Communication. The lack of proximity presents an immediate challenge around communication. When teams work closely together in the same physical environment, they are able to quickly voice questions, share ideas, and receive feedback on their performance. A remote environment removes the conveniences of proximity, forcing teams to find alternative ways to collaborate.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kip Wright.
Kip Wright is President & CEO of Genuent. Wright is a staffing industry veteran instrumental in shifting the landscape of the human capital industry. Known as a passionate leader with an innate ability to drive both growth and organizational efficiencies, Wright is responsible for all facets of executive strategy and leadership for the Genuent organization.
In his 26-year career, Wright has served in numerous leadership roles with public and private staffing and workforce solution companies. As Senior Vice President of Manpower, North America, he successfully led Manpower’s 2 billion dollars contingent staffing line of business for the United States and Canada. Wright also served as Senior Vice President of ManpowerGroup Solutions in North America, which include service offerings of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), Managed Services Provider (MSP) and Talent Based Outsourcing (TBO). Wright joined ManpowerGroup through the acquisition of COMSYS / TAPFIN where he served in several executive roles including Senior Vice President of Managed Solutions, Chief Financial Officer and President of TAPFIN. Wright began his career as an auditor with Ernst & Young.
Considered a leader in the field of human capital and workforce fulfillment, Wright is the recipient of numerous awards. He is a five-time recipient of Staffing Industry Analysts’ “Staffing 100” award, recognizing the most influential leaders in the staffing industry. Under his direction, TAPFIN became the gold standard for contingent workforce management providers, and was the largest global MSP for four years running. TAPFIN has also been recognized by Everest Group as the top performer in the MSP space for the last three years.
Wright carries his business degree from Louisiana State University. He currently serves on the board of Genesys Talent and has participated on numerous other boards, including OnForce and Homemade Gourmet.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
Born in Louisiana, I grew up in Houston. LSU is my alma mater, where I got my degree in Accounting. After college, I started my career in Big Six public accounting, but quickly moved into the services and workforce management space where I have now been for 28 years. Throughout my career, I have had the chance to work for several fantastic companies across a variety of labor categories. I have worked in IT solutions, finance, administrative, light industrial skills, and even built comprehensive solutions for Fortune 100 clients to help them better manage their contingent staffing spend.
A couple of highlights:
— Recognized six separate times as one of the top 100 most influential leaders in staffing
— Built TAPFIN, which became the world’s largest provider of contingent workforce management outsourcing
— Ran Manpower North America (US and Canada), which included oversight of 550 separate branch offices, employing on average of 70,000 associates
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I remember when we set up our first global office for TAPFIN in London. At the time, we were supporting one of the top five global banks with a contingent workforce management program in the U.S., when on a handshake we were asked to open the London office. I sent my team three weeks ahead to get the program started, and scheduled an in-person visit shortly thereafter to check on progress. We were still negotiating the contract at the time, so the work we were doing was at risk.
The first night I arrived, I received a call from our CEO. He had not been keeping up with his weekly status reports, and decided we needed to pull out immediately since we didn’t have the contract signed. Knowing the implication this would have on both our reputation and the business that the bank had us supporting, in defiance I refused and instructed my team to continue work. It took another week to finalize the contract, but resulted in more than 10 years of work with that client, and the launch of our European business. Had I followed orders, none of that would have happened. Sometimes you have to take risks to do what’s right.
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?
I’m not sure it’s necessarily a “funny” story, but it does speak to being aware of your surroundings and location. In one of my first positions, I was asked to fly to Chicago and run due diligence on a potential target company. Living in Texas, and spending most of my young career in the state, I didn’t think through the differences in temperature, particularly as I’d be traveling in February. So I flew to Chicago wearing only my suit and changes of clothes; no jacket, no gloves, no hat. I learned the hard way to check the weather and plan ahead for any and all business trips.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
In my opinion, there are three simple rules to follow:
- Communicate, communicate, and then communicate again. There is no replacement for a steady, honest, and confident flow of communication.
