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managing-trainersThe phrases used to describe the newest phenomenon in the global workforce are numerous: working from home, telecommuting, remote job, virtual employee. All of these terms describe the ability to work outside of a traditional, co-located office environment. The parameters of the working arrangements will differ by employer but one thing is consistent: The virtual work environment is not a trend, it is a model that will continue to evolve and support the changing landscape of business.

The rapidly advancing technology available to businesses, as well as individuals, is a prime opportunity to develop virtual work arrangements. Rather than spending capital on a physical location, businesses can save money while their customers never know employees are working from their kitchen table.

Working from home is a siren song for many employees, offering an opportunity to reduce commute times, be more flexible with work schedules, and increase autonomy. For some employees, working from home or an off-site location provides these benefits and many more. However, for the ill-fitted employee, working from home can lead to disengagement and disintegrating productivity. The characteristics of those who will flourish or struggle in a remote environment vary by organization, job role, and personality, but some commonalities do exist.

Who should work in a virtual environment?

Discerning if a type of job will work well in a remote environment can be challenging. An effective leader will ask the following questions:

  • Does this position require a co-located office? If so, why?
  • Who are the customers? Where are the customers?
  • What are the benefits to the organization? What are the challenges?
  • Are systems in place to support a remote or virtual environment?

As a secondary concern, the person who fills the job role must also be a good fit to work outside of a co-located office. The person who is attracted to a work from home or remote position may not be the best person to accomplish the goals of the position. Introverted personalities tend to gravitate toward virtual environments—personally and professionally—because they are perceived as being safer. However, introverts may have a more difficult time reaching out to other employees. The best fit for a remote position are extroverted personalities who will work to build relationships and are not using a virtual environment to escape the co-located office.

Job descriptions

In crafting a job description for a remote employee, you will want to be very clear about what type of relationship the employee will have physically with the organization. For example, "The virtual assistant works from his home office and should be available to support the director between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m." If the employee will self-manage her schedule, the job description may sound more like, "Our successful sales managers are required to come into the office for monthly meetings. We do not expect them to be sitting at home answering emails—they will be out in the community building relationships." As you see, setting clear expectations in the job description will help prevent any misunderstandings about the remote or mobile job experience.

Your job description for a remote employee should focus on three key areas:

  • relationships
  • skills and competencies
  • job duties.

Relationships. The relationship component is critical because it demonstrates to the employee that her affiliation with others will be critical to her success. This section of the description can include reporting structure and departmental roles, but should also focus on who the employee will need to support. A remote or virtual position may attract a personality that is interested in the ability to work autonomously. However, the most successful remote employees know that they must rely on the organization, and not just themselves, to achieve their goals. It can be much easier to build relationships when employees are co-located; remote employees must be willing to take sometimes extreme measures to create those types of relationships.

Skills and Competencies. Skills and competencies are a good second paragraph to your job description for a remote employee. This is an opportunity to think about the characteristics of successful employees in your organization that bridge relationships and actual job duties. For example, "This position requires weekly collaboration with the finance department to report sales figures to the senior team." "The graphic designer is responsible for meeting with internal customers to create marketing materials using Adobe Suite products." A good job description will marry the broad characteristics that a successful employee has with the specific knowledge and skills she will need.

Job Duties. The last part of the job description will be the actual duties or performance indicators. A common practice is listing every possible task that may be required or, conversely, listing only a few with the caveat of "other duties as assigned." Remote employees need to understand the tasks expected of them and be measured on those tasks. If a manager supervises multiple people in the same remote job task, it is easy to inadvertently measure the co-workers against their required duties but also their willingness to take on additional tasks. Certainly, you want to reward those employees who demonstrate the ability to do more than is required, but you cannot hold employees against a standard that has never been communicated or formalized.

Engaging your remote employee

Most supervisors have heard the adage "employees don't leave jobs, they leave bosses." It is as true in virtual or remote environments as it is in co-located work environments. However, in remote situations it is much harder for supervisors to build trust with their team due to the constraints of the relationship. Perception is also much different within remote environments. If a supervisor in a co-located department stops by for a chat it is usually perceived as positive. However, if a supervisor calls a virtual employee unexpectedly and leaves a voicemail to "call me," the employee may only feel dread. Supervisors know how to engage co-located employees—they buy pizza for the team, let someone go home early on Friday afternoon, or give them the Employee of the Month parking spot. Engaging remote employees requires a bit more thought and a focus on four important factors:

  • trust
  • reward and recognition
  • relationships
  • corporate culture.

