Best Practices for Managing Dispersed Teams

dispersed teams

You manage a team of people who are working from multiple locations and time zones. Initially, everything looked really good. You developed the project plan, created timelines, task lists and met with the team to kick the project off.

And it was a really strong start–at first.

But after awhile your team members lost energy, stopped hitting it out of the park and began to miss meetings. And now you’re concerned. You’re looking for solutions, for tips or ideas on how to get the project back on track and manage your dispersed teams successfully.

For someone who is managing a virtual team, this is a familiar story.

woman working virtually

Leading a virtual group can present real challenges. Maintaining clear communication, engagement, and focus can be tough. And, for more and more managers this is a daily reality as the number of companies with remote workers continues to grow. “Despite occasional stories of a company ending its remote work program, the long-term trends all show steady growth in the number of people working remotely,” writes Sara Sutton Fell, founder, and CEO of FlexJobs.

But, as I’ve said before, leaders are discovering innovative ways to rally and connect teams no matter how far away they are from each other. Whether or not actual policies exist, there are best practices for leading a team of remote workers successfully and building a sense of trust, belonging, and commitment to the team, the project, and the organization.

In my workshops about building and leading effective virtual teams, one of our first activities is designed to increase awareness of virtual team characteristics and complexities. We talk about what works well and what must be done to achieve positive results. Over the years I have learned some of the best practices for managing dispersed teams. Let’s a take a look at three of them.

Create Context

As the leader, it’s your job to provide the context for the team. In addition to sharing the project specifications and requirements, you need to paint the big picture for them and bring the importance of their roles to the forefront. Help your employees understand, not only what their roles are, but why they matter–and why each of them benefits individually from being truly engaged in the team goal overall.

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While this may sound like Leadership 101, a dispersed team needs help understanding the company’s vision, the purpose of the project, and behind-the-scenes information they miss by working at a distance from the home office. Teams need to know exactly how they are expected to collaborate. Remember, working remotely, while offering fantastic benefits to both employees and organizations, can provoke feelings of isolation and disconnection.

As part of creating context, set clear and measurable performance goals and make sure your team understands how those goals figure into the project and the organization’s plans as a whole.

It’s on you, as their leader, to help the members of the group connect the dots, get to know you and each other and feel like part of a team, working together toward a common purpose.

Communicate, Maybe Even Over-Communicate

Communication is one of the first things to go in a virtual team setting. The inability to read non-verbal clues presents hurdles to dispersed team members that don’t exist for in-person teams. It’s all too easy to misunderstand a text or email because virtual communication lacks the non-verbal clues we get from face-to-face interaction. It’s better when communication is through video chatting tools like Skype or Slack.

communication

Since 55 percent of communication is non-verbal, 38 percent is para-verbal (how you sound), and 7 percent is verbal, removing 93 percent of the context of communication forces a disproportionate dependence onto the verbal spoken word. Also, physical distance can contribute to avoidance of conflict, and it’s easier to default to “dealing with it later” if an exchange was tense or unclear. If you don’t handle a conflict proactively, unresolved negativity can fester.

So set up the ground rules with regular check-ins using a video conferencing tool. And make a point of meeting face-to-face at least once during the project–that contact will increase your team’s productivity by as much as 50 percent. Remember this guideline: Make a point of intentionally connecting with the people on your team three times as often as you do with the people you see spontaneously in the office. This effort will pay off for you in increased engagement and strong connections with each of your team members.

I like to remind people of the ten times rule: phone calls are ten times more effective than email (or text), and face-to-face communication is ten times more effective than a phone call. So just remember, “ten times, ten times, ten times” on the communication front.

Cultivate Community and Respect

We all work better when we feel like we are part of something larger. In addition to creating context, cultivate a feeling of community for your team. Develop a strategy to pull each of the team members into the group and then cement that feeling of community by acknowledging the team’s efforts and celebrating its successes. Work to develop a feeling of trust between you and your team and between the team members themselves. Building trust in virtual teams involves two different types of trust: cognitive (in team members’ heads) and affective (in team members’ hearts.)

Take the time to nurture these new relationships and try to understand what motivates each of your employees to perform well. Ask them what they consider appropriate incentives, and what aspects of the project they find compelling.

people in community

Make a point of being accessible to the team, and allow one-on-one time for each of your employees. Be considerate of their obligations, work commitments, and especially the time zones they are working in. Set meetings and calls as thoughtfully as your own schedule allows, and include group meetings on a regular basis as a way of touching base and offering encouragement.