- Set clear expectations. There is nothing more frustrating than wondering what each employee needs to do to be successful. In times of crisis, this is even more important. Set specific, measurable goals and action items, and help your teams track progress.
- Recognize great work. When times get difficult, people need to know that their work is valued and making a difference. In times like these, find a reason to reach out to your team members with a note, text, email, or phone call.
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?
Managing an entire company in an entirely remote environment? Counting the last five months… five months. All kidding aside, I’ve always managed organizations that have a distributed workforce. In many cases, that includes managing separate branches or operating locations while in others, it includes managing team members that work remotely or from home. So, I’ve always understood the basics of engagement in a remote environment. Again, streamlined communication, clear expectations, and measurable progress are key here. Fortunately, technology has revolutionized the way remote teams collaborate — leaning into platforms like Zoom and MS Teams has been instrumental for Talent Path throughout the pandemic.
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?
From our perspective, there are five main challenges to managing a team in a remote environment:
- Communication. The lack of proximity presents an immediate challenge around communication. When teams work closely together in the same physical environment, they are able to quickly voice questions, share ideas, and receive feedback on their performance. A remote environment removes the conveniences of proximity, forcing teams to find alternative ways to collaborate.
- Productivity. One of the biggest crutches managers use to claim that a remote work structure is not effective stems from the theory that the physical presence of the team allows supervisors to ensure that work is being done. Aside from the reasons this is a misguided theory, it’s difficult to manage productivity in a remote environment, particularly without setting proper expectations and incorporating an effective measurement system.
- Culture. We have long believed in the importance of building and maintaining an effective culture as a direct link to the success of any company, organization, department, or team. It should be quite obvious — as humans we have an innate need for interaction with others who share common interests. As we have mentioned before, the remote work structure removes the convenience that an office can provide, forcing the need to establish a proper structure that compensates.
- Building Trust. While trust is often an important element of many cultures, it is by itself an important success factor for the performance of a team. The reason is simple — trusting in your team members to do their job allows you to focus on yours. That trust allows effective teams to work both separately and together toward a common goal. Again, physical proximity provides the convenience of continuous validation of each individual’s progress, reinforcing trust. Remote environments complicate that validation.
- Technology. So many of the factors we mentioned above — communication, performance, culture, and building trust — can only be achieved with the proper framework that facilitates the visibility and interaction necessary to compensate in a remote environment.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
To bolster communication, implement and utilize a number of different media platforms for communicating. Email, video calls, conference calls, e-newsletters, etc. Second, develop a timely, routine, and ongoing communication plan. Finally, communicate with as much clarity as possible. Even when there is nothing new to share, share that there is nothing new.
There are two solutions when it comes to productivity. First, set very clear expectations of performance with every member of the team and hold them accountable to those expectations. So many companies fail to do this first, which cancels any subsequent effort to compensate. Second, measure and report progress through dashboards, scoreboards, power rankings, etc.
Building a company’s culture is done every day through every action of nearly every person in a company. We have always found that regardless of proximity or work location, culture building is about setting and communicating clearly the purpose and vision of a company, and then living true to that through your actions. It requires intention, commitment, and persistence. It also requires visibility; the team needs to see the actions and the connections to the culture you are trying to build.
To be successful building trust in a remote team, you must develop the mechanisms to validate individual performance/progress thus building that trust. Some of the same tools you will use to address communication, productivity, and culture will also help build trust.
Technology is where email, video conferencing, operating systems, performance dashboards, and content sharing becomes so important. Tools like MS Teams are godsent for tackling this challenge.
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?
First of all, I tend to take the approach that feedback can’t be received unless the individual is receptive to it. So, it’s important to first create an environment where advice can be received — which takes time. Over time, people learn to trust that feedback is constructive and useful if they see it’s fair and consistent.
Second, it’s vital that feedback is not always negative. If a manager solely provides feedback when it’s negative, the employees receptivity will be shut down.
Third, make sure you distinguish between reality and perception. In my case, I’ll often give feedback that recognizes that an issue may only be a perception, but in many cases that perception turns out to indeed be fact.
