How do you lead and inspire employees when working from home? Increase the quantity of face-to-face to help compensate for the lack of physical experience of working together. Patrick Veroneau’s guest in this episode is Rich Salon, the Employee Relations Consultant at HR Sanity.
Rich talks with Patrick about how you should never underestimate the power of a little chat. Spend more time one-on-one with direct reports. Brainstorm together! These little communications boost the efficiency of the company. If you want more tips on leading employees during these trying times, this episode’s for you.
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Tips On How To Lead And Inspire Employees When Working From Home With Rich Salon
Rich, I want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. We’ve been working to set this up for so long in had such great conversations around your depth in HR, your experience in terms of many of the companies you’ve worked for. As I look at your background, known as the HR Guy, I thought this was a great opportunity for you to come on and talk about some things that are very relevant in the workplace right now. One is culture as it relates to remote virtual settings, as well as psychological safety. It’s something that I certainly have been thinking about much more of lately. I’d love your input on it and thoughts as it relates to the virtual setting that we’re in as well. I’ll let you take it from here in regards to giving the audience a snapshot of your background.
Thanks, Patrick. It’s great to be here. I’ve been truly blessed to help some leading companies as a human resource and an employee relations professional. I’m fortunate to build both the Home Depot and Lowe’s, Circuit City and also the Penske organizations, all terrific organizations. I’ve met and worked with an incredible quantity of leaders, but my focus has been on the employee experience from hire to retire. Employee engagement, helping leaders become better leaders and also being able to help people with their careers along the way. I have enjoyed it, seeing some terrific cultures along the way and some awesome leaders.
I will also mention, fellow Rotarian.
I’m proud to be a member of Rotary International. I’m in Central Virginia. I’m an Area Governor. I’m a past president. I was installed as the District Membership Chair. In Rotary, we continue to do some terrific things locally within our communities, and we continue to do some terrific things internationally. Thank you for that, Patrick.
2021 has obviously been challenging. A year nobody would ever think about happening, where so many people now might be working remotely. It’s not that easy, especially when we’re talking about if you’re onboarding people, how do you create a culture in that environment?
It is a huge challenge. For so many years, we’re used to meeting people face-to-face, having formal meetings, group meetings, having informal one-on-ones and the infamous water cooler chat. Those things have gone away. It’s it feels like we’re in an employment culture with an asterisk next to it. It is different and challenging. The opportunity to help and inspire people do the best possible work got tougher. The future leads us to believe that we will continue to be in a somewhat virtual environment or a hybrid environment for quite some time.
Let’s start with onboarding. Now we’re onboarding, potentially remotely, which is even more difficult. How do you create a sense of culture when the person doesn’t even have the ability to walk past a water cooler? They’re at home.
Pre-COVID, if the onboarding looked like a combination of one-on-ones, meet and greets, group meetings, meet this department staff and do the proverbial eLearnings, the most important part of that was the one-on-ones and meeting people face-to-face, so you don’t have that. My take is, fortunately, the clarity of the virtual environment, if it’s Zoom or Microsoft teams, my advice is to utilize the virtual environment with a face-to-face.
We’re going to always have that phone, but being able to look at somebody in a screen and commune with them in a video screen versus just talking over the telephone can make a big difference. The other thing is, overcoming that lack of face-to-face, the water cooler chat, “I’m taking you to lunch on your first day on the job.” You need to work harder. I believe you need to increase the quantity of face-to-face to help compensate for the lack of the physical working together.
Which is difficult in some settings that I’m experiencing, a couple of the terms that I’ve heard is Zoomidas and the other is people on meetings they call Zoombies. Instead of zombies they’re Zoombies. People are not using the technology too much.Help inspire people to do the best possible work. Click To Tweet
I’ve heard those well. I’m fortunate to be a speaker as well and being a speaker, it’s difficult and taxing. You’re up there, you’re captivating. You’ve got to work that hard to scan the room, to captivate every member of the audience. That takes work. Our one-on-one or meeting interactions behooves each of us to work a little harder to make sure we are captivating and ensuring that the messages are getting across. To your point, you might be speaking somebody in the business situation with an employment and there might be their eight Zoom calls and they might be drooling on their desk at a boredom. We have to work a little harder to captivate people and to enhance our message on the Zoom virtual meetings.
You bring up a great point when you talk about speaking. We both do public speaking. One of the things is when you’re out in front of an audience, you have the ability to engage and energize people and you’re standing up, you’re walking around, and you’re moving. Are there components of that maybe we should try and employ as we’re on Zoom calls?
