Being a manager today isn't easy. Then again, it was never simple, so it's not like it suddenly got complicated when we weren't looking. The trick to handling remote employees, battling priorities, task overload and general insanity is to be aware of, and in touch with, your environment. This requires being plugged in. But being plugged in doesn't simply mean electronically tethered to a laptop 24/7.
Terri Griffith is a professor at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, and the author of "The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune With Your People, Technology and Organization to Thrive". It all sounds very fancy-schmancy and "Management 2.0", but plugged into what and with whom?
The title says it all, really. As she discussed in a recent Cranky Middle Manager Show interview, being plugged in isn't so much about cables and bandwidth, as it is about connecting on multiple levels and in many ways. Being truly plugged in is more than simply being able to access your email anywhere.
The book has lots of great case studies and examples, but I think the most powerful idea is her central notion that as leaders we need to be "plugged in" on three levels:
We need to be aware of the people we work for and with. How many are there? Where are they? What do they feel about their job? What languages do they speak? What are their skill sets, strengths and weaknesses?
Connecting to people on this level has very little to do with the technology, and everything to do with consciously uncovering the answers to these questions and keeping the communication channels open. What's needed to accomplish this are social connections, which often are difficult to create virtually. You need to be plugged into their lives on a social and psychological level beyond simply managing tasks. Further, it's our job to help people connect to each other if we don't want to be the hub/chokepoint in an inefficient system.
Whether it's Sharepoint, WebEx, or a note sent by carrier pigeon, technology is an important part of the process. It's how information gets from one brain to another. Too many of us, though, use technology either as an excuse ("they won't give us the budget to get together so this is the best we can do…") or a way to avoid working at those social and mental connections that really add value to peoples work and lives ("If you have any questions, check the FAQs on the team site and watch the recorded tutorials").
Being plugged in to your organization gives you and your team the critical context for why we do what we do. Our work is not done in a vacuum. We have inputs, deliverables and processes that touch many points in our company, but often our systems are built to sustain only the team or function we work in.
Does information flow freely across the organization? Are processes in place to allow us to access information we actually need? Are you following your company's social media efforts (like Twitter and Facebook)? Are team members encouraged to actually share information and maintain relationships with other departments or locations?
I often hear that managers are too "plugged in" already, and that we spend all our time online. Griffith suggests, and I agree, that the issue is not how many ways you have to send messages back and forth, but how you thoughtfully and deliberately gather, process and share that information. Are you really plugged in, or just wired?
You can hear a full conversation with Terri Griffith on The Cranky Middle Manager Show #304.