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Remote work visibility with Carole Stizza

Luke Szyrmer May 25, 2021 166 1

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My name is Luke Szyrmer, and if you are new here, I am the author of the book Align Remotely and I help teams thrive and achieve more together when working remotely. Find out more at alignremotely.com. Today’s episode features a discussion with executive coach and visibility specialist Carole Stizza, who is releasing an upcoming book on the topic, too.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Why visibility is tied to caring, and therefore influences engagement
  • Techniques for maintaining visibility in all directions on remote and hybrid teams
  • Why “how” questions are often more useful than why questions in a professional context
  • How senior leaders can stay visible for employees, when they can’t just walk the hallways

About Carole Stizza

Carole Stizza is a Professionally Certified ICF Executive Coach, a Sr. HR Professional, and has a background in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Her ability to help clients navigate change, clarify what is important, and step into better conversations have led her to be a contributing author in two books, and now releasing her own in 2021. With the world turning more virtual, Carole has been helping teams navigate how to stay connected and thrive. Having moved around supporting a military family, getting engaged with a new team, organization, and community became imperative for work, raising a family, and socially thrive.

Notable quotes

We forget visibility means how we show up and communicate and care. And so we’re getting to see the nuanced levels of visibility take on new meaning.

That X base expectation needs to be set. And you will elevate your levels of engagement when you do that. And when you can say at the 15 minute Mark, we’re going to ask what you think it gives them a reason to listen. If you build it in 30 minutes, like 30 minutes, we’re going to ask and recap what we’ve talked about and see if we’re all on the same page that gives them a reason to listen. So you have to set in the expectations, almost like housekeeping so that people know how to step in what’s expected and why to listen,


Biggest takeaway

As someone who’s dabbled in improv in the past, a lot of what Jeff said felt right…although he was probably preaching to the choir when speaking to me, and that wasn’t really news for me. What was surprising was his view that most companies have used the pandemic as a way to avoid hard conversations. If you aren’t deliberate about facing people issues, they won’t go away. It’s even harder now with the pandemic. A good framework for these conversations is Jonathan Raymond’s accountability dial from the last episode coincidentally, but beyond that trying to create an improv theater mindset with deep listening seems to be how to solve the problem for good.

I also really liked the practical tips around expressing appreciation for team members in a remote context. It helps if you really know the person, but if you don’t, Jeff’s advice should help you with coming up with a thoughtful gift or expression of appreciation.


Carol Stizza welcome to the podcast. Could you say a few words about how you got into the topic of visibility in particular?

Sure. So my background is in human resources. And my husband was in the military for 26 years. So as we moved, I always had to adapt and acclimate my family and visibility is huge. So sports aren’t easy ask of children. They like to get together with a small team and have something in common. For me, it was always finding the job that fit the location as we supported the military progression. So visibility is a big deal, but how you communicate your value, amps, your visibility as well.

People do like to see you. They like to know that you have their social proof. Other people actually like you too. So LinkedIn and Facebook and the social proof machines that we have going always do help. They can hinder, but they’re meant to help, but really understanding who people want to see me to see and how to show up is a big deal.

when you did a move. How was it typically in for you?

How it typically went is you got notice and 30 days to prepare for the move. They would tell you where you’re going. You then assessed, do we have to rent or buy housing or is there housing provided? If there is you check the school districts. And the very first thing I did was tap into the school districts, not only for the children. But to understand what the school district did as far as community connection.

And then I followed that connection and I started looking at resources for job postings in that area. If we knew anybody, are you stationed there or you sign there, I call them and I say, we’re moving. Here’s what I do. Here’s what I want to continue to do. Who do you know? I should talk to. So it’s no different than networking is today, especially virtually back then nothing was virtual.

No, I don’t think the ability to work remote actually came into true fruition until maybe 10 years ago into a really well-practiced format. So I had to use the good old fashion calling and looking online and asking other people for referrals. That meant that we did a really. Intentional job of maintaining our relationships on a positive note.

We’re always going to meet people work-wise and social wise, who we never really want to talk to again, however, it just means they’re showing up differently than we are that day. They have a different strength. We don’t know how to value them. We were able to always pull out what is the best thing you like about that person and maintain that level of connection.

