When a team member tells you he is afraid of being let go

This happened to me before our current pandemic hit in the US. A new team member expressed how afraid he was of being let go by the company. He thought because he was not aligned to a high-profile project, he would be seen as “non-essential”, a phrase we are becoming all too familiar with lately.

So, what do you do to reassure someone they will not be let go? Perhaps right now, very few managers can give this reassurance but there are some things a manager can do to help in this situation.

  1. Listen – Sounds trite but as my brother always says: “Oftentimes, the thing is not the thing.” There is something else driving the fear for this person. Maybe they have a friend who was just let go. Maybe they are feeling disconnected. Maybe they don’t know how their job fits with the big picture. Maybe they are bored or under-challenged. Listen and ask questions to get to the why behind the statement.
  2. Connect them – Connect them to a project that may be a little more visible even if their role is small. I have even delegated my spot on a project to others to give them visibility. As a manager, ask yourself if it has to be you! Connect them with the team by having them work with someone else on a project. Connect them to the vision and strategy of the organization or team.
  3. Show appreciation – Maybe you need to recognize their contributions a little more than other team members need. A thank you or an email to a higher level manager can go a long way. Visibility over email is even more important today with people not working in a traditional office.
  4. Ask them to share – Prompt them to share their project at a team meeting so others can comment. If they attended a webinar lately, ask them to share their learnings with the team and how it may be applicable to our work.
  5. Encourage them to take initiative – With high-performing team members, sometimes what I may think is a full workload may not be to them. Some people want to take on many projects at once or step into a broader role on a project to feel they are adding value. Now, I don’t think this should all come from the manager. Ask them to look at their team or connect with others to see if something can be eliminated, improved or automated or we should be doing something we are not doing. Ask them to research and put a proposal together. There are many efforts that don’t cost money and just require an investment of time.

Approach this fear with compassion and a little investigation. Many times, managers have to wear the hat of counselor along with coach. This could be a “counselor” moment to understand the why behind the fear.

When you manage a team in another country

I don’t know about you, but I am getting inundated with emails from every vendor, publication, and association on how to work virtually, stay motivated, and guard again the Coronavirus. These are all helpful and I am finding very little time to read all of them.

For some of us, we have managed people in other locations nationally or internationally for quite some time. I have had my tips for managing virtually saved in my Evernote for 3 months now. I suppose I am adding to all the voices out there at the moment. So, here goes….
My 5 go-tos to managing a team in another country….especially now.

  1. Skype, Zoom, WebEx, Jabber, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Teleconference weekly. Thank goodness we live in a time where virtual collaboration technology is cheap and plentiful. Pick a tool, any tool. Just make sure you turn on your video. I don’t always share my video because I am not “camera-ready”. Who cares! My whole team now knows what I look in a ball cap and glasses. Get over it. They love I am willing to be this open. See each other face to face to say hello, smile and laugh.
  2. Manage by results not by presence detection. I used to have a manager that was in London while I was in Chicago. She managed me by whether my presence detection was green, red or yellow. Don’t fall into this trap especially now. Manage by results, discuss status every week and share frequent updates. If Bill is offline for two hours, maybe he is having connection issues; maybe his dog just ate all the toilet paper; maybe he is reading or working on his iPad. There are many reasons to not be glued to your work laptop and still be productive!
  3. Offer reassurance. I never knew how some of my team members felt at-risk because they are not the headquarters location. They thought – out of sight, out of mind. Now, more than ever, people are concerned about their workload and job. If you are a knowledge worker, there is a ton of work to be done. I have directed the team to work on projects we never have time for. This is the perfect time to tackle archiving or managing our documents, streamlining processes, creating content calendars for the next 6 months. There is lots of work to do!
  4. Help them identify items to execute and cross off the list every week. More than ever, it is important to help your team identify actionable projects and tasks they can work on. I have found that even senior people on my team don’t know exactly what to do. I normally take a very hands-off approach with them. Now, I am jumping in and helping identify work to be done. Even senior-level professionals appreciate direction in times like these. For those who are virtual, they need the big picture and understand how they tie into it now more than ever.
  5. Talk about personal lives. I am one to not get too nosy into personal lives in a work relationship because I don’t know how private some people may be. Talk about family, kids, parents, friends, pets, how they are doing at home. Right now, I have team members who are managing chaos with kids on top of each other or completely solo fighting loneliness. Get to know your people and make small talk. It matters.

When you want to be organized on a project: share and make the time to meet

Rounding out my tips for managing projects, share what you’ve documented. I know…another duh! Another “no kidding”…you might be thinking. I have seen beautiful projects plans in my day that sit in a shared folder or SharePoint team site that don’t get touched, reviewed or updated.

The only reason to document a project is to share it with others to create a mutual understanding of what we are doing, why, who needs to do what and by when. These documents only exist to enable the team to work efficiently.

Lots of organizations are talking about becoming agile today resulting in daily stand-up meetings, quicker releases with iterations rather than big plans that take 18 months to implement. Whatever the preference, meeting with the team and doing a quick review of tasks is always a good thing.

I find when people don’t hold project meetings it is usually because they are intimidated by the project plan. It can be large if the project is large in scope. Don’t focus on the the entire plan every week. The key to success is to break it down. You can keep weekly meetings to be short and impactful.

  1. Spend 5 minutes on the big picture – how are we tracking toward the main deadline, the main deliverables. If there are concerns, talk about them. If needed, assign the concerns or risks to a smaller subset of the team to come up with solutions.
  2. Focus on the items that are NOT tracking on time. Ask why, ask for new dates, ask how this impacts the big picture.
  3. If something is scheduled soon to be released or completed, quickly review what is releasing to whom and ensure communication plans are in place.
  4. Ask for other concerns or risks.

This agenda keeps weekly meetings to a reasonable length and breaks down the project into smaller chunks that will seem less overwhelming.

When you want to be organized on a project: write it down

The most basic step I see missed all the time in managing projects is a lack of documentation. I once had an executive tell me that she thought creating project plans was a huge waste of time. She felt some project managers make the project plan the deliverable instead of using the plan to drive the real deliverable.

Sure. Some can create over-the-top documentation. Some people who are professional Project Managers use MS Project, create Gantt charts, document the critical path and spend time estimating effort and duration. I am in no way suggesting that this is not necessary for certain projects. When you are managing numerous workstreams and lots of capital dollars, you need this.

For most of us managing smaller projects or ones that aren’t using significant capital, I honestly think a decent project charter and a high-level task list can suffice. Then, I recommend two other documents: a RACI Chart and a Communications Plan.

Project Charter – Create one page that lists any pertinent background information, project objectives, deliverables, approach, milestones that match your deliverables and resources. If there are risks to the project, I would document those too.
Task list – You decide at what level to capture tasks but they should all support your deliverables with deadlines for each. I find it helpful to list deadlines for deliverable reviews too. Reviews often take more time than any of us ever think they will.
RACI Chart – Document who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed about the project and its deliverables. This is key to avoid any misunderstanding of who should be involved and how deeply. I find ensuring you know who needs to be consulted vs. just informed on a project can save a lot of wasted time and headaches.
Communication Plan – Document who are you going to tell what message, when and using what channel. Most of our projects involve a change of some sort so having a communications plan will help keep people informed.

Taking the time to write these items down, actively manage the task list and share them with the appropriate people will help you stay on track.