When your behavior doesn’t match reality

In order for you to achieve both your short term and your long term business goals, you have to have a deep understanding of who you are as an organization. It’s imperative to have ambitions and to envision what you ultimately want your company to be and to look like, and it’s just as important to understand where you are currently and to act accordingly. Failure to understand the current reality or to have a false sense of self will make it much more challenging to get to where you want to be in the future. Here are a few examples.

Automating too much

If you count on customer service to be a key differentiator, ensure that you are giving your customers the individual attention they deserve. As you are growing your customer base, there might come a time when your team starts to think too much about scaling up, prematurely, and doesn’t focus on the personalized service they should be delivering. If you spend more time on automation than on actual service, reconsider your approach. Don’t automate yourself into indifference, but instead analyze how much personalized outreach and attention you want and should give each customer and find a way to make it happen. 

Delegating too much or too little

As a manager, you may worry about delegation. Are you delegating too much? Too little? Once again, it comes down to critically assessing who and where you are as a company. This is particularly important when it comes to interacting with customers. As a company with several hundred enterprise customers, do you think upper level management should engage with individual customers? I do. But the threshold is, of course, different for each organization. The key is to act according to your reality and not your aspirations. Does your VP of Product need to be involved in certain levels of UX decisions, or would it make sense to empower team members to make the call? If it’s the latter, what do you need to do to make it so?

The “I shouldn’t have to” trap

Another example of potential incongruence between your reality and your thoughts can be found in the “I/We shouldn’t have to trap”. If you catch yourself thinking “I shouldn’t have to tell them to make calls”, “We shouldn’t have to tell them that this issue needs to be resolved immediately”, “I shouldn’t have to remind them how important response times are”, or “We shouldn’t have to postpone the release” (you get the picture), stop for a minute to re-think, because clearly, you have to right now. Instead of an internal eye roll, accept that you are not where you want to be, analyze the reasons for it, and identify the steps necessary to improve the areas that are causing you heartburn.

Misreading your culture 

Your company culture can be one of your biggest, if not your biggest, assets. It’s how people feel after interacting with one of your team members. It’s where the company handbook leaves off and how people act when nobody’s watching. A great culture spawns a sense of pride, and rightfully so. It’s only natural to brush off things that aren’t quite perfect, or to overestimate or underestimate certain parts about your team. Your team may be such an integral part of you that you may be blind to certain shortcomings, but if you are, you don’t empower yourself to help them improve and become even more successful. 

Being realistic about where you are and who you are is a necessary step towards moving towards your goals. Be sure to always take inventory, self-reflect, and make adjustments, not just when the results don’t match your expectations.

What about you? Can you think of situations in which not being brutally honest about your reality could adversely affect your company?

A few more thoughts on returning to the office

A few months ago, I outlined some of the main reasons why we were going to return to the office once it’s safe to do so, including more impactful communication, increased empathy, inspiration, better integration of new team members, and ensuring focus on what’s best for the team as a whole. Starting next week, we will be back in the office twice a week. Sure, after 15 months of working from home, it will require some adjustments, and I am certain that not everyone will be completely thrilled. Fair enough. For most people, it is much more convenient to work from home. Many employees report being more productive when they’re not in the office. So when making a decision for your business, try to determine what is best for the team as a whole.

In her recent LinkedIn post, Rachelle Kuebler-Weber does a great job anticipating some of the pushback with regard to going back to the office, and pointing out some of the tangible and intangible benefits of working together in the same space. She mentions different behavior patterns, synergy of proximity, and the separation of work and home, for instance. It got me thinking about misconceptions that some of your team members may have when they’re being asked to come back to the office, even in a limited way, and how to establish clarification.

Of course, remote employees contribute value!

One of the questions that you might receive when discussing the positives of working in the same physical space is “Don’t you think that remote employees contribute value?”. Of course I do! And we have to think of ways in which they don’t just contribute tangible deliverables that are a result of being “heads down”, but also ways in which they help with cross-departmental support, collaboration, and innovation. But is it reasonable to expect that someone who works remotely and in a different time zone will sense that a new team member is having a bad day and take them for a cup of coffee to provide some pointers? Or that a junior BDR will be enabled to learn by osmosis by listening to seasoned reps when they make calls or discuss next steps with each other or with prospects, or when they’re not in the same space? There are some ways to mitigate those challenges, but it’s fair to say that the expectations of someone who works remotely and someone who is in the office at least part of the time differ. That doesn’t mean at all that remote employees don’t contribute value. It’s simply different. And in our case, we need the value, energy and synergy that comes with being in the office, too, which is why we have both local and remote team members.

