Facing Up to Virtual Reality

| By TMA World

Why your leaders will continue to deliver about 80% of their potential capability without digital fluency

Moving centre stage
As businesses become increasingly connected and collaborative, what were once seen as peripheral capabilities like leading virtual teams and managing remote knowledge workers; are now central to the talent development agenda.

One of the most significant daily challenges confronting a new generation of leaders is that of transferring effective leadership behaviour into a virtual environment, without diminishing personal impact or degrading high performance.   Whilst it can take years to master the leadership skills and professional expertise required for stand out performance in today’s complex organisations; most of us develop those capabilities in the physical world, working face to face.

They’ll work it out somehow…
Many businesses imagine that their people will ‘somehow instinctively pick up’ leading virtually, and whilst it’s true that many do; far fewer master the levels of ‘digital fluency’ that excellent leadership performance demands.  The transference of leadership integrity from the physical to virtual sphere is by no means easy or straightforward.    The nuances and subtitles of effective on line behaviour in a virtual environment are often unpredictable, unseen or even unimagined.  Consequently normally high performing leaders only deliver about 80% of their potential capability when working virtually.   In short they lose their ‘edge’ by underestimating the cumulative effect of poor leadership micro-behaviours.   

Virtual reality
We need to face up to virtual reality.   Many of our most able leaders can’t run an effective virtual meeting or make an impactful virtual presentation.   Here are eight of the most common examples of leadership underperformance when working virtually:

1. Arriving late as the virtual meeting host, thus denying meeting participants access or entry to the virtual room. 
2. Running virtual meetings in noisy open office environments, often without a headset thus depriving participants of a hi-fidelity audio experience.
3. Unplanned and chaotic meeting agendas.   Whilst it’s easy to ‘wing it’ spontaneously in a face to face setting, poorly prepared virtual meetings confuse, disengage and disenfranchise participants of their ability to contribute.
4. Failing to speak in a clear, thoughtful, and interested manner, thus setting a meeting tone that does not attract engagement.
5. Inability to use the full functionality of virtual meeting platforms (polls, chats, whiteboards, and webcams) to maximise inclusion, participation, and gather valuable data.
6. Unable to troubleshoot a minor technology problem leading to a loss of time, and participant attention.
7. Speaking too rapidly and failing to clarify understanding for those in multicultural meetings where participants are working in their second or third language.
8. Failing to ask participants for feedback about meeting effectiveness, and whether clear outcomes have been identified.  

In a virtual setting, the sum total of these minor in-competencies, erode our inter-personal resonance and undermine professional credibility.  This is particularly true for leaders who have yet to develop the ability to use social and collaborative tools as second nature.   

Help, is not at hand!
Unfortunately many learning and development professionals, have yet to master virtual skills themselves, although some are most certainly role models.   To make matters worse in many organizations there is little or no provision of formal structured training, to address the virtual skills gap.  ‘Working virtually’ often fails to feature in the core learning curriculum. See our Digital Fluency Learning Path  

Virtually back to basics
The required skills have to be learned and the use of technologies can be trained.   We all know that no-one wants to be ‘trained’ any more, but failing to develop even the most elementary levels of ‘digital fluency’ costs us far more in lost time and morale sapping discontent, than a couple of hours of getting the virtual basics right.