Level Up Leadership: Claire Lew

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):

Level Up is a podcast for anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.You can subscribe to Level Up Leadership on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, SoundCloud and Spotify.

Most recently, we spoke to Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team. Know Your Team is a software tool that helps more than 15,000 people in 25 countries become better leaders and work with their teams better. Claire’s writing has been published on Harvard Business Review, CNBC, Business Insider, Inc, Fortune and more.

Here are some takeaways from our conversation with Claire:

Ask specific and pointed questions.
The first step to knowing your team is knowing what is and isn’t working and what you can improve upon. Like Claire pointed out, if you ask your team members “What do you think we can fix on our team?”, the answers you receive might be less engaging than if you asked questions like, “What is one thing that’s frustrated you within our interaction and dynamic in the past two weeks?” or “Have you noticed anything that our competitors have done that’s caused you to think, ‘we should be doing that’?” Be specific when asking for feedback.

Be equally vulnerable with your team.
If you are asking your team to be vulnerable, it might be helpful to show them the same in return. If your team is hesitant to share what areas they are struggling with, try sharing first and giving them an example of something you are working on. Claire’s example: “I’m actually having a really hard time thinking through the strategy or working with these clients… what are you having a hard time with?”

Futility is a larger issue than fear is.
A lot of people think the reason team members don’t speak out is due to fear of the reaction their boss will have. The truth is, research shows that a large reason why employees don’t want to speak up is futility—the idea that even if you speak up, nothing will change anyway. Claire points out that futility is 1.8 times more powerful than fear as an obstacle to feedback. As a leader, futility doesn’t mean implementing everything your team requests; it can be as simple as a genuine thank you when someone gives you critical feedback or explaining why a certain decision was made.

You need both affective trust and cognitive trust.
Affective trust is personal relatedness and having a positive affinity to someone, whereas cognitive trust is founded on reliability and competence. You need both to properly connect with your team members and in the age of COVID-19, earning affective trust is harder than ever. Even if you don’t have time to devote a large chunk of your meeting to non-work related topics, Claire suggests using a platform like Slack to ask a social question like “How do you like your eggs?” or “What’s your favorite band?” that team members can answer throughout the week.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Claire for Level Up.

Check out interviews with other Experian leaders.

Full Transcript

Patty:               Claire, you’re the CEO of Know Your Team. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got there then a little bit about the company itself?

Claire:              Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, as you said, I’m the CEO of Know Your Team. We are a software tool that helps managers essentially become better managers. And we do that by providing tools to help managers all over the world run better one-on-one meetings, tools to help you get honest feedback, build rapport in your team, and then also understand what everyone on the team is working on. Our methodology though is pretty unique in the sense that it’s all based on research that we’ve done over the past six or so years. So instead of just trying to build an app that just tries to get people to engage people for the sake of engaging them, we actually base everything in our tools around a methodology that has been proven out about how to actually help leaders be more effective.

And so we give you these tools and addition to that, we’ve done a ton of research. We’ve written dozens and dozens of chapters of guides that you get access to when you become a Know Your Team member. And we also have an online community of over a thousand managers from all over the world. So again, the whole idea is just to help you become a better manager. To answer the first thing that you asked me, which was how did I get to do this. So my story really starts with the fact that maybe about 10 or so years ago, I had a really bad boss. Yeah, I was loving my job actually, like loving the work itself, loving the people I was working with and I was actually miserable though. And I was like, “What’s going on? Why is that?”

And I realized it was because of my boss at the times inability to really chart vision, to really have folks feeling connected to a bigger picture of things. And I thought, huh, you know he’s not a bad person. He has really good intention. So how is it that he has no idea that he’s actually not a good leader and is there any way to help other leaders really get to know themselves and get to know their team better? So that’s where the idea started. I ended up first starting my own consulting practice, actually working with CEOs directly and organizations directly to help them really understand and get to know their team better and figure out how can I become a better leader. And my first actual official client when I was a consultant was a company called Base Camp, which you might be familiar.

Mike:                Oh, wow.

Patty:               Oh, right. Yeah.

Mike:                It’s huge.

Claire:              Not a bad first client maybe.

Mike:                Yeah. No kidding.

Patty:               That’s huge. Yeah.

Claire:              Yeah. So for folks who don’t know though, Base Camp is a project management software where there are 15 million people I think using the software today and their CEO, Jason Freed had to reach out to me and said, “Claire getting to know my team is my number one problem right now and I don’t think I’m doing a very good job. Can you help me?” So I did a big consulting project for them that was all based on this methodology that I developed around helping a leader actually get to know their team better. And it works really well. It actually changed things and so I was like, “Oh wow, this methodology … This research [inaudible]. Okay, this is clicking. I wonder if there’s a way to really sort of embed this and spread this more.” And coincidentally, Base Camp, they had actually been building their own software prototype at the time for their own software to actually help their team get feedback and help Jason at the time really get to know his team better.

And that prototype was actually Know Your Team. So yeah, back then they’d called it, and this is maybe six or seven years ago they’d called it, internally it was just called honcho actually. And they started developing this prototype and finding that it was really working for them, they started selling it. Then at that point it was called Know Your Company and it was all about helping CEOs get feedback and it got to be so sort of popular. And as far as just really taking off, then Jason approached me and said, “Claire, I know you’re running this consulting thing, but I have this crazy idea. I don’t know what to do with Know Your Company. What if we spun it out into its own standalone company and you became the CEO and we’ll split ownership 50/50, but you run the whole thing separate, completely independent of Base Camp, grow the whole team, do whatever you want. What do you think?”