It’s not all about individual productivity

Productivity is one of the most frequently used arguments for remote work. And yes, I am aware that there are stats that show that a good number of people work longer hours when they work from home (which isn’t always a good thing, though) and also lots of team members who are more productive remotely. I think I fall into this category myself. But individual productivity is not everything. It’s also about building a supportive environment in which people can get help by having in person ad hoc conversations rather than waiting for hours for a response on Slack, taking time to type large paragraphs rather than just talking in person, or having to put a Zoom meeting on the calendar. It’s also about listening to conversations that are going on in the office and with customers, inspiring others to do great work, reducing video call fatigue, listening to someone vent, and making offhanded comments instead of having to type out every single thought. 

Productivity is not necessarily the same thing as success

“But we have so many people who are super productive when they work remotely”. Yes, I am certain that that’s the case. But is productivity the only criteria of success? It really depends on what your business goals are. I’ll take more compassion and communication over a single focus on productivity any day. If maximum productivity in our company automatically means greater customer satisfaction, more thoughtful internal (!) and external communication, better products, better onboarding, more meaningful work, and reaching your growth goals, great. But it may not be the case for other organizations. 

Someone’s “flexibility” is another one’s lack of structure

“Flexibility” is a term that most of us would equate with something positive, right? It means that you have the freedom to do what’s best for… you? The company? While it’s generally a good thing, especially in crazy times like these, to allow people to structure their days in ways that accommodate personal needs (for instance, how about being in the office from 11-3 so you can avoid traffic?), we should also recognize that one person’s flexibility is another one’s lack of structure. Be sure that you’re equipped to help each team member be their best. Sometimes, that involves providing more guidance, shorter deadlines and milestones, and more oversight, even when it’s not the way they prefer it. After all, flexibility should go both ways. 

What’s best for the individual is not always best for the team

As a manager, you want to make sure that every individual is empowered to contribute to their own success and the success of the company. But you can’t just look at individuals. You also have to do what’s best for the team as a whole. You have to consider the desired outcomes for your organization. Here’s an argument that you might encounter: “Why do you punish the A players by having to come into the office just because we have some B players who can’t be productive at home?” Another fair question. First off, identify why coming into the office is considered a “punishment”. Secondly, Michael Jordan probably would have gotten away with skipping practice a few times. However, his drive and his dedication to excellence made his teammates better. (Note that if you do have so-called B players on your team, you have another challenge to overcome, but that’s a topic for another day.) Good work inspires more good work. And putting personal preferences aside every now and then for the good of the team and a sense of community may not be an unreasonable ask. That’s why I have high hopes for the hybrid model of being in the office a couple of times a week. 

Stop silo thinking, and curb it in others

Different roles may be more conducive to “flexibility”, so if you can find a way to provide different set-ups for people in a fair manner, go for it. For instance, someone who is in a customer-facing role might not be able to do most of their work after hours. Be as “fair” as you can, and also make clear that we’re all connected. Just because someone is not in Sales doesn’t mean that they don’t have an impact on the way the Sales team does their job. If customer service is one of your competitive advantages, be sure that the level of dedication to the customer is lived and witnessed every day. Try to avoid  A “not my department, not my problem” mentality.

Think about ways to facilitate more collaboration

If collaboration is important to you, think of ways to facilitate it, whether that’s by rearranging the configuration in the office, implementing ShipIt Days or task forces, or by having cross-functional lunches. Just because you may not have been able to achieve the levels of collaboration in the past, it doesn’t mean you need to stop trying. And, find ways to include your remote workers, both digitally and in person. Consider having them join you in the office at least occasionally. 

If you have your eye on the prize of a popularity contest, it’s probably easier to let everyone choose their own work environment and schedule at all times. But remember, only by doing what’s best for the company are you holding up your end of the bargain, and, at the end of the day, providing meaningful work and professional opportunities for your team members for years to come. And what’s best for one type or size of company may not be best for another. In addition, finding the right balance between individual preferences and team outcomes, and heads-down/remote time and in person collaboration might take a few months, so as always, be prepared to adjust as needed.  

When you do return, exercise compassion. The past 15 months have certainly put our resilience to the test and gotten us into new habits that might be hard to break. It will be a big change to get in the car again, to arrange for pet sitting and child care, and to get used to working around other people again. Let’s cut each other some slack and give each other the benefit of the doubt. 

What about you? What are your thoughts on returning to the office a couple of days a week?

Why we’ll be going back to the office (once it’s safe to do so)

Long before COVID-19 forced us to work from home full time, I had written a post about the benefits of working in the office, such as creating a sense of community, supporting team members who might be struggling, learning from each other, and increasing collaboration across departments. The pandemic has shown that many jobs can be done remotely – some even better. In fact, several of the big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook announced that some of their workforce will be working remotely indefinitely. Not surprisingly, this idea keeps getting floated in our company. At this point, we are planning to return to the office when everybody has had a chance to get vaccinated and achieved the desired immunity level afterwards. We will start out with 2 days per week and ease back into a new routine. Here’s why.

