Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Putting the Central Office on Alert

I subscribe to More Magazine because a) I'm a woman b) of the right age and demographic, c) whose son's middle school does an annual magazine drive.  Plus, I usually find something of interest.  

In their September issue, buried within an article about women in the workplace, I found a comment about an important element of virtual team dynamics. 

"More difficult is the culture shift that requires workers not to unconsciously punish colleagues for being out of the room."

Behaviors and attitudes by those in a central office need to be inclusive of those located in other locations.  Most slights are unintentional, but they can still be damaging to overall team morale, productivity, and cohesiveness.  

See if you can spot 4 missteps in the following short example. 

Scene:  Central NYC Office, majority of team members in the conference room with handful of virtual team members from across the US on the conference speaker phone.
  • Mary (NYC) Meeting Facilitator:  "Good Afternoon everyone.  Glad you could join us for our monthly lunch meeting.  Help yourself to sandwiches on the side table.  John, you're first up in the agenda.  You mentioned you had some handouts you wanted to share?"
  • John (NYC):  "Yes, I'll pass them around now."
  • Peter (Seattle):  "Do you have those in electronic form that someone could email out now?"
  • John (NYC):  "Oh, right, sorry about that Peter, I just finished it before the meeting and meant to email it out before I went to the copier.  Let me just step out to ask Ellen to send that around.  Be right back."
  • Mary (NYC):  "Let's skip ahead to the next item on the agenda and come back to John in a minute.  Brrr, you can really feel that air conditioning when it kicks in, can't you?  Okay, I'm looking for ideas for our next employee engagement survey.  Anyone have anything?"
  • Susan (Phoenix):  "I have an ..."
  • Mike (NYC):  "Here's something we did last year..."  (proceeds to share)
  • Mary (NYC):  "I like it.  Anyone else?"
  • Susan (Phoenix): "Well, in our office..."
  • Lauren (NYC):  "I heard they had some success over in IT with..." (proceeds to share)  This continues with sharing from members in the room, and Susan gives up and disengages.
  • Mary (NYC):  "Okay, let's go back to our first agenda item and John's handouts."  Meeting continues.
#1  Forgetting to email handouts to those not in the room is a common yet unintentional slight.  It take discipline to change your schedule such that items are completed well enough in advance for email distribution.

#2  Very subtle, yet still common, is a greeting of "Good Afternoon" when it's morning for those on the phone.  It denotes the bias toward those in the same room rather than being welcoming to all. 

#3  The company catered lunch is only being served to those in the room, which is logical and practical, but it's the kind of injustice virtual team members can come to resent if it happens frequently.

#4  Technological challenges are at fault for the last one.  No one is intentionally talking over Susan.  When the air conditioning kicked in, the ambient noise was enough that the speaker phone stayed with the room, never letting up to allow the NYC team members to hear Susan.  In this case, the onus is on Susan to let the group know what happened or else it will occur again and again.  

If you're leading at the executive level, these examples are not your issues.  You have competent assistants to take care of meeting materials and you use senior staff conference rooms with up to date equipment.      

But this is what's happening with the teams that report to you if they have virtual team members, and that makes it your issue, too. 

The good news is that these kind of slights are low-hanging fruit on the larger Virtual Team Challenges tree.  With a little training to bring awareness, the team can turn this around and prevent future "punishments" to those not located in the central office. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sara and Sony - A Story about Constructive Feedback

Here's a short story about constructive feedback.  Some of it I know to be true, and some of it I'm guessing at.  I'll let you know where the facts end and my opinions begin...

Sara Bareilles' biggest hit on her Little Voice album was "Love Song".  As she tells it, the record company said she needed an up-beat love song on her album to be marketable.  She didn't agree, she wasn't happy with the feedback, but she wrote a song anyway and it was the album's first release.    

If you're familiar with "Love Song", you know it's actually an anti-love song whose lyrics are cleverly written to sound like a message to a significant other.  But they're not.  She wrote it for the record label...literally. 

"I'm not gonna write you a love song, 'cause you asked for it, 'cause you need one, you see.  I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you tell me it's make or breakin' this.  If you're on your way, I'm not gonna write you to stay. "  It's up-beat, catchy, and it was a huge hit.

I just saw Sara on the Today Show yesterday, and apparently the first release from her new album, "King of Anything", resulted from yet another unsettling discussion with her record label. "I guess we have issues", she said.  Based on the lyrics, it sounds like they were giving her feedback again. 

"Who cares if you disagree, you are not me, who made you King of Anything.  So you dare tell me who to be, who died and made you King of Anything."  It's already ruling the airwaves.

Here's where the facts end and my thoughts and speculations begin. 

Sara and Sony Records seem to me to be a perfect example of a successful outcome to the constructive feedback process. 

Let's reset this for the corporate environment (not really a stretch, though is it, to call a major record company "corporate").  First, you have a smart, talented "employee" in Sara.  She has a unique sound, her lyrics are intelligent and relevant, and she's got personality.  Second, you have Sony's management who understand the customer base and market demand.  Management sees the potential in Sara, likes her work, but sees the need for a revision in order to best position her as a new artist.  

Enter the constructive feedback.  Management tells Sara that their strategy is to led off the album's release with a catchy pop love song to ensure air play and gain momentum.  Here's the rub - she hasn't written a catchy love song for this album.  Sara wants to release her album as is and does not welcome this message.  How does writing a song that's just like everything else on the airwaves show off her talents as a distinctively new artist?     

And then the magic happens.  Sara listens to the feedback, and writes a "love song" while still maintaining her voice and demonstrating the talent that sets her apart.  The song has witty lyrics with tongue-in-cheek humor, and the sound is uniquely her own.  And even more amazing, after listening to the song, lyrics and all, management goes with it.   

Think about that for just a minute.  If you asked an employee for a deliverable, and what you got back was a result that was right on the money, delivered with a smile, but accompanied by a message that everyone would hear about how they were forced into doing the project against their will, would you still stamp it with your approval? 

I say kudos to Sara for being open to the feedback (at least twice at this point), and finding a way to deliver while still maintaining her voice.  And, kudos to Sony Records for recognizing a good thing when they hear it, and having the humility to roll with the punches.  

Seems to me they've got a good thing going here.  Keep up the constructive feedback!