The Next Frontier for Managers: LFH

How might GMs/team leads/P&L leaders help their teams drive results in this new work order through empathy, alignment and digital

Image courtesy: Jack Daly, Anton Aheichanka, Elegant Seagulls

I have a keen interest in learning how teams can work better together, and deliver outcomes that matter to all stakeholders (internal & external). In this piece, I’ll be sharing my reflections on managerial priorities and recommendations for the 2020s.

A few interesting shifts from the 2010s

It has been a decade since I graduated from undergrad (computer science) to start up a social media agency. (Seeing social media evolve from a catalyst into a dilemma has been difficult and unprecedented, to say the least!). I’m incredibly grateful to have witnessed (and contributed a little) to the shifts across the People-Process-Technology (PPT) triumvirate in enterprises, public and social sectors since 2010. A few of the most interesting shifts I have witnessed include:

If the forces driving most of these shifts were emerging innovations, cultures, and economics of the time, what do you think were the engines?

If you ask me, I’d put on my behavioral science lens and zoom in on the role of visionary teams, who made these shifts a reality.

Role of teams in shaping disruptive shifts

While the teams behind these shifts may have been spread across companies, industries, and geographies, I found a few common attributes among them. Based on my observations (and experiences), I’d highlight the following attributes of visionary teams:
aligned on BHAGs
✓ propelled by velocity, agility, transparency & metrics that actually matter
✓ led by managers who exhibited result-orientation and servant leadership

What would it take to power the disruptive shifts of 2020s?

– Teams who adapt to emerging realities (like forever remote) by building on the above 3 attributes, and by adopting the People-Process-Technology advances of the time.

Role of Managers in shaping visionary teams

Few managers realize what a dramatic impact — either positive or negative — they have on the world through their everyday behavior. (McKinsey & Co.)

What makes a manager great
I like to decode the patterns of good teams, as well as great teams. When building a team, managers put a lot of thought and heart into finding the right members, and have them in the right seats. It’s an art and a science.

Figure 1: DIKA— ancient Chinese saying that means “get up and do” (Data-Information-Knowledge-Action) | Image courtesy: Bruce Campbell

When Google set out to determine what makes a manager great, they found these ten common managerial behaviors. Here are some of my learnings:

Getting teams aligned
I’m passionate about building platforms for idea-sharing, fundraising, storytelling, and digital literacy. In the past decade, I managed to successfully execute initiatives like TEDxSecunderabad, FailFest, U.S. DoS TechCamp, and Twestival. I also failed miserably to bring many other interesting ideas to life.

When I reflected on the learnings from both sets of experiences, I figured out the missing piece: Teams aligned on purpose and goals. Once this alignment happened, collaboration and execution followed without much hassle. We delivered memorable experiences and had a lot of fun doing it.

“Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment.” ~ Jim Collins & Jerry Porras (Built to Last)

In my role as DeepRedInk’s Head of Operations, I faced strategic alignment issues while leading a team of 40 digital marketers, account managers, developers, and designers (back in 2015–16). The result was unsatisfactory output, prioritization problems, poor coordination among teams, and burnout for everyone.

To tackle this, I introduced agile, created a performance review system focused on outcomes, and brought the team on track through a single source of truth — the project management software: Asana. These efforts transformed our results, improved accountability, service delivery, and operational efficiency. We still had some distance to cover on the strategic alignment and clarity fronts.

Providing clarity
Ranjith Ramanujam, DeepRedInk’s CEO, came up with the following framework (below) to empower employees and give them clarity.

DeepRedInk Managerial Model (2016) | Ranjith Ramanujam
DeepRedInk Managerial Model (2016) | Ranjith Ramanujam
Figure 2: DeepRedInk Managerial Model (2016) | Created by Ranjith Ramanujam

The idea was to challenge the team with ambitious goals and provide the necessary support system to drive individual growth and customer results. The key to growth and results was in providing clarity to the team, and this was the job of the manager.

Transforming culture
By operationalizing the above framework (Figure 2), we managed to provide much-needed clarity to the teams and build a culture of freedom & accountability. DeepRedInk thrived on this culture.

