Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Norm-Setting and Prioritizing Work-Life Balance: Insights from Cara Shortsleeve, CEO and Founder of The Leadership Consortium

Leaders Perception Magazine is currently running an interview series called – Building a Successful Remote Work Culture: Discussing strategies and best practices for fostering a productive and engaged remote workforce, addressing topics like communication, collaboration tools, work-life balance, and employee well-being

Interviewee Name: Cara Shortsleeve

Company: The Leadership Consortium

Position: CEO and Founder

Linkedin Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carashortsleeve/

Cara Shortsleeve’s favorite quote: “ As it relates to work-life balance, my favorite quote/vignette is from Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises >>

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends, and spirit—and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

We had the pleasure of speaking with Cara Shortsleeve, CEO and Founder of The Leadership Consortium (TLC), a fully remote organization specializing in advising clients on operating with excellence in the hybrid world of work. With her extensive experience in leadership roles at Google and the launch of TLC, Cara brings valuable insights into remote work dynamics, effective communication, and work-life balance. In our interview, Cara highlights the importance of norm-setting and revisiting norms regularly to ensure clear expectations among team members. She emphasizes the need to articulate new working norms and channels of communication, helping teams succeed by setting clear operating rules. Additionally, Cara emphasizes the significance of launching and relaunching norms, providing a predetermined time and format to discuss what is working, what needs improvement, and proposed changes. This iterative approach ensures continuous improvement and effective collaboration within the team. Moreover, Cara addresses the challenge of work-life balance in a remote work environment and offers practical advice for individuals and leaders. Setting priorities and ruthlessly prioritizing tasks based on those priorities are key steps individuals can take. Leaders can support work-life balance by setting a clear strategy, providing clarity to team members, and finding ways to infuse joy into the remote or hybrid setting. Join us as we delve into Cara Shortsleeve’s insights on norm-setting, work-life balance, and fostering a productive and engaged remote workforce at The Leadership Consortium.

The Interview

Thank you so much for joining us today! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your backstory?

Cara Shortsleeve : I was born and raised in Boston and still live in the area with my husband and children. (In fact, I live 2 doors down from my parents – a win-win for all involved!). I received my BA from Williams College and my MBA from Harvard Business School and have spent the past 20+ years in operating roles in finance, retail and most recently, technology.

I always say I left my dream job after 10+ years in leadership at Google for an even dreamier job: to launch my current company, The Leadership Consortium. Now I get the pleasure of building a business with an amazing team and in pursuit of an audacious mission: to accelerate leaders and build more inclusive and representative leadership teams around every table that matters.

Your topic today around fostering a productive and engaged remote workforce is right up my alley. TLC is a fully remote company, and we advise many of our 50+ clients on operating with excellence in the hybrid world of work. So we both live within and coach to this context.

How do you ensure effective communication and collaboration among remote team members? Can you share any specific tools or practices that have been particularly effective for your organization?

Cara Shortsleeve : The Leadership Consortium (TLC) has been a fully remote organization since conception. Over the last 5 years running TLC, and during my prior 10+ years at Google where much of our team was distributed across the globe, I learned strong fundamentals about communication and collaboration.

Essentially, it boils down to two key things: 1) ensuring everyone understands expectations (we call this norm-setting) and 2) revisiting and revising those norms at a set interval. The current pace of change is relentless, so making norms are clear, consistent, and continually updated is the key to success.

1) Articulate the “new” working norms.
Things that used to be taken for granted (“we all work set hours in a set physical place”) are no longer relevant. You need to reset, and then articulate, norms. What channels of communication are needed and when? (Eg, when is Slack ok? When should it be a cell call? When do we need a video call? Are there hours you want everyone “at their desks” at the same time to ease collaboration? etc.)
What are the best norms? The short answer is that there are many different models that can work, so don’t overthink it. The hard work is to ensure you articulate the initial model overtly and transparently so that everyone understands the expectations. People naturally want to succeed – help your team succeed by setting clear operating rules that are accessible to all.

2) Launch and relaunch more often than ever before.
Once you have norms in place, you will need to revisit and revise them far more often than you did historically. In fact, you should make it a “norm” to provide feedback and course corrections at a set interval. Having a predetermined time/format to discuss norms (what is working, what isn’t, proposed changes to consider) takes the guesswork and ambiguity out of things for your team. Revising the norms will help each individual feel valued and heard and also enable effective and efficient collaboration.

How do I launch and relaunch? Make an effort to come together as an operating unit at a set interval. At TLC we get together quarterly and/or each time a new person joins the company (whichever happens sooner). We revised our TLC Team Agreement, which defines our mission, values, and – importantly – the operating norms which dictate how we will work together effectively and efficiently. “Embrace iteration” is one of our core values (and a great value for the hybrid work context) – so we commit to making small modifications to our operating and communication norms as we go.

Maintaining work-life balance can be challenging in a remote work environment. What strategies do you recommend for remote employees to create boundaries between work and personal life? How can organizations support their employees in achieving a healthy work-life balance?

Cara Shortsleeve : We hear this from clients all the time – that work-life balance can be really hard for those adjusting to a remote work environment.

We coach individuals to remember that the principles of good work-life hygiene still apply in the hybrid context! For individuals, the two key steps are to 1) set priorities (what three things really matter today, this week, this quarter, etc) and 2) ruthlessly prioritize (is every single thing on my calendar laddering up to my priorities?). Often, when people are feeling out of balance, their priorities are askew (taking on too many or competing agendas) or their prioritization is slipping (saying yes vs. a gracious no). People end up over-tasked and under-rested.

We coach leaders and organizations on supporting work-life balance as well. The fundamentals are obvious: set a clear strategy and ensure team members know the role they play and the key activities needed for success. In other words, set a context where people have clarity and can thus be efficient and productive, do excellent work, and go home! But we also remind leaders that people want to find joy in their work, regardless of whether they are in person or remote.

Perhaps what contributed to their team’s happiness while in person (physical spaces, onsite amenities) no longer applies while remote. If driving employee joy is not a leaders’ sweet spot, we suggest they find someone on their team who can envision joy-inducing activities for the hybrid context. From new approaches to flexibility (eg, flex schedules) to access to education, there are great opportunities to infuse joy into your remote or hybrid setting.

Remember, employee happiness is one the the single largest drivers of customer happiness, so supporting employee work-life balance and employee happiness is good business.

Leaders Perception Magazine would like to thank Cara Shortsleeve and The Leadership Consortium for the time dedicated to completing this interview and sharing their valuable insights with our readers!

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