Welcome to the sixth edition of The ACAD Leader. Looking back on our Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. in January, it’s hard to believe how much our world has changed since then. I don’t think that any of us realized that our meeting topic, Leadership in Turbulent Times, would be so prescient of what was just around the corner. The global COVID-19 pandemic has created a worldwide health crisis of a magnitude not seen for a century. The pandemic has disrupted virtually all economic sectors, including higher education. We are now all on Zoom and Panopto to teach online, and mostly working remotely. Leadership in Turbulent Times requires approaches that while always important, are especially critical in times such as this. Turbulent times summon us to build trust, communicate clearly, and prioritize our mission of ensuring high quality student learning.
I read with great interest an article by Wade Foster-Zapier in Fast Company (March 29, 2020) about ways to build trust with your teams when they are working remotely. Both managers and those being managed worry about accountability. Two common problems emerge in such an environment: managers tend to micromanage and employees overwork to demonstrate that they are remaining productive. Their tips for building a culture of trust include: “default to transparency; get to know each other; set clear expectations-and stick to them; focus on output, not time-in-seat; and use automation.”
Default to transparency. As we transition largely to digital communication, keep everyone in the loop. Make an effort to include everyone who should be part of a conversation in that “To:” line. This is one time where using the “Reply All” option is a better idea. This keeps everyone informed and ensures that solutions that are developed have benefited from the widest possible source of perspectives. If people are included in the conception of a solution, they are more likely to buy in to the solution, even if it’s not exactly what they would have proposed. We don’t want to surprise people.
Get to know each other. Especially at this time, it’s important to check in to see how people are doing, and maybe share a little about what you have been up to. This relaxes people and lets them know that they are cared for. In the last few weeks, as I have led many Zoom meetings, I always start with a question about how faculty and students are doing during this transition to the online environment, and more generally, to this stressful season. I am trying to keep a pulse on how faculty and students are doing even if I can’t visit with all of them.
Set clear expectations-and stick to them. Clear expectations are key to building trust. We must be clear and then be consistent, not changing course every few days. Kieran Flanagan, a vice president of marketing at HubSpot, observes, “Managers need to make it clear how they expect progress to be communicated.” For example, I have asked all of my remote team members to spend five minutes at the end of each day summarizing their outcomes, and then at the end of every week send a summary report to their director. I don’t want people spending an excessive amount of time documenting what they are doing. This leads to…
Focus on output, not time-in-seat. We should focus on agreed-upon progress and outcomes. “The value of remote work is that trust and that ability to empower every person to manage their time, to manage their days and their responsibilities around an outcome,” remarks Natalie Nagele, cofounder of Wildbit. This kind of trust is critical for remote work, but the perspective will be valuable as we transition back to a normal work setting. Let’s focus on peoples’ outcomes, rather than a clock.
Use automation. There are so many digital productivity tools available now. I have learned about several of them from my ACAD colleagues. Some of these are especially valuable at this time. Here’s a challenge: let’s see a series of posts on the ACAD list-serve on different digital tools. I would love to hear tricks you have learned on how to get the most out of Zoom, Slack, Dropbox, Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Trello, ToDoist, Evernote, Outlook, and other tools.
All of this brings me back to a quote from Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University in Chicago, who gave our ACAD Keynote Lunch address in January. “Trust is like a bank account. You have to make deposits that you will need later in the future.” Let’s make trust deposits during this challenging COVID-19 season.
ACAD Board Chair
Related topics: building trust