Understanding what it is that we had in common and that we enjoyed. So for 26 years, I was getting this great education in how to remain visible in a positive way and lift other people up. It’s a reciprocity recipe. That’s a lot of. RS and CS there, when you were asking other people do it, you in turn did it for them as well.

So we always were keeping our antennas up our conversations about what people needed. Who would you like to see next? What do you want to do next? My work in HR. Now I look back at all falls underneath the big human resources umbrella, I was a facilitator at one place. I was a food technology, training and development and educator always connecting people education and how to work professionally better.

They all now fall underneath HR. They didn’t at the time. So it was a people savvy connection. Where can I be the most useful? How can I use my skills? My public speaking, my training and development, my mediation skills. I have a gift for working with people who tend to like drama and conflict. That seemed to be a, an opening a lot of times.

So my progression from HR now, and to executive coaching still maintains that desire to help people step into being positively visible either with the public or the people they lead or the people they want to maintain. Professional relationships with visibility is key, but we’ve forgotten how to be visible because now we’re behind a screen.

We’re wearing our pajamabottoms virtually a lot, but we forget visibility means how we show up and communicate and care. And so we’re getting to see the nuanced levels of visibility take on new meaning.

In your particular experience, the visibility was more about visibility in your professional life, but in different jobs and roles and not necessarily within one company

at the time. Yes. As that, as we’ve stopped moving, my husband’s retired out of the military and is now the consultant with the same profession moving up in a company remained requires the same because departments are different. There are levels of hierarchy that are different. There are levels of leadership that are different. And so when you’re stepping into wanting to be your best to show up as your best self, you have to take care and how other people perceive you. How you communicate, how you make them feel so influence is this wonderful word that’s floating out there. And you’re like, I really want to know what my influence is. We want to know how we matter. We want to be given purpose and our job influence is particularly how you make other people feel. So when you talk to them, when you talk at them or with them, the level of influence is directly correlated to how you make them feel.

What are the implications of people not being visible within their company? Especially obviously in the context of being remote and what happens when they’re not visible, so to speak?

So there’s two topics here when people feel invisible and when people are not visible in the workspace.

So I’ll take the, let’s take the technology side of not being visible. The people who never put their face up on the screen, who never step in and show that they’re listening, who never ask a question on a technology based format of interaction. They may be introverted. They may be intellectual and need to marinate and think on things.

And they’re not the first to step in because they’re trying to make sure they have all the facts before they do step in. They run the risk. Of remaining in the quiet audience. So this is where I will coach a leader to make a point of letting everybody know that they’re going to be asked their perspective nothing’s right or wrong.

Here’s the issue? How would you approach it? What’s your first question. And when you start establishing a culture that makes a safe space and an expectation that regardless of where your mind is right now, please give us what you have so far. They start to see how their mind is how, the way they think actually matters all the way through the way they think an introvert has to be warned at a time.

When you have a team that’s just coming together for the first time, they’re all remote. I’ve certainly had this experience at the beginning of say a project or something. People don’t know each other that well, and then you’ve got one person, two people, maybe two leaders, or trying to organize everyone and everybody else, not even sharing video. What are your thoughts about that?

Thoughts on that are to acknowledge that we’re all human and to set a requirement. The organizers need to rethink the culture they’re going to build and the expectations they build so that the team feels seen. They get acknowledged that they matter. We do want to see your face and make sure you’re okay.

The complaint we get the most, and we look at the data is the people who are given permission to only phone it in or half, be there aren’t fully engaged and it affects their work. It makes them have to come up behind the meeting and ask more questions. I didn’t catch this. I didn’t. And you’re spending more time. The return on investment is so much richer. When the organizers of any meeting set expectations, almost like housekeeping. We do expect you to be on time. We’ll have some wiggle room because of technology.

We all have technology issues and wifi issues. We get that we do expect to see your face, at least in the beginning, if you need to pan out because you won’t eat breakfast while you’re listening, fine, whatever that is. But that X base expectation needs to be set. And you will elevate your levels of engagement when you do that.

