Jerry Cahn

Managing the Distributed Workforce

Project Oxygen is the code name for research that Google engaged in for 10 years to figure out what behaviors make for the perfect manager. The goal was to train its leaders in these traits. The research has led to improvements in employee turnover, satisfaction and performance. 

One key finding was that technical skill mattered less than people might think; it’s the emotional-intelligence (EIQ) skills  – the ability to understand and control emotions, both their own and those of others, that mattered more.

Since workers increasingly work from home, office and/or pods, understanding these behaviors may help you manage them better in the current and post-pandemic world.  These are 10 behaviors that effective managers have:

  1. Be a good coach. Guiding teams and sharing insights to enable members to gain experience and grow
  2. Empower teams and not micromanage.  Especially relevant when you can’t manage by wandering around, giving people the freedom to experiment and learn from experience is key.
  3. Create an inclusive team environment, showing concern for well-being and success. This mirrored other studies that the greatest key to team performance was a “psychologically safe” environment.
  4. Be productive and result-oriented. Serve as a role model. 
  5. Be a good communicator.  Knowledge is power. Listen and share information so people know the “why: behind the “what”. 
  6. Support career development and provide constructive feedback. Help people grow professionally. 
  7. Have a clear vision/strategy for the team. Never lose sight of the goal, and your individual role in executing the total team strategy.
  8. Have the technical skills to help advise the team. Understand your people’s jobs, including responsibilities, tasks and challenges.  
  9. Collaborate effectively. See the big picture, not just the “silo responsibilities” and encourage everyone to work for the good of the company
  10. Be a strong decision-maker. Be decisive; learn the facts, consider people’s perspectives and the optional paths to take and then commit to a specific decision.

Google learned that when managers adopted these traits, this generated trust and inspired people to be the best versions of themselves. And that generates top-notch self-management.

Now, look at your management team: how do they rate on these behaviors? What can you do to help them improve – and propel your company to greater performance and satisfaction!

Update Your Time Management Plans

Now that we’re working from home, and balancing more than just work during the day, is it time to update your time management system?  Many people report handling business and personal activities during the previously work-only hours (e.g., helping your kids with school activities), and they all need to be done!

Over the years, I’ve helped many clients and students with a time management system which involves a double entry system: you list everything you need to do (and cross out things as they are done), and a second one which allocates the tasks to a working day (e.g., 8 hours). Another feature of it is that it’s completed the night before you stop working and left on your desk, so when you come in you check, make adjustments if needed, and move forward, as opposed to planning the day then. (See prior newsletter articles.)

Today, many of us are stretching the 9-5 day to handle child and parent care issues, etc. by recognizing that there is no community. So we can use the commuting and transition times to handle personal needs. Plus we want to take advantage of family time and so we use a longer schedule of hours (e.g., 8Am to 9 PM) in which we take care of everything (e.g., from 10-2 we’re in child-care mode). So we may enjoy longer dinners with the family and do the last review of emails not from 4-5 PM, but 8-9 PM).

When we first went into lock-down we had to improvise. It’s still impossible to develop a concrete schedule – since this is summer time and no-one knows what’s going to happen with work, school, care, etc. in the fall as Coronavirus spikes require our attention. Still we’ve learned what works for some activities and can, on a piecemeal basis, put together a schedule-template. For instance, one of my coaching clients scheduled coaching during his son’s mid-day nap.  After a few weeks, it became clear that the growing boy’s nap time should be changed… and so we did with great success for everyone.

As we get closer to the fall and/or you begin to have a clearer sense of time needs and commitments, update your time management plans.  If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

The Always-Ready Presenter

What can go wrong?  When it comes to presentations, lots of things do. And no matter how well designed your (Powerpoint) presentation is, nor how well rehearsed you are, if you didn’t anticipate a likely problem, you won’t have a contingency plan in place to still deliver a perfect presentation. 

Today, all presentations being delivered during the pandemic are virtual, you should expect some form of technology challenge. As a veteran presenter and coach/mentor to thousands of other presenters, most can be anticipated.

