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The COVID-19 pandemic forced business operations to go remote in a hurry.
Leaders of home and commercial services companies are dealing with a million things, from revenue projections and Paycheck Protection Program applications to making sure your technicians have enough PPE.
But Keith Mercurio wants you to think about something else. Your newly remote staff meetings on Zoom video conferencing.
Those formerly in-person meetings give the company focus, bonding the staff in pursuit of a common goal. Leaders can’t let those important dynamics be lost to the pandemic.
That means regular, virtual meetings are essential.
“We abandoned our traditional meeting ritual (when we went remote),” Mercurio said. “When we did that we lost certainty. If you haven’t yet, this is the most critical time to reestablish our meeting rhythm.”
Mercurio is a well-known motivational speaker who has trained more than 21,000 business leaders. With group gatherings prohibited, he had to reinvent his consulting business in a digital way that would retain its interactivity, and fast.
He’s also Director of Leadership Development at Radiant Plumbing and Air Conditioning, which has already had a $332,000 revenue day during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Required for both endeavors? Effective remote leadership.
But how do you make sure you’re providing that vital ingredient over Zoom? Last week, Mercurio shared lessons on being an effective leader during the pandemic in a ServiceTitan webinar hosted by Jackie Aubel.
In the 90-minute gathering, he laid out his strategy for Zoom meetings that engage attendees, promote common purpose and drive success. He started with a simple question: What if this is the new reality — forever?
Adjusting to a new reality
Remote leadership might still seem unfamiliar, but it has quickly become necessary. With so many in the home services industry working remotely, video meetings have become the pillars for the current state of business.
Where there used to be intermissions in leadership and chances to lead when you pass in the hall or the breakroom, leadership can feel more condensed.
And Zoom meetings have become something else, too: One of the few ways to have face-to-face interactions with coworkers.
“We’ve started to look at this as though this is entertainment,” Mercurio said. “Every single appearance you make (on a video conference) must be impeccable, because the audience is expecting something that captivates them.”
What does that mean for you as a leader? What elements are necessary for the meeting to be effective? And what can undercut your effectiveness in a remote world, where everything is magnified by the screen on which you deliver the message?
Three pillars of effective leadership and engagement
There are three pillars to shaping that message, Mercurio said: the focus you have as a leader, the precision of your language, and the image you portray.
In many ways, Mercurio said, we become what we focus on. If that focus is on the struggle, that is transmitted to those around us. But if leaders focus on what they need to be—optimistic, compassionate, proactive, inspirational—what they need to do becomes clear, Mercurio said.
Who will you need to be to guide your team to survive and thrive, if this is it? The path starts with being thankful for the essential nature of the trades.
“Gratitude is the gateway to resilience,” Mercurio said. “If you want to become an adaptive and resilient leader, we must be able to see the good that’s available inside our work.”
The words we use — and the ones we think — create our relationship with reality, Mercurio said. And speaking transfers that reality to the listener.
“Language has the power to both create or destroy possibility, create or destroy hope, create or destroy vision,” Mercurio said.
Words such as can’t, won’t, and but, for example, destroy. “All we’re doing (with those words) is breeding and transferring negativity,” Mercurio said.
Instead, he said, make sure you are using language that empowers and creates, such as can, will, and must. The precision with which you speak conveys the message, which is magnified in a remote environment.
“Start looking at what’s possible instead of what’s not, what’s available instead of what’s missing,” Mercurio said.
In a remote, video environment, the way we present ourselves sends a message to everyone else, Mercurio said.
How you show up on everyone else’s screen in a video meeting—even how close you sit to the camera—conveys something. Closer to the screen signals a one-on-one interaction, further away a less intimate group encounter.
Be intentional about the impression you leave. If a leader is on video from his couch while technicians in the field deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, that could send the wrong message.
“You’ve got a new stage, a new set, and the physical elements of yourself and your surroundings are creating a very clear image,” Mercurio said. “It’s about the message you’re sending, the intentionality of how we present ourselves.”
Tips for more effective Zoom meetings
Once you have a handle on your focus, language and physiology, Mercurio said, think about making your meetings more engaging. “Your leadership has turned into 60-minute episodes,” Mercurio said. “And they better be spectacular.”
Here are tips from Mercurio and others in the webinar for supercharging your remote meetings:
Show up as a leader. It’s more important than ever to remember that leadership is a privilege. Your attitude about the meetings that shape your company will be on display. Make the time count.
Practice beforehand. Department heads can divide duties, share slides and other materials and run through key messages in advance if the meetings are smaller than all-hands. Lean on others to help.
Require cameras on. The goal is to engage the participants, and to confirm that engagement and create a sense of community it’s important to see others in the meeting. In gallery mode, you create consensus and remind each other that you’re all in this together.
Make them fun. That could include a prearranged tour of a coworker’s space or other creative ideas, such as prompting for the best “dad joke” from participants. “We need to laugh right now,” Mercurio said. “It’s too painful.”
Make them interactive and inclusive. Mercurio enlisted a “panel” in the webinar, to get the thoughts of others on the topics he discussed. He asked other listeners to use chat to list, for instance, the words that could spur positive action.
Utilize Zoom’s features. Chats, breakout sessions, polls can all be interesting, interactive additions to your meetings. Zoom offers online training on how to get more out of the platform.
Be engaging and real. When you lead a meeting, you are just facilitating. The answers are in the room. Draw those answers out of those who do the work.
But how do you implement these tips and strategies if your virtual meetings to this point have been nonexistent, or ineffective to the point that participants view them as a waste of time or don’t want to participate? Set a new expectation, Mercurio says.
“If your meetings have been brutal so far, you have more ground to make up than others,” he said. “You’ve just got to own that, embrace that.”
Then set new expectations for world-class meetings to match the customer experience you want to provide. Ask employees to be stationary, well lit, without background noise.
“If you haven’t done this before, you have a choice now to make that shift,” Mercurio said. “Who you’ve been doesn’t have to determine who you’re going to be.”
That’s true, virtually or otherwise.
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