Maybe it’s standing up for some Zoom calls and you sit down for others. When I generally am doing some recordings, I will try and stand up when I do them so that it presents itself more as though I’m speaking to a group, just like I would, I wouldn’t be sitting in a chair when I speak to them, even though we’re doing this in chairs.
You need to break up the traditional rhythm, welcoming everybody. You received a copy of the agenda. “We’ll be here for the next hour. Let’s dive into the first topic on the agenda.” You do need to break it up. It’s got to feel different, otherwise, captivating half of the group may not happen.
It is much harder to be on Zoom than it is to be speaking on stage because it’s much easier to gauge the audience in terms of where they are. Whereas this sometimes you feel like you’re on your own. You don’t get a feeling for how things are landing for people. It is more challenging. As we move on this conversation around the water cooler, how important that is, what about companies that are trying to maintain a culture virtually? There probably are some individuals that our culture wasn’t that great. We’re happy that we’re not in that situation, but for those that do, how do you do that virtually? Any thoughts?
The water cooler is a great example. I had a former business partner and he had a framed photo in his office. The photo is the very famous picture of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt on the World War II peace talks. The photographer caught the three of them grinning at the same time, and the caption for that picture was, “Don’t ever underestimate the power of a little chat.”
In my experience, those little chats, if it’s the water cooler, coffee, the, “Come on in here at my office, and I grab a marker and we start scribbling on the whiteboard. A new concept and we move with it and it helps the company become more effective.” Those things are very challenging in this virtual world. Leaders need to increase the opportunity of people to speak one-on-one. Companies have an open-door policy. Now it’s a little different because in the past, people could say, “You got a minute? This was not a huge deal, but since you’re walking by, can I down something off you?” Those things are gone. The physical presence of a leader is the physical presence of your boss.
Let’s say your boss, every day it’s tough to overcome. From a leadership standpoint, my hope is that people are spending more time one-on-one with their direct reports. They’re frankly finding excuses to give their direct reports a call and say, “How’s it going? I need your help on something.” Work together and then follow up by saying, “What can I do for you?” It’s increasing the one-on-one time.
That is such a great point, too, where the efficiencies are much more challenged. You could be walking down the hall and you address an issue just on the walk. You don’t need to set an appointment where there’s more work involved now, that you have to almost schedule all of that time to be much more aware of making that happen from a leadership perspective of doing those things.
On a different level, even some of my coaching that I do now with individuals, has changed. It’s shorter bursts because I know how busy they are on Zoom, where that was the platform that I used for a lot of my clients. Knowing that they’re on Zoom all the time, what we’ve done for many of them is we do half the original coaching time is just check-ins. Where are we? It’s much more condensed. I’ve found we’re more focused when we’re on the call because we know our time is shorter.
The other major hurdle for people, it’s not just leaders and their role with their direct reports, it’s the team members, so their relationship with their leaders. We have a huge distraction in front of us in this virtual world, it’s called the internet. You’re talking to somebody in a Zoom meeting or a Microsoft Teams meeting likely, and it could be a one-on-one or a group meeting, but you’re also tied to the internet.
To think that there could be a tendency to drift to another internet site if you’re going shopping, if you just conveniently want to check your LinkedIn page or your Facebook page, or see if you got that message from your cousin that you’re awaiting on so you’d go over to your personal email, that is a huge distraction.Don't ever underestimate the power of a little chat. Click To Tweet
It’s incumbent on everyone when you’re in a meeting, either a one-on-one or a group meeting, it’s important to block out the distractions that somebody could get by jumping onto an internet site. It’s not easy. “What’s the Dow Jones doing? What’s going on with this?” It’s tempting to slide over, especially after your eighth Zoom call of the day, but you got to be laser focused. You got to overcome the temptation to go surf the internet.
You’re telling me that some people, when they’re on Zoom calls, might go to other sites?
I wouldn’t be guilty as charged. Somebody mentions a cool book on Amazon, and it seems to be bargain price at $15 and you get excited. How many people are writing down the title of that book on their post-it note on their desk? Maybe half. The other half are jumping on Amazon and could have ordered the book by the time the person’s finished their sentence.
When I’m on larger Zoom calls, I’m trying to zoom in on people’s eyes to see if I can tell if they’re reading a screen other than what we’re doing. They’re probably on something else and we are all guilty of that, which is much more the responsibility of the leader of making sure that when you do set up these meetings, that people feel this time is valuable.
That you keep people included in this, which I like to transition over when we talk about sharing meetings, this concept of psychological safety. It’s something that I know in the work that I’ve done, in a lot of the research that I’ve been reading. It is how important psychological safety is, even more so in the environment that we’re in over years, of people being able to talk about what’s going on, the challenges that might be faced with that. There’s a lot of concern to be able to do that.