And I said, “Yeah, I’ll take that offer.” So it’s been maybe about six years since and we’ve been profitable since month one and have worked with tens of thousands of people all over the world in over 25 countries. And the product’s evolved a lot. And so we originally, as I said, were focused on helping CEOs get feedback. But more recently in the past few years realized that the people who needed our help the most were new managers. And managers who just felt like I didn’t go to school for this. I don’t know where you learn how to become a good manager, but I just feel like I can be doing a better job and that’s who we help.

Mike:                Yeah, I think it’s so cool that the way this all started was you just had a poor experience manager who you said was like well-intentioned, was a nice person, but just wasn’t, didn’t have the leadership qualities that you thought that person needed to have. And a lot of us are just like, “Okay, we have a leader who’s not so great, I’m just going to deal with it.” But that can actually hurt your career because if they’re not going to mentor you, they’re not going to help you move up in the organization, that could really hurt you. What do you recommend for somebody who’s maybe in that spot that you were in where they’re a loyal employee, they’re very productive, they want to move up, but maybe their manager was kind of like yours where a great person, very nice, but just not helping them grow in their careers.

Claire:              Yeah. This is a tough one Michael. Because it obviously varies so much in terms of context, but also the absolute truth of it is there’s actually not a lot you can do very frankly. It is changes when you think about sort of human dynamics and organizational change, that kind of change only happens when it’s interjected. And what I mean by interjected is that it comes from the person themselves. So very, very rarely is it that there’s some sort of external pressure that is creating the required change or when it does happen, it’s sort of short lived. And so as an employee actually, the likelihood that you can help interject any kind of change for your manager, I mean, it’s very much a situation where the manager almost has to come to that realization themselves, which is why we focus on helping a manager do that.

So as an employee, quite frankly, my best advice is do what seems appropriate to vocalize what makes sense given the culture and dynamics in your team. But also know longterm, if you don’t see any sort of change that likely not much will change. And it’s a bigger question of the right place for you or the right person to be working with. It’s the best sort of, I think it’s really important to try to be as precise about it for folks and it may not be what folks want to hear, but yeah, it’s a hard position to be in for sure.

Mike:                Yeah, it’s super hard. And also, what’s also hard is for the manager or the young leader who has been moved into that role because they’ve done a really, really good job. And often times like you brought the company profit, whatever. So you’re elevated into a leadership role, whether or not you demonstrate you have those leadership qualities. Maybe you’ve just been a great employee, profitable for the company so you’re automatically put in this position. It doesn’t mean you’re an actual leader. And maybe you’re super nice and you want to be a good leader, but you’re not getting the feedback. So you’re kind of oblivious and self awareness is huge. Like you got to be self aware as a leader to be a great leader. And I guess my question is around for those that maybe are having trouble building that self awareness, like they’re not quite sure how they’re doing. What advice do you have for those people that are kind of like-

Claire:              Great question. I love that question. The sort of beginning point of any self awareness for leaders usually starts with, and this might sound pedantic, but wanting to know, right? So you actually have to want and be willing to hear things that you might not necessarily be excited about to hear. You almost have to psychologically prepare yourself to receive things that maybe you wouldn’t want other people knowing about yourself. So maybe things that, and here’s actually one of the most difficult parts of being a leader. Maybe you have to receive things that aren’t even actually true objectively about yourself, but it’s part of a story that the other person’s created and part of what’s making sense for them. And so once you’ve sort of leveled with yourself that that might be very much a reality that you’re about to hear things that you don’t want to hear.

And then the second thing is, okay, yes I need to ask and that’s the only way you find out anything, right? You got to ask questions. But the common sort of, the common I guess mistake that that most leaders make when they look to ask to find out is they usually do one of two things. One thing that they do is they’ll say, they’ll ask very general questions. So they’ll say, “How am I doing? Or are you happy? How are you doing? Or is there anything we can improve on?” Which are all, I think those are all fair questions. I’ve asked those questions myself. But the problem with those questions, they’re so big, they’re so broad that the answers that you get back are usually pretty broad and watered down as a result.

So it’s what can we improve on? Usually what people will say, “Oh, I don’t know, nothing’s coming to mind now.” Versus asking a question like, have we been all talk and no action on anything lately? Or what’s one thing that’s frustrated you within our interaction and dynamic in the past two weeks? Or have you noticed anything that our competitors have done that’s caused you to think, oh, we should be doing that. All of a sudden, and you’ll notice how much more pointed, how much more precise these questions were. But in framing the question to be a lot more specific, it becomes a lot more powerful. The second sort of mistake that a lot of managers often make when they try to find out where they’re standing is they ask a question without understanding that a question has to have the right environment to sit in for it to feel right.

But what I mean by that is it’s one thing to ask a question where you sit down for your one-on-one meeting and you say, “Okay, what have I been all talk and no action on?” And the person sits back and they think, huh, the last time I gave critical feedback and was really honest, the person got defensive maybe right? [inaudible] defensive or nothing happened or they gave me a really weird look. So okay. Yes, you asked the specific questions, but have you created a context and set it up in an environment where it’s going to make that person comfortable to actually tell you the truth? So if you … and then this is related to some of my other suggestions for managers is if there’s something that you want to know, you have to model the vulnerability that you want the other person to give you. So I call it going first.