Communication

While we’ve learned to use different communication channels, such as Zoom and Slack, in fairly effective ways and even developed a communication playbook, there’s a component to in person conversations that simply cannot be replicated. All too often, I see people multitask during virtual meetings, which doesn’t convey the level of respect for your team members that you would want, and it also doesn’t make for the most effective communication. In addition, in order to foster emotional intelligence, it is important to focus on and allow for non verbal communication. 

Empathy

There’s no question that working in isolation except for virtual meetings tends to make you more focused on yourself and less empathetic to others. As soon as some of us returned to the office (socially distant and mask-wearing, of course), you could feel that the human interactions and connections became enhanced and the tone more empathetic. 

Inspiration

Great work spawns more great work. Witnessing a Services developer implement a complex integration, a Product Engineer be laser focused on a new feature, or a Sales Rep consult a prospect makes everyone more aware of each team member’s contributions to the company, and, as a result, to each other’s lives. It makes you want to do your best work.  Listening to our Support team help our customers and each other is inspiring. I miss overhearing those conversations, not just because of the level of care that I believe is contagious, but also because it has resulted in new ideas for our products and services. 

Integration of new team members

If you’re fortunate enough to be hiring, you know that it can be challenging to onboard new team members remotely, especially when they’re new to the role. You have to ensure that you as the manager and the rest of your team are available for hands-on training and ad hoc questions, even when they’re “heads down”. If your company culture is as important to you as it is to us, you need to find ways to demonstrate how each one of you lives the values you subscribe to, which admittedly, is a bit easier in an office environment. 

Team over self

One of our values is that the team comes first. Literally “showing up” for your team members a couple of times a week can serve as a great reminder that personal preference or convenience, while important, sometimes needs to take a backseat to what’s best for the team as a whole. After all, some projects or initiatives may be achieved more effectively in person. 

In a company which is as customer-facing and customer-focused as we are, it’s not all about being heads down all the time. It’s also about fostering the best possible culture, collaboration, fun, and service. While it’s certainly not impossible to achieve all of this in a remote environment, being together in person does make those things easier. That’s why we decided on a hybrid set-up once it’s safe to return to the office. We will be more intentional about what we want out of a day in the office and also provide our team members plenty of opportunities to work from home. 

What about you? Does your company plan to work remotely indefinitely?

Being in the office: Six benefits that you shouldn’t underestimate

In a recent blog post entitled “Missing from your job description”, Seth Godin made a list of tasks that people who work in an office should adopt as their job responsibilities. It included items like starting a club, feeding the plants, adding energy to every conversation, and even helping invent a product or service”.  He concluded by saying “Now that it’s easier than ever to outsource a job to someone cheaper (or a robot) there needs to be a really good reason for someone to be in the office. Here’s to finding several.” There are certainly some things that you can only do when you’re physically in the office and some things that you may still be able to do if you find a good hack. Let’s take a look.

Improve the office environment

Don’t underestimate how much you can contribute to a atmosphere in the office just through simple things such as making coffee, bringing a special treat for people to share, or chatting about TV shows or vacations. Small gestures such as helping with stocking the fridge, opening the door for someone, picking up a piece of trash, or asking someone you can bring them back a snack or beverage from the kitchen or cafeteria take zero effort but can contribute to fostering a positive environment. You can also enhance the office physically by bringing in plants or pictures or cleaning out the fridge.

Start a bonding initiative

Short activities with teammates often create a welcome break and can foster team spirit. A few years ago, our engineers at Hannon Hill started a couple of exercise routines by meeting at a specific hour to do pull ups or squats. Another team member founded a juice club, where participants would bring fruit and vegetables to the office and share their healthy concoctions. Our book club has been meeting every few weeks over lunch for the past two years. Other ideas include going on a wellness walk together, starting a running club, playing a game of foosball or ping pong, or meeting up for an afternoon tea break.

Measure engagement

As a manager, you want to be able to always be aware of your team members’ levels of engagement. It’s not just about whether they are meeting their goals, but also about whether they understand how they are contributing to the success of the company, whether they feel supported and appreciated, and whether their objectives are in alignment with those of your organization. While those things can and should be part of your quarterly check-ins, be sure to pay attention to your team members’ body language, their tone, and their interactions with their colleagues and your customers on a daily basis. Find ways to make managing by walking around work for you. If you notice something about someone who is not on your team, share those observations with the appropriate manager. And always, always give praise and shoutouts when you witness something great, whether you overhear your support engineer provide amazing customer service or a sales rep going above and beyond for a prospect.

