Decision Vision

A Podcast
for Decision Makers

Episode 58

How Do I Manage My
Work-at-Home Employees?

 

Episode 58: How Do I Manage My Work-at-Home Employees?

The question of “How do I manage work-at-home employees?” has suddenly been thrust upon business owners by the workplace disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In this edition of “Decision Vision,” host Mike Blake explores various aspects of this issue with Bruce Tulgan, RainmakerThinking. “Decision Vision” is presented by Brady Ware & Company.

Bruce Tulgan, RainmakerThinking, Inc.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerLearning, an online training resource. Since 1995, Bruce has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations ranging from Aetna to Wal-Mart; from the Army to the YMCA. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). Bruce lectures at the Yale Graduate School of Management, as well as other academic institutions. He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business ReviewHR MagazineTraining Magazine, and the Huffington Post.

Since 1995, Bruce has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations. In recent years, Bruce was named by Management Today as one of the few contemporary gurus to stand out as a “management guru” and he was named to the 2009 Thinkers 50 Rising Star list. On August 13, 2009, Bruce was honored to accept Toastmasters International’s most prestigious honor, the Golden Gavel. He lives in New Haven, CT with his wife Debby Applegate, Ph.D., who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for her book The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (Doubleday, 2006).

For more information, you can follow Bruce on Twitter or go to the RainmakerThinking website.

 

Decision Vision Podcast Episode 58 | How do I manage my work-at-home employees | Bruce Tulgan | Brady Ware

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Transcript: How Do I Manage My Work at Home Employees? – Episode 58

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Intro:
Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.

Mike Blake:
Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ respective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.

Mike Blake:
My name is Mike Blake and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator, and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.

Mike Blake:
So, this is the second of a sub-series of topics regarding how to address the coronavirus crisis from the executive decision makers’ perspective. And in our last discussion, we heard from Justin and Jody Daniels, who talked about the unique challenges that we confront in terms of data security and privacy when we move en masse to a remote working environment. And today, we’re going to move to the issue of management and leadership itself from a remote management environment.

Mike Blake:
So, full disclosure, I’ve been working largely from my home for the last 10 years or so. So, as it turns out, I’m kind of used to this thing. This whole virus has forced me into something that I would prefer to do anyway. The one thing that I had to learn as I did this is I learned that I had—not just to work differently, but you also have to manage differently and lead differently because that physical space means something.

Mike Blake:
The technology that has evolved over the last 25 years that enables us to work well remotely is of a blink of an eye in comparison to the evolution of humanity that makes us want to be together in the same cave, in the same herd, in the same hunting group, in the same tribe that makes us work together, build together and grow together. And if you are somebody who is suddenly thrust into the necessity to manage teams remotely, maybe you’ve even been opposed to them, maybe you’ve been a person that really has believed in face time, and you’re a person that really thrives on that needs, that craves, that personal connection.

Mike Blake:
With all that’s been written to tell employees how they can transport their jobs home, I don’t think enough attention is given to the managers and leaders that suddenly have to figure out how to lead when they can’t even, in many cases, see the faces of the people that they’re leading and don’t have the same nature of contact. So, I think this is a very interesting topic. We’re going to get into the weeds here. And I hope that if you’re in the position of being a manager or leader that is thrust into this unprecedented scenario, that this topic is going to be helpful.

Mike Blake:
So, joining us today is a great expert on this topic. Bruce Tulgan is CEO of Rainmaker Thinking, a research, training and consulting firm in New Haven, Connecticut and Rainmaker Learning, an online training resource. He is internationally recognized as one of the foremost experts on leadership and performance management in the workplace. Bruce is the author or co-author of 20 books, including his best-selling It’s Okay to Be the Boss, The Classic Managing Generation X, that’s me; his popular, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, How to Manage the Millennials, and The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-Step Solutions to Nearly All of Your Management Problems.

Mike Blake:
His newest book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work is due for release in the summer of 2020 from Harvard Business Review Press. Bruce’s work has been the subject of thousands of news stories around the world, and he has written for The New York Times, USA Today, Training Magazine, HR magazine and the Harvard Business Review. Bruce also lectures regularly at the Yale School of Management and other business schools. Bruce holds a six-degree black belt, and I hope I’m pronouncing this correctly, in Uhuru Karate.

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah, you can just say karate.

Mike Blake:
Okay. Making him a master in that style. Interestingly enough, his wife, Debby Applegate, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her book, The Most Famous Man in America about the 19th Century Mr. Henry Ward Beecher. Bruce, thanks so much for coming on the program.

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, thanks so much for having me. That’s quite an introduction. Thanks for mentioning my latest book.

