Merge's Blog

Virtual leadership requires that you shift from process to results

virtual leadershipJust a little over a month ago, most of us had no idea that working from home would become the new “normal”.  Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has created a world of work that, for many of us, has shifted to “remote”.  Which means that if you have staff, virtual leadership is now a necessary tool you need in your leadership toolkit.

Virtual leadership is not new, in fact, I’ve been blogging about it since 2013 (Leadership from afar – 4 keys to making it work)!  But compared to how it was before, the pandemic crisis has made working remotely the norm.  If you are in a leadership role, then the reality that you must face that is unless you take deliberate and thoughtful steps to give your virtual team a greater degree of support, the physical distance between you and your employees will make them feel increasingly isolated.  But it isn’t just about making sure your employees feel good about the long-distance relationship.  Leaders repeatedly tell me that there is one mental roadblock that they themselves have to overcome.  And it is the concept of process vs results.

In the office environment, you could visually assess processes and outcomes – how the work was done and what was accomplished.  But in a remote environment, you can only assess outcomes.  You can tell what the end-result is, but you don’t know how your staff did the work, or what approach they used, or when they did the work.  So now that your staff are working from home, the challenge becomes how to move to a more results-focused approach.  You can’t focus on process, you have to focus on results.  Virtual leadership is about establishing results-oriented expectations that you then hold your employees accountable to.

Use the “so that” link

The trick to this is what I call the “so that …” link.  When you establish expectations with your staff, the key lies in converting the how (the effort) into the what (the results).  And you do this by using “so that”.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • The assistant will respond to e-mails within one business day so that client issues are dealt with in a prompt and polite basis.
  • The analyst will review daily data and provide weekly reports to management so that the company’s financial information can be used for timely decision-making.

The point is that in virtual leadership, you cannot verify the process.  The process of doing it – the how – may be invisible to you since you are not able to observe how the employee is doing the job.  However, you can observe, and in many cases measure, the visible result.

Shift from process to results

You don’t know whether the assistant is responding to emails within one business day.  But you can verify that client issues are dealt with in a prompt and polite manner.  Either because you haven’t received any complaints, or because you’ve talked to a sample of clients and they’re pleased with the response they are getting.  In the same way, because you’re not there, you don’t know whether the analyst is reviewing data daily, but you can speak to managers to ensure that they are getting their weekly reports promptly.  See the difference?

Successful virtual leadership isn’t just about your employees, it’s also about making a mental shift yourself.  And for many leaders, making this shift from process to result is difficult.  Yet, if you are going to maximize productivity from your remote employees, it is absolutely critical that you make this leap.  I’d love to know how you are making this shift.  Please share by adding your comments below.

Three years ago, long before our current pandemic crisis, I did a short 8-episode video series on leading virtual teams.  Each video was one quick tip on how to become a more effective long-distance leader.  You can access the entire video series here: Leading Virtual Team video series

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