March 9, 2021
No pressure, but—decades from now—leaders will be looking back at how well you navigated 2020. They’ll study the decisions you made and their outcomes. They’ll look at what you did to keep your team and organization aligned throughout the biggest shift from the mostly in-person workplace to the mostly virtual one. They’ll credit you either for slamming the company hull into the 2020 iceberg or steering around it with an agile vision.
The most important thing to recognize in this moment of profound change is that you’re not alone. Revenue leaders everywhere are grieving the loss of management by walking around and strategizing in face-to-face meetings. The office gave a comforting sense of having your finger on the pulse of your organization. But what if that was never actually the case?
In her talk at the RevGen Digital Summit, ThoughtExchange CMO Lauren Kelly shared new approaches and tools for leaders managing a remote workforce. Here are some of her top thoughts on how leaders can quickly align strategy and unlock performance in the new workplace.
SHIFT YOUR MINDSET
Though the shift to a primarily remote workplace may have felt jarring, for many leaders this shift in perspective and management approach has forced them to take a closer look at the processes that previously felt comfortable, but that may have been holding revenue growth back. Comfort and complacency often go hand-in-hand, after all.
The good news is that the remote workplace gives leaders a fresh opportunity to usher their teams into the future of work. Some of the most important changes you can make in order to steer your ship through this stormy weather is to adapt and update your leadership mindset and behaviors.
2020 broke the old management model. By making these three critical shifts, you can get your organization on a course to setting better priorities and finding better alignment across a diverse, distributed employee base.
1. Strategize from the Bottom Up
Cascading strategy is most definitely a thing of the past. Gone are the days when leaders would share their high-level priorities with another group of leaders, who then translate them into actionable objectives for their teams to execute on. Waterfalls are beautiful from above, but have you ever asked the rocks at the base below how they feel?
Nowadays, effective management flips that cascade upside down. The remote workplace has created interconnectivity that wasn’t possible in the office, and leaders need to capitalize on this new style of network deployment. The physical space of the office has transformed into a decentralized digital landscape, and while that means you need new ways of managing people, it also means you’ve got that much more collaboration and connection happening.
With the tech stacks that organizations have at their disposal today, organizations can now allow teams to communicate ideas with each other on the fly; cross-team collaboration doesn’t require a middle ground to meet on; and your entire organization is in the loop in a way that only used to be possible through months of planning and operations-intensive all-company meetings. It’s incredible how interconnected global companies are and can be, and it’s especially incredible to see that everyone at every level of a company can now use digital tools to openly discuss strategy with everyone else.
These kinds of spontaneous discussions and strategy sessions generate a massive amount of data for leaders to tap into, but the problem is that there isn’t an efficient way to mine all these discussions for broader insights into how the company is performing and whether leaders have set the right strategies and priorities to reach their goals.
Surveys may help leaders get a general pulse on employee sentiment, but they don’t necessarily provide leaders with the ability to actively learn from their employee base. So, even though the thought of running your plans and strategy by hundreds or thousands of your employees may sound overwhelming, do know that it’s a complete game-changer when done right.
In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article backs this up, suggesting that leaders ought to consider crowdsourcing ideas with employees as it often means that leaders “will have stronger buy-in for the initiatives [they] eventually prioritize.”
2. Tap into Collective Intelligence
Let’s say that years ago you recognized the value of asking your employees—not just your fellow executives—when you’re setting strategy. In the pre-pandemic workplace, you had to factor in the time and cost of the multiple, sequential meetings necessary to ensure all your stakeholders had weighed in. Sometimes that meant you needed to opt-out of getting everyone’s input, especially when you had to make decisions quickly. But including everyone in the discussion doesn’t need to take longer or cost more.
McKinsey notes that tapping into your group’s collective intelligence is one of the six keys to being a great problem solver in a crisis, because “the broader the circles of information you access, the more likely it is that your solutions will be novel and creative.”