Mike Blake:
Well, you know, I have some books in me that I need to get out. And I’m so admiring of people who have managed to do that. And I think a lot of that is ruthless time management. And we’ve actually had somebody come on the podcast, be ready, talks about should I write a book, how to do it, et cetera. So, I won’t pepper you with questions that are off-topic about that. But I must express that the fact you’ve been able to create so much thoughtful content, well done to you, sir.

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, I’m doing my best. If anyone who wants to write a book, I always recommend, our agent has a great book called Thinking Like Your Editor. Her name is Susan Rabiner. That’s a book worth reading.

Mike Blake:
And I’m going to make a quick note of that, so everybody on the podcast world can just wait for a second. I’m going to write that quickly. There you go. So, before we get started, I’m curious, you’ve created so much content, you have a book that, is it coming out later this year? Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah. It’s coming out-

Mike Blake:
Due later this summer.

Bruce Tulgan:
It’s coming out in July if there’s still a world.

Mike Blake:
Oh, there will still be a world, whether anybody reason it or not, we’ll see, but there’ll be a world for sure. But my question is, what do you think the next book after that will be?

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, I’m not sure. You know, the book that’s coming out in July, it’s called The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, and it’s about how to handle the incredible pressure that everybody has been under. Everyone’s been so overcommitted, scrambling and trying to manage relationships up, down, sideways and diagonal. That’s what the book is about. And we’re always doing research on the front lines in the workplace, and we’re always trying to figure out, you know, what can we glean from the research that could be a value add for folks. So, I’m not sure what will come next.

Mike Blake:
Okay.

Bruce Tulgan:
Maybe How to Manage Remotely.

Mike Blake:
Maybe. I have a feeling that book would do very well.

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah.

Mike Blake:
So, we’re all sort of sailing along and all of a sudden, we have run into a hurricane that nobody really—I guess some people saw it coming, but most of us sort of person on the street really didn’t see it coming. I don’t think we saw it getting to this point. How do managers themselves ground, right? Because if if you’re freaking out, if you’re losing it, it’s really hard to lead others and be a source of stability and safety unless you, yourself, ground, right? So, how do you do that when you feel yourself like you just want to throw your hands up and run in a circle screaming?

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah, I think you’re—that’s very true what you’re saying. You know, I always say to people the first person you have to manage every day is yourself. And sometimes, when we’re doing leadership seminars, you know, it takes a little while for somebody in the room to have the guts to say what you just said. Because that’s the sort of acknowledgement of the human element. You know, people are feeling so out of control right now. When you’re operating in an environment of uncertainty, it’s really a feeling of a lack of control.

Bruce Tulgan:
And so, what I always say to folks is, remember, if you focus on what you can’t control, then you render yourself powerless by definition. So, the first thing you have to do is focus on what you can control, and that’s you, and try to help your people stay focused on what they can control, and that’s them. But I think the most important thing is to be authentic, and don’t pretend. It’s natural to be worried right now. It’s natural to be uncertain. It’s natural that people are feeling out of control. But it’s also the case that somebody has got to be in charge. In this case, that’s you, and people need you now more than ever.

Mike Blake:
Yeah. And there’s no playbook for this, right? There’s practically nobody alive who remembers the influenza outbreak of 1918, right? And certainly, nobody in a decision-making capacity. And, you know, I want to ask you about 2008, and even back to 2000 with the first dot-com crash. What are the parallels with then and now? And then, what’s also a difference?

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah, I mean, the parallels, of course, are that people are genuinely worried about their livelihoods. If you remember the ’90s, as you and I do, maybe not everyone listening, some people are in the third grade or whatever.

Mike Blake:
They’ve read about it.

Bruce Tulgan:
Right. But back in the ’90s, you know, it was peace and prosperity, magical business models, a foosball table in every teeming space, remember? And then, all of the sudden-

Mike Blake:
The classy office space in Manhattan, that’s what I remember.

Bruce Tulgan:
Right. And then, you know, everything’s going to be great. And then, no. Boom. All over. Never mind. Crash. Everything’s terrible. And then, quite literally, crash because, you know, 9/11 followed right on that. And so, for a long time, I mean, I think 9/11 is a better parallel just in the economic crash because people were so scared. You know, an economic crash is frightening. It has a huge effect on people. You know, some people, they live paycheck-to-paycheck. Many people do. They’re worried about feeding their families. What am I going to do? And so, not to minimize the concerns about economic frailty, but I think, you know, after 9/11, people thought, “Well, gee, are terrorist attacks going to happen all over the place now?”

Mike Blake:
Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, I can remember the anthrax scare happened shortly after that.