Ask your team for feedback. What works for them? What isn’t working? What can you improve or create differently? If you encourage feedback and listen thoughtfully, not only will you learn important information about your employees and the project, but you may also find new leaders within the group; people you can work with and those you may promote for future leadership roles.

Be respectful of the individual group members and the team as a whole. This feeling of respect and community will go a long way toward building trust, and engagement, from a team that takes pride in delivering top-notch performances.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.com

Photo: Thought Catalog on Unsplash

5 Easy Ways to Think & Act Globally

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There’s no doubt that global business is the shape of the future. We live in a world where nearly all high-growth companies work across multiple time zones and in diverse cultural contexts. But the truth is that even experienced business leaders can sometimes get caught up in the small contextual differences of working across different regions and cultures. The solution: paying attention to little details that can ensure potential business deals – and new professional relationships – go smoothly.

Consider adopting the below tips to make next year’s global ventures your most successful yet.

1)   When speaking about the particular way something’s done in business, add “…in this country or in country X” at the end of your sentence. This will help remind you and others that it may not work the same way in other countries, and could, in fact, function quite differently. This will also let your colleagues from other countries know you’re aware that their experiences, assumptions and values might differ from your own.

2)   Remember to set the right time zones in your calendar. Also consider alternating meetings times to make it convenient for all attendees. Having a meeting at three in the morning might not be ideal for you, but neither is making your colleagues in different parts of the world stay late at the office. (Sometimes it’s the 1 or 2 hour time zone differences that cause the most confusion!)

3)   If you’re working in a new, specific, region of the world, get online and memorize five facts about that country or culture. When interacting with colleagues or business partners, use those facts as ice-breakers. In new sales or vendor meetings, you’ll be seen as credible. And by showing an effort to learn about their culture, you’ll gain respect and show genuine interest in your new associates.

4)   Make a resolution when traveling to global locations that you’ll act like an anthropologist and discover new places, people and things. Don’t just rely on tourism books; ask locals to show you around and view sight-seeing as an opportunity to support your business dealings. Just like a real anthropologist would, pay attention to the local communication style and values, the holidays people celebrate and why. You’ll develop deeper relationships with your business contacts and acquire a more nuanced understanding of their backgrounds.

5)   Seek out global news sources, read books set in other countries, and watch international films. Most importantly, share your experiences with family, friends and co-workers. It will get them excited to learn more about the world. People exposed to distant cultures and new ideas tend to appreciate the importance of a global mindset.

6) Ensure everyone contributes to meetings by adopting communication best practices that account for different styles, personalities and cultures. Some like to talk a lot, others not so much, but everyone wants to feel their opinion is valued.

7) Study cross cultural theory to teach yourself about cultural diversity. There are four main cultural dimensions that I propose in my book, that cause the most difficulties in multicultural teamwork. To see my convenient tool, the 4D Culture Model, check out my book, The New Global Manager.

These tips may sound simple, but I promise they will go a long way toward helping you foster positive and lasting professional relationships in global environments. Finally, remember that developing global mindset isn’t only a business benefit; the growth and enrichment that comes with cross-cultural experiences can be as personally rewarding as it is professionally.

Practicing Inclusion in a Culture of “Ghosting”

diversity inclusion ghosting leadership

Have you noticed that more and more people set up meetings — and then don’t show up? Or individuals commit to projects, partnering or funding and don’t follow through? Even in recruiting scenarios, candidates and recruiters will sometimes disappear altogether, leaving the other side confused and upset.

I’m seeing this trend – disappearing altogether, or “ghosting” as it’s called primarily in the dating world – without notice, apologies, or excuses and it makes me wonder…

If we are striving to practice inclusion in our organizations and committing to be a more inclusive leader, how do we reconcile today’s seemingly normal behavior of ghosting each other?

I checked in with a few others about their experiences with being ghosted and several people said, “Oh sure, it happens all the time.” One person suggested it was because of social media, “People are used to ignoring each other and being ignored [or not “liked”], we’re immune to it now.”

Another colleague who runs a powerful, exclusive network for professionals told me that members were dropping out of the network because they couldn’t trust others in the group anymore to do what they said they were going to do.

Someone else blamed it on Millennials, “They don’t know how to be professional and follow through.”