Employees are already growing accustomed to communicating and collaborating using digital tools to work on multiple simultaneous projects. It seems about time that leaders’ approach to strategic planning would follow the same flow.
For leaders to capitalize on all this cloud-based communication and collaboration, they need the support of a discussion management platform to host multiple structured and bi-directional conversations with employees.
By embracing this new approach, leaders can shift their decision-making timelines from having sequential conversations that unfold over days, weeks, and months to hosting simultaneous in-depth discussions that happen in minutes. It’s the only efficient way for leaders to get the maximum value out of the collective intelligence that’s at their fingertips.
3. Set a Regular Cadence for Broader Alignment
Like many leaders adapting to an abrupt shift in working conditions, one of the questions you may have found yourself asking is, “How do I keep teams engaged in the virtual environment?”
Challenges around engagement and alignment existed long before we all packed up our desks. But what the pandemic highlighted is that we may have to rethink the true value of our old ways of working. While the time and expense of face-to-face meetings and trips to dispersed offices may have helped leaders feel more connected, in reality it put a limitation on how many people leaders could interact with and hear from at any given time. That means leaders were often only hearing the ideas and challenges that were filtered up to them.
Research suggests that one of the steps to improving the agility of your organization is to set up processes to “monitor and learn” from your people. Regular check-ins—with individual teams or across the entire organization—will give you the opportunity to monitor progress, evaluate any impact on performance, and learn from what’s working and what isn’t in a more rigorous and meaningful manner.
The remote workplace offers leaders the opportunity to leverage new technologies in a way that allows them to break out of their executive echo-chamber and hear from everyone who’s working towards the company’s success.
The key to getting to this level of mutual success and alignment is for leaders to funnel people’s collective talents, passion, and ideas towards the company’s most pressing needs and to the issues and solutions that will result in the greatest impact to everyone involved.
CHECK YOUR TECH STACK
The shift to remote work has been successful for the organizations that have embraced the right tech to keep their teams connected and communicating. But if we try to use the same processes and structures that we did before the switch to remote—like moving in-person meetings to Zoom without any adjustments to how we meet—what seems like a successful shift can quickly get messy. To really address the disruption you need to reimagine how your teams work together, and that’s where a discussion management platform like ThoughtExchange comes in.
We’re laser-focused on your needs as a leader of a remote workforce. Here’s how:
Speed is key. We made sure that the process of gathering feedback on strategy or checking in on your team’s challenges happens in minutes, rather than the hours or days it normally takes. Launch an Exchange during a team meeting and aggregate everyone’s responses in five minutes or less.
Agile strategy. Market disruption happens at a blinding pace, and ThoughtExchange allows you to be adaptable and set a more iterative cadence for consulting your workforce and ensuring they’re feeling engaged and supported. Instead of hearing from the same talkative colleagues over and over, an Exchange lets you hear from the quieter folks in the room, ensuring that no great idea is left undiscovered.
Comprehensive feedback. No more focus groups or representative samples—ThoughtExchange makes it easy to include everyone’s input, so you know you’re seeing the whole picture. With our patented anti-bias technology and the ability for participants to share their thoughts anonymously, you can be confident that your team is rating ideas on their merit, and not on who’s sharing them.
Nuanced solutions. Your organization’s problems are complex and often the solutions aren’t obvious. ThoughtExchange puts collective intelligence in the palm of your hand so that you can find the answers you need in record time. Our rating system ensures that the ideas with the most support rise to the top and you have a clear list of priorities when you close the Exchange.
CHART YOUR NEW COURSE
It’s understandable that we’ve all been thrown off by the sudden change in our working circumstances, and we probably won’t fully understand the effect of the massive shift to remote work for decades. But we all have an opportunity to rewrite how we work, and you have an opportunity to rewrite how you lead.
When leaders embrace networked communication, simultaneous strategizing, and focus on nurturing highly aligned—versus passively engaged—teams, leaders will be better positioned to guide their organization through this new era of virtual work.