Trust. Trust is a difficult thing for many employees to give to their leaders. It is often cultivated after months and years of working together, in any type of organization. When attempting to build trust, one thing is critical, though often disregarded: You must do what you say you are going to do. The virtual environment is much more fluid than a traditional, co-located office environment and intentions can easily go by the wayside without the physical presence of a person to remind you about a task. Two things are key when you agree to do something for a virtual employee. First, follow up in an email. For example: "Jenny, this is just to follow up on our conversation this morning regarding the potential client from San Francisco. I will reach out to him via email no later than tomorrow and will let you know by Friday what his response is."

Second, put the task in writing in your own project management system. Your email program probably contains a calendar or task list that is an easy tool for managing your projects. Write the tasks down and assign yourself the time to follow up with your employee. You will find that by delivering on promises that impact the success of the employee, you will earn more trust and have a more highly engaged employee.

Reward and Recognition. Reward and recognition is another way to develop the engagement of a remote or virtual team. Research has shown that when effective recognition occurs in the workplace businesses have lower turnover and higher return on equity, so many studies have been done on what makes recognition effective. For virtual recognition to be effective, it must be timely, specific, value-based, and personal.

Just as time sometimes slips away after promising an employee a follow-up to a meeting, it also can be easy to forget to recognize a virtual or remote employee for a job well done. The purpose of timely recognition is to reinforce the positive behaviors that a supervisor wants to see repeated. If too much time passes between the event and the recognition, the employee and his co-workers will have a harder time connecting the cause and effect. Again, using your email planning tools, whether calendar or task list, can help a supervisor keep track of recognition that needs to occur.

Finally, recognition to a virtual employee should be personal. An email recognizing tremendous effort on a project may be very motivating to one employee, but a different employee may value public recognition at a team meeting. Recognition is not one size fits all, and it should be tailored to the individual employee. Because the remote environment can seem very impersonal, another tactic when recognizing an employee is to send a hand-written card to her home.

Relationships. Developing relationships in a remote environment can be challenging. There is no copier machine to stand over, no coffee pot to share, and so the interactions tend to be much more transactional than in a co-located office. Bill may email Amber to ask a question, but would probably feel uncomfortable adding, "So, do you have kids?" Virtual colleagues tend to have more professional relationships with their co-workers, but those personal connections are important as well. Knowing what state someone lives in, or his favorite place to grab a sandwich, may seem tangential but is actually important in creating roots for long-lasting employee retention and engagement.

Corporate Culture. Finally, when trying to engage your remote employees it is important to be able to relate the organization's, or your department's, culture virtually. Communication, again, is the key as employees cannot be invested in the organization if they are not clear about the goals or mission of the organization. For remote employees, it is very easy for signals to get crossed in terms of what is important to the organization. The annual goal may be to "increase customer satisfaction," but the remote employee may only see emails about cutting costs and managing the budget. That employee would, rightly, assume that the real focus of the organization is financials and not customer satisfaction.

A supervisor can reinforce the culture in a number of ways:

  • Include the mission statement on every meeting agenda or email footer.
  • Communicate any changes verbally and in writing to alleviate misunderstanding.
  • Ask employees to describe the culture— see if their descriptions match up with those of leadership.

Final thoughts

For many employers navigating the new virtual work environment, the landscape can seem very unfamiliar and treacherous. However, the technology available allows the savvy leader to incorporate time-tested strategies for management, engagement, and performance into the new virtual world. Also, there is ample opportunity to innovate and create new ways of thinking about performance that can propel the virtual team to success. The successful virtual work environment will be one that embraces new technology while staying true to the organization's mission and values

Reference: Infoline, The Virtual Workforce, 2013

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VETTo prepare for the future workplace, the vocational education function must prepare to make five foundational shifts.

During the past decade, vocational education has changed dramatically. Not only have the function's objectives become more aspirational, but the way it influences the business also has increased in scope and complexity. There are a variety of reasons for these changes, but two things are clear: training and development no longer is synonymous with training courses, and the function needs to thoroughly evaluate how it can be an effective driver of the organization's necessary evolution in the new work environment.

There is no better time than now for vocational education to demonstrate the unique and powerful impact that it has on businesses competing in a talent-based economy.

Learning is transforming
To do so, the vocational education function must first acknowledge several transformative dynamics affecting learning.

The interconnected nature of work requires network performance competencies. Good employee performance in today's networked work environment has fundamentally changed. The individual contributor—a person who works alone on a defined set of tasks—is a thing of the past.

In the modern, knowledge-based enterprise, employees need to work with and through others to succeed. This "network performance"—where employees contribute to and draw value from the work of their peers by sharing resources, feedback, advice, and innovations—is the mark of a high performer today. As such, vocational education organizations must move beyond working to increase employees' ability to carry out individual tasks and objectives, and instead focus on building employees' network performance to enhance their enterprise-level contribution.

