Recruiting is key to building a high-performing company, especially for remote organizations. Poor hiring mistakes are painful, expensive and often not fixable, and top organizations figure out how to safeguard against those potential misfires. Relying on intuition or “gut-instinct,” is a common mistake leaders make when it comes to hiring. Having hired hundreds of people and reviewed scores of data, I’ve learned that it is much better to develop an objective, consistent hiring system, rather than having your recruitment strategy impacted by human bias and error.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewingRobert Glazer.
Robert Glazer is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global partner marketing agency and the recipient of numerous industry and company culture awards, including Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards two years in a row. He is the author of the inspirational newsletter Friday Forward, and the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and international bestselling author of four books: Elevate, Friday Forward, How To Make Virtual Teams Work and Performance Partnerships. He is a sought-after speaker by companies and organizations around the world and is the host of The Elevate Podcast. His new book, Friday Forward, published on September 1st, 2020.
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”?
I am the Founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners (AP), a global partner marketing agency. I am a serial entrepreneur with a passion for helping individuals and organizations build their capacity. I am the host of the Elevate Podcast, the creator of Friday Forward and the author of four books: Friday Forward, Elevate, How To Make Virtual Teams Work and Performance Partnerships.
I started Acceleration Partners to help brands grow their business through affiliate and partner marketing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A few years ago, I resolved to improve my morning routine and dedicate time to quiet thinking, writing and reading something positive or inspiring to start my day. I didn’t find anything inspirational that really resonated with me and felt that many of the quote books and recommended readings were a little too rainbows and unicorns.
I had collected some stories and quotes I found inspiring and began sending a weekly email to forty people on my team at AP. I called it “Friday Inspiration” and focused on stories that were not only inspirational but also thought-provoking and challenging.
After a few weeks, I started to get replies and several employees told me they looked forward to the messages and shared them with friends and family. Some had also used them to make positive changes in their lives, whether running a race, setting personal goals or improving their performance at work. I realized the emails might have value for people beyond my company and decided to open it to the public. I shared it with other business leaders, set up a website for people to sign-up and changed the name to “Friday Forward.”
Almost five years later and thanks mainly to word of mouth, Friday Forward reaches over two hundred thousand people in more than 60 countries each week. As Friday Forward’s reach has grown, it has been incredibly rewarding. Each week I receive replies from readers thanking me for the positive impact it’s had on their lives. You can sign up at www.fridayfwd.com
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?
This one was more recent. When COVID-19 started and I was on Zoom more regularly, I would often forget to log out after a call was finished. One day I went for a run, jumped in the shower and rushed to get on a Zoom meeting with a potential partner. I was on vacation, so my computer was in the bedroom. When I sat down a few minutes early for the call, I realized that Zoom was already on and the other person had logged on early. I am still not totally sure what they saw but there were a few awkward seconds of silence.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
There’s great value in learning to set limits. As you grow professionally, you will have more opportunities to help people, the demands on your time will increase accordingly. At the same time, you can’t be all things to all people, and you have essential responsibilities to your family, career and community.
Those who try to be all things to all people and try to say “yes” to everything will inevitably let down themselves and others. The most successful people are comfortable saying no. Turning down additional work and obligations isn’t being selfish — it is understanding your priorities and making a conscious choice honor them. If you don’t take care of yourself and your own priorities, you’ll find that you will have less to give to people who need your best.
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?
When I founded AP in 2007, the decision to make our workforce fully remote started out of necessity. We are a specialized agency in the affiliate marketing industry which has developed considerably since we started but at the time was more of a niche business with small groups of talent scattered all over the country.
We were winning large accounts and looking to recruit account managers with industry experience. We began hiring account managers from all over the United States and quickly realized that we could excel by recruiting people who valued the flexibility and independence of a virtual work environment. A few years later, we committed to a fully remote strategy and built a company known for being an industry leader and a great place to work.
We found a way to make our remote strategy work and overcome widely held misperceptions. Some people believed that remote employees are unaccountable with their time, struggling with young children, watching television, or running errands. As a client service business working with leading brands, we worked hard to disprove these myths and show clients we had a high standard of service.
