Victoria Roos Olsson of FranklinCovey: “Together, agree on actions to be taken”

Constructive feedback can be difficult in any setting, but giving it remotely is even more difficult. We speak about “blind spots”, as when we are not aware of a behavior or the impact our behavior has on others. Working remotely increases the risk of blind spots. So as a leader (or anyone giving constructive feedback), […]

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Constructive feedback can be difficult in any setting, but giving it remotely is even more difficult. We speak about “blind spots”, as when we are not aware of a behavior or the impact our behavior has on others. Working remotely increases the risk of blind spots. So as a leader (or anyone giving constructive feedback), you need to take extra care to help the person discover a possible blind spot.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Roos Olsson, a senior leadership consultant at FranklinCovey. She is an expert in leadership development and has trained, developed and coached managers around the world for the past 20 years. She is an expert facilitator of several FranklinCovey offerings, and served on the development team for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 4 Essential Roles of Leadership.

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 was fortunate enough to find my passion in my career early on: leadership development. My career with FranklinCovey has given me the opportunity to live and work in 10 different countries around the world. Originally from Sweden, I now live in Atlanta with my husband, two teenage daughters and our dog, Tiger. Apart from developing leaders I love to write (co-authored the WSJ best-seller, “Everyone Deserves a Great Manager,” I am a podcast host (Roos&Shine), a yoga instructor and running coach. I tend to be very busy and having lots of things going on, so I’m a constant case study, trying to practice what I preach.

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

I’m ambitious and my intense career has reflected that. One recent and very important turning point for me was a few years back. I was in the midst of a hectic career and keeping up with all of my roles when it became clear to me that one of my daughters (then in her pre-teens) really needed me more than ever. I decided to resign from my high profile (and demanding!) job and instead work as a freelancer to be able to work from home. It was interesting for me to see that apart from helping my daughter, this break gave me new insights and eventually grew my career even further. When things calmed down a little at home, I gave myself a 100-day learning challenge. For 100 days I aimed to learn as many and different things as possible. Everything from reading new kinds of books, to learning how to edit a podcast, listening to people who were different from me, to actually starting to write my own book. The power of taking a break, of spending your time differently, and learning new things is enormous. To me, it actually meant taking my career to a new level and it gave me different opportunities I hadn’t even dreamt about.

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?

One of my first jobs out of college was as an Operational Trainer for Hilton in Brussels. The language spoken at the hotel was French, which meant that all my workshops were held in French. I remember being extremely nervous about my very first session (an employee introduction day) and having practiced for hours and hours to get all the French expressions right. However, during that very first workshop one of the participants had an attack and started to hyperventilate. She was given a brown paper bag to breathe in and I did my best to try to calm her down to slow her aggregated breathing. I leaned in and kept repeating for her to breathe slowly, (at least that’s what I thought I said) but I noticed that she looked even more panicked when I kept repeating to her what I thought was a calming instruction. I stopped and reviewed the word I was using. In French, the word for breathing (respire) is similar to sweating. So, I was basically telling her to sweat less. My learning? Keep practicing whatever skill you think you’ve got!

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

I truly believe managing our energy is one of the most important leadership competencies for the future. In the past we have focused on the individual contributor when it comes to time and energy management. But to really make a difference, it’s the leader that needs to create and keep a culture that promotes healthy time management and sustainable energy. It’s suggested that 40 percent of the jobs as we know them today will be replaced by AI or totally transformed within the next 15 years. Our competitive advantage as human beings is our ability to empathize, to be creative, and to innovate. I always ask leaders if they are great at doing these things when they are tired, overworked and low on energy. The answer is always “NO.” So if you want a creative, innovate, empathic workforce, you also need to invest in their time and energy. And by investing, I mean rewarding. As the leader, ask yourself if you are rewarding the people who are working themselves to exhaustion or those who keep a great level of energy and plan ahead!

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?

The first time I managed a remote team was 20 years ago. I wonder if we even used the term “remote teams” back then? I remember the relief I experienced when I got a new role and my team and I were all in the same building.

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 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?

A key to any successful communication is our ability to decode messages by reading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. The actual words mean as little as 8 percent when we try to evaluate what someone is telling us. So, now that we are managing our teams remotely, we are increasing the risk for miscommunication drastically. So, the key to success is to “stay on camera folks!” It makes all the difference.

