Wayne Turmel is a unique voice in the leadership and communication field. He's the "Connected Manager" blogger for BNET, host of "The Cranky Middle Manager Show" podcast that has a worldwide following and the president of Greatwebmeetings.com. Recently, I had the chance to ask him some questions about how the world of work has changed and how leaders -- and especially their organizations, haven't kept pace.
What's so radical about the fact that the way we're working today -- telecommuting, remote teams, and matrixed organizations?
In many ways, management and leadership haven't changed in millennia. Peter Drucker famously said the best management job ever was getting the pyramids built -- and I'd agree. The big difference is that at least the guy in charge of building the pyramids was actually AT the pyramids. Now managers are expected to do the things they've always done without physically being with their teams. Think about what good leaders do -- build human connections, inspire people, help them engage with the organization, provide timely coaching and feedback. It's not like we've done a great job of that over the years and now we're trying to lead over distance, usually mediated by technology.
You say the change has already happened. What do you mean by that?
Businessweek's research shows that by 2012 more than a quarter of the US workforce will be part-time, contractors, or temporary workers. Many of these people will be working remotely. The leader of the future (and in fact today but nobody's told HR) will have to quickly create cohesive, functioning teams from people they may not even know, bring them together, and get work done. Additionally, these teams will break up and re-form for the next project. Do you want to have to start over every time or do you want to be able to inspire the kind of relationships that have people wanting to work for you again? Which is easier, building a team from scratch each time or just saying to people you know and trust, "Hey, we're getting the band back together?"
There are a lot of tools out there to help. What's the impact of technology on these teams and managers?
I don't think the problem is a lack of tools. Don't forget, Genghis Khan ruled half the planet and never held a single conference call. The problem isn't that technology isn't available. The real problem is that people aren't using the tools well and frankly companies do a lousy job of helping managers understand the human factors in using technology effectively.
What do you mean?
Nobody is saying, I think we need a new social networking tool like Yammer or Bloomfire! No, they say, "I need my people to capture their thinking and share it with the team better. I need my team to trust each other to have the answers." There are tools that help do that.
Think about how technology is rolled out in most companies. Trainers are told they can't travel and have to deliver by webinar. Sales people have to make more virtual presentations before they're allowed to travel. Tools are purchased and people are told "Here's a WebEx license. Good luck and try not to hurt anyone"... They've never seen a well-run virtual meeting, the technology is intimidating, and who has time to learn? So they continue working the way they always have and tools don't get used, or at least used well. Sure they've saved money on travel, but what have they lost in terms of productivity, sales or turnover because remote workers are more prone to leaving?
Who is teaching the best practices like, "When is the right time for a full-blown webmeeting and when will a simple email suffice?" And then (maybe more importantly), "What can this tool do for me when used correctly? How can I build team cohesion by doing better webmeetings?" It's not the tools; it's the soft skills associated with using them.
How can companies boost adoption of technology?
There are three simple things that help adoption rates:
1. Start with small teams, show success, and grow virally. Enterprise-wide, top-down solutions are doomed to failure.
2. Get buy-in by assessing the needs of the group before rolling out the tool. There's a huge difference between, "We need to share information more effectively, so let's use SharePoint" and "You now have SharePoint, go share information." People will use tools that solve their problems. Senior leadership needs to lead by example and use them as well.
3. Give real training on the tools. Real training means both the "how" and the "why." It means that people need to receive real feedback on their use. If you're expecting sales people to do web demos, teach them how to give good demos, watch them, and provide feedback. Don't just tell them to watch an online tutorial and then get out there and sell.
Looking at those, I realized Drucker was right, nothing's changed in thousands of years. Maybe soon we'll get it right.