So this means that if you want someone to admit their mistakes to you and you want to know, oh, where are you struggling? Well, have you shared with your team where you’re struggling as a leader? And you said, “Hey, I’m actually having a really hard time thinking through the strategy or working with these clients.” And so then when you do sit down and you ask someone, “Hey, what are you stuck on? What are you having a really hard time with?” They don’t go, “Oh, it’s fine. I got it. It’s all under control.” They say, “Well, actually, now that you say that, it’s these things.” So those are some of the pieces. The last thing that I’ll share and this is perhaps not as powerful piece when you think about actually wanting to get honest feedback from your team is the fact of taking a step back to consider, well why don’t people just say what they think in the first place, right?

And the natural reason that most people think of is, well it’s probably because they’re a little scared, honestly. Fear. We’ve likely all felt that if we had a [inaudible] just doesn’t feel like it’s worth saying anything because it’s maybe they’ll keep me from getting promoted. I’m a little nervous about how even just from an emotional standpoint they’ll sort of react to me. And so fear definitely plays a role in the reason why employees speak up. But what’s really fascinating and what the research shows is there’s a second factor for what gets in the way of employees speaking up at work. And what that is, is futility. So the idea that even if I were to say something as an employee, nothing is going to change. Nothing is going to change. Why say anything if nothing different is going to happen? And what’s fascinating is, and there’s a ton of research that’s been done on this, is that futility is in fact too … or sorry, excuse me. Futility is in fact 1.5, 1.8 excuse me, times more powerful than fear as an obstacle to feedback, almost twice as powerful.

So yes. So when you think about how scared you might feel about giving feedback, just understand that actually the futility that you’re considering is almost sort of twice the valence of that. And so the way to interpret this as a leader is, huh, well what my employees are looking for is not just to not be scared of me. What they’re looking for is for me to actually act on something. To do something different. And that could be in a lot of variety of ways. It doesn’t mean that you as a leader need to be implementing every single piece of feedback willy nilly. If someone asks for a swimming pool or someone asks for whatever, their entire mortgage should be paid. Like it’s like, okay, you don’t have to implement everything. That’s not what it means to get rid of futility.

What it means actually is doing things as simple as saying thank you when someone gives you critical feedback. Instead of getting defensive, you say, “Oh, thank you. Actually, I really appreciate that. That can actually help. I don’t agree with you, but it’s going to actually really inform the way I think about this moving forward. Thank you for that.” It could also be as simple as, it’s something I call closing the loop where you essentially tell people, here’s why we’re not doing something. A lot of times when we make decisions based on feedback, we make the decision and say what the decision is and then we keep going and we forget to tell people, here’s why we’re not doing the other things that some of you might be wanting us to do. So explaining the decisions for why we’re not doing just as much as for why we are, and then of course knocking out whatever small win that you can.

It’s amazing the kind of momentum that is carried from even the tiniest thing. I mean, so many stories of folks who use Know Your Team as a tool and then we have something called our culture questions where we ask those really pointed questions that I was talking about, like the questions I shared with you. For example-

Mike:                Yeah, those are great.

Claire:              Those are all directly from our culture question, right? We have hundreds of those. Hundreds of those questions that we’ve written and tested over the years. So let’s say you turn that on and let’s say, and this is a common one that we get, which is one of the questions is, would you like a new office chair? And even for a remote company, right? Maybe we’ve had remote companies where they’ll buy folks office chairs or et cetera. And I remember we were working with one CEO who said, “Claire, I turned on the question and just let it run. And it was like, this is a silly question. Got the responses back. And everyone was like, yeah, yeah.” Yeah, and he was like, “Really? Okay. Sure.”

And so he asked everyone to, and he sort of made it a thing, asked everyone to go on Amazon and pick their office chair. And this is sort of pre COVID, right? So have everyone come into the office one day and everyone spent the whole day assembling chairs. And he told me, he said, “Claire, I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on employee engagement programs and retreats and you’re telling me it’s office chairs [inaudible] engagement?” And my sort of, the thing I offered to him was like, well is it office chairs or is it the fact that there was something really small that people vocalized and you actually did something about it? And that’s what created the energy. Right? So thinking about how do you overcome fear and futility are really sort of the starting points for thinking about getting that honest feedback.

Mike:                I love all your very pointed questions because you get right to the heart of things because I think that the easy questions are the general ones. How are you doing? And they’re great questions to ask. But sometimes your answers aren’t going to be as helpful as they are. Like you said, like asking very pointed specific questions. But the trouble what you just raised, which I never heard anybody put it this way about the futility. Like why even bother giving my actual truthful answer when I don’t feel it’s going to go anywhere? That is so true. If I think about employee surveys, those surveys that go out to all employees and y’all are told like, make sure you fill out a survey and you’re thinking is this really going to do anything? And if I’m truthful, are they going to find out I said something negative, even though it’s anonymous? Like that futility, I never heard that before. But that’s so true. Fear and the fact that that’s higher than fear is really fascinating.

Claire:              Right. Yeah, I think everyone can sort of embody that experience. And I think the thing that’s difficult though, so here’s the thing, right? That makes sense to you Michael and to you Patty, and it’s like we’re all nodding our heads here. Now internalizing that in the moment during your one-on-one meeting, when you’ve got a million things in your day, maybe this is your fifth one-on-one meeting of the day, you’re back to back. You’re just trying to go, right? You’re just, you’re looking through the to do list. You’re just trying to check things off. Now, to what degree does that sentiment of futility, is that something that we remember? It’s so easy to forget, right? It’s so easy to forget. And so I think the greatest challenge with leadership is actually not so much understanding the principles that make someone successful in the role. By God no, this is not rocket science, right?

