Developing Management Competencies for Flexible Work

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A study from KPMG confirms what most of us already know: virtual and flexible workplaces will grow in 2013 and beyond. Flexible work cultures create competitive advantages and the omnipotent use of technology to enable a distributed workforce will only strengthen. That said, offices are not going away anytime soon, nor should they. An ideal work arrangement is one that combines the two: the ability to work flexibly while coming together in a space that is functionally designed to support collaboration, stimulate innovation and foster leadership.

As more organizations embrace this flexible workstyle, the need to codify competencies is growing as strong skills for managing distributed teams are increasingly required for attracting and retaining talent and sustaining high-performing teams. More often than not, however, job descriptions don’t highlight the ability to manage virtual teams as a core requirement of a role. That’s changing and with it is the need to revisit competency based workforce development systems and the knowledge, skills and abilities upon which employee performance expectations and evaluations are based. Moving towards greater definition of what it means to successfully manage a distributed team strengthens an understanding of what is expected in virtual settings, and, if given the tools and training on how to hold employees more accountable for their performance regardless of location, helps managers be more successful in their roles. Unfortunately, the dearth of training around how to effectively manage a flexible workforce, and in a broader context, not training managers and leaders early enough in their careers, consistently results in pockets of mid-manager resistance around flexible work we hear about too often.

Multidimensional aspects go into creating a corporate environment upon which virtual teams and employees can thrive. Strong leadership skills across a continuum of intelligences – business, functional, team, personal and emotional – as noted in this CEO Forum Group article, Leadership Competencies for Global Managers, play a role in making that happen. Forward thinking organizations are looking at the importance of mapping these leadership skills for building and sustaining effective virtual teams, for creating collaborative environments where the ability to coach and support individual careers is present, to foster team connectedness, and create performance-based outcomes.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bernadette Allen, CEO of The Competency Group. In her work with clients, Bernadette has found that coalescing a group of exemplary managers of virtual teams is an ideal approach for developing a competency framework. Bernadette has often seen groups develop the right outcome statements from discussing what they do well, (and not), which generates foundational skills, knowledge and behaviors that frame competencies, maps individual skills and identifies skills gaps. Bernadette believes organizations should start from scratch when it comes to competency development to ensure facilitated conversations (in this example, between managers of virtual teams) happen more freely. This organic approach has the added benefit of allowing cultural differences inherent within each organization to be aired. When challenges around around managing virtual teams are discussed, managers are more able to identify opportunities to diffuse longstanding organization culture impediments that can often persist when trying to embed flexible workstyles as the norm in corporate or government settings today.

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