Not just the virtual world we’re living in, but for people in employment, we’ve seen a lot of companies changed their products and their services, and we’ve seen companies proceed to change their labor model. Fortunately, some organizations have grown their labor force due to this pandemic. Many others have lost it and it doesn’t help that every week it’s announced, how many thousands of job losses were reported the prior week. There is a natural fear of many employed people of potentially losing their jobs. There are a lot of things that people can do to overcome it, and I go back to the face-to-face. You mentioned looking at somebody’s eyes. Think back to when we were in the office environment. I look forward to seeing people.
I looked forward to seeing senior leaders walk by in meetings and chatting. Their eyes can demonstrate their level of excitement and enthusiasm. How many times have we been in an office environment and we get excited just based on a senior leader or a mid-level manager, somebody explaining something and where the project or the concept is going. We lost that with the virtual world but it’s something we can overcome, reduce the distractions, get everybody to reduce the distractions, and focus and pay close attention to what’s occurring in the virtual meetings. It’s not easy, but I believe it can be overcome.
It’s hard for leaders, too. We’re expecting a lot out of leaders in this environment that they are experiencing these things, too. Maybe they have kids that are at home. They’re concerned that they’re remote school and they’re not learning anything right now, and maybe they’ve got a significant other that’s at home or maybe concerned about their job.
At times, we think of managers or leaders as somehow, they don’t have the same problems as the people that report to them have. That’s one of the things that I think in regards to psychological safety as well, it’s creating the environment for everybody, and maybe it’s with a leader can take a breath and say, “I’m struggling right now, too.” It takes vulnerability to do that, but it goes a long way to building an environment where everybody feels that they can talk about the challenges that are going on.
Personally, I’ve never met an overpaid leader. It’s difficult to be able to be a leader. They have the organization’s culture that they have to live. They have to instill it, and whether that’s a progressive culture, transparent, flexible, innovative, whatever the culture is, and then leading people and being consistent with their leadership style.
Be a servant leader, situational, empowerment, engaging, charismatic, whatever type of leader. Into your point, they also have a personal life that they’re juggling. Leaders have the same potential problems that frontline employees have with family, environment and health issues. They have a lot to juggle. I look up to leaders. They’ve always had a challenging job. They have a more challenging job now. I would still contest that there’s no such thing as an overpaid leader.
When we’re talking about this concept of psychological safety, companies like Google have done a lot of work in this, their Project Aristotle is. I’ve seen a lot of research. I do a fair amount of work in healthcare. Specific to healthcare, there’s research in regards to psychological safety, talking about when people don’t feel there is equal access to be able to voice concerns, shared voice, they found that the most effective teams are ones that you don’t have one person monopolizing the call. People have an opportunity to share in on that. Virtually, that can become more difficult where you might have people that are more savvy technically that they’re more comfortable in this environment.
You miss out on an opportunity of somebody maybe sharing something because they don’t want to speak up in this environment on a Zoom call or whatever the devices you’re using. Are there strategies or things that you would think of that you would try and employ to help a manager or a leader make sure that everybody was contributing on a call? My guess is it would probably help to get away from people zoning out as well.There's a lot of things you can do to overcome fear. Click To Tweet
Utilizing group meetings and group calls solely is convenient. Set a meeting invite. Create the agenda and get everybody on it. It’s a very easy trap to fall into. I still think that nothing can replace the one-on-one conversations. I do hope every leader employs the concept of group meetings to share, to collect ideas, no question.
The group meeting concept is never going to go away. However, supplement it with one-on-ones. If that’s a follow-up, if it’s an occasional one-on-one with your sixteen members instead of one group meeting with all of the six, it can’t underestimate the value of one-on-one meetings. To your point, many people remain uncomfortable speaking up in a group setting. To your other point, some people are still uncomfortable about the virtual meeting environment. They just have not acquired a comfort level. Many people have flourished, many people turn on a diamond and did great, but it’s not for everybody. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea.
One of the strategies that I used for a group that I was coaching once and I could tell the first meeting, people had things to say, but everybody was a little nervous about getting on the line, was to have assignments for individuals to speak about or present on. That helped almost prime the pump. It got the group engaged and also kept people alert to what was going. That’s another thing, leaders or managers on these calls, where you might’ve been able to get away with a meeting that wasn’t as structured, you have less ability to do that now, because people are so exhausted by some of this technology. It’s like a performance to keep people engaged.