Mike Blake:
Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan:
And so, when people are genuinely afraid for their safety and the safety of their loved ones, I think, you know, it’s more like a war, but it’s like a neutron bomb, right? Because it’s just poison. And so, 2008, ’09, ’10, I mean, it seemed like, gee, maybe we’re heading for another depression. But of course, it turned out that the economic system was more resilient with the help of a government bailout. And of course, now, the government has all of a sudden found a couple of trillion dollars that didn’t—you know, there it is, yeah, here we go. No problem. Here’s a couple of trillion dollars.

Bruce Tulgan:
But the problem now is that it’s not just financial. I don’t think anyone’s ever seen anything like this. I mean, I don’t know what to do. And so, what I’m doing is every single day, I’m thinking, okay, how can I make myself stronger? How can I make my mind stronger? How can I make my body stronger? How can I make my spirit stronger? And then, what can I do to add value for someone else? And first and foremost, what can I do to add value for my family?

Bruce Tulgan:
Second, what can I do to add value for my team, the people who are part of my business who rely on me? And then, what can I do to add value for my clients who rely on me for advice? And, you know, every day, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to focus on what I can control and what I’m trying to help my team focus on what they can control. And that’s the advice I’m giving to my clients is, what is not going to change your mission and your values? And what can you control today? You set yourself up for success and set your people up for success. And I don’t know what else we can do.

Mike Blake:
I think you’re right. I think that the ’01, September 11th is actually a more apt analogy because there’s an ambient fear. There’s an environment around that is not just economic, and at least there for a week, everybody, everything sort of shut down, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
Right.

Mike Blake:
And we had to—everything was outside of our comfort zone. It wasn’t just being unemployed. It was everything, how to keep yourself safe, right? And now, we’re outside of our comfort zone because we’re probably having to take care of ourselves medically in a way that we might not necessarily do. In my case, I have a nine-year old, so I have to learn how to home-school on the fly, and his teachers need to learn how to home-teach on the fly. And I have team members that have home-schooling obligations now, and I’m trying to balance that.

Mike Blake:
And you’re right. I think there is that difference, and at least one way I respond to it is I try to keep a wave of empathy up as much as I can. I don’t know if that’s the right thing. I’m curious if you agree with that, but everybody right now is frazzled, and we’re only one week into this in most states. If this continues through Easter or later, I’m not sure that I agree this is going to be over by Easter. People are going to get frazzled and frayed and really stretched to their limits and they’re going to rely on us more than ever to be that rock of stability.

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah. I mean, I’m glad you used the term empathy. I think sympathy and empathy are both—you know, I’m somebody who often tells business leaders, look, it’s not your job to be somebody’s pastor, their best friend, their therapist, and you’re not qualified to do that. But wow, this is really bringing the human element to the fore in a way that is different. When I’m out, I was out yesterday running in the neighborhood. And, you know, it’s so odd.

Bruce Tulgan:
You see people out there, they cross the street, you know, and if they don’t, then you cross the street or I cross the street like you don’t—you know, when you look at them and you sort of nod and smile, and then nobody takes offense, it’s just sort of, yeah, wow, you’re out here being a human being and we better steer clear of each other, and it’s just so peculiar. So, I think, you know, I say that because I was trying to think of my own moments of empathy in the last 24 hours, and I had that gut feeling of yeah, of course, you’re crossing the street because you don’t want to be infected by it.

Mike Blake:
Or they don’t want to infect you.

Bruce Tulgan:
Right. Right. Right. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

Mike Blake:
So, now, this environment as a manager and as a leader particularly remotely, does that force us to kind of change our priorities, right? I think you’re an advocate of something called a stop, start and continue list, which I think is a priority set.

Bruce Tulgan:
Right.

Mike Blake:
How do you reformulate that, you know, now that the martini’s been totally shaken?

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah. I mean, well, one of the things that I’ve been doing is looking at our research on organizations where uncertainty is a regular part of their day-to-day routine. So, we may be facing uncertainty today in a way on a wholesale level that none of us are accustomed to. But there are a lot of people who, what they do for a living is they manage uncertainty. And so, the sort of pillars are every day, you say, all right, what are our anchors? What’s never going to change as far as we can tell?

Bruce Tulgan:
And then, what’s changing right now? And how do we adapt? And the way we adapt in the moment is, what are we going to stop doing? What are we going to start doing? What are we going to continue? And it’s just a very quick reset in terms of your daily execution priorities. And, you know, in downtime, what organizations do and what people do who have to be accustomed to uncertainty, in downtime, what they do is they try to anticipate contingencies and prepare for them and prepare their people for them and even scrimmage or drill on those contingencies.

