Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: The Seven Competencies of an Effective Distance Manager
But of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They mill all say, "We did this ourselves. "
About 550 B.C.
DOUG LOEWE is the European marketing manager for CompuServe, a half-billion-dollar Internet company. But he isn't located in London or Munich, where his sales and service teams are. He lives 5000 miles away, in New York City. With the aid of a networkcapable laptop computer and a cell phone, he manages a workforce that lives on a different continent. He receives and responds to about 50 e-mails a day. That technology helps, but it's not enough to really lead his team. So, he travels frequently to spend real time with them. Rather than spending all of his time in management meetings when he is on the road, Loewe tries to get out to see customers with his sales and service team members. He plans his schedule three months in advance, so that salespeople can arrange to include him on sales calls. This face-to-face time is essential to provide appropriate coaching and offer real support to the field. But he has to use other methods and tools to supplement the personal interaction.
How can Loewe manage from a distance? Not by traditional supervisory methods. He has neither the time nor the opportunity to direct the day-to-day tasks of a widely dispersed workforce like an on-site manager could. Nor does he think that's the best way to manage. His salespeople need to be self-supervising. "The system will fail if the team is made up of people who need constant prodding to get the work done," he says. Thesalespeople who don't fit in this arrangement are the ones who "aren't used to doing things that they're not told to do." They have to be self-starters, Loewe says. If you happen to be distance managing people who aren't self-starters, you have a problem. (There are, however, coaching techniques that you can use to improve the performance of non-self-starters-even from a distance; we'll tell you how in Chapter 5, "The Distance Coach: Getting Peak Performance.")
If Loewe's role as a distance manager isn't to prod workers into action, what is it? One answer is to teach them how to work together to form a more effective team. For example, he tells the story of how one client with offices in London, England, Munich, Germany, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, was working with multiple salespeople from his company. But because each salesperson was trying to get the credit for closing the deal, they weren't sharing information with each other about the rapidly changing client situation. Account progress ground to a halt until Loewe had the salespeople talk to each other. When they realized why they needed to collaborate (no one gets credit for a sale that is never made), e-mails began to fly back and forth until the account surged forward and a number of deals were closed. "The salespeople must recognize the value of teamwork so they will do it on their own," he concludes?
Effective distance leaders are competent leading from afar. They create communication networks to provide a virtual presence with those they lead and (as illustrated in this short example) to help team members find both the means and the motivation to hook up with each other as well. Distance leaders-like sales managers, product development managers, project leaders, executives, or anyone else who seldom sees those he or she is charged to lead-use their valuable face-to-face time with others for the highest-leverage activities. Not the least of these activities is teaching others how to manage themselves when the leader isn't present. This is not a new idea. Lao-tzu, the great Taoist philosopher, said that the leader's role is ultimately to help people learn to lead themselves. This principle is the foundation of success for every distance manager.
Distance Managers Aren't Supervisors
How do you watch over someone you can't see? Even if the traditional role of supervision is desirable, it just isn't practical when the people to be supervised are located all over the map. This is often a difficult lesson that managers must learn as they progress up the corporate ladder. 'Confirms Roger Herman, CEO of the Herman Group, "Managing ;someone you can't see is considerably different than walking around -the cubicle wall to see if they're there at eight in the morning."'
The Boundary Manager
We have written extensively about the role of leaders in empowered organizations. Please allow us a brief summary of our findings as they ply to the distance manager. One of the best ways to describe the tall role of the distance manager is as a boundary manager. As you can in Figure 1.1, the large circle in this figure represents the team boundary. The boundary is simply the make-believe line that differentiates the team from the environment surrounding it. The distance leader pages that boundary. What does that mean? Let's review a little organization theory to establish a common point of reference, and then we answer that question.
Teams Are Open Systems
Figure 1.2 adds some things to the picture of the team we looked at earlier. Team members must take inputs (like raw materials or information) of some sort and transform them into desirable outputs (like products or services). A special project team, for example, may be responsible for turning a problem (input) into a solution (output). A new-product development team turns ideas (input) into designs (output). A sales team turns customer interest (input) into orders (output). To do these things the teams add value to the inputs (change, assemble, organize, edit, etc.). This is called the transformation or throughput part of the operation. Figure 1.3 shows that outside the organization boundary is the environment (customers, competitors, other teams, etc.). Social scientists call this way of looking at organizations open systems theory...