Staying Focused on Development Even From Afar

I still can’t believe that six weeks ago I was traveling for both work and personal life and only keeping an eye on the world events out of the corner of my eye.  I literally couldn’t imagine that we would be working from home through April, and quite honestly, probably through May. In the beginning, I was focused on making sure people were ok (both physically & mentally) and logistically had what they needed to make the change to work from home full time.  But I realized over the last week or so I have started to focus more on coaching people on how to adjust all those 101 things we all did in the office to a virtual world. At the top of my list are feedback and development. Especially with this new way of working heading into the second month and people adjusting to this new normal, we need to make sure team members are still getting strong feedback on their current performance and know that they won’t lose ground on their development goals.  So here are three tips on how to have impactful feedback conversations virtually and help identify development goals for your team!

Remember the basics.   Especially during a time of heightened stress and still adjusting to the change of being remote, go back to the basics of feedback.  Focus on data-driven, objective feedback. Make sure it is timely and comes from a place of support and development. Be prepared, write down some notes or points you want to cover and build in places for questions.  Don’t just focus on the negative, make sure you celebrate the wins and show gratitude for the work they are accomplishing even during the distractions of today’s world. Finally, don’t have development conversations over slack.  A quick kudos is fine, but don’t let that replace a live conversation. Ask when they have 15-20 minutes to jump on a call (just like you would if you were in the office together).

Watch for social cues.  Personally, the thing I struggle with the most when I am not in person with someone is not being able to read their body language.  I can’t tell if silence is because they are upset, processing or just listening. The biggest tip I have is to try to do all your calls with the video on.   Don’t worry about what your background looks like or if it is the perfect angle on your face or even if there are kids or animals running across the camera. But with video at least you can read their face as you are having the conversation.  If it is truly not possible to have the video on, build in pauses and ask a lot of probing follow up questions (not just yes/no questions) to engage the person. Hopefully, then you can better identify any concerns…or know how excited they are from the good news that was shared!

Adjust development goals.  Most likely, the goals people had two months ago are not the same goals they should (or can) be working towards today. So take a step back and create new goals!  Start with monthly goals if it’s too hard to see out further in this uncertain world. This could be a great time to take an online course (a lot of places are offering discounts or moved their in-person events online) or do a stretch assignment to help a team that is underwater right now.  Don’t lose sight of checking in on these development goals. Consider extending your 1:1 time every other week or monthly to make sure you have the time to touch base on development specifically.

I realize the above is sometimes easier said than done but I’m here to help.  Reach out to me if you need help with a specific situation  I also layout a lot more tips and worksheets to help you prep for feedback and development conversations in my book, Setting the Stage.   Finally, earlier this year, I spoke with Ariana at Workplace Labs about similar development topics including reskilling, career pivots and the future of work (of course not the future we are seeing right now!).  Wherever you get the support, you just need to start by trying something to make sure you stay focused on development even during this unusual time.