At Sonos, we employ one of the best field teams in the industry. They are our voice—an army of evangelists touring the world’s retail churches to preach the good news of listening out loud while decrying the global epidemic of silent homes and headphones. From the biggest warehouse to the smallest mom and pop shop, the team delivers knowledge and passion while personifying the ideal we would like to see in those they train. To fulfill our mission, we hire some of the most talented, ambitious individuals around with a proven track record of success. As the people carrying our message to the globe, we rely on them to bring unwavering energy and purpose to their daily interactions. Needless to say, we count on our field team for a lot, and I’m willing to bet that have similar things to say about your teams as well. So how do we keep our incredible remote employees motivated?
In a perfect world, no employee would ever be truly remote, of course. From day one, they’re at a disadvantage—coaching, development and culture are expressed from a distance. For this reason, it takes a truly dedicated manager to effectively care for a team in this capacity. Whether remote or local, however, there is a responsibility to make a deliberate effort to gain the necessary understanding, and implement the appropriate mechanisms, to see the greatest performance and commitment from those that represent your company to the world. At the most basic level, doing this requires two things: the first is that you measure your team’s engagement, and the second is that you use their feedback to influence that which will give your employees the highest satisfaction in their work.
“How can you measure…by multiple figures”
Most teams skip a formal measurement of their team’s motivators entirely. The best managers are engaging in weekly one on ones with their direct reports, and many believe that this check-in, which belongs to the employee, provides them with everything they need to assess the health of their group. But what if your employees aren’t vocal? What if they don’t know what it is that they’re not getting? Most people are poor at identifying exactly what they need to be happiest in their role, and that’s why you need to be deliberate in your measurement. Any survey rooted in the science of organizational behavior can put you on this path—we have recently moved our team to the 100 Percenter’s Index, which asks 14 questions that lead to action. You may choose a different method. What’s important is that at least twice a year, you are putting the opportunity in front of your employees to provide you with this insight.
“‘Cause you and I got to do for you”
The curse of measuring something is that you’re committing yourself to addressing it when it inevitably tells you something that you don’t know. By making the decision to measure your team in this way, you are signaling to them that this will not be a fruitless exercise; in fact, if you don’t plan to act, you’ll do more harm by surveying than by remaining apathetic. But that’s not you, you clicked past the duck; you want the best for your team. Armed with their feedback, let’s review the things you’re going to focus on to help them reach the highest levels of job satisfaction; there’s five of them, and they’re part of what’s known as Job Characteristic Theory:
- Variety- Doing too many different things is overwhelming; doing too few is boring. Encountering new and interesting challenges helps keep work feeling fresh. If the role doesn’t provide this, you’ll want to create opportunities for your top performers to stretch out a bit to keep them engaged.
- Identity- People draw more meaning from what they do when they’re involved in the whole process rather than just having responsibility for one piece of it. Find ways to plug people into the bigger picture.
- Significance- Feeling that what you’re doing contributes to something bigger, that what you do matters, and that it makes an impact. This is where it pays to be a story teller, not only to remind your employees of the value of their mission, but to sing their praises outside of your team as well.
- Autonomy- How much freedom does your team have to chart their own path during their day to day work? Keep the leading indicators for performance, but give your employees the ability to use their own initiative and decision making skills to arrive at the goal. This is also the one that takes the most trust as a remote manager.
- Feedback- This isn’t a review; it’s having the right mechanisms in place so that an employee can clearly identify, in real time, whether what they are doing is effective.
Collectively, these characteristics have a medium correlation with job performance and a high correlation with organizational commitment; put simply, your team is going to deliver better results, and attrition is going to go down. It isn’t difficult, it’s just deliberate. The two most effective managers I’ve ever known are completely remote. In order to be so successful from far away, they have to be particularly diligent in keeping their finger on the pulse, but they do it, and it shows in the people they manage.
“Big things happen every time we meet”
Good people are a valuable resource—they’re rare and hard to find, and it’s worth it to put in the work to keep them around and performing. It’s something with which everyone inherently agrees, but unfortunately this topic suffers from the rule of one-eighth(1): for every eight managers that look down this path, four of them will not start because they do not believe the connection between managing people and profit. Two of them will only make a small change; one will do more, but not persist long enough to see the benefit. Only one manager of the eight will see it through to realize the benefits waiting for them on the other side. This is a deep science with a tremendous amount of value beyond what we’ve explored together, but it starts right here, and I’m going to end with a challenge to every manager that made it this far: if your company doesn’t survey today, don’t wait for someone else to come behind you to implement something—build it. If your company does survey for engagement, and you’re not getting what you need to address the job characteristics above, then take an extra step beyond what your peers are doing and start asking questions. Don’t settle for good; let’s all do what’s necessary so that those who depend on us will recount us as mangers who care, and who put them in the position to do the most enjoyable work of their careers. Isn’t that the team you want to work on, and isn’t that the team you want to lead?
*All quotes by Outkast, from Red Velvet; Git up, Get out; and Bombs Over Baghdad, respectively
(1) Colquit, J. (2017). Organizational Behavior: Improving Performance and Commitment in the Workplace, Fifth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill Education.