This blog post is sponsored by Mitel.
My colleague, Lauren, hosted a virtual happy hour for her company’s customer experience operations team.
Instead of a faces-on-a-screen, sip-and-chat gathering, Lauren asked her team to create a fun riff on the long-running MTV television series “Cribs.” On “Cribs,” celebrities invite camera crews into their amazing homes and show audiences around, virtually.
So, Lauren’s team’s virtual happy hour looked a little more like this: coworkers had a laptop in one hand and a libation in the other. Everyone on the team took a sip of their drink, then a turn pointing their webcam around their home, treating teammates to a virtual tour.
“It was about having fun and creating bonding time,” Lauren said.
New Realities for Digitally Mediated Leadership
We’ve learned some things about leadership in the changing business world.
One of those things is that the demands on leaders to perform within a digital, mobile working world have never been more complex. What used to be true about leadership and leading, when leaders could be co-present with employees, has changed.
That got me to thinking. With expectations changing so dramatically, and with business demands evolving just as quickly, what are the techniques leaders should have down pat right now when they cannot be physically co-present with employees every day?
Here are five techniques that rise to the surface.
1. Tell stories.
One of the biggest jobs a leader has is to promote a vision for business growth. Now, in a near-100 percent digitally mediated working environment, leaders have to kick that effort up a notch.
People connect with human anecdotes. So, explain your vision through stories, analogies, pop culture references, or relevant items in the news. You might even play a contact center recording, share a customer testimonial, or circulate a customer e-mail.
Your vision for change, teamwork, and company goals should be a central, continual part of your talk track as a leader. To get and keep your team’s attention in the current environment, you will need to mix it up. Stories have an impact.
People connect with human anecdotes. Explain your vision through stories, analogies, pop culture references, news items, or play a contact center recording.
2. Lock (virtual) arms with change-ready employees.
But leading right now is also about more than just talking. It’s also about engaging. Leaders can state a vision and tell stories, but it takes leaders and employees to get stuff done.
Some employees may be struggling with change right now. But others are ready, and they will show you they are eager to move ahead. Embrace this opportunity.
What do those employees sound and look like? New scholarly work says change-ready employees engage optimistically, embrace collectivity, and demonstrate that they are willing to navigate uncertainty.
But there’s a catch! Research shows these employee qualities aren’t always obvious. Leaders must look for them. Then, open a dialogue. Ask those employees to step into relevant, new challenges.
3. Listen authentically.
One common pitfall I see leaders fall into is believing they just know what employees and customers want without asking. If you think you know, but you haven’t asked, it’s time to reframe your assumptions. Ask and listen, authentically.
“Be authentic!” may feel like a tired phrase right now. But “being authentic” is about more than being cool with it when employees show up to virtual team meetings in their workout gear. It is also in how you pick up on the signals that employees and customers send. All. The. Time.
Here’s why it’s such a big deal. Listening with authenticity helps you to stay in tune with how your team’s culture and your customers’ experiences are shifting in comparison to your vision. Being authentic helps you to avoid the risks of getting the story you want to hear versus the facts you need to hear.
Teams that trust one another ring the cash register. Collaborative tools can support trust-building in a virtual team environment.
4. Commit to trust.
Teams that trust one other are the ones that ring the cash register. Study after study proves it.
However, demonstrating psychological safety can be a challenge when team members aren’t physically together every day. Collaborative tools can support trust-building in a virtual environment.
Additional tactics for virtual meetings: ask icebreaker questions or do a fun trivia game. One team I know encouraged impromptu GIF games in the team’s collaborative chat. On top of that, provide frequent feedback so that everyone stays on the same page with expectations.
Building trust means being authentic, frequent, predictable, responsive, and clear in your communication. It’s about more than just what you say. It’s also about when, where, and how you say it.
5. Check your gut instincts against data.
Gut instincts are great. But knowing how to get and use usable data in your leadership work is crucial. Changing times mean leaders need to challenge the quality and quantity of their data sources.
You can collect feedback through pulse surveys, customer, and employee interviews. Tools like Mitel’s contact center agent dashboard can clue you in on agent workloads, help to predict agent burnout, and avoid employee attrition.
Being authentic helps you to avoid the story you want to hear and get the facts you need to hear.
Celebrate Victories, Reward People When Things Are Going Right.
So much has changed with leadership. But some things haven’t changed. Recognizing the good work of teams and employees, for example, will never go out of style. Shout-outs, monetary rewards, and surprise care packages delivered to someone’s home sends a message of appreciation.
Like Lauren and her team’s virtual “Cribs” happy hour session, leaders need to raise a glass and toast to their teams when things are going right.
Because the world has done more than just shift. It has changed, irrevocably. Many of us are learning as we go. But there are some important leadership to-dos right now that hold firm as change unfolds in our new normal.
Get more great leadership tips from some of the industry’s most well-known thought leaders in Mitel’s new Now of Work eBook.