The rate of change affects the relevance of learning solutions. In 2012, 63 percent of employees reported that they had experienced more change in the prior three years than ever before. This frequent organizational change is problematic because high-change environments render established work processes less relevant to new goals, which CEB research shows decreases employee performance by as much as 10 percent.

In the new work environment, vocational education must do more than equip employees to apply their competencies to existing work; it also needs to enable them to apply them in situations that are new and unfamiliar. To keep up with change, vocational education must inject more risk and uncertainty into the learning scenarios that employees face.

Information abundance risks information overload. Although there is plenty of buzz around big data and its positive impact on organizations, the reality is that, as the volume of data explodes, it becomes harder for employees to make sense of it. In fact, almost two-thirds of them now lack the skills and judgment needed to make decisions using available information.

To help employees navigate an information-rich setting, vocational education must focus on developing employee capabilities that strike a balance between analysis and judgment. Training on using information and conducting analysis is a good start, but despite two-thirds of employees having access to these types of training, only one-quarter find them effective. To improve employees' analytical skills, vocational education must blend formal training and on-the-job support to cultivate their critical thinking skills.

Channel and content proliferation raise new quality questions. Due to the pervasiveness of social media platforms in employees' personal lives, they have an expectation for connectivity and instant access to information. As an answer to this, vocational education functions have seen an explosion of social media and collaboration tools that promise to enable effective learning. Fifty-nine percent of employees report using social learning technologies more than they did two years ago, and 65 percent report accessing more channels for information and learning.

Learners now have the ability to source, create, modify, and share learning objects without vocational education's involvement. Because of this, vocational education's former position as a learning and content provider is becoming increasingly indefensible.

Effective vocational education professionals will need to become trusted curators who find, filter and, in some instances, modify information for employees. They also will need to equip learners to be critical evaluators and managers of the information and content they receive from other sources.

The rise of the talent management function changes vocational education's role. Talent management is not a new concept, but during the past five years it has been expanding. What was once a leadership-focused discipline is now a complete function that looks after large parts of the employee life cycle for sizeable portions—if not all—of the employee population. This integrated, enterprise-level view of workforce capability is blurring the lines between learning, engagement, and performance.

Nearly 75 percent of organizations have recently established a head of talent management role. More than half of these leaders report owning the vocational education function and three-quarters report owning leadership development. As learning comes under the umbrella of talent management, the need to provide initiatives that integrate learning with other talent management activities becomes more pressing.

Making the shift

These dynamics show that the gap between what vocational education is delivering and what it needs to deliver is widening. However, responding to individual trends in a vacuum is insufficient. vocational education needs a substantially new approach to the way the function operates and delivers performance improvements.

By transitioning from the "provider of learning" to the "architect of continuous development," vocational education can focus on improving short- and long-term enterprise-level performance. To do this, the function will need to make five foundational shifts.

From line leader business needs to enterprise performance opportunities. Vocational education functions must weave together business unit and function-level learning needs to identify cross-cutting skill needs and increase focus on network learning, whereby individuals who work together learn together. Separating learning needs by function or job role is an increasingly antiquated method in an interdependent work environment that thrives on network performance.

Recognizing that learning activities and initiatives don't exist in a vacuum, vocational education also must look beyond learning to thoroughly understand the organizations' talent picture, associated strategy, and how various activities (for example, performance management and succession planning) relate to learning.

By establishing a deep understanding of short- and long-term organizational strategy and talent implications, vocational education can equip employees to develop the skills and proficiencies necessary to bridge gaps in their knowledge. This also will empower them with the mindset and skills to sustain their—and their wider networks'— development in the face of change.

From high-quality service to proactive influence. Although vocational education staff have been honing their technical expertise in light of evolving learning channels and technologies, about one-quarter of vocational education professionals are true "learning advisors," guiding the business to best-fit learning initiatives rather than just responding to requests for training. These learning advisors affect business outcomes by using their vocational education and business expertise to proactively influence talent and business decisions.

CEB data reveal that just 12 percent of vocational education staff currently feel comfortable challenging the line on talent-relevant business decisions. To become learning advisors, vocational education professionals need to develop the right capabilities, and heads of vocational education need to enable their teams to practice these skills and properly incentivize them to demonstrate and perfect these behaviors.

From teaching skills and knowledge to building effective learning habits. Progressive vocational education functions have recognized that they can make great short- and long-term gains by advancing the learning capability of employees—effectively teaching them how to learn.

Only 20 percent of employees are effective learners who display productive learning behaviors such as reciprocal contribution, extraction, and skeptical prioritization. These behaviors can be clearly contrasted with participative learning behaviors, such as using multiple channels, being receptive to learning, and attempting to continuously learn. Sixty percent of learners exhibit those behaviors, and while they are important, participative learning behaviors have far less impact than productive learning behaviors.