There’s an incredible quantity of leadership members who have hired people, have onboarded them, introduced them to their team, got them up to speed, and they’ve never physically met the person. It is an incredible challenge. It is a true test of leadership. Each of them wants to create the best possible teams in these conditions. It’s more challenging. It’s caused the leader to work harder, look closer, and make sure that they’re providing the guidance, direction, and the support for each of their team members. It has caused leaders to have to work harder. My hats off to them. I continue to hear good stories.
You had experienced with such large organizations, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Penske. A lot of expertise here. As hopefully, we start to come out of this pandemic, things start to loosen up, if you were to pull out your crystal ball and look at it, what do you think are the challenges for organizations that are trying to transition back into a more normal environment? How do you help them?
If they had a winning culture, a culture that worked for them, my hope is that they not have abandoned this great culture. Stay the course regarding the culture. If it’s collaborative, inclusive, and innovative, stay the course, don’t ever forget what’s made it successful. Which is typically the employment culture, the company culture we’ve created from transitioning back to live.
It is going to be a big transition in-person, too. Some people will be resistant to coming back in-person. They like this remote thing and being able to start up the lawnmower at 5:15 in the afternoon on a Wednesday after walking on downstairs from their home office versus coming an hour home and firing up that lawnmower at 6:15 PM.
My advice, meet with your team members, understand their needs by asking them. It makes sense to move back into a face-to-face environment. Get their thoughts on how we can best do this, what’s important to them, how leadership can help them. It reminds me of Circuit City, several years before we went out of business.
We increased the level of engagement by ten points of a population of 44,000. Unheard of by American business standards. If you lift engagement by 1 or 2 points, you’re a hero, but we lifted at 10 points. The way we did that is we made a conscious effort to go to the front-line team members and saying, “What do you think? What are your thoughts? Help us understand what we should be considering going to the frontline team members.” It was an incredible shift from the proverbial top-down hierarchical environment. In this case, go to your team members. The best piece of advice will come from your frontline team members on how to return back to the old regular.
What I heard you say early in that is, “To me, there’s a lot around having clear expectations.” What is this going to look like? To me, it seems like for a lot of people, it’s like learning to walk again. To go back into an office setting because they’ve been in another environment. To go back into that, it’s a cautionary tale for managers or leaders, not to just think like, “We pick up where we left off.”
“Let’s make sure that we understand what the expectations are going forward if this is going to be successful.” One of the other things that I like what you mentioned here, too, it’s talking about helping leaders understand from the follower’s perspective. Rather than how to lead down, it’s to say, “If you want to be most effective with those people that report to you, put on the follower hat. Put on your employees’ hat for a little bit and see what that’s like.” You’re probably going to be more effective in terms of getting them to go where you’re asking them to go.Seek to understand other peoples' thoughts to make them feel they're important to you. Click To Tweet
Walk a mile in your team members’ shoes. Seek to understand their thoughts. The more people who were part of the solution, the better, clearly. You’re also going to make that team member feel more important, and many successful organizations have improved their employee engagement by making people feel important. I have many fond thoughts of working for the Penske organization. That is one thing that the organization did incredibly well. They made everybody around them feel important. It sounds simple. How many companies can profess that they’ve done that? My hats off to the Penske organization. It’s very simple. They made it happen, but it also helps the team member’s line of sight.
Team members need to understand where their duties fit into the company’s overall objectives, and the more we can do that, the more we can make them feel important. They’re going to remain involved. They’re going to produce. They’re going to be part of the solution. It’s not rocket science but helping people understand where they fit into the big picture of the company’s overarching goals will reap dividends.
It’s simple but it’s not always easy, and that’s the difference. We talk about a lot of things that on paper or we present, and you’re like, “This seems so simple.” These concepts that we’re going to talk about, not to confuse it with easy though, changing behaviors and doing those kinds of things is difficult at times.
Obviously, in our conversation right now, the things that you’ve talked about, your wealth of knowledge in this area. You’ve had decades of experience in this space. If people were wanting to reach out to you to hear more about what you do or can do for them, what’s the best way for them to get ahold of you?
As I look at your license plate behind you, I have to chuckle when I hear HR Sanity. It almost sounds like an oxymoron.
That’s the name of our consulting firm and we help organizations reduce the level of sanity within human resources in the organizations.
We need the sanity. Thank you for your time. I have appreciated this. I’m looking forward to our future conversations, as both professionals in this space, but also as Rotarians. Best of luck to you.
This has been my pleasure and it’s great to be here. Thank you.
About Rich Salon
Rich joins our team with over 20 years of employee relations and labor relations experience.
He has worked with both fortune 500 and privately held organizations.
Each client enjoys a customized approach and deep data analysis that will assist with the organization’s long-term success.