Marissa Mayer is right to ban remote work

I’m amazed by the number of posts blasting Marissa Mayer for requiring employees to be in the office rather than working from home.

I’m obviously a fierce proponent for remote work arrangements of all kinds. I know that over the long term, companies with the strongest leadership win because they are able to attract, engage, and retain the best people. Strong leaders lead regardless of the environment they are placed within, and most people can learn to successfully lead their teams through all kinds of work arrangements.

However when faced with a fatally poor performing culture, change must happen quickly. Unless the investment has already been made to build strong leaders, when your company is dying then you must take dramatic steps to increase the speed of organizational learning. There are obvious advantages to physical proximity when you are driving significant and fundamental change, especially if you do not have strong enough supporting leadership in place to spread new ideas and build new habits.

I applaud Ms Mayer’s courage in taking the steps she feels necessary to save the company, regardless of  how unpopular they may be. However, the remote work ban at it’s best solves only a symptom. I hope that once a better culture is established and results are on the mend that she takes a longer term view, and begins to build a leadership team worthy of managing remote teams. Only when she and her leadership team are strong enough to lead despite the circumstances can the company be truly successful.

Why aren’t my employees getting more done?

Ever feel like your employees just aren’t getting enough done fast enough? For most employees, their jobs often feel like pushing a rock uphill. Whether they are responsible to finish a project, maintain a certain standard of service, or sell a certain number of widgets every day, their job is to push some rock uphill towards the pot of gold at the top of the mountain. As a manager, your job is to run from mountain to mountain, providing extra pushes at just the right moment, generating momentum which makes their jobs easier so they reach their pot of gold more consistently.

Fernanda

Fernanda (Photo credit: Omar Moreno Jiménez)

If the rocks aren’t moving quickly enough, there’s likely one of these three problems. Diagnosing the core issue is your first step.

  1. They’ve lost focus on the goal. Do they constantly seem to be working on issues that you think are less important? Are they pushing the rock in a different direction than you need, making a lot of progress on the less important pieces of the rock?
  2. They’ve run into an obstacle. Do you constantly hear “I can’t”, “I’m waiting on…”, “I don’t understand”? Does it seem like they’re working really hard but not getting anywhere?
  3. They don’t share your sense of urgency. Do they always make a little progress but don’t seem to be pushing as hard as you expect? Have you seen them do similar things before, so you know they can do it?
Once you determine the most likely reason, identify what extra push you can provide to get that rock moving again. (more…)

10 Things Not to Do as a Manager on Your First Day

Thanks to the Grindstone for the inspiration of this post. Their 10 things you should not do on the first day of a new job is a great list for new employees, and it reminded me of many of the mistakes I’ve seen managers make on their first day.

Erik K Veland Creative Commons License

The main goal for a manager on their first day is to listen. Avoid making enemies, and avoid statements that will keep you from being successful long-term. Instead, start building alliances and connections with people. Make sure everyone knows that you intend to work hard, listen well, and praise often. Remember, the manager title magnifies everything you do. Employees watch every move you make and hear every thing you say.

