognition. This is “blended learning.”
The following is an example of course section from my Team Kata course, the Team Tasks, and the related Coaching Questions to develop the “kata” of high performing teams. Please click on the images to enlarge.
You may have seen the following chart which defines the sections of my Team Kata course on one axis and the completion of action-learning assignments on the other. By completing both you move from lower left to upper right. At some point near the top you can say that a team, and its leader, have achieved the status of a high performing team and the award of Green Belt for that achievement. For an organization, what percent of the managers and teams have achieved this status? That again is another way of creating accountability and recognition.
Periodically I review my online courses to search for ways they can be improved. I recently made some improvements to the first course I created, Team Leadership, and as I was working on it I was reminded that this course is really about a system of knowledge, of systemic learning, that is lacking in most companies.
Having worked for more than forty years with companies like Honda, Shell Oil, Merck, Corning and others, trying to build a culture of teamwork, empowerment, and lean processes, I have observed a few key reasons for successful or failed change.
As you consider your plans for the New Year, consider designing your lean efforts with the following components of a system of learning:
- Lead! Adopt a Philosophy of Shared Practice, Language and Skills:
It was a long time ago, back in the 1970’s while working in textile mills in the South that my associates and I realized you could not simply train first level supervisors and expect them to change their method of dealing with employees. We tried to teach them to focus on data, to engage employees as a team in keeping score and problem solving, and to employ positive reinforcement rather than punishment. We soon realized that they would try to make this change, but their own managers above, had been promoted because they had used the very negative management style we were trying to change. They soon reverted to the behavior of their leaders.
It wasn’t until we went to the CEO or business unit head and said that “you must BE the change, you must lead!” that we began to achieve permanent and lasting change. For many years, when selling our services to major corporations, I challenged the CEO to be the change, to go through the same training and do the same action steps that we were going to ask of every other manager. I challenged them to lead! They always agreed. I did sometimes need to remind them of their commitment.
More than once I have observed that the effectiveness of teams, the ability to use problem solving methods and tools, is better at lower levels and worse above. I have coached senior management teams going through the Team Leadership course to do the exact same things as first level teams – define their scorecard, graph their performance, use the PDCA or A3 methodology, define leader standard work, and map their processes. By doing these things they both gain understanding of their value, and they model the behavior for those below. Do it at every level…together! Unity of practice is powerful.
2. Manage the Change – Institute Accountability and Motivation for Lean Practices:
I do not know why it is, but when it comes to changing the culture, managers seem to abandon every good management practice. They imagine that the culture is too complex to apply objectives, measurement and accountability. They are wrong.
I think one of the most useful things I have ever developed is this simple spreadsheet and graphic (at the top) that defines both training modules and the “deliverables”, the action-learning steps that are associated with each module. It is downloadable within the Team Leadership course. One axis defines the learning modules, the knowledge. The other axis defines the “deliverables” action steps. Knowledge, plus action, plus feedback equals sustained change.
As you progress through the course you fill in the arrows that correspond to each module completed and each corresponding practice that you have implemented. This gives a quick visual representation of the progress you are making. I have visited clients and walked through the offices and production area and seen this printed out and posted on bulletin boards for each team, including the senior management team! You can quickly see the progress, or the absence of progress. It is accountability, feedback and reinforcement.
When your team reaches the upper right on the chart you have achieved the status of a High Performing Team.
Why is it that every athlete, from the child in Little League to Tom Brady or Roger Federer, has a coach, but we in management feel that we are somehow above the need for a coach.
- Provide Coaching for Every Team and Leader:
We know how new habits develop. It is not a mystery. Knowledge, motivation, practice, and feedback. It is the design of the Team Leadership course to provide the knowledge of team leadership and the functioning of high performing teams. But there must also be the motivation (accountability and reinforcement), as well as direct coaching and feedback.
Over the many dozens of clients who I have helped to develop a system of teams from top to bottom, we have trained and developed internal coaches, drawn from the ranks of line managers and employees, to provide coaching to all teams and all team leaders. This has been successful at creating a lasting change in the habits of both leaders and teams.
In my latest changes to my Team Leadership course I have included both my Team Kata book and my Lean Coach book to assist with the development of the internal coaching process. The following maps illustrate the sections of the Team Leadership course, the action learning assignments, and the coaching questions that a coach might ask the team leader or the entire team. If this discipline is followed, it is certain to significantly improve the functioning of every team and their ability to improve performance.
- Constancy of Purpose:
As you may know, this was one of Dr. Demings’ favorite phrases and one of his 14 points. Leading a change in culture is hard. Unfortunately, we have created a corporate culture in too many organizations that rewards and demands short term success. We move managers from one business unit to another, with just enough time to make proclamations and promote slogans, but not enough time to institute lasting change in the culture. We need a system that rewards managers for business improvement over time – five to ten years – so they can experience the results of their improvements.
Cultures do change and will change, the only question is whether we give that change direction, thoughtful and systematic leadership.