Bruce Tulgan:
But what most uncertainty masters know is that they’re going to run into things they didn’t anticipate. So then, they extrapolate from that stuff. But, you know, it’s one part anticipate and prepare. And it’s one part adjust in the moment. And adjust in the moment, it’s like today, what are we going to stop doing today? What are we going to start doing? What do we need to continue? And how do we proceed on that?

Mike Blake:
And part of that adjustment, too, is it also kind of understanding part of that empathy, I guess, but also understanding that the employees are undergoing massive adjustments, too? Learning how to work—you know not everyone wants to work from home. Not everybody is in a great environment to do that. You may have an employee that is great at work, but then they go home and they’re a young married couple with a kid in a one-bedroom apartment, and then trying to work in that environment, right? I mean, you can imagine how emotionally and intellectually challenging that is. I think we kind of have to make leeway and allowances for that, too, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
My advice there is a blanket fort.

Mike Blake:
For you or the kid?

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, yes. But, you know, I often joke that, you know, people until recently, they want to work from home because the dog gets lonely at home and they want to be there with the dog or, you know, the kid or whatever it is, they want to be able to do their laundry. You know, some people, they’re accustomed to having a routine for working at home. But what I always tell managers is yeah, you need to manage yourself. You need to figure out what your routine is going to be, and then try to talk through with your people, “Hey, what’s your routine going to be?” And you have to be a little bit careful because, you know, some people will be—they think it’s a snow day.

Mike Blake:
Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan:
So, we’re just on hold. And so, you have to talk him through that. No, we’ve got to stay focused. We’ve got to get stuff done every day. And it may be very different stuff than what we’ve been getting done in the past. Some of it’s going to continue. There may be new stuff we have to do. I mean, I’m in the business of going around to auditoriums packed full of people and speaking from a stage. I saw hot air to rooms full of people. You know, how’d you like to be in that business, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
So, you know, okay, we need to get really good at doing webinars, I guess. And so, that’s something we’re going to start doing. What am I going to stop doing? Going to the airport, at least for a while. What am I going to continue doing? Interviewing people, studying the data, trying to glean insights and trying to find good ways to share those insights with our clients. So, everybody, that formula is going to be different for everybody.

Bruce Tulgan:
But I think one of the common denominators that we’re all grappling with is doing this in our shelter in place. And as you say, some people, their shelter in place is more amenable or less amenable to work. You know, look, even—the reality is a lot of people in the workplace, they get interrupted all day long. A lot of people in the workplace, they don’t have a moment for focused execution. I mean, some people come in at 5:00 a.m. or they stay into the night or they say, “When I go home, it’s the only time I get stuff done.”

Mike Blake:
Right.

Bruce Tulgan:
So, whether you’re in the workplace or at home, you need to set yourself up for success. That means every day, you need to choose your execution priorities. It means you need to make time for structured communication. Who do I need to talk with today? It means you need to have good conversations and document those conversations. And you need to make time for focused execution, for getting stuff done. And that’s true whether you’re a leader, manager, supervisor or whether you’re an individual contributor.

Bruce Tulgan:
But if you’re a leader, manager, supervisor, then other people are looking to you to make decisions. Other people are looking to you to help set priorities. Other people are looking to you to solve the resource needs. Other people are looking to you to problem-solve. Other people are looking to you for guidance and direction and support. So, you know, I think leadership matters. And I think it’s a contact sport. And boy, it just got a lot harder because the only points of contact now we’re going to be through Facetime or email or telephone.

Bruce Tulgan:
But, you know, as you say, empathy, you’ve got to put yourself in the position of the people who are counting on you and try to ask them, “Hey, you know, do you have the space where you can work? Do you have a routine? How are you going to set your hours?” You’ve got to give people some real flexibility. “When are you going to do your job? How are you going to do your job? You know, what challenges are you facing? What do you need from me?

Mike Blake:
Yeah. And I think that last point, you know, I think, resonates because that puts you in a position of being a resource, which in my view, philosophically, is the role of a leader is to be a resource. And in that vein being a resource, you touched upon this a little bit, but I do want to hit this, some people are going to handle this environment better than others. Some people are going to have a really hard time simply being cooped up. Some people are going to have a hard time being cooped up with their family. Some people are going to have a hard time just simply having the background noise and a running tally saying, “Five more people got infected, one more person died”, right? And so-

Bruce Tulgan:
You know, that’s so true.

Mike Blake:
It’s like-

Bruce Tulgan:
That last part-

Mike Blake:
… living in a horror movie, isn’t it?

Bruce Tulgan:
Right. It’s like a movie.