  1. Don’t spend all your time talking about yourself and your accomplishments. If they care, they’ll have checked you out on LinkedIn already. From their perspective, you haven’t accomplished anything yet. You just got here. Blabbering on about yourself will just make you seem arrogant.
  2. Don’t make judgement statements about the way things are done. Regardless of how much research you’ve done, you have no idea how things are really done, you don’t know who set it up that way, and you don’t know who you will be offending. If you think something should be changed, there’s plenty of time after you know why it’s like that and whose toes you’re stepping on.
  3. Don’t badmouth your predecessor or their decisions. Every outgoing boss leaves behind friends, mentors, and confidants, and it’s very likely that they are the very best people you have. It’s also highly likely that your predecessor did not make decisions in a vacuum. The people you are speaking to likely had a say in the decisions you are questioning.
  4. Don’t make statements about expectations that you don’t intend to follow yourself. I once had a boss who, in his first hour of meeting each one of his direct reports, proclaimed “this is a 24/7 business”. Unfortunately, his work hours did not show that. The office joke became that 24/7 meant 24 hours every 7 days. Be careful not to set yourself up to be the company joke.
  5. Don’t over schedule yourself with meetings that lock you up in your office all day. People are not excited that you are here. They are nervous and scared that their lives are about to change for the worse. They need to see you and believe that they have a place in the new world. Wander around and introduce yourself. Eat in the cafeteria. Let them know you really don’t eat brimstone and breathe fire.
  6. Don’t make changes to common spaces unless it’s dangerous or dirty. Common spaces drive culture. You may not like that neon green wall but for the people sitting by it, it could signal energy and positivity. Covering the conference room windows for privacy could signal to your employees that the open door management environment they’re used is shifting to a closed, exclusionary, and secretive one.
  7. Don’t buy expensive stuff for your new office. If that office chair is serviceable, use it. Employees are seeing their benefits, salaries, and time off cut on a regular basis. Spending hundreds of dollars to order an unnecessary luxury is a slap in the face to your employees. If you really don’t like your office, get up and walk around like you should be doing anyway.
  8. Don’t listen to the sycophants. The worst employees are thrilled to see their manager go away before they get fired themselves. They’ll be the first to welcome you with open arms.
  9. Don’t work less than nine hours. Employees really don’t usually understand the amount of effort most managers put into their job. For at least the first day, face time matters. Let them know you are excited to be there and anxious to work as hard as they do.
  10. Most importantly, don’t pass up the chance to give a sincere compliment. People want to work for managers who care about them and will help them be successful. The first time you meet an employee, focus on what positives they bring to the table and recognize them for that. Your whole first day should be about making real connections that will help you make the changes you’ll need to make.

Before you decide to work at home…

Think you want to work at home? Think you are ready to manage remote workers? Consider these articles first.

Image courtesy of Flickr {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

  • Inc. says employees want something difference in their office space. Something more flexible that can change as the work teams and projects change. This office’s design allows maximum flexibility. No more expensive wall tear-downs and painful packing up and moving whenever someone new comes in or a project is completed.
  • NPR’s recent report on curated coworking shows freelancers are flocking to shared workspaces. They estimate 30% of the workforce is working on their own. The trend is so prevalent that coworking spaces are becoming more selective. You might be screened out of a coworking space because you don’t work well with the others in the space, or you don’t add enough to the community they’re creating.
  • Then there’s this article about Twitter moving into a Detroit coworking space as a cost-effective growth strategy. Companies are anxious to grow but nervous. Not having dedicated office spaces are the ultimate in company flexibility.
  • According to Gallup’s research, you need to socialize for six hours a day. Coworking spaces provide a flexible opportunity to replace the corporate office with an equally important socialization method.

What this means for employees or candidates

Before you take the plunge, consider what being truly alone will be like over the long haul. Find some coworking spaces close to you and check them out. Talk to some of the folks there and see what their experiences were. Think through where else you’ll get that social connection. Are you active in your church, in your child’s PTA, in your Homeowner’s Association? Your interviewers won’t hire you if they don’t think you can handle it, but they can’t come right out and ask for fear of HR reprisals about getting too personal. If you want the job, you have to address it without being asked. Be careful not to get too personal here but let them know how you will manage the social side of working alone.

What this means for managers

If you are remotely managing someone who works from home, remember that having a friend at work is critical to employee engagement and employee engagement is the primary value that you bring to the company. (Gallup’s research here.) If your employees ask for a few days in a coworking space, don’t immediately cheap out and say no. Access to a coworking spaces can increase their engagement and potentially provide them with great back-up equipment if something goes wrong at home. Plus, it provides you with a unique network of other highly motivated, self-disciplined people. If you need a graphic designer for a quick one-time job, they may be sitting right next to your remote employee.

Related articles

(Curious side note. Why would WordPress’s spellcheck keep changing my “coworking” text to “cowering”!? Freudian. While that may be how many managers react when they hear the words “you’ll be managing this person remotely”, it does actually happen. Get with the times WordPress!)


Types of Interviewers

To the chagrin of management consultants and HR departments everywhere, most managers are woefully unprepared to interview you. They are running into your interview without having looked at your resume or having even really considered what it is that they’re looking for. Sometimes, they really are that busy. Sometimes, they are interviewing you for someone else and aren’t too concerned about getting the right fit. Sometimes, they are just unprepared or unskilled. If you want to make a real impression, be prepared to lead the interview yourself by understanding these four types of interviewers.

