Jon Kidwell is a leadership and business coach who helps leaders in mission-driven organizations succeed. This is Part Four in a six-part series devoted to helping you lead, build, care for, and navigate impending issues that will impact the future of your team and your organization. In Part Three, we addressed restoring team member engagement. In Part Four we discuss relationships and results in remote environments.
In one day everything changed. I was working side-by-side with my team then the next day, none of my team shared an office with me. And here’s the thing, more than ever it was vital that we connected, that each of us was transparent about what was happening, that we had a rock-solid relationship, and that we produced results. It was vital because we were in a crisis.
When was this? March 2020? Nope. It was November 2017.
I was promoted from executive director at one YMCA to leading executives over a number of Ys. It happened shortly after Hurricane Harvey and parts of our YMCA were in a difficult spot – relationally and financially. The team was navigating personal loss and grief, fear of potential job loss amidst lay-offs, and the need to respond to a community that was also in crisis. But do so in a way that supported the bottom line of the organization because of the significant loss of membership and cost of rebuilding flooded YMCAs.
With so much fear and pressure to perform, I faced an uphill battle to form trusting relationships and learn the ‘real’ truth about what was going on. On top of that, I had to figure out quickly if the work being done was meeting expectations and producing results. And driving the equivalent distance of the state of New Jersey to be in-person with everyone wasn’t an option.
My journey to leading and building authentic relationships and impactful results in remote environments and various locations began.
After the initial shock and taking the time to gather myself, I realized something. This isn’t my first rodeo leading off-site, multi-site and remote teams.
So, what was really going on? For me, the absence of trust caused me to feel like I needed to see and manage people’s work. The pressure to perform – internally and externally – made me want to “touch,” maneuver, and change course in real-time to feel in control because I believed I could figure it out.
I quickly realized this path was doomed to fail. For starters, others could also figure it out, often faster and better than me. Second, trying to be everywhere often meant I was nowhere but in the car by myself which defeated the purpose and made me less effective.
For those reasons, I chose to address the real issue: trust. More accurately, the lack of trust. I choose to begin by building relationships. Otherwise, our interactions would have only been about me inspecting the outcomes and I didn’t want that. Because, if they didn’t know me or trust that I was for them, they may hide outcomes or try to fudge the results. And then together, we could clarify the expectations and results so all could see and believe the impact we made.
It’s hard to find a definition of relationship that doesn’t involve connection. Actually, you can’t. Relationships are a state of connection. How do we build that connection? Words and actions. Doing things and talking about them. It doesn’t matter if we are five feet or 5,000 miles apart. Serving, connecting, and communicating with each other builds healthy, trust-filled relationships. So, why in that order (service + connection + communication) and how do we do it?
This is where we start if we want to deliver impactful results, regardless of the environment. It’s difficult because too often we seek results and talk about relationships. When we seek relationships then we can talk about results. And when a real relationship exists, results often follow.
I don’t know about you but in an organization, like the Y, with such strong patterns (i.e. – Mon/Wed classes, same members on the same day/time, monthly meetings) it is easy to work the routine instead of routinely working toward results.
And maybe, just maybe, this plays into the fear of the work not being done when you can’t see the work. Or, when someone works from home. I know it did for me. Here’s why:
We are at work going about our day. There is ALWAYS something to do. So much of the work, starting as a director and only intensifying the more responsibilities you gain, is not necessarily due today. So, a lot of what is done can be done in the name of something for a future result. Because the routine lends itself to eventual results. But the truth is they are merely correlated, not causal. And then, something happens. An ‘emergency.’ A situation that requires our physical and emotional attention. It could be a last-minute ASAP email request from a supervisor, an unhappy member to appease, or something that someone forgot to get ready for an event tonight so now it’s all hands on deck. And phew, that took longer than expected and I’m more spent than anticipated. At least I was helpful, a good day’s work.
Two things stand out here.
Only after we have built a healthy, trust-filled relationship can I release the need to manage the routine and support you and the organization by setting and then supporting clearly defined results.
Give your people and the organization what they need to be successful with Key Results Areas (KRA). These define what success looks like in each role. They create a shared understanding of the role and give the individual the ability to own and prioritize their work, as well as work hard to succeed. Beyond progress on work that matters most, this common ground makes possible more specific recognition, development opportunities, and feedback on performance.
With clear results and a healthy relationship at the foundation, the routine is much less of a matter for your attention. And surprisingly, because of a healthy, trust-filled relationship, you may find that you are asking to speak into the routine because they value your opinion and want to achieve the results in the best way possible. And through a heart of service, connection, and communication, together you can identify a routine that works for them, the organization and its results, and the people you serve – regardless of where the office is located.
The demonstration of service to your people and the defining of clear results are foundational to excellent customer service and experience. Check back next time for how to advance an excellent and effective mission-driven customer experience.