And when you can say at the 15 minute Mark, we’re going to ask what you think it gives them a reason to listen. If you build it in 30 minutes, like 30 minutes, we’re going to ask and recap what we’ve talked about and see if we’re all on the same page that gives them a reason to listen. So you have to set in the expectations, almost like housekeeping so that people know how to step in what’s expected and why to listen, because if you don’t give them that.

You, you make it one ear of them. You may get them just driving in their car and trying not to avoid a car accident. So you do have to set the expectations from an organizer standpoint, the people in the meeting will appreciate it.

How does visibility tying to team performance?

Human resources is always debating the performance review. How do you rate. Employees who you don’t get to see, how do you keep performance top of mind when you can’t see them every day or at the water cooler, we’ve lost so many aspects of the in-person. We took for granted that there have been quite a few leaders who have prostate issues or have on seeing their people in front of their eyes.

To the flip side of that coin, the employees suddenly feel invisible too. They’ve lost the ability to walk down the hall and know that someone saw them and that someone cares. So what we’ve started to do is suggest ways that employees can keep almost an electronic professional journal.

We’ve talked about professional journals at work, where you write down everything you’ve done at the end of the day, just as a way of being mindful of how you succeeded that day, where you showed up what got done, what were the challenges? And it sets the next day in motion. If we take that to an electronic remote team.

Okay. A good practice at the end of the day to take five minutes and recap what that done today. And there’s lots of platforms there’s I think 15 five is a, an engagement tool you can pop in to your team. And once a week they say, who helped you the most? What was challenging? What was the best thing that happened?

Those are more feel good things that help bond socially, but prefer from a professional standpoint. If you can take this electronic journal of your errors. And at the end we report to, Hey, here’s all the things that was accomplished this week. Here were the challenges that got in the way. Some, we overcame some we’re going to work on next week.

Here’s, and it’s just, it’s a little email, but this email can be programmed to go into one of their files. It doesn’t mean they have to read it every Friday, everybody’s busy, but this actually started to help with the recency bias that flexed and affect the family member. What you just recently did right before the performance review.

And they forget all the great things they did and the span that is complete. But what we found is that these performance reviews, when they come up, they can go back to that file and pop up all those emails. Every week and go, Oh, this is all they’ve been able to do. This is all the challenges they’ve overcome.

Look at as a company, what we’ve overcome, but here’s how you made a difference. And so the employee, and they both have this record of accomplishments, even when they’re not in a visible line of sight of each other, they now have proof of it and an easy to compile email file. And what we’re finding is that actually turned people into understanding how to be more visible, just with a check-in email.

Just with the ability to text on the side, chat on the studies, come around and say, Monday or Tuesday, we’re going to do a five minute, 15 minute standup and just check in and see how these kids are doing. However his family’s doing, what’s going on. And almost finally acknowledging the whole human that needs to show up at work.

Now that we can’t see people more, we seem to start to care a little bit more or make a really intentional effort, especially in the HR world. So we retain our best talent. So when I coach leaders, they’re also, how do I keep my best people? They can go to anybody. Now. They can live from anywhere now, how do I keep them? I said, you keep them engaged. You keep track of what they do really well. You remind them, you see them, you care about their family. You step in more. And so we’ve been able to build it because nobody’s stuck in commuting and driving and going to meetings. We’ve been able to engage the remote teams more..

So the other topic you mentioned was like people not feeling seen and acknowledged. What do you advise someone who either is someone like that or has someone like that on their team or suspects? They have someone like that on their team

All three of those people are there. I think we’ve all felt the screen goes black and you look around and you feel alone.

You have a lot of work to, do you feel a part of a team you feel engaged? That you’ve been tasked with something, but there’s no one physically near you at that moment in time that the dogs, the kids, the spouse, the roommates, whoever you’ve got a private moment and it can feel isolated when you start to feel that isolation, how you matter.