Since we decided to go all-remote, we’ve grown over 1000 percent and have been profitable without external funding. We’ve expanded from seven employees to 170 globally across eight countries. And even more importantly, we’ve been recognized with over thirty awards for our company culture, including Glassdoor, Inc., Fortune, Entrepreneur, Forbes, and the Boston Globe.
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? Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
Remote work has a growing practice over the years, but it is particularly urgent today, as Covid-19 is prompting many companies, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, to telework.
Managing a team in a remote environment isn’t always easy and some businesses can struggle if they don’t follow certain practices. After a decade of experience leading an award-winning remote company, here are five of the top challenges and some strategies to overcome them:
Hiring the Wrong People
Recruiting is key to building a high-performing company, especially for remote organizations. Poor hiring mistakes are painful, expensive and often not fixable, and top organizations figure out how to safeguard against those potential misfires.
Relying on intuition or “gut-instinct,” is a common mistake leaders make when it comes to hiring. Having hired hundreds of people and reviewed scores of data, I’ve learned that it is much better to develop an objective, consistent hiring system, rather than having your recruitment strategy impacted by human bias and error.
At AP, we’ve drawn inspiration from Geoff Smart and his company, ghSMART. Smart wrote a book, Who: The A Method to Hiring, which serves as a definitive guide to systematizing hiring and matching the right people to the right roles. It’s an essential read for businesses struggling to hire the right talent.
When hiring new employees, it’s crucial to clarify what skills and qualities are necessary for the role, what success looks like and the outcomes for which they will be responsible. Detailed job descriptions ensure an employee is completely clear about what is expected of them and help you determine early on if they are the right person rather than waiting to see if they will improve.
It isn’t easy to build a successful remote business without hiring employees who excel in that environment. If you are hiring remote employees, you should consider the environment as a key element when evaluating whether a candidate is the right fit for your organization.
We’ve seen low success with people who would rather work in an office and don’t value the flexibility of working remotely. We’ve learned to identify one type of person during the hiring process: the social butterfly who gets their energy from being around other people all day.
While many people adapt well to remote work, social butterflies or extreme extroverts have a hard time in a virtual environment because it doesn’t fit their needs. If you are transparent with candidates about what they can expect, they can consider whether remote work is truly a fit and understand that not everyone can acclimate to a virtual environment.
Inconsistent Core Values
People want to work for a company that has a clear mission and values. If a company doesn’t have these principles, it can be a cause for concern, but it’s a bigger problem when the values exist, but mostly serve as inauthentic wall art. Effective core values express a differentiated point of view that demonstrates what matters to the organization, and employees usually know them without looking them up.
For years, I walked into offices and would see generic core values like “honesty,” “teamwork” and “integrity” hung on the walls. Not only did these values seem like something any company could say, but many of these companies violated these same principles consistently with their actions.
United Airlines is an example of this. Their core values say, “Flight right, fly friendly, fly together, and fly above and beyond.” Their culture is supposedly built upon “connecting people and uniting the world.”
This was evident in April 2017 when a United passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight by airport security. After overselling the flight, United failed to offer a compelling financial incentive for customers to voluntarily give up their seats. Instead, they resorted to brute force, dragging a passenger off the aircraft, a scene filmed by other passengers and shared around the internet. By avoiding the cost of a few hundred dollars in compensation to customers, United’s culture that was supposedly built on connecting the world, united the public against them. The controversy lost the company an estimated 800 million dollars in market capitalization.
By contrast, Southwest Airlines positively changed the life of Peggy Uhle and her son. Peggy’s flight from Raleigh-Durham to Chicago was getting ready to take off when the pilot headed back to the gate. Peggy was asked to get off the plane and discovered her son had been in a terrible accident in Denver.
Not only did the gate attendant re-book Peggy on the next direct flight to Denver, but she also offered her a private waiting area, rerouted her luggage, let her board first, and gave her lunch. They delivered her luggage to where she was staying and later a Southwest employee called to ask how her son was doing.
