In a recent article by Gallup “3 Ways You Are Failing Your Remote Workers”, the writers state that “fully remote workers are 29% less likely to strongly agree that they have reviewed their greatest successes with their manager in the past six months.”
The reasons given by the study’s authors are:
1) Workers don’t want to look like they’re blowing their own trumpet by sharing their success, which results in managers (and other team members) often not being aware of the great things people are doing.
2) Managers don’t want to take up too much of their people’s times and so, they tend to keep their “catch-ups” short.
As with all communication in the remote space, we need to be deliberate when we talk about success. Employees can’t rely on managers and others just picking up on the fact that they are competent at their jobs; and managers can’t always rely on others telling them the great things they have been up to. Team members need to inform and managers need to ask questions.
Fuelling Intrinsic Motivation and Learning from Success
For the 100th time (at least) I’m going to refer to self-determination theory, which suggests that people’s desire to do their best is driven by a sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness.
“Reviewing your greatest success” (to quote from the original Gallup article) with someone else, can increase our sense of connection with others, as well as helping with our sense of competence.
It’s not just satisfying to be able to share that we’re doing our job well, but during our conversation with others, we might identify ways of learning from (or of building on) those successes we hadn’t thought of in the first place.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
If we don’t inform others of our results, they might never find out.
If we don’t ask people what they have recently achieved or what aspect of their work they are most proud of, they might never tell us.
I know, it’s quite an effort to remember to have these conversations, so why not make them part of your team’s commitments to each other? Find regular ways of catching up with each others’ achievements, so it becomes part of your team’s practice.
In Gallup’s article, they recommend carrying out these recognitions in team meetings, in weekly e-mails or scheduled check-ins. I can add some other suggestions if you’re a bit stuck: committing to posting once a week in your collaboration platform (for those of you who enjoy incorporating bots into your tools, you could even have a bot that reminds you once a week to post), highlighting or using a different font colour for successes when working out loud or reporting on work done and having a regular slot in review meetings where individuals share something they’ve done they are proud of.
I Don’t Like Sharing So Much…
Think about it.
It’s good for you that other people know what you’re achieving. It’s good for you to share why you’re proud of a piece of work, it might take you closer to identifying what you want to work on next. There is also something that others can learn from hearing someone talk of success.
However, not everyone is comfortable sharing success. If that’s your case and you want to take the focus away from you, then place it on what you have achieved. Talk about your process, not just your results.
What helped you?
What stood in your way?
If you’ve tackled similar tasks/projects before, what did you do differently this time?
Similarly, as a manager, if you want to show appreciation for somebody’s good work, don’t just stop at “Well done!”
Find out more about the conditions which helped your team member be successful, find out more about what helps her/him do a great job.
Let Technology Help You Both
Some of us are happy to have these personal conversations on video (yes, I consider talking about how I work quite personal, even if it’s work-related); others prefer to use audio-only; some are only really comfortable typing these conversations.
So review your communication methods.
What do people prefer?
What do individuals prefer for their one-ones and what can you agree on using as a team?
Your preferences as manager might well be taking over how the team operates, so be aware of what they are and make sure that you’re not always imposing on others what works best for you.
Don’t Forget that You are a Team
It’s a shame to restrict this conversation to the manager-employee relationship. One of the opportunities that virtual teamwork offers is that of creating flatter structures in organisations. People can work autonomously (provided they have the information and resources they need) and should require less hand-holding and supervision than in traditional workplaces.
Opening up the “success conversation” beyond manager-employee can lead to shared learning, high team morale and a culture of responsibility and accountability in your team. (Please note that I say “can lead”. This might not work with team members used to rigid hierarchies and who are not comfortable sharing their work.)
When operating as a remote team, we have permission to “formalise the spontaneous”, so why not deliberately create the conditions for success conversations to take place.
Agreeing on a simple way for team members to share their achievements with each other is one way of letting people know that it’s ok to blow one’s own trumpet and to keep everyone updated on the progress of the work. (I’ve added this last one for those managers who like to keep their conversations short. In this way, you don’t need to ask your team member if they have something successful to share with you, you can go straight into congratulating them for it.)
An example of how some 100% distributed companies are already doing this comes from Convert. When I shared a draft of this post with the Virtual Team Talk community, Morgan Legge, Holacracy Bootstrapper & Facilitator and HR Champion at the company, had this to add:
“We recently started a #humblebrag channel and also a weekly Success Video Chat with the whole team. This post resonated with me because even though we have Buddy Calls, we need a more structured approach to solicit and implement feedback on the work we produce.”
Especially if you are a new team, you might benefit from having a structured approach to having the kind of conversations that are difficult to kick off. While I worked at Happy Melly, we designed a way of asking for feedback and of offering feedback . Giving others feedback is not always easy to do within a team (remote or not), and it’s definitely not something that should always be left to the manager.
(By the way, this last section also addresses two more points raised by the Gallup article I mentioned at the beginning of this post: the need for coworkers to connect with each other and satisfy human needs.)
Working in a remote team is not always easy and is not always fun. Like in all teams, at some point our communication will break down; we’ll disagree with others and have uncomfortable conversations; we might even start wondering why we put up with building working relationships through technology…
Sharing success is rewarding: it boosts our morale, it reminds us of our potential, it can even increase trust… Reviewing our success can uncover hidden strengths, it can help us in the future, it can even be of use to someone else. Sharing and reviewing our success is one of the easiest parts of working with others, so it shouldn’t be left to chance.
Before I sign off, I have one last question for you, the manager, reading this:
When was the last time you shared and reviewed your greatest success with someone else?
This and other blog posts have been collated into our book on leading remote teams: Thinking Remote: Inspiration for Leaders of Distributed Teams. Available in paperback, ebook and audiobook.