It’s like, oh, I just shared like, oh, you should follow through on the things you say you’re going to do. You should be vulnerable. And the difficulty, the reason this is so hard is that it’s extremely difficult to take the theory of leadership and to actually put it into practice. That’s the hard part. It is enormously difficult. And the most experienced leaders will tell you that it’s a practice for them continually every day. And so that’s literally the reason why we built Know Your Team is because we knew, well how do you bridge that gap between theory and practice? And you need some help. You need some sort of guiding principles or tools or is technology, can it help? Not replace by any means, but could it help?

Could it help remind you what questions to ask? Could it help you remember what action items to take after a one-on-one? Could it help you actually gather progress from people without you having to do it, so you don’t have to remember? It’s like you already have so much on your plate. So that’s to us has always been the big, big driver. It’s yeah, bridging that gap of theory of practice is a tall order to ask people to do on their own.

Patty:               So Claire, I would like to talk about our current situation right now. So obviously there’s a global pandemic happening and before we get all into this COVID-19 stuff, first of all, how are you and how are you dealing with the pandemic?

Claire:              Thank you for asking you me that. I’m doing actually quite well and I feel truly an overwhelming amount of gratitude to be able to say that. I know so many people, so many actually of our customers, so many of our customers, customers are really, really struggling during this time. And to be able to say that I’m healthy, my family’s healthy, business is honestly better than it’s ever been, which is a kind of weird thing to be pondering sort of in front of us for now during this time. But just a ton of … I’m doing really well and just extremely, extremely grateful.

Patty:               That’s good to hear. It is interesting because when you were explaining what Know Your Team was to our listeners, I did think this like now more than ever, that’s really important because we have to actually know our teams remotely. We’re not seeing each other face to face. We’re not interacting every day the way we used to. So I would love to know what are some things that you think people should absolutely be doing as they work remotely during this pandemic to make sure that they are staying connected with their teams and just staying cohesive with each other?

Claire:              Absolutely. Yeah. We use a word I think that a lot of us are really leaning into right now, which is this idea of connection. So now that we are slacking each other all day, zooming each other all day, right? We are more connected than ever in some ways and yet the biggest thing you hear leaders saying is, but I want to be more connected or I want to make sure our team is feeling connected. So what’s interesting is what people mean by that, when they say, “Oh, I want more connection, or oh, I’m worried about connection in our remote team,” is what they’re actually talking about is trust. Which doesn’t actually have a lot to do with number of touch points or even FaceTime, right? It doesn’t matter how many hours on a Zoom call you are with someone, there’s a lot that goes in.

There’s so much more that goes into it than do you actually trust that person? So what leaders I think during this time are eager to really invest in more than ever is really trust. These are uncertain times. These are sort of unsettling or it’s an unsettling path. And the more trust that a leader can foster in a team, the smoother things are going to be able to go and the more readily you’ll be able to meet different challenges. And so trust is a really interesting concept from an organizational psychology standpoint because researchers, when you look to define trust, researchers have found that there’s two different types of trust. So there’s one type of trust that researchers have identified as what’s called affective trust.

And this is the trust that we probably most easily relate to. It’s all about the way you feel, personal relatedness, positive affinity to someone, kind of that emotional rapport, right? Like when you think, oh, I trust that person because I like them. That’s affective trust and that’s one kind of trust. The other kind of trust is something that researchers call cognitive trust. And what this is, it’s trust that is more about your head in the sense that you trust someone because of their reliability and their competence and capability. So it’s you having witnessed things in the past where you know they’re going to follow through on something. And so they’re quite different, right? Affective trust is kind of more about how you feel in the heart. Cognitive trust is more about head and reliability and competence.

Another way to think about it is that what … and sorry, actually just to pause for a second, what I actually find so fascinating and the reason I distinguish these two is because you actually need both. And especially in a remote team, you need both. And the one that’s actually harder to do in a remote team is the affective trust, right? So the reason I provide this framing is, okay, so as a leader, it’s not just, oh, I need people to be feeling more connected, right? It’s like well, no, it’s not about just signing up for software products or making sure that you have enough meetings or that people are responding to Slack, it’s not about that. It’s actually thinking, well, am I being intentional about affective trust and building emotional rapport and connection? Am I being intentional about building cognitive trust?

So following through on the things I say I’m going to do. One framing that’s been done by another group of researchers is they call it warmth and competence. So as the leader, you can’t just have one. You have to have both. So what does this mean very practically? And again, this is again theory. Now we’re going to take it to [inaudible] everything. So the way that this sort of looks like from a practical standpoint is this means to build affective trust, there’s a few things that you need to be investing in as a remote leader now more than ever, which is are you actually giving people opportunities to connect socially? And that could be as simple as taking more time during your one-on-one meetings with the direct report to ask questions like, are you cooking anything fun recently that you’ve been enjoying? What podcasts or books have you been listening to? How’s your energy these days?

I actually had a one-on-one meeting with one of my own direct reports today and we probably spent out of the hour talking probably half of it actually on the affective trust part. And that was something deliberate, right? Because these are uncertain times, because we’re now remote. Focusing on affective trust is so, so key. And so that’s [crosstalk].

