This series looks at what skills future business leaders need to have to tackle the challenges of an ever-shifting marketplace.
With offices in 10 countries, Canadian financial services company Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. has its work cut out keeping all of its employees on the same page.
For Stuart Raftus, the company’s executive vice-president and chief administrative officer based in Toronto, managing teams across the globe comes down to one single most important thing: communication.
While he admits that it is as much about listening attentively as it is speaking, he says taking the time to understand local issues, personalities and challenges is vital to formulating and evolving the company’s global strategies.
“How people see a situation in New York and diagnose that situation can be very different than perhaps how they see it in London or they might see it in Melbourne, or Asia,” he says.
The cultural complexities that differ in the company’s offices, from Ireland and France to Hong Kong and Dubai, are not lost on Mr. Raftus, and he says that understanding those complexities starts with the relationship he has with his employees across the globe.
“The very best way you can start to understand … is just by simply spending time with people face to face and then acutely listening when you’re dealing with them through other forms of communication,” he says.
As a result, Mr. Raftus puts an emphasis on building a strong in-person relationship early on with employees before they leave for an international posting.
He says that “quality face time” is vital to the deepening of any relationship, even more so than a video conference call, and that should be followed up quickly with another in-person meeting.
After that, regular communication on a continuing basis can help keep the relationship running smoothly, although the subject of discussion shouldn’t always be a life-or-death business matter.
“Try to weave in some soft calls so that it’s not always issue driven, so that you start to build a rapport and some trust and understanding with these people,” he adds.
“That will allow you to be much more effective when dealing with a much more difficult business issue.”
Managing remote teams is nothing new to Girish Ganesan, a human resources executive who manages a global team of 140 employees across 12 countries and is one of the directors for the Human Resources Professionals Association in Toronto.
There are three things that he feels are crucially important when operating on the global stage.
1. Slow down
The first is his principle of “slowing down to speed up.” This refers to his emphasis on taking the time to set expectations and create processes on how teams will interact and then putting the appropriate tools in place. Part of that entails digitally empowering a team so that team members are able to collaborate and work together.
2. Team identity
Second is creating a strong team identity, which he says is crucial for virtual teams, as it fosters a sense of “shared purpose and a common sense of inspiration because people can feel isolated very quickly.”
3. Virtual friendships
When it comes to managing across cultural boundaries, Mr. Ganesh says people have to understand how different cultures perceive business relationships, power and authority and how they value an individual versus a group setting.
Three tips for client contact through social media
While managing relationships with remote employees is one challenge, managing relationships with clients outside of face-to-face interactions presents different challenges, especially in an era when there is a increasing preference for remote, real-time communication. Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management Canada, a division of Canaccord Genuity Group Inc., turned to social media as one solution, teaming with social-media dashboard Hootsuite.
Bhupesh Shah, program co-ordinator for the social media graduate certificate program at Seneca College in Markham, Ont., says that companies should look to insert themselves into social-media conversations. By sharing an opinion online “people get to know you as an expert in that particular area so when they are looking for solutions, you’re the one they’re going to go to.”
Prof. Shah offers his Top 3 tips to using social media to communicate with clients:
1. Know your client.
When you know who they are and where they play online, go there and engage on that particular social-media platform. That’s a much better approach than using an app – say, Snapchat – just because it’s getting a lot of media attention.
2. Make it easy
Make it easy for current and prospective clients to connect with you. Share your handles on your communication (even offline communication such as invoices). This is often overlooked.
3. Practise ‘social listening’
Use alerts or search within various social media to do “social listening” – mentions of the categories, goods or services that you offer. A company can insert itself into the conversation that way: find clients and build relationships with them by addressing their questions or concerns, even if it has nothing to do with a product.
Taking the time to become well versed in the cultural nuances of where remote employees are based can pay dividends in getting the most from them.
“So something as simple as knowing that the Spanish team takes a long lunch because it’s time to catch up with their family, while my team in Ireland, on the other hand, are okay with a sandwich at their desk,” he says.
Similar factors apply to arranging conference calls across time zones. Mr. Ganesan cautions managers not to make assumptions about scheduling, but to ask employees which time works.
“For example, my team in Asia, they hate morning calls, anything that starts before 9 or 9:30,” he says. “They’d rather do an evening call because they’re in the office until about 8 or 9 p.m. anyway.”
When it comes to communicating, particularly on important topics or performance reviews, Mr. Ganesan says video calls can offer significant advantages, such as noticing body language or how a team interacts with each other.
For the times when employees are brought back into the main office, he tries to organize those visits around company events. “So that they’re not just getting an opportunity to interact with each other, but also the broader employee population.”
Assessing remote work forces can also be tricky as a manager, but Mr. Ganesan says it’s important to evaluate an employee’s performance objectively. Whether an employee works remotely or from the office, it shouldn’t really matter that they are not in direct line of sight on a daily basis.
That is particularly important when it comes to promotions or career development opportunities. “A lot of managers tend to assume ‘Oh, I’m not really sure if this person is ready for a promotion because I don’t actively see them as to what they can demonstrate with their initiative,’” Mr. Ganesan says. “That may not necessarily be true just because they’re working remotely.”