Offer ad hoc help

Another thing that is significantly easier when you’re physically in the office is to offer ad hoc help when you see that someone is stuck, is frustrated with something (or someone), or is just having a bad day. Sometimes you can help with your technical expertise, by sharing how you solved a similar situation or by asking questions, and sometimes, just by listening.

Collaborate and learn

While there are certain projects and tasks that require a heads-down approach and are best done in a quiet environment, there are many instances where working together in the same physical space as your coworkers makes more sense. For instance, most sales reps tend to do better in an energetic environment with lots of feedback. Marketers need to learn as much as possible about your customers, so sitting close to the sales team and listening to their calls is an absolute necessity.

Integrate new team members

The importance of properly integrating new team members by being together in the office is something that I can’t stress enough. Bringing a new employee on board is a huge investment, both for your company and for the new person. Don’t diminish the investment by trying to cut corners in the on-boarding process by working from home. As a manager, be sure to be in the office every day until both you and your new hire are certain that the integration process has been successfully completed. If at all possible, have your entire team come into the office as well in order to not just ensure complete knowledge transfer, but also to make the person feel welcome, to give them the opportunity to get to know their coworkers, and to absorb and embrace your company culture.

I don’t think anyone would argue that the ability to work from home can be an attractive perk and often renders outstanding results. However, there are certain things that can either only be accomplished or better accomplished in the office, especially as a manager. 

What about you? What are your thoughts on the value of being in the office?

Fostering innovation despite the daily routines

It’s easy for all of us to get caught up in our daily work and routines, especially if you have a well-established team and product. If your company is growing, so are the expectations of your stakeholders, so you feel fortunate if you’re part of a well-oiled machine and if you have your individual fires under control. But wait. You need to innovate. You want to set your company and your customers up for long term success, and you can’t do that if you’re either complacent or constantly fighting fires. Let’s think about some things you can do to foster innovation without giving up your regular responsibilities.

ShipIt Days

I can’t say enough good things about what we at Hannon Hill call ShipIt Days, more commonly known as FedEx Days. While the logistics of the implementation may vary for each organization, the general idea is that each team member chooses a project to work on for 24 hours, either on their own or in collaboration with others (if it’s someone from another department, consider this a win), to produce a product of some kind. The result could be a new feature, a process improvement, a recommendation for a new tool to use, additional documentation for your users, or a brand-new company initiative. Don’t put any parameters on what your staff can select. Let them run with their ideas. Be sure to provide delicious and nutritious meals. After 24 hours, have each individual or team present their project. Part of the presentation should be to deliver a rollout plan. We actually just had a ShipIt Day last week, and I can honestly say that each project needs to be implemented.

Task Forces

One of the best ways to collaborate with people outside of your department is to join a task force. This could be any initiative that you feel passionate about, such as improving customer service, making the office environment more fun and productive, incentivizing a healthy lifestyle, or optimizing the QA process. Task forces allow your team members to pursue causes that they are passionate about, and they can really get people to think outside their daily routine and make suggestions that can be course-changing.

Team Meetings and Activities

I know, I know. You want to reduce the number of meetings. However, don’t underestimate the power of weekly team gatherings. If possible, have a catered lunch, as eating together is a nice bonding experience. In order to make those meetings more interesting and less monotonous, consider letting different departments take over as hosts. Maybe one day, you can all watch a TED talk together and discuss it afterwards. Another time, ask each team member to talk about their favorite productivity hack.

Team activities outside of regular meetings can also provide new perspectives. For instance, we do community service once a quarter, such as planting trees, or helping at an animal shelter or schools. Even though those activities have nothing to do with our software, giving back to the community refreshes our sense of purpose and gets us out of our own heads.

Retreats

A change of scenery can invigorate your innovative mindset, and annual retreats are an excellent way to recharge. Be sure to mix fun and strategic activities. For instance, you can start off the day by dividing your team into groups and asking each group to work on a presentation on a specific topic such as “What are the top three challenges for our company and what do you recommend we do to overcome them?”. Once everyone has presented, the fun activities can begin.

Suggestion Box

The good old suggestion box can be an effective way to encourage people to share their ideas. You can also create a virtual box, which can be as simple as a Google spreadsheet. After every month or every quarter, have your team members vote on the best and reward the winner with a gift.

Understood Empowerment

Some of the most innovative ideas are born in an environment in which people know that they are not just allowed but encouraged to try new things. Whenever possible, let your team members spend time on special projects, celebrate change, let (fast) failure be okay, and have ad hoc conversations in which you ask poignant questions and solicit suggestions.  

When it comes to innovation, don’t just think about your product, but also about your processes, your office environment, your policies, and every aspect of your company. When done right, all of it will be reflected in better products and better service.

What about you? How do you encourage innovation while keeping up with your daily tasks?