May 5, 2019 //

Set Your Employees FREE with “Trust-Based” Management!!

Thoughts From President, Rikki Schwartz

Frankly, it boggles my mind that leaders who consider themselves to be Agile, still insist on imprisoning their employees with brick and mortar…and even worse chain them to the clocks that hang on dull gray walls.

So in the spirit of this past Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, let’s take a look at what I’ll call the Agile leadership “Trifecta” of “TRUST-BASED” MANAGEMENT…where Agile Leadership Principles “win”, Results-Based Management “places”, and Virtual Management “shows”.

The Trifecta of “Trust-Based” Management:

1st– AGILE LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES:  Let’s first review the 3 driving principles by which Agile leaders live:  

– EMPOWER your teams

– DON’T MICROMANAGE your teams

– TRUST your teams

2nd – RESULTS-BASED MANAGEMENT:  Next, let’s review the 3 principles that are key to managing employees based on their results (i.e., “results-based” management), instead of focusing on which (or how many) hours those employees work (i.e, “time-based” management). Oh wait…we just did that (see list of “Agile Leadership Principles” above).

3rd – VIRTUAL MANAGEMENT:  Finally, let’s review the 3 principles that are key to successfully managing virtual teams.  Oh wait…we just did that (see list of “Agile Leadership Principles” above).

So, yes, I would submit that the 3 constituents of this Agile Leadership “Trifecta” are inextricably linked, but moreover, that it is this particular win-place-show sequence that most successfully shapes what I’m calling “Trust-Based” Management.  

Furthermore, if the ultimate goal of this blog is to encourage higher levels of comfort with managing virtual employees, l think it’s incumbent on me to share the fundamental BENEFITS… and then acknowledge common CHALLENGES… of managing virtual employees. These pros and cons are based largely on my 13 years of remotely managing up to 42 employees at a very large waste management company (just prior to coming to the Center for Agile Leadership).

Benefits of Managing Virtual Employees:

  • Virtual employees avoid commuting (and with it the associated stress, hazards, costs, fossil fuel consumption and pollution).
  • Virtual Employees experience faster personal and professional growth (as a natural by-product of working more independently).
  • Virtual employees experience better mental and physical health (as a result of more natural sleep patterns, no stress of commuting, and no stress associated with cramming all personal obligations into evenings and weekends).
  • Virtual employees themselves focus on RESULTS instead of TIME.  I’ll never forget the myriad of emails I received from one young woman on my remote team late one evening, who (unbeknownst to me) was sending them in between birthing contractions at the hospital.  An extreme example perhaps, but generally speaking, virtual employees cannot recount how many hours they work in any given week.  But they CAN tell you how proud they are when a project is completed.  Additionally, virtual employees very rarely take “sick time” (particularly since the physical stamina necessary to shower, groom and commute, and the risk of infecting colleagues, are no longer of concern) – but rely instead on flexing their hours as needed to recover.  
  • Commercial real estate is EXPENSIVE to own/rent/power.  Virtual employees work from home.
  • Virtual employees generally report much higher job satisfaction AND a greater sense of purpose on JD Powers’ standardized “Employee Engagement” Surveys.
  • Virtual employees earn comparatively higher Customer Satisfaction Scores (generally in the 90thpercentile).
  • Hiring managers are able to select from a pool of cream-of-the crop candidates, since a) employees generally clamor for remote positions AND b) managers are not forced to disqualify highly skilled applicants, just because they don’t live in a certain geographic area and/or can’t work 8-5, Monday through Friday.

Challenges of Managing Virtual Employees:

COMMUNICATION: Considering more and more of us communicate via electronic devices (even when we’re in the same room together!), I think this one has already moved down the list of challenges quite a bit since I first began managing remote employees back in 2005. Regardless, the importance of body language cannot be underestimated, so I’m a strong advocate of video chatting.  Additionally, the world of (real-time) file-sharing technology has exploded: #Slack, Office365, Trello, Highrise, Jira, Online Quickbooks, and Dropbox are just a few applications that make remote/real-time communication relatively seamless.

CONNECTION: In my estimation, this is the biggest challenge to managing virtual employees. Absence can marginalize…or worse…dehumanize remote team members. This is where a truly Agile leader comes in. It is his/her responsibility to come up with strategies for bonding his/her team members.  That can be something as complex as all-staff (face-to-face) meetings/excursions OR something as simple as regular all-staff calls that each begin with a segue question, such as “What is your favorite movie/series on which to binge?” or “Name 3 things about one of your family members that you admire most” or “If you were to overhear folks talking about you, what would you hope they’d say?”. In this way, every team member learns elements about each other’s personalities, values and priorities….which naturally leads to deeper connections.

TRUST:  It should come as no surprise that I consider trust to be at the very core of successfully implementing (what I’m calling) ”Trust-Based” Management. Managers often fear that if they can’t SEE their employees, and/or confirm what hours they are working, they can’t TRUST that their employees aren’t goofing off. I have two responses to that “dilemma”.  First, ask yourself, “Are character and integrity situational?”  In other words, if you find that a team member is routinely taking advantage of you from home, do you think he/she is less likely to take advantage of you from his/her company office? Second, it is undoubtedly important to hire employees that are INTERNALLY motivated to be personally accountable. That means that rigorous (ideally behavior-based) interviewing is imperative. Bottom line, with strategic interviewing you can spot internally-motivated folks a mile away, especially once you become versed in what to look for.  

All told, it should be clear by now that leaders must first embrace Agile Leadership Principles, followed by embracing Results-Based management, before they will ever be entirely comfortable with managing virtual employees — that’s why I’m referring to it as the Agile Leadership “Trifecta”. Of course some leaders struggle to gamble on this particular Trifecta, but for others (truly Agile leaders in particular), doing so mirrors their ability/willingness to have complete confidence in their team members…instead of (metaphorically) ankle-monitoring them like convicts on probation.

So…are YOU able to fully embrace virtual and/or results-based management?  Or can you only give those ideas a polite hug?  What has been your experience with managing remote employees?  Can you add to any of the benefits, challenges, tips or conclusions I’ve listed above?  Please share your thoughts below!!  And if you’d like to hear a bit more of a comedic approach to my take on this subject, feel free to check out my recent Podcast: You’re holding your Employees Hostage.

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