From the Ask Tom mailbag:
I am a Regional Manager, responsible for seven locations across the Midwest. I feel I have the ability to manage effectively without talking to my team on a daily basis. But, at times, I feel as if I am not in touch with their issues, challenges or daily routines. In fact, some are not even “available” for lunch or dinner when I am in town. Have I lost touch? Can you recommend a book to read, symposium to attend to improve my management skills? What has been your experience in managing people in multiple locations?
Thank you for your question. Reading a book will not solve your problem. Staying in touch with your location managers is tough when face-to-face meetings are not frequent. It’s tough, but not impossible.
First, create a master schedule of all the touches for the next six months. This includes face-to-face meetings, conference calls, 1-1 coaching calls, birthday cards and handwritten notes that are snail-mailed.
Ask your location managers what interaction is the most helpful, how you can provide the best support for them. Each person is different and may require a different frequency and kind of touch.
Next, my question. When you do meet with your managers are you bringing real value to the conversation, or would they just as soon skip it? If you are bringing real value to their thinking and their work, your managers will look forward to these meetings. They will not miss these meetings for all the tea in China.
So, what does that conversation sound like? How do you, as their manager, bring value to their thinking and their work?
Most managers think they bring value by providing direction and advice. Of course, there are times when direction and advice are helpful, but please, don’t ask me to dinner so you can tell me what to do.
Instead, ask me questions. Ask me how I am doing. Really doing. Ask about my challenges or difficulties. Ask how I am solving problems. Ask how I feel about my job. Ask how I feel about my life. No advice, just ask and listen. I would love to tell you how I am doing. I would love to tell you how I feel about my life, the things that are important to me. I will not miss the opportunity to talk about myself. It’s my favorite subject.