Category Archives: Leadership

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Managing virtual project teams

Companies across the world have gone through (or are considering) a permanent shift to remote work in response to the “new normal” that is a worldwide pandemic. However, remote working isn’t a new concept. You could argue that remote work first began 1.4 million years ago to the hunter-gatherer culture of Africa. The medieval period of England also saw people working from home as dressmakers, butchers, and watchmakers, to name a few.

These days, remote work is an important part of our working culture as companies are embracing remote work more than ever. As a team leader or project manager, this shift to remote work can also mean having to manage remote teams. Managing virtual project teams present different challenges to leading a team on-site. As differences in time and place add certain complexities to project work, it’s important that you understand how best to manage a virtual project team.

In this article, we’ll share our best practices for managing a remote project team, so you can lead with confidence as a remote project manager.

Communication is key

Communication is an important component of any successful team. In order to work effectively, team members need to be able to clearly communicate with each other. However, working remotely can put strain on team communication, especially if team members are working in different time zones.

One solution for improving communication for virtual project teams would be to make use of virtual communication tools. Instant messaging programs such as Slack are great for bringing remote team members together, helping them to have quick, fuss-free, two-way communication.

Similarly, you could use video call software to help mirror on-site team meetings by allowing everyone to see and speak to each other during the video meeting. Zoom allows users to record meetings, meaning your team can re-watch the video to recap on key points, or if they were unable to attend the meeting due to being in a different timezone, they can catch up on the meeting at a time that’s suitable for them.

Using digital tools for communication is perfect for creating effective asynchronous and synchronous communication. Misunderstandings can happen in any work environment. With 97% of employees citing lack of alignment within a team as impacting the outcome of a task or project, it’s evident that transparent and open communication is key for the success of a virtual project team. Using these tools to stay in the loop with your team can also help you to swiftly resolve any conflicts and prevent strain on the team.

Define roles and responsibilities

There’s nothing worse than a disorganized team. If you are leading a remote team, you will need to clearly define team member’s roles and responsibilities. When teams have clear functions and responsibilities, they know what is expected of them and work more efficiently.

To determine the roles and responsibilities of your virtual project team, you need to consider what tasks need completing, identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and refer to their existing job description. By considering these factors, you can allocate work to your team members based on their strengths, area of expertise and general duties. 

Understanding what each person contributes and is responsible plays an important role in working well together and succeeding as a team. By providing clear roles and responsibilities, you will be able to better support your virtual project team. You can also use virtual project management tools to help clarify responsibilities.

Trello, for example, is a great tool for visually managing team projects and individual team member responsibilities. You could also use project management tools, such as Basecamp, to set up automatic check-ins asking your team to provide daily updates on what they are working on, what’s gone well and what they need support with. This will facilitate the process of task allocation and ensure your team has the tools and support they need to succeed.

Use collaboration tools

As mentioned, virtual project management and collaboration tools are useful for managing team responsibilities. These tools are also beneficial for encouraging your virtual team to work together on projects. A report by Harvard Business Review found that 75% of cross-functional teams were dysfunctional and failed in at least three of five areas: meeting a planned budget, staying on schedule, adhering to specifications, meeting customer expectations, or maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals. So, as a virtual project manager, you will want to put systems in place to ensure your team is able to successfully work collaboratively.

Project management apps are a great way to centralize team communications. Project management tools enable everyone on your team to share updates, write messages, and ask questions without having to be in the same room, or time zone.

One of the greatest benefits of having a remote team is that it gives you access to talent from around the world. Yet, this means you also need to consider the different time zones in which your team members live. By moving shared documents and work files online, you can help improve cross-collaboration by ensuring your team all have access to the most up-to-date versions of team resources. This will help to improve the workflow for your remote team whilst minimizing the risk of misunderstanding or error.

Set up a virtual water cooler

Foster a community mindset by ensuring your team has a “virtual water cooler” where they can get together to talk, bond and build relationships as a team. While it’s important to set up formal communication channels to allow your team to communicate about work-related tasks, it’s equally as important that you provide your team with a virtual breakout space. 

Giving your team a space where they can talk about non-work topics, build a shared identity and nurture personal connections will lead to greater team engagement and better performance. Setting up a virtual water cooler can encourage your team to bond, inspire new creative ideas, build connections, and feel as though they belong within the team.

Understand how best to support your project team

Finally, the best way to successfully support your remote project team is to understand them as individuals. Personality tests are beneficial for more than just the hiring process. Using personality assessments as part of your remote team management process can help you better support your project team.

With personality tests you will be able to understand which communication style works best with each member, what their preferred style of working is, the types of people they’ll work best with, and how to ensure they have the best chance at success.