All of these responses are gravely concerning to me. First of all, I don’t like blaming a group of people for a single behavior (and my experience of ghosting isn’t just Millennials). Second, I believe the world is too small to treat each other disrespectfully. It’s not nice, nor is it good for our relationships with each other, our teams or organizations. And the problem is that while some may not care about being ghosted, many do see it as a sign of bad behavior. When you don’t hear from someone it’s easy to make up all kinds of negative stories in your head. Mostly around feeling dissed or excluded… the opposite of feeling included.

Why is ghosting happening now?

Busy-ness was my first theory. 

People are working long hours, around the clock, often in fast-paced environments, and some with limited resources. They are using all kinds of technology channels like email, text or Asana and Slack to communicate and get deliverables done. Everyone is busy with work and life.

But are we really busier than we were before? Most people I know take some time off, they have time to watch the latest series out on Prime or Netflix, they date, they make personal phone calls to family members and friends, and get to their doctor when they need to. And from what I see, everyone is app-ing, texting and emailing, even in their cars. There does seem to be time to communicate with others.

stressed employee technology

Are we too distracted? 

Perhaps we are over-stimulated and inundated by so many things that we can’t possibly remember to do what we said we were going to do. Or connect when we said we were going to connect. Or we can’t keep track of all the people or things we were supposed to respond to? It’s getting away from us, maybe in part due to technology’s ability to broaden our scope and reach.

It could also be that we are so used to being connected online that we underestimate each other’s feelings, how things come across, what people think about us. It’s easier to disappear when we’re not voice-to-voice or face-to-face. Messaging drops off, someone is active on social media and then not, snapchat shares an immediate moment and then it’s gone…

Has our culture changed?

I wonder too (and truly hope not) that with a pervasive culture in the US right now of “I’ll say and do what I want and I don’t care if it hurts another person”, if ghosting isn’t a part of that? Maybe it’s not just a few bad apples in our society, maybe it’s that we, as a society, truly don’t care anymore how our behavior impacts others? Maybe “ghosting” is just part of an overall culture trend?

Perhaps, I’m being over-sensitive and what I’m deeming as “ghosting” is actually the new norm. I mean does it really matter if a few people fall out of one’s life, does it? If we have five commitments and three disappear, we still have two. Isn’t that good enough? There are people I know who regularly ghost others digitally and then when they see that person face-to-face it’s like they’re greeting an old friend. They are kind, genuine and full of promise. Maybe ghosting just isn’t that big of a deal?

greeting an old friend

Let’s talk about inclusion.

Some of the most powerful Diversity & Inclusion programs address the concept of “micro-aggressions”. That is, saying or doing something that often unintentionally slights someone else. It could be not acknowledging someone in a hallway, only talking to specific people in a meeting, or interrupting someone while they are speaking. These small actions can have a larger affect on workplace atmosphere and employee engagement.

I remember one of my first projects in D&I was at a university in Massachusetts. There was quite a bit of frustration and anger leading to violence between various racial groups on campus. After assessing the situation, it boiled down to people feeling a lack of acknowledgement leading to hurt feelings, which led to anger. We initiated a “Just say ‘Hi’” campaign across campus. Students wore t-shirts, hats and buttons showing their support for the campaign and people who didn’t know each other started saying “Hi” to each other. It turned around the whole situation and violence on campus was eradicated.

Sometimes practicing inclusion is as simple as acknowledgement.

If inclusion is about acknowledging, staying connected to, and ensuring others understand your motives, then ghosting is the opposite of that. Ghosting erodes inclusion. You can be the kindest person in the world but if you ghost someone, they may assume it’s an attack, or at the very least, a sign you don’t think very highly of them as another human being.

And sadly, we all know too well the extreme measures people take when they feel powerless, ignored and treated unfairly.

But imagine what we could achieve in our life and work if we eradicated ghosting, micro-aggressions, even violence, and truly adopted an intentional practice of inclusion.

What would that world look like?

Contact Melissa if you’d like to discuss developing a customized strategy for inclusion in your organization.

Welcome to Your New Managerial Position

new manager figuring out management

When The New Year Brings New Responsibilities

You have been consistently climbing the hierarchy at your job, demonstrating your technical proficiency and distinguishing yourself as a rising star. Once that rising star ascends into the management constellation, what should you expect?

According to the latest Gallup Poll, 60% of employees would trade a raise not to work with their manager anymore. And 70% of employees are still disengaged or actively disengaged. Management and leadership skills are key to turning around productivity and motivation.

