Friday, December 12, 2008

Digital Leadership

In February 2009,at the Training Magazine Conference, I will be running a session on "Successful Leadership in a Global Virtual Workplace." As economic conditions worsen, businesses must seek opportunities to further leverage global talent to develop new sources of competitive advantage.

Evolving digital information and communication technologies are making possible the creation of virtual workspaces (what I call WorkWebs or WoWs). What are the questions that digital team leaders need to be asking to create the most productive environments for their teams?

You can read my thoughts on the emerging world of digital leadership in a recent article in Training Magazine. You can access the brief article here.

The Training Magazine Conference will be held in Atlanta, GA - February 9-11.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Virtual Distance Unbundled

In Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise, published by Wiley in 2008, Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly help us deconstruct the concept of 'virtual distance'. Virtual distance is defined as "a psychological distance created between people by over-reliance on electronic communications."

Virtual distance is said to be responsible for a:

50% decline in project success
90% drop in innovation effectiveness
80% drop in work satisfaction
83% fall off in trust
65% decrease in role and goal clarity
50% decline in leader effectiveness

It was to help minimize these potential consequences of 'working together apart' that I developed The Six Cs of Global Collaboration. But how do the authors help us unbundle virtual distance so that we can better manage its effects?

Virtual distance is comprised of three different types of distance:

Physical Distance - psychological gaps created by geographic, time, and organizational distances. "People tend to "cooperate less, deceive more, and are less persuaded when just the 'perception' of physical distance increases."

Operational Distance - psychological gaps that grow because of day-to-day problems in the workplace. Issues that are generated by:

Communication distance - a feeling of disconnectedness resulting from a lack of
shared context or from a less than optimal communication medium is used
Multitasking - feeling distant from everything because of attention to
Readiness distance - feeling of detachment when technical problems (particularly
those that persist) disable our ability to cooperate.
Distribution asymmetry - a sense of disconnected either by being isolated or of there being too many people in one place where a lot of power is located.

Affinity Distance - psychological gaps resulting from the feeling of emotional disconnectedness between virtual team members. Gaps can be generated by:

Cultural distance - resulting from differences in team member values
Social distance - resulting from differences in status
Relationship distance - resulting from a lack of past connections and a high
level of unfamiliarity
Interdependence distance - resulting from a sense that there is no shared vision a feeling of mutual dependence

Data gathered by the authors indicates that when virtual distance is managed properly, results can be very positive:

Innovation behaviors increase by 93 percent
Trust improves by 83 percent
Job satisfaction is better by 80 percent
Role and goal clarity rise by 62 percent
On-time, on-budget performance is better by 50 percent
Helping behaviors go up by almost 50 percent

I think Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard Reilly have made a real contribution to conceptually mapping virtual distance. Definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Shift to Cooperation

There are some good videos on the Internet that help us better understand the new world. Here are two that I find very insightful, even though they date all the way back to 2005! Ancient artifacts? I don't think so.

Part 1 of The Shift to Cooperation is a link to an entertaining talk given by Howard Rheingold author of Smart Mobs . He puts cooperation and new forms of wealth into a broad evolutionary perspective. Part 2 is a talk given by Clay Shirky author of Here Comes Everybody. In it he talks about the new infrastructures of cooperation, and the creation of cooperative value. They are both about 20 mins long, but I think well worth a listen. I'll post interesting videos related to collaboration as I find them, and please let me know of others you feel should be posted. I cannot post these videos, but go to YouTube and search for:

Part 1 - Howard Rheingold: Way-new collaboration
Part 2 - Clay Shirky: Institutions vs. Collaboration

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The 'Missing S' Factor: Tiny Bits Of Information, Big Impact

Precision in virtual communications is critical. This week, I was part of a team making a presentation to a prospective client. Apart from the ominous blizzard that greeted me the night I arrived,I expected things to run pretty smoothly. The car rental firm was very nice - upgrading my car and making sure it had a GPS installed for my 1 1/2 drive from the airport to my hotel. Weather conditions were nasty, but I looked at them as adding flavor to the adventure (something to do with the male psyche, perhaps!).

Next morning, I left the hotel one hour before the presentation, and programed the address I'd been sent via an e-mail into the GPS. Twenty minutes later, I arrive at a shabby appartment block that in no way could have been my desired location (times are hard for many clients, but not that hard). I make a call to my main client contact, but all I get is voice mail, and e-mail didn't give me any alternatives like a cell phone number. I call a colleague in the U.S. to go online and direct me to the main company site. After several hair-raising mis-turns onto crowded one-way streets, I arrive at the main site. It's already client presentation time, and it involves video-conferencing links with stakeholders in a number of countries.

I run into a building and show the receptionist the address I have. After a search, she finds that I need to be at Building 23 (which wasn't communicated in the instructions). "But is the address I have the correct one?" I asked, "because I showed up at someone's appartment. I'm sure they thought I was looking for illegal substances." She looked at the address again. "Not quite," she replied. "There's an 'S' missing at the end of of the street name. 'S' for South. A tiny piece of information that contributed to my being 45 mins late for a very important presentation. Any lessons?

Check before sending. Easy communication methods often lead to easy mistakes. We exchange more, but communicate less. Are all the key bits and bytes included and easily visible?
Switch perspectives. Put yourself in the receivers place. Are there any words or phrases used that could create ambiguity or uncertainty?

And, if you are the receiver,

Check on vital information. It may take a short amount of time, but could save you a lot of time and stress later.

I'd love to hear your stories about missing bits and bytes in e-mails.