When you know your team members personality type, you will be able to adapt your leadership style to suit their needs.Make sure you schedule regular check-ins with each of your team members so that you can find out how they are doing and whether they need support with anything. 

The most important thing to remember when managing a virtual project team is to keep communication lines open, remain organized and be supportive. As a remote project manager you will face challenges that often aren’t experienced in an office environment but by following these best practices for leading a virtual team, you will be able to successfully lead your project team, no matter where they are based.


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Pros and Cons of Internal Development for Succession Planning

Leadership and talent succession is a touchy subject for many organizations. Most have a tenuous grasp on who, where, and how to hire replacements for key players, often with the intent of spending large amounts of money on hiring on senior staff.

The high-demand for skilled leaders has led to a commodity market, where talented individuals often have too many offers to count and bringing any of them into an organization will be costly.

For this and other reasons, organizations are increasingly adopting internal development as their primary succession management strategy, as pushed by influencers like Ram Charan and Stephen Drotter.

If you’re considering doing the same, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of both before adopting a single strategy.

Cost of Hiring vs. Developing Leaders

Hiring a leader for any type of senior position can be exorbitantly expensive. With few leaders on the market, many will find themselves deluged with offers. You’ll have to offer high in terms of compensation, environment, and interest/challenge to get anyone to consider your organization.

Developing leaders internally can be expensive as well. Investing in individual development often means training, mentoring, coaching, assessing results, using assignments to broaden experience, and continuing to follow up to ensure the individual is moving in the right direction.

This can be quite costly but will vary depending on the individual and the role. Internal development also means taking on risk, because if the individual leaves your organization, they aren’t delivering a return on any of that investment.

Culture Fit and Culture Awareness

Some organizations prefer to bring external leaders in to add new insight, new ideas, and new concepts. This can be extremely beneficial in that leaders with insight and experience in outside organizations can have a better view of what you’re doing, what markets are like, and can bring a broader range of experience to your organization. This can pay off.

However, it is also a risk. For example, Ron Johnson was brought onto Apple, where he greatly improved processes and increased profits for the organization. Attempting to do the same thing at JCPenney, he displayed a marked misunderstanding of the organization’s target demographic and their stocks dropped by 51%.

Internal hires are brought up inside your organization. They know how things work, why things are the way they are, and if you’ve handled development correctly, they have a deep understanding of your organization at every level. This can enable application of the Shuari principle of understanding and mastering before making changes to improve.

CEOs like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, who worked with Microsoft since 1992 are good examples of successful applications of using internal development for leadership pipelines.

However, internal development has its own risks. People could leave. Internal people often don’t have external insight and might miss key flaws or bottlenecks preventing growth. And, internal people are less likely to create needed change.

Development Path

Hiring externally means that every one of your hires will have had the chance to pursue a range of experience and roles in external companies. This can include one or numerous other organizations which means that an external person will almost always have more diverse experience.

Developing leaders internally offers other advantages. Here, you can optimize development and experiences to meet the needs of a role through assignments, training, promotions, leaders, and coaching. You can, in short, design what you believe is the perfect leader based on assessments and job profiling.

Internal development is a valuable strategy that can help you to develop leaders, increase the availability of candidates for roles when positions open, and improve the quality of hires. However, it shouldn’t be a sole strategy. In most cases, both have obvious pros, cons, and limitations, so a mix of the two strategies is likely to deliver the best total results.


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How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge and Prevent Brain Drain

Brain drain is a situation where organizations are faced with older staff leaving and retiring at a faster rate than new employees reach equivalent levels of skill and expertise. This can be a problem in organizations of all sizes.

While especially relevant to fast-scaling startups who often outpace their own ability to onboard effectively, brain drain impacts even massive companies with tens of thousands of employees.

Preventing knowledge loss often means creating preventive strategies, effectively onboarding people, and hiring to incorporate new expertise while retaining existing knowledge.

These tactics will help you preserve institutional knowledge across your organization, so that the workforce remains productive, valuable, and capable of delivering on strategy and vision.

Implement Succession Planning

Succession planning is one of the most valuable strategies to prevent brain drain, because it ensures you always know who will take the place of existing skilled or valuable persons. This often means developing a matrix to highlight your most value-added or key employees, using competency frameworks and job profiling to determine why they add value and how to replace them, and then generating succession planning based on predictions of their likelihood of leaving the role within x amount of time.

This strategy approaches brain drain from the idea that it will happen, you have to plan for it, and you have to have people ready with the right knowledge, skills, and behaviors, to prevent drops in performance when key people do leave.

Create Mentoring Programs

Lack of proper onboarding is very common in new and old companies alike. Here, new people are often hired on, very quickly introduced to their roles, and then left to be productive under a manager or Scrum leader with no real follow-up or intensive mentoring.