Mike:                Oh sorry Claire. I was going to say and that’s like, it’s got to come from a real place. Like you’re genuinely interested in how your direct report is doing. So you can have a free flowing half hour conversation about life because you’re genuinely … The trouble is there are some people who generally don’t care. They just care about the work unfortunately.

Claire:              Yeah, exactly. And here’s the interesting thing for folks who might find themselves in that bucket, right? For example, you might find yourself as a leader, it’s not that you’re cold hearted or anything, but it’s just like you’re busy. And gosh, do you have 30 minutes to be talking about, I don’t know, online badminton or whatever. And so it’s completely understandable. So I think the thing to always go back to is the research, which is there have been numerous studies that have been done where it links two things. It links affective trust with increased positive perception of you as a leader. Right? So that’s really interesting. It’s not even about if you are actually a good leader. Actually the more effective trust you have, it increases the positive perception that people have of you.

And then the second thing just being that is actually correlated with productivity. And so, and that’s the research, right? And then anecdotally you can think about, okay, well, if this person feels more emotionally close to me and to the team, then the next time we get into sort of a hard place where we’re trying to resolve a conflict, the next time we disagree about something, the next time I go, “Oh my God, I kind of need this by tomorrow and I know I didn’t give you a heads up.” They’re not going to be like, “Oh, right.” And de-motivated et cetera. They might handle that differently because of that affective trust. So there’s a complete through line to performance here for folks who might find themselves like, oh, that’s not really my style Claire, to spend a half hour …

And that’s okay if it’s not your style. There are ways to do it that’s in your own genuine way. And so the other way that I was going to say that has worked extremely well for so many of remote companies that we work with is literally just trying to create some sort of channel that is purely dedicated to non-work communication. And you can do this in a lot of ways, right? So you could have a Slack channel that’s all about pets for example. You could do weekly video calls where every week or month it’s about a book club or about sports or about whatever it is. Right? And you can also, and this is something we have in Know Your Team, is we have something called a social question where every week we ask a question to everyone in the company via Slack or email.

And it’s something like how do you like your eggs or who was your favorite band 10 years ago? Or what’s your earliest memory? And it’s amazing to see if you can imagine a group of 60 people all answering that same question on their own time responding to each other. So those have been a big hit. But the whole idea regardless of what you use, whether you use our stuff or something else, it’s this idea of really creating a channel that’s purely dedicated to something that’s non-work-related. So that’s affective trust. The second piece of cognitive trust, and this one’s a lot more straight forward, which is if cognitive trust is based off and springs from someone’s thinking that you are reliable and competent, well, the way you solve for that is you become reliable. And there’s no shortcuts, there’s no trick, there’s no hack to that.

Mike:                There’s no shortcuts.

Claire:              Yeah, it’s very simple. It’s literally you hear what people ask and the commitments you make, and then you follow through. And this is again, it sounds so intuitive. It’s like, of course Claire, right? But how many of us are on a one-on-one meeting and we find herself saying this phrase, “Oh yeah, I was going to get to that and I’ll make sure I do that. Oh yes. I’ll make sure to follow up on that later.” Natural. I’ve been in that, this is no judgment, right? This is completely natural. I’ve been in that position myself. And so one of the challenges I always tell leaders during this time is this is more crucial than ever to be thinking about how am I doing what I say I’m going to do, how am I building that cognitive trust?

Mike:                I love how intentional you are about making sure you’re covering both bases, the cognitive trust and the affective trust in your meetings. Like you’re just, you’re mentally thinking about those things as you’re talking to people.

Claire:              Right. Exactly. And I think the reason when I talk to remote leaders, I really emphasize both of those pieces is I think trust is such a … I mean, we throw that word around like it’s nothing. And so getting just really specific about it I think is helpful. I think the one other thing that I might share aside from that, there’s so much around managing a remote team well especially during these times that we’ve done a ton of research on in the past few years. So we have, and I’ll share this to you just, or share it with you just in case your audience is interested in it. But we, for example, we published it’s a 60 page plus essentially resource on best practices for how to run remote teams.

And there’s all sorts of … it’s based off data that we researched two years ago. All things that I think are really critical. So there’s a lot. So if I were to pull just maybe one other thing that I would say is to really be thinking very precisely about communication, which is sort of kind of top of mind for everyone. But doing two things with communication, which is one, writing a lot more and thinking about turning your communication into more asynchronous long form written writeup.

Mike:                Really? Really? More writing.

Claire:              Yup. And I can talk about that. I know, right? And then the second thing is this idea of what I call match the message to the channel, which is that every channel in the way so Slack, email, your CRM, your project management platform, your brainstorm and ideating platform, whatever that is, should match the actual message for what you’re sending. But let me go to the first one because-

Mike:                That’s fascinating. That is so fascinating.

Claire:              [crosstalk] for some people. [corsstalk].

Mike:                I love all your research. This is fascinating to me.

Claire:              Yeah. Well, so what’s really interesting for the most successful teams who’ve been remote for a really long time, right? So you look at companies like Automatic that has been remote for over 10 years and they have close to a thousand employees. You look at companies, I mean like Base Camp, where they’ve been doing remote for over 20 years with over 50 employees. So you look at what are they doing and how have they been able to do this for so long?

