Postponed. Quarantine. Global pandemic.

With these headlines, all of us who are responsible for learning and enablement are thinking about development in a new light. There seem to be only two options to respond to this crisis:

    • Do nothing, wait it out until it blows over.
    • Figure out how to implement a remote learning strategy.

First, let’s consider the “pause button” strategy.

Training Should Be Your No. 1 Priority

Unless your frontline team is slammed with customer requests or is one of the few companies with an increase in demand, now is the best possible time to invest in your people. Often, one of the biggest barriers to training is the opportunity cost, but unless you’re selling video conferencing or an antidote to COVID-19, you probably don’t have that problem.

This is the fourth economic apocalypse in 20 years. The economy will recover — it always does — and the companies that invest now will be prepared to take advantage of the market when the dam breaks on the pent-up demand.

The most effective way to energize and upskill your most precious resource is through training. Investing in these resources will be far more productive than watching the news and checking social media, dazed and confused or even paralyzed with fear. The question is, with potential quarantine restrictions, how do I train?

The Limitations of Online Learning

While efficient and cheap, there are some challenges with online or digital learning programs.

The purpose of online training is to bridge the knowledge gap. You can’t learn to play the violin, golf or dance as effectively from a digital learning course. Online, there are limitations to skill practice and engagement. When we are limited to this environment, what is the best way to address skill gaps?

It’s actually the best strategy, regardless of the economic conditions or a pandemic: focus on your leaders. In their new book “It’s the Manager,” Gallup’s Jim Clifton and Jim Harter share research that supports what we already know: Dramatic change happens one on one, not in a workshop. Your frontline leaders are the key to transformation — and, maybe more importantly, they are the ones who drive your culture and engagement, which are essential now more than ever.

As a training leader, the best response in our current crisis is to equip your leaders with the tools, skills, knowledge and insight to develop their team remotely. It’s fewer people, it’s less expensive and the return on investment (ROI) is higher. It’s a no-brainer.

This approach comes with some challenges, but let’s address the top two: In this unprecedented storm, how do leaders motivate and coach remotely? Here are some tips for your managers.

How to Motivate Remotely

As leaders, now is a good time to remember that the secret to motivation is to shift our focus from what we need — our goals — to what our people need — their goals. Our goals don’t matter to anyone but us, so we should focus on four things our team members need:

1. They Need a Renewed Vision

Many people are overwhelmed by darkness and struggle to see any light at the end of this dark tunnel. Leaders need to cast a new vision for the future and answer tough questions:

    • Is success possible?
    • Is our company strong enough to survive?
    • Will I be laid off?
    • What solutions are we creating to adjust to the market?

If you don’t have answers, that’s OK. Validate the questions, and communicate that they are worthy of a response and that help is on the way. The most encouraging message we can send right now is that we care and are in this together.

Remember that your team members believe what you believe. You can’t fake it. Fight for the truth, and find the answers your team needs.

2. They Need Structure

If working from home is a new reality, people need help creating a new structure and a new routine. Don’t assume they will know how to organize their day and maintain a high level of productivity. Collaborate with your team members to develop a plan for their day.

3. They Need to Change How They Measure Success

With the uncertainty about the ability to achieve long term results, now is the time to break success into small chunks — very small chunks. Encourage employees to create daily goals and to measure their success achieving those goals.

If we don’t know how far we must climb to reach the top, motivation dwindles rapidly. But if we know how far we can climb in a day, and we measure each day by that small victory, there is something to celebrate and encourage us at the end of every day.

4. They Need to Connect

Communication can be challenging for a team that’s working remotely. Be diligent about regularly scheduling video calls. They allow for a deeper level of connection and add a dimension that conference calls can’t.

To fight isolation, video conferencing is also a great way to gather the team socially. For example, schedule a virtual happy hour on Thursdays (Thirsty Thursdays?), where team members can join via video conference and discuss their favorite beverage, catch up on their personal lives — and just hang out.

How to Coach Sales Reps Remotely

Before diving into this challenge, let’s pause for a moment and clear up misconceptions about coaching. Managing is not coaching. Managing is about measuring and reporting on the activities required to achieve results. It’s about communicating reality and holding team members accountable to what they should do.

Coaching, on the other hand, is about improving a person’s ability to perform. In other words, it is not a conversation. To coach, four actions must occur: observe, diagnose (identify the barrier to performance), align (agree on what needs to improve) and develop (support the skill development process). As you consider these four verbs, one stands out as the greatest challenge to achieve remotely: observe.

An obvious solution, for customer-facing reps, is to record the interaction. But for many, recording isn’t an option. Here’s a simple way for leaders to observe their team members’ performance:

    1. Create the details of a scenario that will emulate a coachable situation (e.g., a conversation with an angry customer, a sales call to a qualified prospect or a meeting with a difficult co-worker).
    2. Role-play the scenario.
    3. Record the interaction.
    4. Listen to the recording together.

Since you can choose the most strategic scenario, this approach can be even more efficient than a recorded call with a customer.

Addressing these two main development challenges is simple — but not easy. In this crisis, your challenge is daunting: convincing the organization to shift from all the distractions and invest in its team. To win the argument, point to history. There is no mystery here. The companies that develop in a bear market thrive in the bull market. It’s a much better strategy than hibernation.