So all of those hours coding, executing assignments, and producing whatever deliverables were asked of you have paid off; you are a “high potential” and now you get to run the whole show. What will you do to motivate and inspire your team? It is time to draft a plan and mobilize your resources. As you prepare to lead, consider:

Administrative Tasks Will Demand Your Time

There will be the new component of increased administrative work, such as status reports, human resources forms, and audit compliance tasks. These tasks will always be part of your job description. Now that it is here, know that this administrative work is a necessary part of keeping the gears moving within your organization. (And now you know that someone was doing it on your behalf all those years before now.) Viewing it as a task to go ahead and check off early in the day when your energy is high is a more potentially successful and satisfying strategy than squeezing it in when all you want to do is call it a day.

In addition, as someone freshly arrived to the administrative component of your new position, you may unearth obstacles to efficiency or opportunities for consolidation of outmoded processes that others have stopped “seeing.” Share your feedback with your leadership; yours may be the prompt they need to reassess some time wasters.

People Management Demands Will Multiply

When the names in the boxes on the organizational chart turn into real live people depending on you for guidance, evaluation, and direction, you have found the heart of the difference between your previous position and your new one. Now that you are managing, the demands for you to relate are many. Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda Orlikowski, and Peter M. Senge say the following about relating: “Traditional images of leadership didn’t assign much value to relating. Times have changed…and in this era of networks, being able to build trusting relationships is a requirement of effective leadership.” The number one piece of advice to heed when it comes to people management is: do not allow situations to fester in airless darkness. Be direct, be proactive, value the fact that relating brings with it as big a return on investment as many of your tangible business efforts will.

You Are Not Sure You Will Ever Get To Do What You Love Again

You don’t have to let the requirements of all that administrative work and people management completely displace your connection to the work you love that got you to this place. Paul Glen recommends allowing “indulgences,” meaning you should allow yourself to continue to dabble in the topic that propelled you up the leadership ladder. He continues, “New managers need the opportunity to occasionally dabble in their former work. Let them code just a little” and “revisit the glory days.”

Everyone Wants Something From You

Being in a position of leadership puts you squarely in the middle of various sets of expectations: your employer, your employees, your vendors. You may feel like an impostor, with a spiffy new title on the outside and the same old practitioner mindset on the inside.

Your former peer now wants a day off when you need him or her to be heading up a new initiative. A subordinate is upset that the revised office floor plan results in less window space. There are rumbles of dissatisfaction from various corners of the building about matters from the trivial to the serious. You may be feeling “this is not what I signed up for.” When encountering issues based on people’s needs, address them while they are small. It is natural for some first-time managers, especially if they do not have formal management training, to think “it will sort itself out” or “it’s not that big a deal.”

There is a component of management that is not delineated in black and white on the strategic plan: the discipline of building connectedness. As Kouzes and Posner say in Encouraging the Heart, “We need to feel connected to others and, in turn, they to us, because greatness is never achieved all by ourselves alone.” Fostering connectedness is as critical as bringing in a new client, writing the perfect program, or staying within budget. If nurturing connectedness makes you anxious, engage a mentor who can help you figure it out.

Remember Who You Are

Despite the additional administrative work, the challenges of managing people, and the distance from being able to practice your skill set, you still owe it to yourself to keep the spark of your individual assets alive. It is easy to get subsumed by the cascade of competing demands. Be deliberate about remaining true to the professional and personal identity you are carving out for yourself.

How Will January 2020 Look?

Ask yourself what you want the people you are now managing to feel about their first “year in review” as your employee. There’s every reason to believe they can feel inspired, motivated, and engaged rather than demoralized, deflated, and disconnected.

Diversity and Inclusion: The Key to Growth

Leadership Trainers

Diversity has emerged as one of the hottest topics in the professional world today. There are a lot of movements to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but in many cases tangible change is not happening quickly enough. There are evidently challenges to face, and all stakeholders need to work harder.

That drive for diversity in the workplace, however, is only getting bigger. More companies are committing to diversity in their structures. Staff are helping businesses approach the need for diversity more positively.

With the 2019 L&D Report from findcourses.com confirming that the fastest-growing companies are 72% more likely to have high diversity in their organization compared to the ones that didn’t see growth last year, these changes are only the beginning. There are more reasons to focus on diversity today than ever before.

Defining diversity

Diversity is often seen as being related to race or ethnicity, but this limited view is no longer relevant. Today, diversity is as much about ethnicity as it is about gender, beliefs, political views, sexual orientation, and other equally important factors.

The expanded definition of diversity allows businesses to understand the need for diversity in the workplace. In the end, that improved understanding is exactly what pushes more businesses towards a diverse structure and work environment.

