Craig Gorsline: “Maintain or increase productivity”

Think about how to create common experiences, regardless of time or place, such as team activities that can be shared. Perhaps, a team challenge for fun. Celebrate news of wins and completion of team projects. Publicly praise team members when appropriate and make sure no one is forgotten. I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig […]

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Think about how to create common experiences, regardless of time or place, such as team activities that can be shared. Perhaps, a team challenge for fun. Celebrate news of wins and completion of team projects. Publicly praise team members when appropriate and make sure no one is forgotten.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig Gorsline of Avanade.

As Chief Growth Officer, Craig Gorsline is responsible for driving the Avanade strategy end -to- end across the business. As part of his portfolio, Craig leads strategy development and execution, global sales, industry programs and ecosystem development, innovation, and product incubation, as well as emerging technology and client experience. Integral to that work is his global leadership responsibility for Avanade Advisory and his work with Accenture and Microsoft to align Avanade’s focus on innovation and emerging technologies around the world.

Founded in 2000, Avanade is a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft (majority-owned by Accenture). They are the leading provider of innovative digital and cloud services, business solutions and design-led experiences delivered through the power of people and the Microsoft ecosystem. They employ over 38,000 people across 25 countries.

Previously Craig was President, Co-CEO and Chief Commercial Officer of ThoughtWorks, a global technology firm with a digital engineering focus, where he was accountable for driving revenues of more than 500 million dollars in technology and consulting services.

Craig holds a degree in criminology and psychology from Simon Fraser University and an MBA in digital technologies from Royal Roads University.

Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I was born and raised in Victoria, Canada and started my tech career in Vancouver, as a software tester. My ambition was to become an attorney, but I responded to a want ad looking for a software tester, hoping to make some extra money, and ended up loving it, so made a detour into technology.

Over the next few years, I worked for a boutique technology consulting firm and eventually as a senior executive at JPMorgan Chase in the Treasury Services Technology Group. In 2005, I joined ThoughtWorks, a global technology firm with a digital engineering focus, and stayed there for 15 years, in sales leadership and then served as the company’s Chief Commercial Officer and co-CEO. ThoughtWorks was an invigorating place to be and I believed strongly in its culture.

When the company was sold to a private equity firm, I joined Avanade. I had followed Avanade over the years and knew that it too valued the highest quality of technology innovation and was committed to fostering diverse and inclusive teams. The two companies shared commitments to entrepreneurialism and courageous values, so it was a good fit for me.

It’s been quite a journey, from a degree in criminology and psychology to my current role as Chief Growth Officer at Avanade, but I love that every day is different and the work satiates my curiosity and desire to innovate, problem-solve, and change things for the better through technology.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Travel has always been an integral part of my roles. Before the pandemic struck, I had spent most of my career on the road, averaging around 300,000 miles a year. In fact, this four-month stint has been the longest time I have been home in my career — and in my marriage. On one trip, from LAX to Sydney, Australia, I ended up boarding with the Rolling Stones. It was Mick Jagger, on the far right, Keith Richards, and me. Starting a 16-hour flight completely star-struck caught me off-guard, but that is what I love about travel. You never know what is around the corner or who you will meet.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I was given the opportunity to lead the team preparing a business development proposal for a government agency. Not only did we prepare a comprehensive proposal, we made sure it looked great — fancy and glossy, eye-catching. We were proud of the response. Of course, the government has very strict protocols for proposals — and our proposal was disqualified because it wasn’t printed on both sides of each page. Who would have thought? I missed these fine print directions, which was a painful mistake but makes for a lighter story nowadays and a lesson learned!.

The lesson I learned that day was an important one: details matter. Even the best work can be tripped up if you don’t pay attention to the details.

What advice would you give other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Make sure you thoroughly understand and fully agree with your company’s vision and values. They will get you through good times, bad times and long days. Without that strong attachment to a company’s purpose, people can lose their way or engage in behaviors that don’t align with those values.

When our CEO Pam Maynard stepped into the CEO role, one of the first things she did was formalize

Avanade’s company purpose: to make a genuine human impact. It’s what inspires all of us to look beyond the technology to the actual human impact of the work we do. Like making it possible for doctors to provide treatment plans for four times more cancer patients than before. Or making it easier for veterans to access the services they need. That purpose is more important than ever now as we live through a global pandemic — people want to feel like they are making a difference; that what they do matters. And graduates and interns want to work for a company that cares about more than its bottom line, one that provides opportunities to leave this world better than it was before.