There wasn’t a policy manual telling Southwest employees what to do under these highly unique circumstances. Instead, Southwest’s team acted under the company’s core value to “Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel.” This is instructive to how leaders should view their core values — what principles do you want to guide your employees when you’re not in the room?
Focusing on Inputs not Outcomes
Companies that manage people by requiring facetime, or measuring time and effort inputs often do this because they haven’t set proper outcome expectations. This is where consistency and clarity around goals and outcomes come into play. When a company’s goals, and the employee goals that support them, aren’t clear, it can create a culture of mediocrity and in the long run lead to lackluster performance.
Rather than prioritizing facetime with managers or working long hours, companies that succeed in the long-run instead push for employees to achieve clearly defined outcomes that actually move the business forward. We usually see this result with sales. No one cares how many calls a salesperson makes, meetings they host or hours they work if there are no deals closed at the end of the day. Salespeople are rewarded for outputs, not their inputs and are compensated based on the amount they sell rather than the number of hours worked.
For example, Netflix is one of the world’s top-performing companies and is known for setting clear goals and encouraging creativity and accountability. As long as employee goals are achieved and commitments are realized, employees can work how they want. Today’s great companies embrace this philosophy and have leaders that know how to set high goals and hold people accountable without counting hours.
Don’t assume that in-person meetings will transfer to a remote environment. While a video call is similar to an in-person meeting, it can be difficult to keep people’s attention and engagement, and fatigue can quickly build.
When moving a traditional meeting to a virtual format, cut the length in half. Not only does it keep the meetings shorter but it also ensures that no single person is speaking uninterrupted for a long period of time. If it’s a monologue and not really a discussion, employees will stop listening.
Update meetings can take up a lot of time and are especially ineffective in a virtual environment. Rather than having people read a bunch of information or share a PowerPoint presentation in a dry way, it can be more impactful to send a written memo or share the presentation with employees in advance. This can help create more discussion or interaction in these meetings and employees usually find it a more valuable use of their time.
At AP, we’ve adopted a memo system, following Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ lead. Bezos doesn’t like PowerPoint presentations or meetings in which people monologue through updates. He requires team members to create a written memo before each meeting that includes background information and relevant details for discussion. The memo is shared with all meeting attendees and everyone takes time to read it before the meeting so they can take notes and prepare for questions.
We have modified this system for a remote environment and require employees to send out a memo before meetings. Participants are expected to arrive having read the memo and ready to discuss it.Scheduling a meeting where employees aren’t actively engaged is a waste of valuable time and resources and we’ve seen the memo system drive better engagement and productivity by making meetings shorter and more focused.
There are significant adjustments employees make when working from home for the first time and it is critical for organizational leaders to commit to making remote work functional and effective. Failing to invest in technology often limits employee communication, engagement and collaboration.
There are many tools available in the cloud that can be easily downloaded and installed. Remote leaders need to take the time to find what works best for them and their team.
Single Sign-On (SSO) is a password manager that also logs you into underlying applications. With all of the technology today, it would be a hassle for employees to manage dozens of individual accounts for applications. An SSO platform, like Idaptive and Okta, connects the majority of cloud applications to a single login, which makes things far more convenient for your team.
File sharing is another essential tool. Passing documents back and forth via email and having employees save everything on their personal computer hard drive is a data management and security nightmare. File sharing platforms such as Egnyte and SharePoint allow an organization to store files and manage folder permissions safely. Employees can easily review and collaborate on documents and create a local folder on their computer for easy file access.
For remote organizations, training and onboarding are crucial. Companies that don’t have their learning resources easily accessible and centralized in one place can limit employee knowledge sharing and skill development. Learning Management Systems (LMS) allow employees to upload video and written training content for the entire company. We also used a knowledge management system (KMS) where teams can upload resources for the entire company to review and share knowledge, best practices and company policies.
For communications, Slack and Zoom are effective for managing most internal and external communications. These tools help ensure collaboration and information sharing are prominent in a remote organization. Slack can also help add a social connection to your organization. We’ve created Slack channels, including “What Made Your Week,” one of our most popular channels, where employees can share a post or picture of something that made their week better.
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?