And we have had the topic of mental health show up. But let’s just keep it on that. We’re all rational. Resourceful humans. You still have that moment where you want to know, does anybody still know I’m here? Does anybody care? Other than when I send them my reports and

what I have found helpful is understand how to ask for insights into what they’re doing well, it’s presented some interesting challenges that I’ve had to go back and research. And I think around the world, I think it’s universal that when you go to school, we are taught to listen. We’re not taught to ask questions all the time. And it’s been an interesting phenomenon to go back how far, and we look at professions that are taught how to ask questions. Teachers ask questions prolifically throughout the day to assess learning.

If it’s getting into their head, the doctors and lawyers. Yeah. Years, the sales profession has been taught that asking questions now is a better way to connect a person with the need for product. And that’s. I get people looking at me like deer in headlights. When I say how many times do you ask a question during your sales pitch?

And they lay like once, twice, I said the best salespeople will ask 11 to 14 times throughout a conversation because their intent is to help the customer Zimmer match themselves to the product. But the questions will do that and they go, Oh, I’ve never heard that. I said, asking questions. It has been drilled out of all of us.

So when I asked somebody, but why don’t you ask? They look at me I don’t even know what to ask who to ask, how to ask. And I said, okay. So there’s been a lot of research through Harvard about why feedback is so people are like, I need feedback. And they found that the receiver of the feedback is the person who controls the conversation. And if the receiver’s controlling the conversation, like if you were to give me I have some feedback for you, Carol. And I’m like, Oh, okay. And you give it. If I don’t like it, I get the power to discard it.

I have the power of what to do really great. You got it off your chest, but you hit the ball to meet the score or something. And I’m like, I don’t think this is fair. I don’t think this has got all the, and I Chuck it. So in Harvard’s research, they started suggesting why don’t we teach the receiver, how to ask for the feedback they want when they want it, when they can use it.

And then everybody goes, that sounds fan death stick. I have no idea how to do it, but more research. So what I’ve been able to help coach people through is if you’re on a remote team, even if you’re in a busy building in person, you still don’t know how people perceive you, but you can start to go and ask.

And here’s how we have found it to be very useful. If you just go into a conversation without stating the context, you’re setting up everybody in that conversation, I’d like to talk to you about our last meeting. You immediately go, Oh yeah, I know what she’s talking about. I can step in this conversation. And then if I say, could you tell me the one thing I did really well on that meeting? To communicate what I needed. Now, the one thing is the key here. You’re just asking for one thing, but you’re asking for one thing you did well, not what’s one thing I could do that. What’s the one thing you think I did really well, and that’s a completely different shift and the person may have to think about it. They’ll think about it. Cause the very unique question, we’re not trained on how to ask people what we do. We’re trained to say how can I improve? It’s no different than when we were in school. How do I make a better grade? But that seems to be the only question we brought to the workforce. So if we in turn, switch that around and say, what is the one thing you think I did well?

Or what’s the one thing you think that communicated? I spoke up whatever it is that you’re trying to gain. One piece of information about you’ll get it. And the one piece of information actually helps the other person’s brain. Relax. And it pops up the most important, most meaningful favorite. If you get it down to one thing, it allows the other person to successfully know exactly what you need.

And they’ll tell you, but the original sample of when you heard my voice, what you thought or w can you give me an example of when I was talking, how’d that land for you? And that just asking for an example, allows the other person to suddenly explain how they see things through their eyes. And here’s the interesting thing, just because I’m going to ask you information, it’s me, the other way that they feel valued and heard.

So it was this really interesting scenario to present to people. How would you like to know more about how other people perceive you in a positive way? They’re like, I’d love that. They’re they do brag about you. They just don’t brag about it to, brag about it to Joe or Margaret or that did you hear, did you see what Luke did last week in the podcast often come to you about that?

They assume, it, you may not know it. You have to ask, but asking them with context. One thing in an example, allows them to go, wow. He cares what I think he wanted to hear how I saw it, how I experienced it. That’s a very wonderful gift. It had to include somebody when you do that, they’re more willing to talk to you more often.

Once, even when you’re finding out information, you need to know. So when I get to sit down with teams who have a quiet member, or there’s somebody who’s just perpetually grumpy and never wants to be on the screen or the person that seems disengaged the leader. A lot of times they’re not disengaged.