When more experienced individuals do leave roles, these new people are left with very little idea of how or why things are done the way they are, no idea of backlogs, and no real way to add value without changing processes, reverting items, or making a lot of mistakes.

Introducing mentoring programs as part of onboarding helps subvert this issue by ensuring existing employees always pass their knowledge, documentation, and organizational insight on to new people. While most people don’t want to make time in their role for mentoring, it is an important part of a role. The faster you’re hiring, the more time experienced people should be making for mentoring.

Focus on Employee Retention

While replacement strategies are important, employee turnover is still one of the most crucial contributors to skill loss. If you slow down how quickly employees leave, you slow down brain drain, giving your other strategies more time to take effect.

Here, you should focus on employee satisfaction, employee empowerment, fitting individuals to their roles and teams, and creating an environment people want to work in. While you’ll always have individuals who don’t fit, employee retention will make it easier to reduce losses in other places throughout the organization.

Brain drain will slow productivity, decrease profit, and force the organization to change direction or focus as individuals with crucial knowledge leave an organization. Adopt strategies to share knowledge throughout the organization to prevent losing key employees as quickly, and have a plan in place to replace key individuals when they’re ready to move on.


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Using Employee Assessment for Succession and Development

Employee assessments are typically performed on prospective candidates, during annual performance review, and any time when additional assessment is called for. Assessment can offer organizations valuable input with which to make decisions regarding recruitment, salary, bonuses, and retaining individuals.

Employee assessment is also more often used for applications including personal development and succession planning. These applications enable organizations to utilize existing data for investment, providing they have the structures in place to map how assessment results relate to future roles and capabilities.

Using Job Profiles

Job profiling is the process of mapping required behaviors, competencies, skills, and personality to success in a role. Creating job profile frameworks, typically with the support of a competency framework, allows you to see specific factors such as behavior and personality that contribute to performance in a role.

Most organizations achieve these frameworks with an “out of the box” solution in a framework designed on industry averages, which is then updated and tweaked across the organization to reflect unique role requirements in the organization. This second step is typically achieved through a combination of interviewing, reviewing performance results, and discussing job requirements with teams and people around the role.

Mapping Assessment Results to Job Profiles

Job profiles list a series of behaviors, actions, and skills that contribute to performance in a role. You can easily graph these results out, and then simply match individuals with similar results to see who matches required traits. Here, it’s more important to pay attention to soft skills such as behavior and personality, which are more difficult to train.

Importantly several types of people can often succeed (and to the same degree) in a single role. Your job profiles should encompass what success looks like and why that is success, so that you can look for it in others.

Using Gap Analysis to Determine Development Direction

Employee assessments in hiring are most-often used to directly match individuals to required or wanted behaviors and traits but some of those skills will be missing. A gap analysis can help you determine what and where candidates need to improve. If you’re planning succession and development, you should be significantly more concerned with personality and behavior traits such as personal motivation, emotional intelligence, etc. These traits are difficult to train but greatly impact leadership and creative roles. If someone shows great promise in areas that contribute to a role but are not necessarily hard skills, you can flag them for further development.

This process should always involve:

  • Analyze what’s missing from the profile to completely fill out the role
  • Discuss options with candidates and determine motivation and interest
  • Offer development opportunities in line with the role
  • Offer coaching or mentoring in-line with the role
  • Monitor progress and continue to map personality to job profiles

For example, if someone’s assessment profile maps to success in a role such as branch director but they lack key skills and don’t have the broad range of experience necessary to make good decisions. Here, it would be a relatively simple decision to set aside room for personal development, to broaden their experience with assignments in other departments or branches, and to assign them a mentor or coach who could help bridge gaps relating to personal development.

Internal development can save time and resources over sourcing leaders and technical experts externally. Managing internal succession planning and development also allows you to better select the desired traits and personalities of individuals promoted into roles, allows you to control their work culture, and gives you more room to choose, because having internal people ready doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t still hire externally.


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5 Competencies to Test for When Hiring or Developing Leaders

Competency frameworks allow you to define which behaviors and characteristics contribute to the success of a role. While the unique position and organization will contribute to those vital competencies, there is often overlap in the skills someone needs to be a good leader. Those can typically be discovered through job profiling, testing, and leadership training.

These 5 competencies are often invaluable in leaders, because they impact how individuals approach others, approach their role, and how they can take charge. You will, of course, have to add your own competencies based on the specific role and its parameters when hiring or developing for that role.

Social Intelligence

Social intelligence is often seen as one of the best indicators of a good leader. It covers how individuals recognize, cope with, and perform in various social situations. It explains how an individual will react and behave in social situations with different dynamics. A highly socially intelligent person will be able to recognize, respond, and react to a great deal of social situations, remain sensitive to different social issues, and perform well and with empathy towards others.