I mean, even sort of the … Yeah, there were remote companies I mean, before there was email invented, like that existed. So what were people doing? And the key is that essentially what you do is you take time to distill an idea or a concept that you have and instead of holding a meeting for it. So for example, let’s say you were like, “Oh, we need to kick off a new project.” The instinct is you maybe ping someone in Slack or email and you say, “Hey, can we grab a meeting here in like 45 minutes and talk about it.” Instead of doing that is what you actually do is you sit down and you write a long form memo or write up about it and then you post it to them and you few advantages to this. So now all of a sudden you’ve actually taken some time to digest and distill the idea.

So now it’s actually quite polished. Usually a lot sharper than if you would’ve just showed up in the meeting and riffed with the person, which is no doubt valuable at times. But the other 90% of the time, it’s really great to get really clear up front, here’s actually what I’m looking for. So there’s that advantage. The second advantage that happens is now the person who you wanted to communicate this to, their day is not interrupted, right? The minute you call a meeting, I mean that just blows a huge hole in anyone’s day, right? It’s 30 minutes to wind up for the meeting, 30 minutes to cool down. It breaks your entire workflow. So now it’s maybe they’re in the middle of a task, they finished that task and then they read the post. So you’re not disrupting and interrupting people. So that’s the second thing.

The third thing is you actually now create a paper trail for this new idea. So now it’s not like, oh, now we need to loop in Lisa, but oh man, she wasn’t in on the first meeting. So now when we all have a meeting, we have to spend the first 45 minutes catching her up and then we get into it. It’s no, we need to loop in Lisa, we’re going to send the write up, the project right up to her. So this is-

Mike:                That saves a lot of time.

Claire:              Sorry?

Mike:                That saves so much time.

Claire:              So much time. [inaudible] like you’re spending more time upfront, right? Upfront it does. Because you’re just like … and here’s what’s fascinating. Sometimes what’ll happen is you’re going to be, you’ll be thinking, okay I need to write something up to someone and you start writing it and this has happened to me many times and you go, “Actually this isn’t that important. Or actually this is not the person who I should be sending this to or actually, you know what? Someone else should be writing. This is not what I should be doing.” And then you just really [crosstalk].

Patty:               That has happened to me all the time.

Claire:              Yeah. It’s amazing the minute you get down, the minute you ask yourself to write something down, how much clearer the thing becomes to you. And so in a remote team, this is how you scale communication is you essentially create that clarity of thought and then you’re now essentially also giving everything a URL, right? So everything can be traceable back. And then you’re also not interrupting people throughout that workflow. So you can apply this to everything. And for folks who haven’t been in this practice of doing this, it can be extremely overwhelming, right? So baby steps. So for example, one way to think about it is, what are all the meetings I have in a week and what of those meetings can actually be write-ups instead of meetings? That’s the first question to ask yourself.

Instead of just defaulting to Zoom, and this is the thing, don’t default to Zoom, don’t default to Slack, don’t default to email. Default to some sort of asynchronous writeup. Another question you can ask yourself is yeah, instead of pinging someone on Slack just to be like hey, can I ask you a question? Think about, well, maybe I should just write this up, post this somewhere for them to have some time to digest it and then move forward. The last logistical piece to that is, some folks who haven’t created the system for themselves yet will ask you, they’ll say, “Claire, do you have any recommendations for what to use to do that? Is there a certain kind of software?” I mean quite frankly, you could literally do this with email and Google docs. You could go really low fidelity if you wanted. Other companies, so I mean, personally, we obviously use Base Camp and huge bias there for why that is. Take it with a grain of salt. We love it.

Mike:                I like that Google docs is low-fi.

Claire:              I know, right? So maybe yeah, low-fi, lowest fidelity here would be write it on a nice little [inaudible]. But we use Base Camp and honestly, I don’t know how I would live without it. That’s our tool of choice. Other companies use Notion, Asana is very popular. Some folks will use Trello. I’m probably missing a few in there, but those are kind of the most popular ones to do something like this. But yeah, that’s my other recommendation is really leaning into asynchronous communication. The last thing and I also want to sort of … I feel like I’ve been talking too much here. [crosstalk]

Mike:                I love it. No, this is so good. This is fantastic.

Claire:              I know that’s kind of the point but it’s all conscious of just like, oh my God, I can’t shut up.

Mike:                Fantastic.

Claire:              No, but the last thing I had mentioned as a tip was this idea of you match the message to the channel. And so this is related to it, which is, so asynchronous writing works really, really well for a deeper, bigger concept and topic. But what if you actually just need to grab someone’s attention and fix … answer a customer support request, et cetera. So here’s the beauty of this idea of matching the message to the channel is you sort of designate Slack to be your place of here’s the expected time for you to check, right? So you should be checking every whatever and it’s only, you’re only expected to answer because we’re only going to be, within a short amount of time because we’re only going to be sharing things that are absolutely like you have to … it’s urgent, right? It’s like the highest level of priority. Or maybe what you do and maybe that’s one sort of Slack channel. Maybe what you do though is you say, actually in this Slack channel, don’t look at this until the end of the week or maybe check it once a day.

I’m just going to throw stuff in there that’s interesting but not important right now. They’re just like the random things off my brain. Links I’m looking at or ideas that I have. Don’t, once a day. Right? And then maybe you have a Base Camp or a Notion and the idea is, oh, you should be keeping your eye on that like every hour and the expectation is you respond within 24 hours. Take time to digest. It’s not about getting back to me quickly. It’s about really understanding and internalizing something. So it’s this whole idea of are you matching the message to the channel instead of just overflow into everything all at once.