So the leader can actually go to them and say, you’re off the quiet. And then the thing I could do to help you feel more included and they may go, I’m always included and okay here’s the example I see. When you’re not speaking of the meeting, I always wonder if you’re as engaged as the rest of us, how would you like me to ask you a question to assess your input here?

Because we’d like to hear your voice and hear your idea. Notice I went after the example into a how or what question I read the book, never split the difference by Chris boss. Who’s an FBI agents on hostage negotiation. I know this sounds like a pivot. Hear me out. He found that if he was on the phone with a hostage negotiator, He learned fast.

Why? Why? Because it made them defensive. Same thing happens at work. When you ask somebody the question of why, like, why aren’t you showing up? Why aren’t you speaking up in the meeting? Why aren’t you on the video? It makes people go backwards in their brain and defend their choices. It doesn’t have the conversation go forward.

And so he found that asking how and what questions and how to move forward. How would you like to see me engage you in the meeting? What would you like me to ask you so that I get your your expertise on this topic? So just stepping into a question is brilliant. Setting up the conversation for context, asking for one thing you want.

Asking for an example, you can say, thank you. That’s awesome. It gives me a sense of the thing that the example that opened you up to really wanting to inquire, like, how do I get, how do I do more of that? You can say, how do you see me doing more? What could I do more of that would elevate those efforts.

So when I’ve worked with people who are shy and introverted, like intellectual, because making them aware of their participation and how it reflects on them is one thing, giving them a tool with which to step in is the second thing. And I can say, when you want to step in, make sure you open with, let me go back to that problem.

Give them the context. Don’t just blurt. What’s the one thing you think that we are missing. What’s the one thing that you’ve had after this meeting. And can everybody show me, share with me an example of how that’s going to affect you, giving a platform or a framework of how to step in is a gift? Because a lot of people, lot of times they do, but they’ve been so quiet so long.

So one thing that seems to come up quite frequently on the podcast, in the context of remote work is this idea of Objectives in relation to productivity that if you have clear company objectives it’s a lot easier to let’s say, know how people are doing in terms of performance. And then also ground the conversation in terms of, seeing, being able to measure how people are doing, but also in a way that matters to the company and not just whether or not they show up which is, as you were saying before, the trap that was easy to fall into, if you have everybody in the office the whole presenteeism type thing.

Let me take a shot at this for a minute.

When you talk about visibility and the team to meet, I tend to speak and only on team performance towards the end goal, not my permit energy, each team member, because I assume, and we immediately, what’s the purpose of this project. What’s the purpose of this team? How does each member matter here? And I verbally have the team speak to that and we start on a level of foundation.

Would have been a, that challenge who was, and I talked to that rockstar. Yeah, but you can’t do it alone. Who supported you? And I build a spider web that they can start to see, Oh yeah, we are. Everybody matters. Compliment each other when things have gone, we’re always focused on the challenge.

Do you have any team building tips? The listeners can use.

We have a tendency it’s called negativity bias where we give more importance to things that are negative or nude than the positives. Oh crap. What’s next. We give more importance to things we can fix. It’s just built into our hardware’s humans.

To help everybody feel more visible, you start off every meeting with what’s going right. And you ask every single person what’s going right in the work you’re doing right now.

It does three things. Even if it’s, I finally matched my socks today, the simple things do matter. But the second thing is it allows everybody to understand and remind them what’s going right. Aren’t going to disrupt those carts.

And the third thing is it’s neuroscience. When you talk about the things that are going even if it’s just to say, here’s what’s going on right now it actually offers chemicals or curiosity about how to solve the real problems that are going to be talked about. Next.

This is where appreciative inquiry has really opened up neuroscience in a positive way. So that we can verb or we step into problems, it gives us more brainpower. And so that’s something I’ve done to help code teams feel more visible, whether the remote, when you report in what’s going right.

When you work with senior teams, senior executive teams what are challenges around visibility that they typically face and how do they deal with them? And I guess this could be either internal within the company or external just out of curiosity, what’s what are the patterns that you see in that kind of higher up level, those types of teams?