Video is a necessity for remote teams and especially for feedback. Conducting as many communications as possibleover video calls, rather than the phone, ensures employees are more engaged in the conversation and that you can see their reactions.
AP employees always use video to share feedback with employees. Additionally, we ask managers not to wait for annual or quarterly check-ins to give feedback; they identify performance issues as they happen and seek solutions in real-time. By making feedback a regular part of a manager’s routine, and including it in one-on-one calls and conversations, it can quickly resolve misunderstandings and focus on incremental improvement before something builds up to a breaking point.
We also routinely request employees provide direct 360 feedback to their managers and our leadership team. We ask employees if they’re happy, what we should start doing and, most importantly, what we need to stop doing. We use a tool called TINYpulse, which allows us to collect real-time, anonymous feedback from employees and quickly identify ways we can improve.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Ideally, critical feedback would not be given over e-mail as context and tone can be lost. However, if necessary, it’s best to follow the Situation, Behavior Outcome (SBO) framework. This encourages feedback to be given directly and concisely in a nonjudgmental way.
With SBO, you describe what happened, what behavior the employee exhibited that was problematic, what outcome that behavior led to that was not ideal and why it was bad for the employee. This works best to depersonalize the situation and focus instead on what can be improved for next time.
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 is a misperception that people who work from home let their personal distractions affect their work and aren’t accountable. However, for many remote workers, the opposite is more likely the case. Many employees find it challenging to set boundaries between their work and personal lives; it’s difficult for them to take breaks or decompress at the end of the day. They even struggle to end their workday, checking email late at night or before they go to sleep.
At AP, we regularly communicate with our employees on the importance of setting boundaries when it comes to managing their time and workspaces. We recommend they create a set schedule, with designated work hours, breaks and a clear beginning and end to the day so that work doesn’t overflow into their personal lives.
We also encourage our team to set physical boundaries. We recommend they have a place in their home specifically dedicated to working. This not only helps to allocate explicit time for work, but it also indicates to other people in their home when they are available and when they are not.
This is important because if you are visible, a spouse or child might think you are available. They may decide to walk in and ask questions without realizing you are in the middle of a client call. Setting a designated space for work helps to avoid this confusion.
Avoiding burnout and managing energy is critical for remote workers. It can be all too easy to dive into work, not get up from your desk for hours and burn yourself out. This can mean getting a lot done but can limit performance for the rest of the day. When building your schedule, mix and match different types of activities along with breaks to notice how it impacts your energy level and performance.
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?
With remote workers spending the majority of their time working from home, it’s important to create opportunities to interact in person. An annual in-person meeting is a great way to bring remote team members together. We host a yearly meeting called AP Summit which gives our employees the opportunity to come together in person, create fun memories, celebrate our achievements and collaborate on future goals.
There are other ways businesses to foster in-person connections on teams. We organize most of AP into what we call “hubs,” or cities where large groups of employees live nearby. This allows us to have semi-annual “Hub Meetings,” where team members can connect in person and share feedback with the senior leadership team. This structure enables us to host collaboration days, in-person training and social events.
During Covid-19, we’ve moved our annual summit and hub meetings to virtual events. We’ve also leaned more into employee-led social events. We’ve had an employee host a show-and-tell event featuring employees’ pets and kids, group fitness classes, trivia quizzes and more.
Although many remote employees enjoy working from home, they may miss socializing at times. Bringing people together in-person or virtually helps them share their personal and work lives with colleagues and creates engagement and investment in the organization’ success.
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. 🙂
Creating employee engagement and connections is incredibly important in a remote environment. Friday Forward has allowed me to start each day on a positive note and provided me with a growing responsibility to elevate others.
Sending Friday Forward messages during COVID-19, I noticed an increase in readers responding to my emails. People were trapped at home, and many of them felt fearful, isolated or depressed.
Even though the Friday Forward messages are simple, they connect deeply with people, even in a virtual environment, something leaders will need to lean into and do more of in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the phrase, “How we do everything is how we do anything.”
For a lot of my life, I did not give my best effort and that’s something that still motivates me to this day. Now, if I am going to do something I do it 100% or not at all.
Thank you for these great insights!