Last week, an Investment Banker asked me to provide feedback on three investor presentations they were considering. After the session ended, with a few challenges (luckily none major), I started thinking about solutions for next time.

In the early days of “slide” presentations, it was likely that something might go wrong with a projector. Conference Centers usually had back up light bulbs that could be used if not extra projectors. Copies of presentations were printed not just to give as handouts after the presentation, but to substitute if the presentation couldn’t be projected for some reason. 

Today is no different. People might not be familiar with the software platform (e.g., in this case Zoom) and not know how to let someone else be a host or show a video with or without its soundtrack. Monitors might not work; computers may crash; internet connections may go down. Outside events – everything from a baby crying a dog yelping or ConEd digging up the street below – may interfere. In my case, I set up a second laptop in my home office as a back-up the very first week, and created PDFs that could quickly be emailed

If a technology problem exists, and you solve it, as a presenter you now have a secondary problem: less time to make the presentation. In the pre-pandemic world, I led an investor/public relations firm. Most of my clients were allotted 30 minutes for investor conference presentations. Early on, I learned that conference centers have fire-drills, terrorist threats, etc., and they interfere with your time slot. In the Zoom presentation world m the same thing happens: we lose time fixing the technology.  For most 30 minute slots, clients develop 25 minute presentations, and use the last 5 minutes for Q&A. So what do most people do when they now only have 15 minutes?  They squeeze the full presentation into the shortened time-frame, leaving everyone – audience and presenter – unsatisfied. The mission is to impress and influence the audience, not do a speed-racing-data-dump.

We solved this problem by creating an Always-Prepared Presenter: after the main presentation was designed a scaled-down version (usually half-the time) was designed and the presenter prepared for both. This way, if we lost 15 minutes, we could present a complete, though abridged, presentation. The presenters often left the meeting as a “star”, because he/she was only one who delivered a properly paced presentation.  The contrast with your competitors can win the day!

So, consider creating shorter versions of the presentation, to stay in control of your message and build rapport with your audience, just in case the technology creates a time problem!

Short-term, Intermediate and Long-term Success

In business and politics, the first 90-100 days is often considered a “honeymoon period” during which the new employee, including a CEO or President, is given a grace period. During the initial stages of the pandemic, almost everybody reported incredible performance by people and companies.

  •  Most employees adapted to working from home quickly; for the majority of people, productivity actually improved compared to normal
  •  Management consultants, like McKinsey, and business and popular media, reported that companies made transition to the lockdown in record time.  Three examples:
    • A hospital went from 200 telemedicine visits in 2019, to 5000 a week, a goal it had estimated would take years.
    • A company running movie theaters when forced to close down decided to retrain 1000 users and ticket sellers to work for an online grocery, and accomplished the goal in only two days.
    • Best Buy, which spent months testing curbside delivery at a handful of stores, rolled it out in every store in two days.

There are many reasons for the short-term success. CEOs with whom we work asked if this was sustainable, and we brought to their attention that it might not for lots of reasons, including one underlying the “Hawthorne Effect”. Years ago, in a study on ways to increase productivity, everything that the researchers did to improve working conditions in a factory had a positive effect on worker productivity. Wondering how it could be so good, they then started removing them; productivity continued to increase, until the removal of extra and then normal lighting made the room so dark it all came to a screeching halt. Conclusion: people who know they are being watched and want to please the observers, will do what they can to impress them. 

In the short term, we’ve watched this happen. Juggling work and family conditions (e.g., support, schooling, etc.) is stressful, but short-term we mobilized to do it. Working conditions at home weren’t ideal (e.g., our “desk” was a table sticking out of a closet), but we adapted to the conditions. However as we start planning for the next set of months, it’ll be a different reality: we are no longer in the “fight-back” mode but in the “creating a new life mode”. We need more comfort, more support from other people, to make it through the next stage. Expect lots of changes in how we manage space, time, multiple business, family and personal goals during the intermediate stage.