Patty:               This is all good stuff. It’s all amazing. [crosstalk].

Mike:                That is so good. And I love that all of this is based on your research over the years. You have surveyed so many different people from different walks of life and different industries. So I love it all your advice is not only is it very practical, but it’s scientifically based, based on all your research. I’m curious about if you’re noticing any trends right now on surveys you’re doing now around how people are feeling right now amidst COVID-19. Is it different beforehand with remote working?

Claire:              It’s a great question. So unfortunately, I can’t give you any objective data. We’re actually not running anything specifically right now on the sentiment of people. So everything that I’ll share I guess is a lot more anecdotal, just what I’ve been seeing and for CEOs and managers I’ve been talking to. But yeah, it’s fascinating. There are two different camps of folks who in this time are sort of relating to remote work. You have some leaders who are like, “People are getting just as much done if not more during this time. So we’re going to keep really leaning into remote work, not to mention who knows the next time that we can actually open from.” And then the second sort of camp is, oh my God, this is like destroying my business and I have no idea what we’re going to be doing differently going forward.

And I don’t know how … It’s just kind of like hair on fire feeling. And those are folks who are really just looking for ways and systems of connection or ways of asynchronous writing. And they haven’t quite yet developed the systems. But what’s interesting is what I say to folks who are in the latter camp, right? Where hair is on fire, it’s not a good rhythm yet. Everyone’s still like … it just doesn’t feel right. Everyone’s in a Zoom meeting literally all hours of the day. It’s just draining. How do people work like this? That, right? So what I say to folks is, hey, first of all, this transition takes time and second of all is take a look at some of the practices that we recommend.

And like I mentioned, we’ve got this guide to managing remote teams. I did a live workshop with hundreds and hundreds of folks from all over the world that we also made public and free. So I’ll be sure to send that link over too to share with your audience. But take in resources and start small. Start just with asynchronous writing and think about if it’s that first piece of advice, what meetings from Zoom can you just move to being written, right? Or can you automate somehow in a different way. But yeah, for folks who find themselves filling in that spot, again, completely relatable, but also know that this stuff takes time. Base Camp and Automatic and Buffer and Help Scout and all these other companies who’ve been doing remote for years had the advantage of getting to work out the kinks for some time. So just know that that might be true for you as well.

Mike:                Cool. Another question around video chat versus phone call. So I love video chat conversations. I love FaceTiming with different colleagues at work. But I find that I also love phone calls, like just walk, because I like to walk and I drive my wife nuts sometimes because I always walk around the house and I love walking while talking. I feel more free. Sometimes I’ll go on walks while I’m in a meeting because I just feel more free to talk like that. I was kind of curious about preferences on video calls versus phone calls for keeping dialogue going.

Claire:              Yeah. That’s a great, great question Michael. So here’s the big trade off to consider with video and phone call, which is video is more exhausting, right? You have to be here, got to make eye contact, you got to be cognizant of facial expressions, et cetera. So just know that the more video you do, there’s a trade off and dip into the energy level that people might be experiencing. I mean phone calls of course too, anything, right? Anything takes energy but just video in particular. But the interesting trade off with video is that you do get body language and you do get nonverbal visual cues. And some of the seminal research that was done, I think starting in the late 1960s says that, what is it, over 60%, over 55% of our communication is done non-verbally. So you lose a lot of that when you don’t have video.

That being said, do I think it’s good to be on video all the time? No. You don’t need that fidelity for everything. But for key conversations like talking about performance, talking about building affective trust in particular, thinking about or talking about sensitive company topics that might cause someone to feel uneasy, video chat absolutely. Things that are more about maybe you talk through strategy with someone. Maybe it’s just generally catching up or wanting to get a progress update. Phones is fine, right? Phone is fine, but just sort of keeping in mind those trade offs there.

Mike:                There needs to be like a Claire Lu AI that I can just summon whenever I’m going to do a one-on-one with somebody just to hear like Claire’s coming in, telling me something like you should really be focusing on this.

Claire:              It’s so funny you say that Michael. I mean in the least creepy way possible, that is literally our kind of goal with Know Your Team. Not to replicate me in any way, but [inaudible]. That would just be weird and no one wants that. No one wants that. But this idea that oh, is there a way to extract the insights in real time when it’s helpful and that’s what we’ve been looking to do.

Mike:                I think having some sort of AI to help with Slack messages, email, like if it’s analyzing what the question is and even like reminding you to display empathy and even giving you some words to possibly use. That is so … Some people are not thinking about that kind of stuff or sometimes or you’re just so fast. You’re like, sometimes I’m telling Patty like, things are moving so fast throughout the day, I’m sending an email out and normally I might want to be, display more empathy in the email, but sometimes I’m just like, “I don’t have time. I just have to get this message out.” And I apologize to Patty afterward. I’m like, “I’m so sorry.”

Claire:              Yeah. It’s well and amazing for you to sort of see that even if it’s after the fact. Yeah, no, completely, completely agree with you. And I think it’s a struggle that all of us as leaders are trying to figure out is how do we remember? When we do know this stuff, how do we remember?

Patty:               So we do have four minutes left and I have one last question.

Claire:              Okay. All right. Hit me. I’m ready.

Patty:               Almost completely separate from what you’ve been talking about so far. But as a result of the pandemic, we have seen some discrimination against certain groups, so like the Asian American community or even health care workers. And I would like to know since that brought on the topic of diversity and inclusion, how that plays a role in how a manager knows their team and maybe even your personal leadership skills and how you manage your own team.