As the definition of diversity expands, we are also seeing more approaches being incorporated into efforts to create a diverse work environment. Rather than setting quotas, for example, companies are more open to reviewing candidates and employees objectively.

Appreciating differences

The more conventional approach to diversity – which often involves setting quotas and taking in employees for (and only for) the sake of diversity – is being abandoned. Rather than promoting diversity in the workplace, this approach only creates a new set of problems.

As mentioned before, appreciation and objectivity are the ways forward. Businesses are empowered by a corporate culture that appreciates and promotes differences. Being different doesn’t necessarily mean being bad at the job; sometimes, it is the opposite.

It is also worth noting that companies are taking a more hands-on approach to structuring the work environment and leveraging diversity. The creative industry has been doing this for a long time, and the approach is now being adopted by businesses in other industries as well.

Balance and growth benefits

Diversity in the workplace has also gained traction for another reason. Diversity is one of the ingredients that spark better operations and faster growth. Businesses, after all, have their bottom lines as the primary objective of operations, and the fact that diversity leads to improvement to the bottom line makes it even more appealing.

With diversity being a key ingredient to growth and innovation, it is interesting to see how it affects companies as a whole. For starters, maintaining diversity means maintaining balance. There is no hidden bias threatening the wellbeing of the company.

Diversity is also good for the core business of the company. It sparks creativity and creates a bigger pool of ideas for the company to draw from. This leads to better product development and a much more holistic understanding of the target customers.

Companies like Ernst & Young are using diversity to set themselves apart from the competition and to spark innovation within the team. Martin Hayter, their Global Assurance Learning Leader describes their workplace culture:

“The team has a global flavor to it. It brings more creativity and higher quality and we know that the content we develop is going to be applicable to different cultures, and to both emerging and mature markets.”

These benefits of diversity and inclusion culminate in an advantage that every company needs to remain competitive in fierce markets. That competitive advantage is a better decision-making process. Improved decisions lead to a better ability to react to market changes – and to react in the correct way.

Diversity and inclusion training

Diversity and inclusion is cementing itself as a global trend. As illustrated by the UK L&D report from findcourses.co.uk, D&I is one of the five training courses most demanded in 2019. These courses are designed to help companies acknowledge and harness the power of diversity. Some training programs go deep into the strategy of leveraging diversity in the workplace, while other courses are designed to help businesses recruit a diverse group of talent to support their growth.

Diversity training programs are not only designed to help companies meet the standards set by regulations either. Diversity and inclusion offer context and practical application scenarios of diversity as a concept. This key knowledge empowers businesses and allows them to approach diversity in a more proactive way.

The possibilities are endless. With every step taken to embrace diversity, businesses amplify the potential benefits they stand to gain from creating a diverse work environment. The further businesses go, the bigger the benefits they can receive as well. More importantly, better understanding and implementation of diversity leads to faster, more sustainable business growth and future innovation. At the end of the day, diversity becomes a crucial ingredient for success!

Toasting at The Office: A Guide to Responsible Drinks in the Workplace

Have you ever been at an office party that’s been limited in its offerings—just drinks, for example? How well has that ended? Probably not well, because post-work with just alcohol is not a great way to be your best at any office event. In fact, any event that is responsible related to work is an event that has food, limits its alcohol, and makes non-alcoholic drinks widely available.

               That’s just one example of putting a good work policy about alcohol into place. And the best way to do that is to put an alcohol policy into place, formally—and to share it with all employees, at multiple times and definitely before any event. And it also means that you have to think about events pretty carefully—planning them and making sure that you are putting policy into practice. What else does a good company policy look like? This graphic explains it.

Five Strategies to Help You Manage Well Without Authority

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Sandra came to me with questions about a new project she had been assigned to lead. She would be responsible for her teams’ performance for the new initiative but was concerned about how to keep the individual members motivated since they would not be reporting to her directly. How could she manage well without authority?

“I’m not responsible for their careers,” she explained. “I’m not responsible for their performances beyond the project outcomes, so I don’t have the usual fears or promises of promotions as motivators. I’m not sure how to make this work,” she stated.

The situation my client described is a typical scenario. An increasing number of companies today use the matrix model of management, managing employees with more than one reporting line, or across business groups. Under these circumstances, team leads are responsible for team performance in the project outcomes but have no other authority. As in Sandra’s situation, the inherent challenge is to engage and motivate employees who report to someone else.