Leaders with whom I work are focusing now on the long-term. We’re not going back to the pre-pandemic office situation. Company leaders are trying to figure out how to allow people to adapt to the new distributed workforce model. Spatially, it means working from home, office and pods on whatever basis makes sense for the person, customer, technology, etc. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of people do not want to work in an office full-time in the future, nor do they want to commute and travel for business when alternatives exist. The nature of business, family, personal expectations for life fulfilment are all playing a role in determining the after-the-pandemic world.

More important, we need to focus on long-term job satisfaction, professional growth, creativity and innovation. We need to adapt new models for increased collaboration between members of teams and teams-of-teams in a world of greater self-management and ongoing change. Steve Jobs’ last major accomplishment was leaving Apple with a new California campus designed to spur spontaneous encounters, and encourage collaboration, creativity and innovation. Shaped like a donut, people could bump-into-one-another on the way to common areas, and begin conversations that could generate new ideas, products and services.   Today’s work-from-home, ”Zoom to communicate” world, lacks that opportunity for spontaneous exchange and ideation – keys to innovation.  Long-term success depends on our ability to build structures that will address this issue.

What do you think we can do to ensure long-term success? Share your ideas!

Are You Ready for “Mission-Critical?

For over three decades, I’ve been helping leaders design, produce and deliver winning “mission-critical” presentations. It’s not easy to influence someone to win over the heart and mind of other people to make a decision you want. Yet, that’s the job of most leaders.

You need to appreciate your audience’s starting position and figure out what kinds of logical and emotional information/experiences may produce change. Then you need to understand the degree of receptivity to change based on the person’s existing perspectives and biases. The setting – place and time for the communication – also has an impact. Only then can you craft a message that’s powerful and persuasive. And when you deliver it your authenticity, humility, trust, and executive presence all play a role in whether the other party will take the desired action.

I organized all these elements into a simple framework called ADAP: Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations. I’ve had the privilege of coaching and mentoring leaders to produce winning presentations worth $100s of millions in business, advancing careers, and improving people’s lives.  

Over the past decade, I’ve learned that the most effective leaders succeed, in part, because they’re open to receiving input and feedback from others – and by doing so sharpen their ability to see the many perspectives that can impact on a situation. I invite you to polish these skills.

As a Board Chairman for Vistage Worldwide, which services 23,000 global CEOs, I’ve seen how relationships with other CEOs on their personal Peer Advisory Board, as well as interactions with others through the MyVistage online platform reinforces their ability to widen their perspectives and sharpen their decision-making. They introduce a significant challenge they face, and seek critiques and advice for a tentative course of action they are ready to take. Then, they hear from others different perspectives on the challenge and new complications; but they also get fresh ideas on how to solve the problem, and referrals to resources that can help them. The outcomes: better decisions, better results and closer relationships.

McKinsey & Co. uses its management consulting expertise to help leaders of Fortune 500, government agencies and NGOs handle mission-critical issues. As part of its effort to help them handle short-term and long-term consequences of the pandemic, they recommended that leaders “harness the real power of peer networks”.  In “The CEO Moment: Leadership for a New Era”, they note that “CEOs are communicating more, and expanding their networks, in part because only another CEO confronting the pandemic can fully identify with today’s leadership challenges.”  As one CEO put it, “I find talking to other CEOs about how they’re handling the crisis extremely helpful – this shared experience connects us and gives me added perspectives.” Another said: “From an external perspective, I’ve been a beneficiary of amazing calls with other CEOs who have been willing to share their knowledge. This has been such a growing experience”.
As we all try to resolve how to handle the pandemic, in leadership meetings and business presentations, all of us are making mission-critical decisions affecting many stakeholders. Are you harnessing the collective smarts of leaders with integrity and hunger for growth to help you make better business presentations and decisions?  If not, why not? Your competitors are!  Contact me at jerrycahn@presentationexcellence.com or jerry.cahn@vistage.com.

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