Part of that in the last few months has been making sure our employees around the world are equipped to work remotely. Avanade is one of the leading deployers of remote working technology for businesses globally. But we also practice what we preach. Remote working has been a part of our culture for many years before the Covid-19 pandemic. We also put a large focus on creating and demonstrating a culture that truly values a healthy work/life balance, even if right now we are mostly at home. We have enabled a culture where it is acceptable to turn off your phone and unplug from your technology to recharge without feeling guilty. Right now, even though we are not traveling as we might have in the past, we are encouraging our teams to take their vacation time, because we know how important it is to take time off so you can come back refreshed and invigorated.

Another example of the power of this philosophy is the company’s decision to give all employees the afternoon off on the day of George Floyd’s funeral. Our CEO encouraged everyone to take the time to read, reflect and educate ourselves about the day’s calls for social justice. Giving thousands of employees the afternoon off was a courageous act, and it reflects how we at Avanade work every day to live our values.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I’ve managed remote teams for all of my 27-year career. From its roots as a software consulting company, Avanade was launched as a largely virtual company 20 years ago, so we have vast experience working remotely and managing remote teams. We have roughly 38,000 people working for us across 25 countries. Our teams are spread out across time zones, so we know the benefits of remote working and the collaboration it creates. As I said above, we are also a leading deployer of remote working technology. For years, we have been helping clients around the world implement remote working and adapt to the change and benefits in workplace culture it brings. Because we have the benefit of Microsoft technology, our teams are as used to speaking with colleagues on the other side of the world daily as they are talking with family members in their own homes. Effectively managing remote teams is an integral part of leadership at Avanade.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

Provide access to collaboration technology: At the core of our ability to work effectively from wherever we are is access to the required technology, everything from platforms and applications to network performance. Regardless of your industry, companies seeking to empower remote employees have to provide a base level of tools and capabilities that allow their people to get their work done.

In March, many organizations were forced to accelerate their remote working technology very quickly. For example, in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service needed to rapidly provide its 1.2 million users across 16,000 separate NHS organizations access to Microsoft Teams to enhance their collaboration capabilities. Avanade, Accenture, and Microsoft worked collaboratively with the NHS to rapidly implement Teams in a matter of days, allowing clinicians across the country to better share information.

Update protocols for conducting routine business and team-building: With our years of experience, we have become very good at conducting business via conference calls. That includes everything from high-level company strategy sessions, when there may be 100 or more people around the world collaborating to build that strategy together, to companywide update webinars, when thousands may join live and ask questions.

Since the pandemic, we have paid particular attention to developing ways to keep our people engaged and connected. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are on their own or without help if they need it. And people across Avanade have been inventive about staying connected, as well, everything from virtual happy hours to karaoke sessions.

One particularly inventive program is Avanade Radio, which operates 18 hours a day every Friday on Microsoft Teams. It’s a way for colleagues all around the world to connect on different topics. There have been sessions on business topics, such as our go-to-market strategy and the latest protocols for working remotely with our clients, to keep delivery standards high, to book reviews and wellness topics.

For companies whose employees may not be as familiar with working remotely, some ideas that might be helpful:

  • Create a support network and assign remote working champions to help colleagues understand how best to work from home within the context of their role.
  • Use video as much as you can — seeing people can make a big difference.
  • Use online meetings to also do fun events, such as virtual networking in the evening or at lunchtime.

Adapt leadership skills to suit the environment: During the pandemic, we have made it clear to our managers and career advisers that our people come first. Checking in with each employee to be sure they have the support they need is the most important thing we can do, both for our employees and our clients. This is the time to focus more on outcomes than on the hours worked. Pay attention to how engaged team members are; increase your level of empathy and trust. At Avanade, we believe that if we deliver for our employees, they will deliver for our clients — and that has been true. We have continued to deliver high-quality projects for our clients around the world.

Be prepared to manage the increased number of cyber-attacks that may surface: A greater number of remote workers also means a larger number of targets.We’ve seen this first-hand with phishing attempts. Drive awareness and take precautions and increase internal awareness campaigns. It’s important to make it easy for staff to report and resolve security issues. Our asset protection group has a centralized system so employees can quickly and easily report any concerns, questions, or issues.