Shaping employee experience
Apart from driving teams towards results (through levers of velocity, agility, transparency & metrics), getting them aligned and providing clarity, managers are also responsible for shaping the employee experience.

If you can get your manager experience right, it will transform and grow every other dimension of your organization — from culture to performance management to customers and profit. (Gallup)

Alignment is a work in progress
All these conscious efforts made gradually over time led to strategic alignment. It needs to be gauged periodically. It’s a bigger challenge in larger organizations, given the structural complexities and business priorities. For managers, the first step in getting their teams aligned could be to understand and articulate the goals from the leadership down to their teams and establish a single source of truth that transparently displays the works in progress. Having a digital tool (web+mobile) that links strategy to execution is critical.

At the end of the day, the manager’s job is to make their team members’ lives easier — cognitively, emotionally, physically, and socially. This servant leader mindset not only drives results for the team but also enhances employee experience through job satisfaction.

Future of teams: Remote, Aligned, Outcome-focused

The ‘future of work’ is no longer a mirage, it arrived in March 2020 . — Deidre Paknad

In this third quarter of the pandemic, organizations globally are continuing to invest in their remote operating models for results, resilience & strategic agility, through advancements in PPT such as:
- People (capabilities, culture, wellness…)
- Processes (OKRs, collaboration, security…)
- Tech (data, automation, cloud…)

For the past several years, Customer Experience (CX) has become the holy grail of sustainable competitive advantages for businesses of all sizes and customer types. Having been in this business of enhancing customer experiences (through social media, digital marketing, AI technologies), I can say that true CX is only possible when there is true alignment within the organization. Without lateral alignment among the different teams of the customer lifecycle — acquisition, retention, expansion, it’s next to impossible to deliver a CX that makes customers keep coming back. Teams that win in the next decade are the ones that align laterally to deliver memorable customer experiences.

Figure 3: Why Alignment matters | Image Courtesy: GapingVoid

Since the dawn of the industrial era, work conversations and metrics hovered around efficiency/speed and output/productivity. Managers were mere ‘Supervisors’ who monitored if the work was done by their subordinate, checked for quality, and assigned the next chunk of work to the subordinate. This output-focused managerial mindset is passé.

It’s not about staying on track anymore. It’s about being in sync.

Today, managers can do a better job of managing their teams by focusing on outcomes by collaborating with their teams to set goals and determining milestones on the way to these goals.

How Managers can ‘Lead from Home’

Figure 4: Managing Remote Employees: How to Lead From a Distance | Image Courtesy: CCL

Eat, Pray, Work from home comes with its challenges.
Lead, Coach, Support from home adds another level of complexity to it.

2020 has fired one salvo after another, from pandemic chaos to natural calamities to humanitarian and economic crises. It is probably the hardest time to lead a team today due to these exigencies, on top of the ‘constraints’ of WFH. But, you know what, these can be turned into opportunities for building trust, resilience, agility, accountability, and cohesion.

Here’s what I propose as the next frontier for managers (below) in the Automation era (2020s and beyond):

Figure 6: Next Frontier for Managers: Lead from Home | Created by Nabeel Adeni

Apart from building your own digital capabilities, adopting digital tools that link strategy to execution, and help stay in sync with your team, keep focusing on alignment through proven processes such as OKRs and FAST Goals.

When done at scale, throughout the organization, alignment could possibly become your company’s moat.

Also, do indulge in more heartfelt gestures that lead to not just results, but also job satisfaction for your teams. You can do this by showing empathy, watching out for burnout, carrying out random acts of kindness, taking care of your own, and their well-being.

Your role may have evolved in this new work order, but your responsibility remains the same: To make your team members’ lives easier each day — cognitively, emotionally, physically, and socially.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen servant leadership + result orientation in action from my managers, starting with Sashank, Deepti, Santhan, Ranjith, Alma, Alastair, and James. Grateful for their remarkable contributions in shaping our teams, supporting individual growth, and driving results! 🙏

Further resources to up your LFH game:

Looking forward to hearing what capabilities, techniques, and tools you have deployed to lead from home. 🖖

Decoding tech-fueled shifts in culture, business & society

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store