Jonathan Farrington interviews Kevin Eikenberry, globally acclaimed leadership guru, best selling author and Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group.
What are the biggest concerns and complaints you hear about leading remote sales teams?
You know, leading a team is complex enough as it is; when you are remote, the job gets even harder. The first concern is – how can I manage and lead people whom I don’t see? Here are two things I would encourage you to think about to help you get past this complexity. First, recognize it is complex and be ok with that – think of it as a challenge rather than an obstacle.
Second, remember that you best serve your organization and your team members when you focus on accomplishment, not activity. You likely have many measures of accomplishment – consider all of them that relate to overall job performance, and worry less about the detail of people’s working habits. You don’t have to see the activities, as long as you are coaching to the results or accomplishments.
What are some keys to coaching remotely?
Coaching remotely is largely the same as coaching people face to face. One of the differences is that you don’t have the spontaneous opportunities to do so. You don’t see someone in the hallway, which may provide opportunity, but also provides reminder. Out of sight, sometimes, is out of mind. So we must get more intentional about making time and taking advantage of opportunities that do arise to coach our remote team members.
As a coach of remote team members, always be looking for the moments when you might be able to provide coaching; whether corrective or encouraging. Also consider adding time to regular communications to include coaching, rather than adding it only “when needed.”
How can I use my strengths of influencing face to face when I am communicating through technology?
Make sure to take advantage of the times when you are face to face – even if those opportunities are very infrequent. And then get used to the technologies that can bridge most of the gap (with video tools at the top of that list). In other words, email doesn’t have to be your primary, or only, tool. We all know the phone has limitations too, but today many people are making the phone less useful than ever. How? By having conversations everywhere and anywhere, just because our phone is in our pocket. As a frequent traveler, I have seen far too many people having clearly important conversations in places and while distracted in ways they would never be doing if they were face to face (I’ll leave it at that!). Influence requires a focus on others – don’t let distractions and multi-tasking make the job even harder.
I’ve got independent sales people yet I want them to see themselves as a team – and it is even harder because they are remote. How can I build the sales team?
I love this question, and while it doesn’t only apply to sales managers and leaders, it is especially important for you. First of all, there is an important assumption in the question – that you really want to create a team. If you do, then first of all, remote team or not, you have to make that expectation and the behaviors you are looking for crystal clear. People need to know that being a team player (whatever that means in your context) is part of their job. Without this expectation being clearly stated and reinforced it will be very difficult to create this at a distance. Once that is clear to you and the team, you can work to build the team.
The fundamentals of doing that remotely are the same as doing it with a co-located team. Give people a chance to interact in as many ways as possible. Take time for people to get to know each other – whether that is by having them share or you making connections of interests and experiences between team members. This requires time, effort and thought on your part – and that is why you are the leader.
How do I hold people accountable when I don’t see them often enough?
I’ve hinted at a big part of this answer already in a previous question. If you have clear measures of success, put your focus there first. Are people “making their numbers” but also, are people reaching the other behavioral goals you have for them? For example if you are asking people to be a part of a team, what indicators do you have to show that is happening? Not all of that requires your direct observation.
Lastly, the best leaders don’t just hold people accountable, they help them be accountable. When you realize that your job is to support and help others be successful, you will worry less about the daily direct interaction.
You can also listen to the audio version of this interview here:
Kevin Eikenberry is a multi-time best selling leadership author; the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group; the leader of a remote and growing team and the co-founder of the Remote Leadership Certificate Series , a remotely delivered learning experience to help leaders like you become more competent and confident when leading people who don’t work near you.