A top security concern is a successful phishing attack, so we have focused our education programs on anti-phishing awareness. Our IT security team randomly sends out messages designed to look like phishing attempts. It’s become a game with employees. If they correctly report one of the tests to the phishing system, they are congratulated. If they miss a certain number, they’ll be steered to anti-phishing training.

Maintain or increase productivity: This may be the time to look at re-engineering the way your organization delivers products/ services remotely. For example, we helped develop a way for doctors to consult with cancer specialists remotely, a change that allowed the specialists to help four times the number of patients. We’ve helped engineering firms implement virtual reality systems that have made it possible for repair specialists to perform an equipment repair at a distance.

At Avanade, we’ve used workplace analytics to look at the impact of the pandemic on the business and help individuals adapt to working from home every day and continue to be productive, even while dealing with more stress outside of work. We want to encourage good management skills, so we keep an eye on how often career advisers are checking in on those they advise. We are looking for positive outcomes, so we keep an eye on the number of hours an employee is working, in case we need to encourage them to take a break and avoid fatigue.

To improve productivity, consider subsidizing higher bandwidth and quality of service solutions. Most network issues start at home, so provide guidance to employees on the best Wi-Fi home network solutions and technical advice on how to structure the most efficient home network.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you, much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

At Avanade, this is also something we are very familiar with. My advice:

  • From the onset, work to create a relationship built on trust. Establish an environment that is conducive to respectful conversations.
  • Stay true to your company’s values. At Avanade, our goal is to be sure our employees feel inspired, confident, and cared for. That sets the tone for our performance and management discussions, no matter how delicate.
  • Coming from a place of respect, base your feedback on evidence. Video is ideal for these types of conversation so that you can see the other person, but when it’s not possible, be sure you are actively listening, as well as talking.
  • If there are performance challenges, agree on a way forward that will work for both of you. Together determine next steps.
  • Continue communicating as you work through the challenges.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

To be honest, my advice is to avoid using email to provide feedback. Not all channels are created equal. Over email you can’t adjust the tone of what you want to convey, based on the other person’s reaction, if need be. It’s tempting to include others and the impulse to “reply all” can be a strong one, so before you know it, you could end up in a conversation that is far from the one you hoped for.

With the tools and technology, we have available today, a real-time conversation is so much better and easier. Most collaborative tools have a chat function. You can ping your colleague and ask for a call or chat on the fly and at the click of a mouse. It is more personal, saves your inbox, shortens your to-do list, and allows you to get more done in a shorter amount of time. Similarly, I would say that lengthy debates shouldn’t happen over IM, no matter how convenient. Pick up the phone or set up a Teams call. And, of course, it goes without saying that delivering any performance feedback must be done in real time and one-to-one.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

If a team is used to working together already, they have a baseline, which is a huge advantage. Having common experiences and in-person interactions as a foundation is a plus right off the bat. As you adjust to working remotely, don’t lose the personal chit chat completely- find ways to connect via IM as a team or start calls with personal check-in questions like “how was your weekend?” or “how are you feeling today?” It’s important for the team leads to set expectations on availability and hours for the team so that they can set boundaries working in this new way and so the team can continue to trust each other’s work commitments.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Think about how to create common experiences, regardless of time or place, such as team activities that can be shared. Perhaps, a team challenge for fun. Celebrate news of wins and completion of team projects. Publicly praise team members when appropriate and make sure no one is forgotten.

There is a mental health aspect to all of this. Staying mostly at home is hard work. Plus, many of us don’t have the support that we usually have — schools, daycare, elder care — which means that we’re trying to juggle work and home life simultaneously. At Avanade right now, teams in some countries are able to be out and about more than others. Be aware and respectful of the challenges each team member is dealing with. That’s why our approach is, “we’ve got your back.” Sometimes the most supportive thing we can do is encourage a team member or the entire group to take a day off to recharge.

One thing we do liberally is celebrate the ways we are helping frontline workers and our communities in this time of crisis, whether it is the pandemic or community social justice stress. At Avanade, every employee has eight hours of paid time a year to volunteer for a cause that is important to them. Through the end of this year, we have uncapped those hours so that folks on the bench or others who can spare some time are able to support projects that help others and their communities right now.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would look for ways to democratize content, everything from literature, art and history to music and research findings. Access to learning, to higher education would open the world for tens of millions of people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As a true Canadian, it would be remiss of me not to have some reference to hockey in here, so I’ll quote the great Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take. Step up and lean in, go for it. Get off the sideline and into the fray.”

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