During my leadership workshops I always encourage participants to keep their videos on. I spend time sharing the “why” and how much it matters to the engagement, communication, and understanding. Having said that, last week I was doing just that, encouraging a small group of leaders to be on camera. I felt I did a great job explaining the “why” when eventually all of them connected on camera. After a while, I realized that the one person who had been the most reluctant being on camera had an elderly relative that he was taking care of, who frequently walked past in the background. I realized it was not a lack of engagement that was stopping this participant from joining via video, but that we were intruding on his privacy. I felt extremely guilty and it served as a reminder to not only share your own “why,” but listen carefully to the “whys” of others, as well.

My advice to leaders is to discuss the utilization of the camera with your team members on a 1-on-1 basis. Take time to listen and truly understand the underlying reasons for why someone on your team might be reluctant to come on video.

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?

Constructive feedback can be difficult in any setting, but giving it remotely is even more difficult. We speak about “blind spots”, as when we are not aware of a behavior or the impact our behavior has on others. Working remotely increases the risk of blind spots. So as a leader (or anyone giving constructive feedback), you need to take extra care to help the person discover a possible blind spot.

Here are a few simple steps to follow:

  1. Share your intention (“I would like to talk about the client event that you hosted yesterday and give you some feedback”).
  2. Start by asking your employee how they felt it went (“How did you think the event went? What did you think of your performance? What were your key insights from yesterday’s event?”). By asking for their perspective first, you get a hint of any blind spots. Your employee might be able to tell you exactly what worked and what didn’t and what they will do differently next time. Your job will be much easier. Or, they will not be aware. You then need to be much more specific in steps 3 and 4.
  3. Share specific observations of behaviors. I always recommend you write them down in advance. If you can’t write it down, you are not specific enough.
  4. Describe the impact this behavior had on you, on others, or on the result. Don’t make it about emotions, keep it factual.
  5. Together, agree on actions to be taken.

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

Yes. Don’t do it. Always talk about it first in person. You can always follow up with an email as a summary, including agreed upon actions. Better yet, ask your employee to do so.

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?

Not only have many started to work remote, but we are also doing so in times of uncertainty. As leaders, we find ourselves in the same situation as our teams. With so much uncertainty, many leaders fall back to relying on the communication, not wanting to say “the wrong thing”, and as a result they communicate less, when they should indeed communicate more. Communication, communication, communication!

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?

Did you have a healthy and empowering work culture before you started working remotely? If yes, continue what you did, but do more of it. Not less. Create space to connect. Connection is one of the 5 Energy Drivers and key to a healthy and empowering work culture. At the same time, many organizations are suffering from “zoom fatigue”, so challenge the idea that everyone must be in every meeting (including yourself). I have a hard time imagining that we will ever get back to the way we used to work pre-COVID. I do think actual human connection is critical and the successful leader will create space for meaningful connections.

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. 🙂

There are two things I feel extremely passionate about. One of them is leadership. If you do it right, you can really make a positive difference. Leadership can be fun, exciting and rewarding. It can also be hard, frustrating and exhausting. I would love for all the leaders in the world to get the development needed to do their job well. Just like we would not let anyone be a doctor without a medical degree or a let someone without a law exam practice law, we should not leave leaders all alone trying to figure it out without support. Great leaders can make a great difference, truly impacting the people in their circle and beyond. And many are fortunate enough to get paid doing so!

The other movement I would love to inspire is all about… movement! There is so much research showing the positive effects of movement. Not only the physical wellbeing, but the mental wellbeing is truly affected by the amount of movement we fit into our life. As a yoga instructor and running coach I try to constantly incorporate movement into my workshops. I’ve had audiences with 100s of leaders standing up together doing squats. It’s brilliant if you can fit in a visit to the gym on a regular basis, but even better if you can get movement into every day, throughout the day.

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

“With people, fast is slow and slow is fast” by Dr. Stephen R. Covey is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I find that whenever I go for the “quick fixes” it often comes back in the shape of a bigger challenge. To truly stop, invest our time to listen, to understand, helps us to quicker get to the root of the cause and solve the real challenge. Once. This is true in both professional as well as personal settings. It’s true for ourselves as well. To stop, pause and reflect before we go for it, makes all the difference.

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