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How to Perform Shrink-to-Grow in a Remote Team


Shrink-to-grow is a management strategy aiming for nurturing output quality and average performance level in a remote team.

The man who built Intel, Andy Grove says “It’s a manager’s responsibility to align team members to group interests”. It is not much different in a remote work environment. You as a remote manager is the only person who is responsible for the outputs of your team(s). In this post, I’m going to try to help you take it all under control.

Previously in WorkRemote How-to-Series

  1. How to find a full-time remote job
  2. How to fire a remote employee
  3. How to hire your first remote employee

Time needed: 30 days.

Five easy steps for performing Shrink-to-Grow in a remote work environment.

  1. Enforce the Quality Bar

    The key element of success is the quality of work products. Teams that deliver below quality output ruin all the downstream teams and data gets more expensive as more and more of your remote team members work on it. The biggest mistake managers make is to focus on quantity rather than quality. Always remember quality first, productivity and quantity second.

    The most important question about the quality is the one you ask yourself, are you the best person to evaluate the quality bar? Can you define and enforce it? Try to hire someone who is a domain expert if you are not. Don’t try to manage a team of QA Engineers if you are not an expert in software quality metrics.

    If you are the expert, great. Spend a minimum of eight hours on the work products of this team, do not try shortcuts, don’t group or sample for faster decisions. Review one by one. Once you fully understand the current quality, expected quality and the delta, automate your quality bar enforcement process so you can get a real-time data flow of quality bar alignment from your subordinates.

    Any work product preventing your team or team members to get a minimum 95% FTAR (first-time achievement rate) is of low quality. It can be a support ticket, a feature request, a candidate review, anything. Even though it sounds insane to some team members, are you 100% confident with your new quality bar? If yes, move on to the next step, if not keep reviewing and leverage top performer team members for calibration.
    Enforce the Quality Bar

  2. Move on to Remote Productivity

    Now that you are confident with your new quality bar, aim for a 25% quarterly performance increase. Your quality bar might have many sub-metrics being tracked automatically but your performance metric should be single and easily understandable.

    Start by setting a volume goal per team member, x units/day. Communicate why the volume goal is important in an open conversation with your team members.

    High-quality bar, aggressive daily volume goals, now you’re ready to go deeper into daily workflows of your remote team members. Do daily check-in chats and Gemba walks with every single one of your team members. Don’t do these meetings in free form. Be structured and give actionable feedback.

    Try to eliminate blockers on the line and keep your team focused and competitive on your weekly volume goals. What are the distractions? Are there quality hours of deep work or bursts of productive minutes by switching to email/slack/skype? These might be your low hanging fruits for productivity.

    Once you invest all the time into understanding these blockers, if you have resisting team members, part ways with the bottom performer at the end of the first week.

    Design a model calendar based on your top performer and track compliance of other team members into this model calendar.

    Use Time and Motion Studies for defining ideal time required for each sub-work unit based on your top performer team member in order to generate volume.
    Remote Team Productivity

  3. Rank and Review – single performance metric

    High performer remote teams are only possible after hiring rockstars. There is no point in paying someone great if you can’t get exceptional performance. As a manager, your primary task is to get the best out of your people.

    Keep investing your time in the activities I’ve mentioned in step two. If you still have a delta over 3x between your top performer and bottom performer, fire the bottom performer. Keep doing it over the weeks until there is no dispersion.

    Now that you have a clear performance metric and automated, high-quality bar enforcement, you can make decisions at light speed. I think this is fair, you made it clear, transparent and understandable for everyone over the weeks.
    Rank and Review for Remote Teams

  4. Shrink to Grow

    In a quarter-time, you should not have dispersion in your team members. Any member who are 3x worse than your top performance is not welcome. Sometimes managers fool themselves with the excuse of “I know this person sucks but I need her/him to reach my end goal”. This might be true for a classic office, but you are managing a remote team and you have the power of millions of candidates. Keep a healthy flow of talent into your team at all costs so you can actually grow after shrinking.

    If you keep getting the low performers as your new hires, your testing process is broken. Make it more aggressive and spend more time and money into sourcing better candidates from all around the world.
    Shrink to Grow in a Remote Team

  5. Daily Rituals

    Gemba Walks: One of the keys to kaizen is “go to where the work is”. In manufacturing, it is to go to the factory floor, don’t sit in an office and look at spreadsheets.

    Build and Maintain the Model Calendar: Your top performer’s behavior may change over time, make sure your model calendar is up to date.

    Daily Check-in Chats: Stay in touch, the goal is to identify the blockers. Do it for at least 15 minutes for each team member every single day. Avoid free form discussions, of course, you can chit chat with your remote subordinate but keep the focus on the blockers. Take notes, list the most important learnings of the day and scale it up to other team members.
    Daily Rituals of a Remote Manager

From WorkRemote Community

Last week we asked our community members this question: “Say you inherited a low performing team, how do you nurture the average team performance?” Here are the comments from some of our community members on this topic, thanks for sharing your thoughts…

Keith KHOSHABA from France:

“1. Taking a good look in the mirror and accepting one’s faults.
2. Meeting up with each and every collaborator that you manage.
3. Admit mistakes have happened, you know they have.
4. Actively listen to what you are being told.
5. Act!”

Atanas Ivanov from Bulgaria:

“Be present, be available if needed 24/7. Low performing teams usually need you to gain their trust back.”

Prasenjit Bist from India:

“A manager is a non-performing liability, not an asset and his job is to make sure his master the team members are served well. He is the slave to facilitate the team not rule them.”

Rafad Saeed from Pakistan:

“Make sure your team is not hesitant to say anything in front of you.”

Halima Ali from Qatar:

“Identify the key strengths of each team member based on their previous work and current interactions, then designate tasks accordingly.”

Do you agree? Great! give this post some love by sharing it on Twitter – don’t forget to mention us @WorkRemoteUs. Do you disagree? We’d love to hear more, tell us why in the comments.

Written by Sinan Ata, founder of Exceptionly, the remote software engineering talent acquisition engine.

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Sinan Ata
Founder of Exceptionly, the remote software engineering talent acquisition engine.

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