Mike Blake:
Except there isn’t some closet that you know that you shouldn’t open. That’s the problem, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
Yes.

Mike Blake:
So, some people are going to handle that better than others. And when people are going to handle it as well, it doesn’t make them bad, that just makes them human beings. Not everybody was born to serve in a nuclear submarine and be in a two-year mission under the Arctic Circle for a while, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
That’s for sure.

Mike Blake:
But in spite of the fact that, you know, we’re not meant to be their advisers, their best friends, their pastors or counselors, we are going to have more contact probably with our teammates and most of the outside world well. And so, does that give us as leaders and as managers a special responsibility to kind of be on the lookout for signs that somebody may be weathering the storm not as well as others? And if so, is there something that we can do to inquire and offer a hand without being intrusive? Does that question make any sense at all?

Bruce Tulgan:
It does. I mean, look, this is true. If the person’s in the cubicle next to you, you look at somebody and they look tired or they look bad or they look scared or they look, you know—and you have to want this fine line of being human and being prepared to make accommodations for people if they need them, but also recognizing that, you know, some stuff is none of your business, and you’re not qualified to deal with that. I mean, look, one of the things I say to business leaders is, sure, if you can see that somebody is struggling personally, the question you have to ask yourself is, do you have resources to make available to that person? Now, sometimes, you are that person’s friend. My view is if you’re somebody’s boss, and you’re also that person’s friend, that’s a complication that you have to navigate.

Mike Blake:
Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan:
And so, maybe what you say is, “Hey, after work, let’s go out for a soda.” Right now, it’s after work, “Let me call you and we’ll have sodas in our remote locations and talk about it”, or something. But somehow, to try to recognize that it’s a different role. Being your friend is a different role than being your boss, being your leader, your manager, your supervisor. And I agree with you. Being a resource is a big part of it.

Bruce Tulgan:
Look, I mean, what a lot of managers are worried about right now is not necessarily the emotional well-being of their people. It’s gee, they’re at home, well, how do I know they’re working? And that’s the other side of the equation. It’s like the policing part. And I always say to leaders, look, you know, if somebody’s sitting in a desk during certain hours where you can see them, that’s place and time.

Bruce Tulgan:
That’s actually a lazy measure of performance, that if you’re a good leader, manager, supervisor, you shouldn’t drill them down anyway, and, you know, figuring out if they know what to do, if they know how to do it, if they’re producing, if they’re getting stuff done at a good rate of productivity, if they have good quality, you know. And so, if you’re in a remote location, you can’t see the body in a chair during certain hours.

Bruce Tulgan:
You know, maybe that’s going to help you get to be a better manager. And what you need to do is try to help people use their work time to succeed. So, yes, some people are going to be going stir crazy. Some people are going to be feeling scared. Some people are going to be distracted. Help them stay focused on doing one concrete thing at a time. And the good news is, you know, you don’t need to be a police, you don’t need to be policing people.

Bruce Tulgan:
Helping them be effective and get stuff done and stay productive and keep adding value is healthy. And it is a much more appropriate role for a manager. Sometimes, the best thing you can do if somebody is going stir crazy at home or if they’re having a hard time being effective at home is help them be more effective at home, help them be more effective and get more done, then they’ll have something to feel good about today.

Mike Blake:
You bring up a couple of interesting points that I want to go back and hit on because I think they’re so important and I think they’re so insightful. One, I do think there is an opportunity here for all of us to become better managers. And you’re right, this seeing a butt in the cubicle is not a measure of value unless the value that you have is to be able to survey your empire, right? If that’s your source of value, then I guess yeah, I see that, right? But if you haven’t been able to measure productivity already, then this is a great opportunity to force you. Like just in the old days, you and I are—I won’t say you. I’m old enough, and I remember taking typing classes in high school.

Bruce Tulgan:
I did. I did. I did.

Mike Blake:
And they would give you a little piece of cardboard over the keyboard so you couldn’t actually see your fingers, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah.

Mike Blake:
And I knew if I was type on the right thing because I saw it on the piece of paper.

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah.

Mike Blake:
It’s on a real typewriter, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
Exactly.

Mike Blake:
That’s the way that we have to manage now. And I think that’s actually a good thing. That’s going to force us to develop that muscle.

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah, that’s huge. I mean, look, I say to managers all the time when they said, “Oh, well, you know, people want to work from home” or, you know, they’re worried about people who want flexibility, right?

Mike Blake:
Right.