Vocational education functions should continue to focus on the quality and relevance of content; they must reallocate some resources and effort from content creation and channel management to teaching employees how to learn. They can take advantage of existing forums, such as training programs, to teach employees valuable learning techniques and to help them identify and plan for learning and application opportunities in their work.

From an employee-centric to a network-centric model of learning. Vocational education must increasingly look beyond the individual learner and his skill and knowledge needs to understand the collective needs of individuals who work together. Constructing a network-centric view changes the value of employees' learning-based interactions. In the same way that individual employees may complete different components of a given project or process, they can also join a learning experience with different needs but learn effectively together through their complementary expertise and perspectives.

Network learning, or where employees who work together learn together, will be essential for vocational education teams of the future. Network learning can be part of a formal training program, or can also take place between colleagues in day-to-day interactions. However, employees commonly miss these opportunities due to barriers such as emphasizing individual results over group results, lacking collaboration skills, or neglecting to share relevant lessons and information.

From encouraging on-the-job learning to architecting it. On-the-job learning has up to three times the impact on employee performance as formal classroom learning does and significantly increases employee engagement. Yet most organizations are still not harnessing its full value. vocational education executives frequently cite concerns that structuring on-the-job learning stifles it. However, without structure, less than half of employees in the average organization learn effectively through day-to-day work.

The best organizations acknowledge that to expand on-the-job learning, they need to use existing forums, such as training programs, to equip managers and employees to effectively identify and take advantage of on-the-job learning opportunities. They also provide managers and employees with the necessary tools to embed guidance and recommendations for on-the-job learning into existing processes and activities, such as development planning conversations. By deliberately blurring the lines between learning, employee performance, and organizational performance, vocational education teams can more effectively architect on-the-job learning.

Like all functions, vocational education is continuously exposed to dynamic changes in the workplace. These factors are changing the way that the function needs to operate to be successful and continue to add value. The best vocational education functions are realizing that, in today's work environment, they can't focus their efforts on responding to individual learning trends. Instead, they need to make a substantial change in their operations.

By shifting away from being a provider of learning and toward becoming architects of continuous development, vocational education teams will further amplify their delivery of performance improvements that affect the business.

By Jean Martin and Thomas Handcock. Source: ATD

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Personal-and-Professional-DevelopmentWhat do extremely good coaches do? They energize, ask, listen, invite, and equip others to develop themselves and achieve their personal and professional best.

How does it work? Coaching is all about building and sustaining high-quality links. Specifically, the coach energizes the relationship. At the same time, the coachee empowers it. As a result, the link re-energizes the coachee, and thus the coachee's then able to better figure out, ideate, transform, and deliver.

The coach's set of skills that can be routinely applied with client, peers, or direct reports is massive. A hefty toolbox will include instruments for setting the stage, bringing forth positive leadership presence, tracking, naming it, playing back and checking-in, as well as giving and receiving constructive feedback.

One of the most important tools is the skill of positive inquiry. Here are some energizing questions (based on the Appreciative Inquiry method) that you can use in your coaching conversations to engage others.

1. Figure out ("Discovery" Stage)
What about this topic energizes you?
What's already working well? What are your super-powers?
Without being humble, please share a story of a time when you enjoyed some peak experience/performance that made you feel proud and had a particularly positive impact... What's the big picture? What's really going on?
What one or two things do you wish more of?

2. Ideate ("Dream" Stage)
What's the biggest dream for yourself these days? If you couldn't fail, what might you do then? What if anything were possible? How might Superman/Mahatma Gandhi/Your Middle School Teacher/Mother Theresa/Martin Luther King, Jr./Marie Curie/James Bond handle this?
Describe the future you want to move toward. Please use words, expressions, or images that capture your desired future. What are the forces shaping your own (working) life? You can pick any on Earth.
Imagine you're in a helicopter right now hovering above this issue. What can you see now?
Picture it's 2030, and you are awarded the Top Partner by the CEO for developing an enterprise that's the best place to work anywhere. What might people notice about you? What part do you play in this story?

3. Transform ("Re-Design" Stage)
How would you craft/(re)design your sunnier side of life/future proofed working life?
What should be the ideal? What can help you focus and energize your ideas, actions, or behaviors?
Who's likely to back you up? What enablers can you puzzle out?
What wows?

4. Execute ("Delivery" Stage)
What exactly works?
Where do we go from here? How are you already living your dream today?
What baby steps will you take right now/today/tomorrow/next week/next month to actually make it happen?
How would you like me to hold you accountable?
Please add your own questions to these positive inquiries.

... here is no greater thing that you can tell someone [than], "I believe in you, you're good, I'm there for you." — Coach Krzyzewski, from Time Magazine's America's Best 2001.

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