My team spans timezones and continents and first languages and areas of expertise. We manage ongoing customers and new project implementations. In the pre-pandemic days, we crossed oceans and land masses to learn and laugh and share together.
For most of us, the pandemic hasn’t been easy. We’ve been uprooted from routine, separated from our family and friends, or maybe, quarantined too close to them. My team has stood strong through the changing dynamic and I’ve learned a lot from them. My team
- Thrives on challenges – As our customers were responding to the pandemic and pushing us for solutions, my team got engaged and excited to deliver on those solutions. They truly looked to the uncertainty as opportunity and delivered on it.
- Supports each other – as life continued, we together celebrated successes and life events and showed compassion to schedule changes or adjusted to uncertainty. They showed flexibility and compassion with each other and sometimes with themselves.
- Craves the connection – not surprising given the general closeness of the team, but the remote work left us all craving our connections to each other. Zoom fatigue and increased workloads and life interruptions makes it hard to prioritize those virtual meetings, but 1:1 check-ins were much appreciated.
- Needs to smell the flowers more (and nurture the roots) – sometimes we get so caught up in the issues of the day, we forget to focus on how far we’ve come or what else we need to do to cultivate our roots to make our ecosystem stronger.
- Needs more bees – Just like nature, we need an army of bees to bounce around between the team members, and expertise and cross pollinate the knowledge. As an organization, we have a fairly strong set of documentation but still have challenges with its maintenance and ensuring it’s consumed and recalled when it’s needed.
Clearly, I have spring on my mind given the flower and bees analogies. I’ve been very lucky to have the team that I’ve had during this most challenging of times. We did a see a bit of turnover, but we were also able to bring on some new talent that invigorated the team dynamic, despite the remote onboarding and continued work. We continue to get challenged by what is going on in the world, but I know that we’ll be able to pull together to deliver the best we can.
I’m writing today’s post primarily for my own audience. It’s to remind me that tomorrow will always be brighter if you so decide. Yesterday, I had a bad case of the Mondays. The sky was gray, it was dreary and damp and my first couple of meetings didn’t start out on the best footing. Unfortunately, neither the weather nor my schedule cooperated with a brisk walk to get some fresh air to clear my head. I even tried to take a couple of deep breaths to reset but that too didn’t work either.
As I was lying in bed running through all the loose ends, I kept reminding myself that tomorrow will be better. And like this blog and my other endeavors, I needed to really clear the case of the mondays out of my head to focus on a more positive outcome tomorrow. My simple reminder was that tomorrow had to be better than today, and whatever energy I took in to the next day so was going to set the stage for it. I could continue to foster the negative energy or open myself up to the what the universe has to offer with a hope for a better tomorrow. While it didn’t help me with my insomnia, it did settle me enough that I did have several thoughts and ideas about how to solve some of my imminent challenges.
I woke today to blue, sunny skies and a lovely breeze. I was able to get a nice walk in to clear my head (at least of negative thoughts – the allergens were strong). I was able to sit outside while working for a while, and even put some forethought into dinner. These are all small moments of joy that I reminded myself to appreciate today. I’m sure there are some of you who need to heard this lesson today so thought I’d share it.
I’ve often found myself in roles at the intersection of sales, professional services and support (and as an extension, product, although not directly relevant to today’s post.) Throughout my career, my selling style has really evolved into the valued partner, solution expert who can help customers or prospects leverage whatever product/service I’ve been associated with to solve their problems. I’ve noticed recently that it’s much less about the product or service, and much more about aligning to the dream.
It used to be that I would leverage our core values to demonstrate how we can fill the gaps in each organization. As a general matter, this helped establish myself as an expert, but it didn’t resonate as well with my audiences because they would latch on to one or two smaller points rather than grasp the big picture. My next shift had me emphasizing truly meeting customers where there are to solve very specific problems and using that as a basis for a broader conversation of what solving those problems will enable them to do and how it will help them solve much broader goals. I think there is still another evolution in the language of value and being able to leverage your content, your demo, your expertise to enable your audience to truly connect your words and images with their dreams (realized or unrealized).
As I mull through this problem, I started some research and came across The Secret to Selling SaaS – Value vs. Product blog post that references this phenomenon as ‘crossing the chasm’ and states “a customer can go 57% of the way through the buyer’s journey, but still not understand what you’re selling.” And this is very much describes what I’ve been feeling like recently.
An extension of this problem is that the disconnected conversation often results into a directional shift focused more on price and feature/functionality versus really aligning to the audiences goals and vision. Ultimately these opportunities are smaller and less valuable to the customer.
I think my biggest take away so far is that I shouldn’t second guess my methodology and thought process around the importance of having discovery calls and understanding the problem we’re trying to solve before jumping right into to demos and technical discussions. Without it, you can lose your grip on the opportunity and can’t possible promote the right value proposition if you don’t fully understand the audience or their goals.
I read this Harvard Business Review article “Why WFH Isn’t Necessarily Good for Women” a while ago and I was struck a little bit by my own experiences working from home for the last 10 years. About 5 years ago, I interviewed with someone who told me that project managers couldn’t be effective in their jobs without being present in the office everyday. Needless to say, I wasn’t the right fit for that job, and my interviewer now runs a fully remote company. The pandemic has definitely pushed companies past their comfort zone, being forced to embrace a fully remote environment at a minimum, a fully engaged and remote culture as the ideal.
I attribute some of my success working from home to a fundamental understanding that you are at a disadvantage and need to ensure you really communicate, even over-communicate to some extent. As a manager, this means that I leave my lines of communication open and meet my team members where-ever they need to be. As an employee and project manager, this means I am constantly sharing information and establishing a baseline for my communication, so that when I need to escalate or talk through something, I get treated with the urgency I need.
My current team is primarily compiled with the majority located in one geographic area, a smaller group in another and multiple team members, including myself remote to either location. The primary location was the base of operations for our key customers, with an open door policy that encouraged them to stop by. There were definitely missed conversations and opportunities, that remote team members needed to overcome. But there were also some downsides to the office community, we have identified since work from home has been implemented.
- The sense of community provided quite a bit of distraction – In anonymous surveys of team members, and analysis of the numbers, all accounts show that the entire team is more productive. They feel more productive and the numbers show dramatic increases in productivity since the start of the pandemic. Even the most extroverted have taken note and are refocusing their energy to impact their goals, and driving growth for the team.
- Boundaries are key– Everyone’s family and home situation is unique, and it’s imperative that each person set boundaries, and the rest of the team abides them. Further, it’s imperative that you communicate these rules to your stakeholders as well. We all need the flexibility to work through a shared workspace, or kids in remote school, or loved ones who got sick miles away. Having an open door policy to discuss each person’s needs allows them to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable, but allows you to provide individual support.
- Don’t assume, ask – We did a few anonymous surveys of the team to figure out where we were succeeding and where we needed to improve. We also had did skip level 1:1 meetings across the entire team. This allowed team members to be heard, and for us to continue to figure out how best to support.
There are still some downsides that we need to navigate: including a sense of loneliness, a shift towards too much work in the work/life equation, and figuring out how to retain those connections with customers and our team members as we bring new ones on, or as we navigate how to open the office and balance everyone’s new found enjoyment in working remote with needing to have some presence in the office as a haven for our customers.