Bruce Tulgan:
Until a few weeks ago, this was, people want flexibility and managers were worried that if they’re not in a certain chair during certain hours, that they couldn’t manage them. And one of things I like to do with a group of managers is say, “Okay, show a hand. What’s more valuable to you? Somebody who gets a whole bunch of work done very well, very fast with good quality and a good attitude or somebody who’s in a certain chair during certain hours?”, right?

Bruce Tulgan:
And nobody votes for a body in a chair during certain hours, right? Everybody votes for somebody who gets a lot of work done and good quality. But then, if you actually followed them around, they see the empty chair and they say, “Oh, where’s that person? Where’s that person?” So, this is a chance to start managing results, to start managing concrete actions, to start zeroing in on what people are doing and how they’re doing it, more than where and when.

Mike Blake:
So, you know, one of the keys that we’ve kind of touched upon here is the importance now of being intentional about your communication because communication is no longer going to happen organically. You’re not going to bump into somebody on video chat most likely.

Bruce Tulgan:
Right.

Mike Blake:
So, you’ve written about it and talked about another venue, as I know, about over-communicating and over-communicating with prepositions up, down, sideways and diagonal. What does that mean?

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, look, the way most people communicate in the workplace is they touch base, has everything going, everything on track, any problems I should know about? They interrupt each other all day long. They see each other on email. They’re in meetings every once in a while. And then, what happens is problems hide below the radar, and then eventually, you know, sometimes, they blow up, and then it’s all hands on deck, firefighting.

Bruce Tulgan:
And then, we go back to touching base, interrupting, and then seeing each other in meetings or on e-mail. And, you know, it’s unstructured, unsubstantiated communication is the rule for most people. And what we have found is that when you communicate with much greater structure and substance, things go better. So, when I say up, I mean, the first person you got to talk to is your boss. You got to get aligned. You’ve got to make sure that you know what’s changing today, what’s staying the same.

Bruce Tulgan:
I’ve got too much to do, not enough time. What should I back-burner? I need decisions made. I need priorities clarified. I want to show you what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. So, you know, align up. Then, second is down. Anybody who reports to you for any period of time, you owe it to them to give them some time to help them get aligned, to help them make sure they know what priorities should come first, second and third today, and what should go on the back burner if they need decisions made, if they need resource planning, if they need problem solving. And then, sideways and diagonal.

Bruce Tulgan:
So many relationships now are outside that chain of command. It’s not just your boss. It’s not just the people who report to you, but it’s your sideways colleagues. It’s somebody you need something from, but they don’t report to you, you don’t report to them. You need something from them, but they don’t report to you. So, what I tell people is every single day, you need to think about not just your schedule, not just your to-do list, but also see your people list. Who do you need to talk to today? And plan the conversation. What do you need to cover in that conversation? And then, give them a heads up. Nobody’s at their best when they’re being interrupted anyway, right?

Mike Blake:
Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan:
So, there’s so much communication that happens in the ordinary workplace, that’s what I call, you know, management by interruption. We interrupt each other all day long. So, you have to pull yourself out of what you’re doing, try to tune into the interrupter. What you really want to do is get back to what you were doing in the first place. So, a much better way is to plan and prepare your communication. So, every single day, you know, start with, okay, what’s my schedule today? What do I need to get done today? And who do I need to talk with? And by the way, nine out of 10 times, if you talk to those people, you’re going to make adjustments in your schedule and your to-do list.

Mike Blake:
So, another disruption that I think doesn’t get talked about enough is the fact that, you know, we try to create offices that people want to be in, at least many companies do. Certainly, we do at ours at Brady Ware, and that’s something I personally pay a lot of attention to. And they could be things as rudimentary as free Coke Zeros and snacks, that could be, you know, high quality office shares, ergonomic supplies, whatever it happens to be. And now, those things are gone, right? And employees and team members are used to having those kind of creature comforts. You know, is there anything realistic that we, as leaders, can do or think about doing, if not to replicate those things, maybe to replace them with something else?

Bruce Tulgan:
You know, I’m not somebody who focuses as much on the ping pong table, the pool table, I do think what you want to do is create an environment where people have what they need, where people are comfortable, where people want to be at work, where people can make it their own space. And people really do care about work space. I mean, when people are at home, I mean, look, maybe we should be sending people rolls of toilet paper, you know.

Mike Blake:
That’s a new bonus program.

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah. Right, the new bonus program. And I think that what people are going to be struggling with is staying focused and effective and knowing what to get done today and what to back-burner and how to get their hands on the information they need, how to get their hands on the resources they need to get their work done. And as a leader, manager, supervisor, I think that’s got to come first. I think if you have the resources to provide, create your comforts, I think, okay, that’s good. What most people care about the most is being able to get their work done and avoid unnecessary problems, have the resources they need to get their work done, so they can earn what they need to take care of their family. I think the second thing that people really care about is having more control over their own schedule.