Finally, the way your employee responds to feedback is entirely dependent on the way you deliver it to them. Oftentimes, people don’t realize their own behavior, so try something like this: “I don’t know if you realize X, but when you do X, I see/process X, and it makes me feel X.” Assume that the person doesn’t know they’re doing it or have any idea that it’s impactful. This way, your response is never perceived as intention to do harm, but merely a consequence of their approach or actions.
Notably, none of this is directly tied to whether or not an employee is working remotely. If you are consistent, provide both positive and negative insight, approach conflict from a constructive standpoint, and frame it correctly, it won’t matter where your staff is.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Personally, I try to avoid giving feedback solely using email to avoid misinterpretation. What I prefer to do is have sensitive conversations in-person or at least via phone call or Zoom so that my employees know for certain that they are heard and understood. Doing this also enables a two-way dialogue where employees can ask questions.
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?
There are so many things to consider when you take a team used to working in physical proximity and asking them to work remotely. But if I were to pick three key suggestions, perhaps I’d go with the following:
- Follow a routine. Teams function better when they engage on the same time table, especially if they were previously used to doing so in close proximity. So, establish a clear schedule that everyone agrees to follow — one that enables a necessary time overlap to encourage interaction.
- Establish frequent check-ins. When we shifted our team to remote work, we asked our team leaders to set up morning, noon, and afternoon check-ins that take place over video or phone calls.
- Mix things up. Team meetings and check-ins don’t always have to be addressing business. For example, make the morning call a check-in to share personal goals for the day. Make the midday or early afternoon call a team “walk the dog” call.
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?
Many of the elements we previously outlined, if properly implemented, will create a healthy and empowering work culture, regardless of proximity. Those include:
— Effective, consistent, and transparent communication. Provide as much information as possible as frequently as you can. Too much is never enough.
— A culture of performance. Set clear expectations and hold people accountable. Team members want to know how they’re doing.
— Recognition and rewards. While holding people accountable, make sure they are recognized for their performance. A good rule of thumb, recognize 10 times more often than you criticize.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
To be honest, we truly believe that we are inspiring a movement with our work at Talent Path. As a company, our purpose is to “Enrich Lives by Connecting Talent.” We do that every day by helping our contractors find meaningful work that maintains their livelihood, all while helping our clients find the talent that can achieve their business goals. At Talent Path, we have the privilege of getting to do something very special: we help launch careers. We help new graduates find a path to gain both the skills and experience they need to start a career in technology. And because we can do this with purpose, we intentionally recruit to achieve a richer balance of diversity in our consultants, in terms of both race/ethnicity and gender. I’m blessed to run a company that allows me to inspire a movement, but beyond that, I’d say the biggest challenge we have in this country today is the inequities our system creates. What I’m referring to here is access; access to the jobs that pay the salaries that allow people to live the lives they want. And access can only be supported if we strive for the following:
- Stable, safe environments. Communities that are safe for our children, where they can learn, develop, and grow.
- Proper guidance. Morals, values, and principles are just as important as professional development. So is recognition, encouragement, and support.
- The right education. At the heart of some of the racial inequities we have in this country is the lack of access to education and training. We must all band together to solve this, now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh my, there are so many quotes I use and reference as lessons for leadership and life. In fact, my leadership blog (www.leadingwright.com) is filled with them. For now, here are a few that I truly love:
- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” — Peter Drucker. This may be the biggest truism in business that I have ever seen. If you build the right culture, based on purpose, principle, clarity in vision, and in what you want to stand for, you will find success. I recommend taking it a step further: build a strategy that intentionally creates and maintains the culture you want, and you will be unstoppable.
- “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.” — Peter Drucker. I am, and have long been, a proponent of the importance of teamwork, leveraging strengths and compensating for weaknesses.
- “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” — George Adair. I leaned on this quote as my mantra when I took a huge leap of faith to leave my job running all of Manpower North America to run Genuent and launch Talent Path.
- “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill. This one’s more of a life lesson than a business lesson. There are so many ways to say it, but Winston does just fine with his words. Pay it forward, and it will pay itself back.
Thank you for these great insights!