It’s interesting because they’re busy, they’re getting pummeled as an executive team. They often see each other at the executive level more than any other people in the team. So when visibility comes a higher level, but they forget to be seen. By the people they lead, they forget how that visibility is important to the culture of the organization that it’s been touted for a long time in books. And in articles that leaders do walk the hall have more visibility with their team that leader cares

well remotely. You’re not walking a remote hallway. You are you’re by yourself. There’s nothing there. There’s not screens along the hallway. You’re waving. So this is where a new element of leadership visibility has come into the conversation.

And so reaching down, reaching across and REBBL who are at every level of the organization, Has turned into a new conversation. How does the boss, the bosses, boss reach down and have a casual conversation with somebody in shipping without them freaking out going, I’m going to be fired. You almost have to pre

Hey, I just will. So it’s a blanket through your department. We’re remote. I don’t get to see you in the hallway. I can’t just walk into your office. I’m just going to start reaching out. I’ll reach out ahead of time and get on your schedule. Things might come up, please be flexible, but I’d love to just tap in and see how you’re doing as a human and let you know how you still matter to our organization.

Things like that. Those five minutes had gel. I know this is going to sound really weird. You can have an executive can have their executive assistant preset, these emails. And send them out and have the boss look at them and say, yeah that’s my voice. I would like for you send this out to the employees.

Just even that makes them feel seen, even though they might learn teammate. I got that email too. But if they’re sent out randomly, not everybody on the same day, they’re sent out randomly, they do feel a little more special. Executives are busy, but those emails normally ask a question. I’d like to hear more from you, how you’re doing, and those responses go directly to the executive and they have to carve out an hour each week just to respond.

They, Hey, I hear you, and that can be done. Professionally can be done with boundaries. You’re not opening the gate for an executive pummeled by somebody in the mail room going, I need $10. No, this is a really interesting professional format. It is communication.

My husband is a consultant in a very large global company and they randomly just sent him a coin. And the coin started in the military where it was significant, like you’re belonging to the squad for any launch team. But this point, and you put your coin on the bar table. If whoever doesn’t have their coin on them buys the round of drinks. It’s an old story. But the coin said, we’re in this together. Thanks for being a part of the team. And it was just a little gimme in the mail, but it was something that he gets emails he gets in, and this is 25,000 employees. Symbolic gesture. You belong to the team. Thanks for hanging in there. You don’t have to spend money to do that. An email will do that.

So while we can’t walk the halls and pop into people’s offices and look at what they’re doing, you also, as a leader can look down in your organization and look at people that are performing very well and say, Hey, I know you just got completed to the overall mission and vision of the company.

Thank you for what you do. That’s huge. And if a leader can’t connect with someone does to the vision, mission and values of the company, we sit down with a leader and talk about the behaviors that actually are aligned with the vision mission, advise company, people, some kind of skills, disconnect, good vision, that it is up to leadership to remind them how they matter.

And they fit in the puzzle. That is aligned with the vision, mission and values. So visibility now, early carving out time, intentionally reaching into the organization and letting people know how they matter. It’s different has to be carved in. It has to be intentional, but it pays off huge retention is higher. When people can look up and feel connected to the levels of the leadership, they trust their employer more than they trust their government. I’m not sure how to take that statement, but that’s what the data says, which means you actually have the opportunity to build more trust in your organization. If you have it, use it, do it for an executive.

It might just be a little bit more intention, but once you get it into your day, your week, It matters, the big deal. So people feel more visible and with equity become more visible.

So what’s the name of the book coming out?

Thank you for asking. It’s actually called the ask framework questions that elevate your influence leadership and performance. It has been a delayed publishing adventure because we’ve all had a little more time to pull off these, that these projects that we’ve wanted to put out into the world.

So it is launching, I believe at the very tail end of April or the may. People can go to my website and they’ll get the first introductory chapter, which is why I wrote the book for free. And they’ll get on email lists and be the first to know when it’s coming out. And get it electronically very easily.

And the website’s relevant-insight.com.

Great. Thank you very much.

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  1. Lydia on June 28, 2021

    When it come to remote and hybrid teams, there were great points made about them and how to make them work. Thank you!

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