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Managing Performance with a Remote Team

By Jenny Douras

Employees that work remotely can more easily veer off on the wrong path.  They usually do not do this intentionally.  Because they are isolated from the company they can misperceive what is important, and focus on the wrong thing.  No one wants to do a bad job. Usually employees fail because expectations are not clear.  And, because remote employees are disconnected from the company, they can more easily go in the wrong direction.  

So how can we ensure remote employees stay on track with what is important to the team and the company?  Managers need to lay a clear foundation, then continuously reinforce it through communication and feedback.  

Create a team Vision.  Can you recite your company’s vision statement?  Don’t worry if you can’t: 99% of people surveyed cannot.  Why?  Companies often lock their executives in a room for a day with an expensive marketing company to come up with a company vision, presented in fancy marketing-speak.  Then they print a few posters of the vision to hang on a wall, and walk away.  The vision is not reinforced in day-to-day work.  When creating a vision for your team, come up with a simple sentence or two of what the team’s purpose is.  It doesn’t need to be fancy marketing speech, just a straight forward statement of their purpose in the company – what they should always ultimately be striving for.  Then after you come up with the vision, and roll it out to your team, find ways to constantly reinforce it in team communications.

Create Expectations that support your vision.  The vision is the bright shiny object you want them to strive for.  But visions can leave a lot to interpretation.  Breakdown the vision into expectations that your employees can work toward to help them reach that vision.  If part of your vision is for your team to “think strategically,” define what that means in the expectations.  Do you want them to look for creative solutions to problems?  Do you want them to create new opportunities and find new ways to work?  This is where you want to define those objectives.

Create weekly measurable Goals.   Create a tracking sheet that employees submit to you each week to report their goal obtainment.  These should be ongoing, weekly goals that don’t change for at least 90 days, but that are measured weekly.  This breaks down those expectations into something that is trackable to help employees clearly see what they should be accomplishing.  Did you want them to look for creative solutions to problems?  Then one of your weekly goals might be for them to report on one creative solution they came up with each week.  The key to making goal attainment successful is to have employees deliver this to you each week.  You want them to report on it to you.  If, instead, you use a system in which you pull their numbers or information, and let them know how they did, you are ultimately the reporting system, and they will be less likely to take responsibility to reach the goals (without constant reminders from you).  Instead, make sure the process requires each individual team member to report their goal obtainments to you each week.

Throw out the old Performance Reviews with rating systems.  Many companies still use annual performance reviews that require a manger to rate employees in specific categories, such as communication, collaboration, leadership, etc., with a rating scale, such as, Excellent, Good, Needs Improvement, etc.  These vague statements are not effective in clearly communicating to your employees how effectively they are performing.  Have you ever had a class in school where the A was an easy A, but in another class, with a different teacher, you were excited to just get that B?  Category-rating performance reviews are the equivalent:  They are subjective.  One person’s “Excellent” might be another’s “Good.” As well, the once-a-year timeframe leaves a lot of feedback gaps throughout the year.

Instead, do quarterly performance planning sessions.  These are conversations you have with your employee, in which you set goals for the next 90 days, and review progress on the past 90 days.  These are not a rating system; instead goals and accomplishments are documented, primarily by the employee before the discussion, with a final version created, with additional edits, after meeting with their manager.  These are a collaborative and candid discussion between manager and employee that establishes much clearer communication on how well the employee is meeting expectations.

By creating a clear Vision, supporting it with Expectations and weekly Goal tracking, and then providing quarterly collaborative Performance Planning sessions, your remote team will stay on track.  There will be little room for doubt on what the important focus areas are, and employees will be more successful.  

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