Claire:              Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think times of crisis always reveal opportunities for people to point at other people to say you’re different and I don’t like that or I need to blame someone because I’m angry or I need to protect something, so I’m lashing out. And so I think one of the things that’s most key is for leaders to just be cognizant that these uncertain times are going to create more of that fearful mentality. And just to know that, right? Because when, and this is kind of similar to one of the original questions around how do you build self awareness? Well, you have to want to be self aware and this is the same thing, right? If you want to really create an environment that is inclusive and sensitive to folks during this time, then you have to want to pay attention and look out for that.

So that’s the first step. And then I think the second stop within your own team is obviously talking to individually and personalizing for each person. Asking questions around what trepidation or fear do you have right now just in your life generally? And trying to get a sense of where people are at in that case. That would be a second thing. I think the last thing that I would say that when you think about inclusivity in a team that is so, so key is that it’s very much a thing that is seen as a value if it’s explicit. And what I mean by that is, as a leader, if it’s just something that you’re sort of just thinking in your head or paying attention to, that’s great, but it’s hard to transmute that and to sort of transfer that to your team if it’s not something that you’re explicitly sharing.

So for example, and again, this really depends on the team and what the situation is. But for example, if it makes sense, you can have an opportunity as a leader in your team to say that, “Hey, these I know are tough and trying times and we treat and aspire to treat every single person here with dignity and respect and equality. And if that’s something you are not feeling, please, please let me know. Please, please share that with me. And if not to, me because you don’t feel comfortable, with just someone on the team, who can then relay it.” But this idea that when we’re in a group, we only know what’s important if it’s stated. So the sort of implicit desire that we might have for something to be true isn’t as helpful unless we make it clear.

Patty:               Right. Any last questions Mike?

Mike:                That was so good. Oh my gosh, Claire. So Patty, I don’t know if you noticed this, but whenever we ask Claire a question, she’s just ready to go with like, I got three thoughts on that and then you can go through it. Claire, how [inaudible]. I know exactly. I’m like, amazing. So before we go, totally unrelated to everything we just talked about, but just about your … because I think we all aspire to be better at communication and telling better stories. And as in this interview, whenever we asked you a question, you were just so on point. You’ll share your thought, share an insight and also even backing it up with science. I’m kind of curious about things that you’ve done to hone your communication skills. So you’re like just a … you’re a great dynamic speaker and I’m kind of curious about things you’ve done to help yourself improve your communication. Because I think a lot of people would all get value from hearing about things you’ve done.

Claire:              Thank you for that. It’s-

Mike:                I’ve got her stumped here. This is good. This is my goal. This is my goal here.

Claire:              [crosstalk] I’m like, oh, now I’m tongue tied and I can’t communicate my thoughts thanks to that question. I would say, so two things come to mind just off the bat. The first thing that actually has really helped me is I used to spend a lot of time in the early days, especially if I was preparing for a talk or a customer call or even an interview or anything is I would, and this is a trick my or tip my entrepreneurship professor in college had us do, which is I would record myself on video. And there is nothing quite as just sharp in terms of poking you as rewatching yourself on video and seeing yourself blink a million times as you speak or wave your hand in a weird way or say like 20 times.

There is nothing that helps you cut that out quicker than the painful processes [inaudible]. And it’ll feel weird. You’re going to want to stop midway. But there is nothing that has improved my communication skills as quickly. So that’s the first thing. The second thing, and this is sort of a boring tip, but it’s the honest answer I think is just a ton of repetition. So I mean, I’ve literally, I’ve done hundreds of podcasts interviews and I run my own podcast. I’ve done, I mean probably over 500 talks, right? Just a lot of … yeah. A lot. And then I do a ton of writing. We have hundreds of blog posts. And so it’s a thing where hopefully by this time I’ve gotten better [inaudible] doing enough times, but it’s definitely, it’s the repetition for sure.

Mike:                Wow. That was so good.

Patty:               Well, thank you so much Claire. That’s been all amazing. Really great advice. Do you have any last words for our listeners?

Claire:              Just that if any of this has been helpful to folks to definitely check out Know Your Team and you can always read our blog and then if you find that useful, definitely sign up for our tool. Check it out. If you’re a manager or if one of your peers is a manager to definitely have them check it out and sign up. So yeah, that’s it.

Mike:                Oh, and last question would be, I guess, upcoming workshops, things you’re focusing on right now.

Claire:              Totally. Absolutely. Like I said, the best way to get the most benefits from everything that I shared, if you’re like Claire, “I just love the methodology, I love the science,” definitely just sign up for KYT. If you’re still like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m in a place to do that yet,” I publish a new blog post almost every single week and so if you sign up for our newsletter at knowyourteam.com, you can get on that mailing list. The second thing that I do is twice a month we hold live workshop sessions are 100% open to the public. That’s a deep dive on a specific area in leadership. So I did one actually just this past week on coaching an underperforming employee. And so yeah, you can definitely sign up for those. Also, if you sign up for our mailing list, you’ll get alerts for when those workshops are. But yeah, those are great places to start in terms of things that are coming up most recently.

Mike:                That’s awesome.

Patty:               Cool. Very cool. Thank you so much Claire.

Mike:                Thanks Claire.

Claire:              Yeah. This is so fun. Thank you both so much. I appreciate it.

Mike:                All right. I’m going to stop the recording.