Mike Blake:
Yeah.

Bruce Tulgan:
And now, I think, you know, it’s the great irony. People are going to have so much control over their own schedule that they’re going to need help staying focused and productive.

Mike Blake:
This reminds me of a Simpson cartoon, and I haven’t watched that show in forever. But I remember one where Homer Simpson somehow is sent into space. Don’t ask me-

Bruce Tulgan:
Sure, of course. Of course.

Mike Blake:
Perfectly plausible, right? And as would be expected, he messed up the space shuttle and he broke some sort of ant farm experiment and the ant start going crazy and they start doing their whatever language it is that ants speak. And, you know, as they’re floating in space, the subtitle says, “Freedom, horrible, horrible freedom”, right? It kind of reminds me of that, right? When you’re all of a sudden confronted with this, you don’t realize that it is a burden to cope with that and kind of wrestle the fire hose to the ground, isn’t it?

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah. And, you know, one of the things that I’ve learned over the years, and it’s something that when people are having a hard time managing their time, a tool that we recommend using is a simple time log, which is just keeping track of your time, your activity and your time, you know, and you can do it as thoroughly or as—you can do it very thoroughly. So, every activity you start and stop, time start activity, time stop.

Bruce Tulgan:
And, you know, it’s probably a good time to start keeping a time log so that you have a reality check. And after a couple of days, take a look and see how you’re spending your time. It’s a way to start to see where are you wasting time? When are you getting stuff done? What’s wasting your time? What’s distracting you? So, if you’re having a hard time with all the freedom, it’s a very simple tool. Just a piece of paper and a pencil is all you need.

Bruce Tulgan:
When you wake up, write what time you wake up and just start writing down what you do. It’s an incredible reality check for most people. And that’s true in the best of times. And maybe during these times, it’s a good way to optimize this freedom and learn a little bit about yourself and see where your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to time management.

Mike Blake:
So, I want to turn the conversation around a little bit. And we’re recording a podcast on Friday that’s going to talk about best practices from the employee’s perspective. But I think one thing that gets overlooked is that leaders need care and feeding as well, right? As leaders, and you don’t have to be a narcissist to think this way, but the feedback, the benefit that you receive from the people that you lead is what we take our cues from that motivates us to take on the responsibility of leadership.

Mike Blake:
And it’s not easy. And so, I guess my question is this, you know, to those of us, maybe some of us are at the top of the food chain, so it doesn’t apply, but others of us, myself included, I do have other people to whom I report, even if they are very senior people, what do leaders need in terms of care and feeding as well to make them? And how can employees kind of support leaders to make them feel empowered and effective?

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, I mean, I guess it depends on the leader. If you happen to report to a narcissistic demagogue and you should tell them how great they are all the time, I guess. But assuming that’s not your particular burden, then what my advice to people is help your boss manage you. You know, do what you can to create structured dialogues so that it’s not all on manager, the leader, to create that structured dialogue.

Bruce Tulgan:
Maybe suggest a time, maybe prepare an advance, send a note to your leader, manager, supervisor 24 or 12 or six hours before the conversation and say, “Here’s some decisions I need made. Here’s some problems I need help solving. Here are some resources. I need some advice about how to get my hands on. Here are competing priorities and my available time. I need help setting these priorities. Here’s my project that I’m working on.

Bruce Tulgan:
And here’s my preliminary plan. Could you take a look? Here is a recurring task or responsibility. And here’s my standard operating procedure usually, but here’s a change I think I’m going to make.” I think that’s one way. I think if you are the leader, manager, supervisor who has a hard time getting feedback, then you can make it clear you want that feedback. If you have a leader, manager, supervisor who wants your feedback, then be candid. And I guess, you know, once in a while, you can inquire about their well-being and tell them how great they are.

Mike Blake:
Or not. That’s fine. Yeah, but, you know-.

Bruce Tulgan:
Or not.

Mike Blake:
Yeah. And you’re right. You’re right. Everyone is different. But, you know, I do think that at least for some people, you’re in a leadership position because you want to lead people. And the benefit of leading people when you have this barrier, you know, that connection is stressed. And I think your suggestions are good ones. You know, the employee doesn’t have an obligation to do that really necessarily, but I do think that, you know, if the employee has a desire to make that relationship work, I think that’s good advice to facilitate that.

Mike Blake:
We’re running out of time, but we have time for a couple more questions. And one we touched upon a little bit, but I want to circle back and hit explicitly is there are some good things that can come out of this whole thing, right? I mean, number one, you know, we talked about as developing different management skills and talents is a good thing that I think can and will come out of this. Can you think of any other positives from a leadership development perspective that may come out of this whole thing?