As I say in my book, “The New Global Manager,” you must accomplish your mission through the group. People say this in many different ways. They say you must “make your numbers” or “hit your targets” or “achieve your goals.” However you describe it, you must do it through your team. So, you need to help the people who are on your team grow and succeed. Great managers have always been coaches and mentors. They’re always looking for ways to help their team members do better in their present job and prepare them for their next move.

‘Leadership without authority’ is an emerging concept gaining traction in social, academic and business circles,” writes Russ Banham. “In fact, type those three words into Google, and more than 6.5 million results pop up. A shelf of books has been written on the subject, and courses are even being taught to achieve its graces. Not only that but leading without authority has been espoused by such diverse organizations as the American Chemical Society and the National Center for Cultural Competence,” he adds.

How do you lead without authority?

The goal of leadership without authority is to get others to willingly cooperate and engage, rather than following directives because you’re the boss,” writes Carol Kinsey Goman. “This new style of leadership is a blending of personal and interpersonal skills that form the basis of a leader’s ability to impact, influence, and inspire others.”

As I explained to Sandra, managing well without authority is entirely possible–and people do it all the time these days. We all have certain levels of influence in our work. Some have the influence that ties to their position; some have authority based on their expertise or resources. And everyone can develop influence by building strong relationships. In situations like Sandra’s, relationships are central to the success of her project. I gave Sandra the following five strategies to help her manage her project team.

Five strategies to help you manage without authority

1. First of all, you need to understand what motivates the team. What is each team member’s motivation for being successful? One may be driven by the promise of earning more money, while another is excited to be able to make contributions. Are your team members motivations intrinsic, meaning that he or she will take action because it is personally rewarding, or are they extrinsic? “Extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment,” writes Kendra Cherry.

2. Create visibility for your team. Talk to the managers who are responsible for your team members’ careers about what they’re doing. Find ways to support and praise the team publicly. Advocate for them and help create visibility company-wide.

3. Hold discussions with the team at the outset. Set the expectations about communication channels; how you will communicate with each other and how the team is expected to communicate with you. Explain what hours you expect they will be available and what channels they will use to reach you. Be specific about the kind of information you expect to receive and how frequently you anticipate hearing from them. Make it clear that you are very interested in keeping communication open at all times.

4. Define the roles and responsibilities for your team. Take the time to represent what you expect from each of them clearly, and tie those expectations into the motivators you have determined will be effective for each person. Establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities lessen the chances of duplication of effort or frustration between the various people you are managing on the project.

5. From the beginning, help the team understand that you’re willing to support their image and brand. Be transparent. Let them know that you will foster, network and generally be supportive of them, so they know that they’re not working in an isolated bubble. Remind them that just because they aren’t reporting to their manager for this project doesn’t mean there isn’t company-wide visibility, organizational visibility and their reputation at stake. Help them understand that their behavior and their performance in this project can and will impact them positively or negatively in the larger company setting.

Sandra took these strategies into her work on the new project and was able to build significant relationships with each of her team members. She reported that they were nearing completion and had every expectation of hitting most of the project expectations successfully. She was also pleased to report that she had already been instrumental in helping further several of her team members’ career goals, and she felt very good about that.

Would you like a summary of my management rules in a pdf format? Join my online global leadership community.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Diversity is Key to Eradicate Implicit Bias in AI Solutions

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The age of digitalization is upon us. We find stories of the impact technological advances are having–and will have on our lives, our work, and our futures–everywhere. And truly, diversity is key to eradicate implicit bias in AI solutions and technology in general.

The term implicit bias refers to the process by which our brains notice patterns and make generalizations based on observations and experiences. We often refer to this process as stereotyping and our brains do this, unconsciously, all the time. For each of us, our unconscious, or implicit, biases play a role in how we understand the larger world around us.

But, are we considering the role implicit biases will play in the development of this technology?

“This tendency for stereotype-confirming thoughts to pass spontaneously through our minds is what psychologists call implicit bias. It sets people up to overgeneralize, sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel they are being fair,” write Keith Payne, Laura Niemi, and John M. Doris, for Scientific American.

“We all bring unconscious biases into the workplace,” writes Laura Berger. “These deeply subconscious attitudes span race, gender, appearance, age, wealth and much more. They influence everything from the car you drive to the employee you promote and the one you don’t. And because they are so reflexively triggered without our knowledge, they are virtually unconcealable.”

So as we contemplate our futures, I find myself wondering about this. Who is monitoring the unconscious biases held by those developing the technological solutions to tomorrow’s societal problems?

If we are not already discussing this, we need to start. Today.

