Managing Multiple Sites When You Can’t Travel
Years ago, I was responsible for running a bank’s mail operations in Boston, New York, and New Jersey. It was a challenge running three operations in three different cities. But the Delta Shuttle ran 12 times per day and I visited each site at least twice a month.
Today, that just isn’t possible.
But there are ways for leaders to effectively lead remote sites, even when they can’t be physically present.
Stick to the Basics
Whether managing one site or five sites, continue to use the basic management techniques that have made you successful. Developing a solid business plan; communicating that plan to all involved; knowing your customers; and motivating employees remain the foundations upon which to build. The only change is the method you use to execute those practices.
Although you’ll probably modify it before everyone’s had a chance to read it, you need to develop a business plan for the short- and long-term. This is your opportunity to share your vision for the unit with management and employees. Use the plan to explain where you want the unit to be in six months, a year, even five years.
The plan should represent your unit as a whole and not each site individually. Though the sites may serve different clients and have completely different functions, they must see themselves as part of a larger team. The business plan is the place to start building that sense of team. Everyone needs to know how they can contribute to the big picture.
The current situation will dictate changes (many drastic) to your plan. Having a baseline provides a point of reference on which to make changes. As the saying goes, failure to plan is a plan for failure.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
How you communicate that plan is essential to its success. You can’t deliver every message personally, and you can’t be in two cities at the same time. Even with cities in relative proximity, you can’t be on the road all the time and remain effective. You must choose one site as your base of operations, spending most of your time there.
However, don’t let that base become an isolation booth. Make sure that you reach out to the remote sites at least once a day. Send a short email update. Make a quick phone call. Or hold a virtual meeting, using Web conferencing. Whatever the method, use these opportunities to disseminate important information and provide support.
If you’re restricted to an at-home office, be sure to respond quickly to any phone calls or emails from remote customers and employees. Because people aren’t able to visit with you, they may feel isolated and less important. Go the extra mile to reassure that distance has no impact on service, and that your onsite manager is more than capable of meeting their needs.
Keeping your employees motivated from a distance will probably be your greatest challenge. You need to be proactive in this area to counter the perception of “out of sight, out of mind.” When an employee anywhere in your organization does something commendable, call them immediately and thank them. Don’t substitute an email for a phone call, and don’t just leave a voicemail. Take a minute to have a conversation with the person and reinforce how important their actions were.
Trust Your Site Managers
The key to success in each of these areas is the site manager. They must be an independent person, and a strong supporter of the team concept. Your site manager needs to keep the lines of communication open; sharing ideas, news, and events. Most importantly, they must be confident enough to get any bad news to you as soon as possible, especially if it involves customer service.
Similarly, you must trust that manager to make the right decision. You must empower the site managers to do what they think is best. Often important decisions will have to be made without consulting you first. Make sure they inform you of these decisions as soon as possible.
When people make errors in judgment, be careful with your critique. You want your managers to make a better decision the next time; you don’t want them to freeze and take no action without your prior approval.
Managing operations in multiple locations is a challenge for any manager. The current hardships will force you to be a better planner, communicator, motivator, and delegator. Stretching these basic skills will shorten the distance to success.
Lois Ritarossi is the President of High Rock Strategies, a consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail and communication sectors. Lois brings her clients a cross functional skill set and strategic thinking with disciplines in business strategy, sales process, sales training, marketing, software implementation, inkjet transformation and workflow optimization. Lois has enabled clients to successfully launch new products and services with integrated sales and marketing strategies, and enabled sales teams to effectively win new business. You can reach Lois at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at email@example.com.