This impacts leadership because a good leader must change their approach and leadership style based on the situation.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence defines how an individual recognizes, responds to, and controls their own emotions and how they respond in interpersonal relationships. EQ is crucial in leaders because it impacts how they react to others, what they prioritize, and why. An emotionally intelligent leader can build relationships and trust, build loyalty, and respond empathetically to individuals in his or her team. This will improve the quality of leadership, improve individual job satisfaction, and likely reduce turnover over having leaders without it.

Adaptability

Whether testing specifically for adaptability or for a broader competency such as agility, soft-skills like adaptability are crucial for leaders. This is true whether you are either moving someone up into a new role or bringing someone in from outside your organization, as leaders must adapt to new roles and new responsibilities.

As outlined by Ram Charan’s Leadership Pipeline, an individual moving into a leadership position from a technical role must adapt to helping others complete work. A leader moving from managing a team to managing a department must adapt from helping others complete work to strategizing long-term goals.

Adaptability is therefore an extremely crucial soft-skill for a leader, because it defines whether they’ll be able to make the shift from their current job responsibilities to a completely new set.

Ethical and Moral Standards

While ethical and moral standards typically comprise several competencies, leaders consistently agree that having these standards is one of the most important things for success. Strong ethical and moral standards allow an individual to perform well in settings where they are responsible for mitigating risk, protecting assets, and building trust with their teams. Doing so is impossible without a strong ethical and moral code in place.

Self-Organizing

Leaders must be able to self-organize and self-direct if they are to perform in any capacity at all. This means that any candidate for any level of leadership must show strong motivation and self-direction. If they cannot motivate themselves or do not show a strong tendency towards self-development, learning, and organization, they likely cannot succeed in an autonomous leadership position.

Leaders exist in numerous roles and at different levels of organization. A leader might refer to an individual who guides a few people in a team or someone who drives business strategy and structure. This will impact what and who you are looking for. However, nearly every leader needs these 5 competencies to succeed in a role that involves guiding others.


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Top HR Books to Read This Year

Whether you’re working to improve yourself and your approach to HR, looking for ideas to implement into HR practices in your organization, or want to learn more about your industry, reading is an excellent way to do it.

Human Resources is an incredibly popular subject, with thousands of books published year on using data and analytics to manage people, on best practices for people and team management or setup, on emotional intelligence and leadership development, and even on technical tasks such as payroll, process management, and so on. Choosing a few to read can be daunting.

These top HR books to read this year will get you started with a selection that offers balance, a broad range of ideas, and information behind some of the most popular ideas in HR today.

The Leadership Pipeline

Ram Charan’s Leadership Pipeline was published in 2000 and has since become a classic in leadership management and development. The book outlines a framework for developing leaders internally, giving HR the tools to recognize and develop leaders for different levels of organizational leadership. Rather than taking a hierarchical approach, authors Charan and Drotter discuss the need for shifting responsibilities, changing approaches to work, and a diverse range of experience for leaders and how each of those requirements change as an individual moves to the next step in the leadership pipeline.

Stephen Drotter’s “The Performance Pipeline” is nearly as famous, although it doesn’t have the impact or the following of the original book. Drotter’s book shifts attention away from requirements to lead and towards performance management for leaders, which is equally as valuable.

The Power of People

The Power of People was published in 2017 by Jonathan Ferrar, Sheri Feinzig, and Nigel Guenole. The book approaches human resources from the angle of workforce analytics, taking examples from recent and long-term successes in the field. With case studies, The Power of People has a strong focus on giving good examples while introducing readers to the field, and introducing best-practices to help individuals improve the performance of their own workforce analytics.

The Power of People also heavily leans into a business-first approach, outlining strategy as first-and-foremost as a tool with which to achieve business goals. Most importantly, the book offers enough in terms of basic framework to help new HR analytics managers to get started, while providing enough tools, examples, best practices, and mistakes to watch out for to offer value to those experienced in the role.

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ

Emotional Intelligence was first published in 1995 by Daniel Goleman, but the book has not lost its relevance. Instead, it’s become one of the hottest topics of the year, with even top companies like Google and Microsoft working to integrate it into their everyday business practices and leadership. While Emotional Intelligence doesn’t go into detail about how EQ specifically impacts leaders or the workplace, follow-up books do. This seminal work instead explains the foundations of EQ, factors that impact it, and how EQ greatly impacts the way that people are able to form relationships, communicate, and work together.

Each of these three books will offer insight into people, workplaces, and leadership, which can greatly impact how and why you make HR decisions. Most importantly, they influence a great deal of modern HR thought and decision-making.


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