AI in L&D: Benefits and concerns

An example of our increasing reliance on technology in L&D is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). My colleague, Annika von Redwitz, and I are keenly aware of the stated benefits of using AI in learning and development. As we see it, the impact of AI on L&D has the potential to disrupt the delivery of corporate learning in the future.

However, while we envision much good to come out of this, we both share concerns about the implicit biases programmers may be imparting to the technology they develop for L&D.

Why? Learning and development are critical to any company’s success today. And, to be successful L&D must prepare leaders, train managers, inspire employees, develop great communicators, promote diversity, and ensure teams are high-performing. According to PwC, by the 2030’s, 38 percent of all U.S. jobs could be replaced by AI and automation.

“Many people say AI will get ‘smarter’ over time as it is used,” writes Annika in a recent article we co-authored for “Training Industry.” “Of course, this is true, but we need to make sure the recognition software doesn’t inhibit creativity or reinforce thinking patterns that may need to change – not unlike what can happen when internal trainers do all the training in organizations for their peers.”

Unconscious bias is our tendency to make mental shortcuts,” said Natalie Johnson, a partner at Paradigm, a firm that helps companies with diversity and inclusion. “While these shortcuts are helpful–they enable us to make decisions quickly–they can be prone to error. They can especially be prone to error when making decisions about people.”

Research published by Infosys in 2017 shows AI is perceived as a long-term strategic priority for innovation, with 76 percent of the respondents citing AI as fundamental to the success of their organization’s strategy, and 64 percent believing that their organization’s future growth is dependent on large-scale AI adoption.

“Tech companies have made big advances in terms of building artificially intelligent software that gets smarter over time and potentially makes life and work easier,” writes Michelle Cheng, for Inc. “But these examples reveal an uncomfortable reality about A.I.: even the most intelligent bots can be biased.”

Ideally, thanks to digitalization, we will all have more time to focus on people and human interaction. But, we need to remember, that human beings are developing technology like AI, each with implicit biases that impact the solutions they design.

Not only is is essential that diverse teams (of humans) work well together to develop those algorithms–it is imperative that we continue discussing how to manage the potential for problems caused by stereotypes and unconscious biases.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Introducing: The New Global Manager!

image-of-melissa-lamson-new-global-manager-book

I’m so excited. I have launched my new book, “The New Global Manager.”

This book has been a labor of love, born out of the conviction that, in today’s new global environment, all managers are now global managers. And global managers must be able to quickly make sense of situations where cultural differences add levels of complication.

Like most managers, you already know that cultural differences are significant when you’re dealing with business partners from other countries. You see what’s happening. You get that today’s marketplace is increasingly global.

But what you may not fully understand is that you need to learn and use global management skills to address these cultural differences—in every interaction you have. And, you may not realize, but you are probably already being judged on how well you are meeting increasingly complex demands.

“The New Global Manager”

As I say in my new book, “culture” is how we describe the norms, perceptions, and values that drive our behavior and that we use to evaluate the behavior of other people. We use the term “cultural differences” to refer to everything from corporate cultures, to differences in religious beliefs, gender orientations, countries of origin, ethnicity— and so much more.

And, when everyone has the same norms, perceptions, and values, interacting with others and doing business is pretty straightforward and easy. But things get more complicated when the people with whom you do business, who are your customers, employees, colleagues, or bosses, have different norms, perceptions, and values.

Why is this?

It goes back to something rooted in human nature. We all make choices based on our cultures; all of the influences that have shaped us. But the people we interact with evaluate our action based on their own cultures, which can create confusion, misunderstanding, and potential problems, at times. Especially in a global business environment.

The pressure on managers is intense. Managers must be able to work and react quickly to this rapidly changing global environment with the challenges inherent in digitalization, new markets, diverse cultural backgrounds.

Whether you are a new global manager or someone who has worked in management for the past twenty years, today you need to be able to quickly make sense of situations where cultural differences add levels of complication. You must learn to recognize, assess, react and solve complicated management situation where diverse styles, personalities, and cultures are in play.

Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be.

I understand the dynamics at play and want to assure you that there are practical resources available to help you learn to be an effective global manager and work well with culturally diverse customers, teams, colleagues, and bosses. I use a broad range of tools and frameworks that I recommend highly, which help my clients, manage these challenges effectively.

In “The New Global Manager,” I introduce some of those including OAR™, a multi-purpose tool to help you become aware of situations that aren’t working or have suddenly changed, ask questions to help you analyze the situation, and react appropriately. The acronym, OAR, stands for Observe, Ask Questions, React. Using OAR, when someone behaves in a manner that catches you off guard, instead of responding immediately, you stop and observe the situation.