I’ve got this!

These managers are prepared. They know what they want for the position. They’ve read your resume and crafted specific questions about how your experience relates to the job. They work to put you at ease so that you can give them the best possible answers. They start by giving you a very clear description of the job and key skills. They may even ask if you have questions to start.

If you are lucky enough to find one of these people, take advantage of the opportunity by listening as well as you speak. Make sure you understand their questions. Restate the question if necessary, or ask how the question relates to the job. Check that you answered effectively. Ask “did I answer your question” or “is this what you’re looking for”. When they ask for your questions at the end of the interview, ask for real feedback. “Where do you think my skills line up with the needs of this position? Where do you have concerns?” Make sure you address concerns. Reiterate and clarify your strengths in your post-interview thank-you note.

It’s all about me

This type of interviewer will talk more than they listen, mostly about their own background. Try to stay interested (and awake) but don’t expect to impress them. The only way to prepare for this one is to look them up online in advance or find someone who knows them. Find some common ground to connect with them on, a hobby or school that you share, questions about one of the pictures in their office of them on vacation.

Eventually, they will likely say something that hints at what they think the job is about. Grab that chance to say “great observation! Here’s something similar from my background and what I did about it”. Don’t over-explain though. The faster you get back to talking about them and being impressed with them, the better impression you’ll make.

If you can’t find common ground and connect with them personally, you really don’t have any chance with this kind of person. Just listen attentively, try to remain interested in whatever they want to talk about. Your questions for them should focus on advice type inquiries: “what would you think I should accomplish in the first few weeks” or “how would you handle learning this organization as a new employee”. These managers like to be seen as important and intelligent. Try to play to their need for importance without obviously pandering.

I just do what HR tells me

Unfortunately, well-meaning HR departments are sometimes an interviewee’s worst nightmare. They’ve successfully convinced the organization that finding the right person means following the script. Based on limited understanding of the job, they prepare big packets of questions that sound like “tell me about a time when you…”. They provide a few days of training to managers who won’t use the skills for months, managers who don’t interview people often enough to learn any better, and generally create an environment where the manager feels less accountable for the hiring process than they should.

Now, I do believe that there’s a place for this kind of behavioral interviewing. Knowing how to ask these questions can help an interviewer get good examples and understand what it will be like to work with you. Especially for inexperienced managers, the process can be comforting and a great place to start. But too many managers get complacent and a little lazy. They literally read the question and take copious notes. They are more interested in grading how you answered the question (did you provide a situation, action, and result) than in deciding if your answer applies well to the job (did that answer exhibit the skill we need).

Your best option here is to carefully list each part of your answer. Label it for them so they, and you, know you hit all the points. You should sound like “I had this situation…, I did this thing about it…, and I got this result…”. If you get stuck, ask what skill they are looking for and tailor your answer to that skill instead of the specific question.

Why don’t you just run the interview

Surprisingly, many managers are perfectly happy to let you run the interview. While many interviewers will start with the “tell me about yourself” question, these interviewers stop there. They take enough notes that they can spend the rest of the interview digging into the comments you give in that initial answer. Or they may not listen to your answer at all, using that question only to buy time to read your resume so they can dig into areas they’re skeptical or curious about. Then they’ll ask if there’s anything else you think is important for them to know, they’ll answer your questions, and the interview will be over.

This interviewing type is the hardest because you’re doing all the work, but also the biggest opportunity because you get to control the conversation. The process for the “tell me about yourself” question is the same regardless of the interviewer type. Done right, you should have a 3-5 minute synopsis of your career, with the most important skills and examples highlighted. Try to focus on no more than 3 key skills, the ones you believe will be most critical in this position. Try to get the interviewer to highlight the key skills for you and tailor the story to use their verbiage.

  1. Before the interview, find out everything you can about the company and position. (You did this anyway, right?)
  2. Look for experiences and projects in your past that directly show why you are capable of the job.
  3. Now build your story and practice it until you can say it easily. Go chronologically through your career, building up the proof of why you are the best one for this job. The story will probably sound something like:  “I started at Company Alpha. That was a great experience where I got to do ___ project. That project really taught me how to ___. Then I moved to Company Beta where I accomplished ___ and learned to ___.”
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