Bruce Tulgan:
Yeah, I mean, look, so what should happen in management relationship is you should be engaged in regular structured dialogue with your people, whether they’re sitting next to you or whether they are working from a remote location. So, putting more structure and substance into your ongoing conversation, that’s step one. Step two, make sure that everybody who works for you understands the broad performance standards for their basic tasks and responsibilities.

Bruce Tulgan:
This is a good time to check in on broad performance standards. And even though they may be changing, check in, make sure people understand what they’re supposed to be doing, how they’re supposed to be doing it. Zero in on priorities. Make sure that people understand expectations. Expectations are different from broad performance standards because broad performance standards are from now on, right?

Mike Blake:
Right.

Bruce Tulgan:
Expectations are today, tomorrow, this week. Get better at helping people make plans. Get better at helping people set goals and spell out guidelines and parameters for their goals. Get better at helping people schedule their concrete actions and time chunks. You know, a time motion study goes way back to Frederick Taylor, but, you know, help people understand exactly how do you do that and how long does it take you to do that?

Bruce Tulgan:
Well, gee, if it takes you six minutes to do that, shouldn’t you be able to do that 10 times in an hour or, well, nine times with a six-minute break? And okay. Well, would you be able to do that 72 times in a day? Oh, well, okay, maybe 60, giving yourself a few deep breaths. And, you know, this is a time when you can get better at checking working progress. It’s a time when you can get better at looking at tangible results and evaluating quality.

Bruce Tulgan:
This is a time when you and your direct reports can get better at helping them monitor their own work. You know, one of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that, you know, in the workplace, most managers only start keeping score for people. They only start really documenting performance once things start going wrong. Well, maybe we should get better at keeping score for people when things are going average and when things are going well.

Bruce Tulgan:
And not only that, but let’s start helping people keep score for themselves, keep better track of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Time log is one way. A checklist is another way. A plan is another way. Take note of the tangible results you’re creating and get better at managing yourself and your time. I think it’s also a time when—you know, you started earlier on in the conversation talking about empathy.

Bruce Tulgan:
And so, maybe this is a time where we can—maybe we need to bookmark this and remember that we’re all human and that the human element is central. And maybe it’s a time where we’re all going to get more tuned in to the need to serve and to add value and to care of ourselves and take care of each other. Maybe some people are going to come out stronger. Let’s hope.

Mike Blake:
So, I’m going to ask you a patently unfair question, but I think that you can handle it. That patently unfair question is at some point, this is going to end, and we’re going to return back to something. Maybe it’s normal, maybe it’s not. Do you think when we go back to what we looked like in terms of the workplace and organizational operation, say, as of January 1st, are they going to look like the same thing or do you think there are going to be some things that are a little different going forward?

Bruce Tulgan:
You know, I’m not a futurist and I’m very tied to data, so what’s the data we’re seeing?

Mike Blake:
Right.

Bruce Tulgan:
And I don’t project out much from the data we’re seeing. I can tell you, one of my best friends is an anthropologist. And actually, did you say you’re in Atlanta?

Mike Blake:
Yes.

Bruce Tulgan:
He teaches at Agnes Scott.

Mike Blake:
Okay, few miles from where I live, three miles from where I live.

Bruce Tulgan:
And he’s one of my best friends for many, many years. And he was saying, you know, just as an anthropologist, what’s the likelihood that after all this, people are going to want to go back to all of the norms? It may be that this has lasting change on people’s willingness to congregate. What I don’t think is that we can predict how this is going to change us. I do think we can predict we’re not going to go back to the way things were. I think there are going to be big changes.

Mike Blake:
I think that’s a fair answer. So, Bruce, this is a bigger topic than we can probably fairly address in an hour, but I need to be respectful, of course, of your time. How can people contact you for more information?

Bruce Tulgan:
Rainmakerthinking.com is the best way to contact us. I’m on Twitter @brucetulgan. My email address is brucet@rainmakerthinking.com. I answer a lot of emails every day. And one thing I can tell you in terms of my values and my mission, my mission is to help leaders, managers and supervisors provide guidance, direction, support and coaching for their people. And that’s not going to change. And I want to help leaders stay in dialogue and provide that support that people need. And my two monitors are structure and substance, create structured dialogue with your people. And if I can help in any way, you send me an email, I promise I’ll respond, and I type faster than I talk.

Mike Blake:
All right. So, that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaker Institute so much for joining us and sharing his expertise with us today. We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next executive decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us so that we can help them. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.

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