I wrote “The New Global Manager” as a daily resource for managers, to provide practical tools and frameworks like OAR and 4DCulture, and strategies and tips for successfully managing abroad and at home, face-to-face and virtually. Whether you are a new manager or a manager with twenty years of experience, this is the comprehensive resource you’ve been waiting for.

Click here to buy the $.99 electronic version of the “New Global Manager” today. Remember, this is a limited and exclusive offer, so don’t delay!

Let me know what you think after you’ve read it. And please, give me a review on Amazon!

4 Tips to Combat Imposter Syndrome

woman working virtually

To look at Suzanne, one would think she had everything. She was attractive, self-assured, and handled her responsibilities with aplomb. Yet in our coaching session Suzanne confessed that, even though she was a highly respected leader who had the C-suite’s ear, she felt like an imposter and worried that she would be exposed as a fraud.

Suzanne is not alone. Many women feel like this.

If you don’t feel like you deserve your success, read on.

Even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said, “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud.” It is estimated that 70 percent of people (not just women) feel this way, according to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.

Impostor syndrome–the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications–was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes,” writes Abigail Abrams. The psychologists initially believed that impostor syndrome was experienced only by professional women, but this has been proven untrue.

Clance published a paper in 1993 acknowledging that impostor syndrome was not limited to women, according to Abrams, and later developed an online test for impostor syndrome. And some psychologists now believe that impostor syndrome is not a distinct, permanent condition, but a complicated state people experience when they are feeling stretched.

Who suffers from this condition?

Imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate, and can happen regardless of the level of success a person has achieved in their field,” writes Danielle Page, for NBCnews.com. According to Page, certain factors can increase your chances of experiencing impostor syndrome. Your gender is one of them. Women are socialized as little girls to be more risk-averse than little boys, and this socialization can show up in later years in work-related situations.

Then there are the perfectionists. Perfectionists live with the fervent desire for success, but they focus on avoiding failure, which often leads to procrastination and self-sabotage. “Perfectionism and impostor syndrome often go hand-in-hand,” writes Melody Wilding. “Think about it: Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up.”

How imposter syndrome could be hurting your career

Your struggles with impostor syndrome could be causing problems for you at work. Think about it. Are you sabotaging your best efforts? Are you overcompensating and working yourself to the bone? Do you hang back from the spotlight? Or do you set yourself up to fail by finishing a project late–or not finishing it at all? Each of these behaviors only serves to underscore your sense of not being good enough or knowing enough. And can lead to trouble with your team and potentially damage the trajectory of your career.

“Imposter phenomenon can also correlate to worse outcomes at work–perhaps due to these unhealthy working habits,” writes Belle Cooper. “A study of over 200 professionals at the University of Salzburg found those experiencing imposter phenomenon tended to be paid less, were less likely to be promoted, and felt less committed and satisfied at work.”

Imposter syndrome can turn into a cycle of self-doubt, self-monitoring, fear, and self-criticism, which can, in turn, cause you to overwork and suffer burn out or miss opportunities because you assume you aren’t good enough.

How to turn it around

If any of this sounds familiar, and you think you may be dealing with impostor syndrome, try this: Think of yourself as a work in progress. Find someone you admire and ask them to go out for coffee. See if you can talk about your self-doubt and ask them how they handle their own. You may be pleasantly surprised at their answers.

Impostor syndrome doesn’t have to last forever. There are a host of strategies and tactics you can employ to help you move through the imposter mindset and into a healthier and happier you. Try asking for feedback and really listening to both good and critical comments. Accept compliments with a gracious and straightforward acknowledgment, and stop being so afraid of failing or making mistakes. Someone who is a work in progress learns from doing things right–and from doing things wrong. You’re going to be just fine, you’ll see.

I gave Suzanne the following assignments in our last coaching session:

  1. Accept that you have those feelings instead of beating yourself up
  2. Overcome it by regularly reviewing your accomplishments (writing them down helps)
  3. Develop a script so you can at least “act” deserving and confident
  4. Ask for feedback often, the more you hear about the value you’re bringing to others, the more you can internalize it

I’m confident she will work through each of them and, in time, her feelings of self-doubt will be a thing of the past.

Note: be on the lookout for my new book, The New Global Manager, due out in September! Click here to get early notice of the book’s availability and receive a free gift.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo: 123rf.com