Managing Remote Locations by Paul F. Taccini

They are off in the distance.  You can’t see them directly.  Communication is often by video conference, phone, text, e-mail, fax and sometimes even snail mail.  It may be a new acquisition or a long time, stand-alone division.  So how do you maintain the proper level of oversight at these remote locations without getting in the way?

The amount of control required is inversely proportional to the level of trust you have developed in the senior manager or management of the department or subsidiary.  Other factors for consideration may be its size and impact on the company’s performance as a whole but just because a department is small doesn’t mean it can be overlooked.  During the initial period as you establishing a working relationship and confidence level, the new manager or team is doing the same thing.  The level of oversight can and will change over time as the relationship develops.

With a new manager or acquisition, multiple daily interactions are initially appropriate and necessary to replace conversations which would naturally occur if everyone were located in a single location.  As time passes and confidence is gained, these daily interactions will be reduced to the need for discussions of specific operational issues.  To facilitate this, there should be a formal schedule of face to face meetings, monthly if possible but quarterly at a minimum.  You may also want to schedule regular video conferences in the intervening periods especially if you are on a quarterly review schedule.  These meetings should have a specific agenda agreed to by both parties in advance.  To-do lists and follow up items should be identified for review at subsequent meetings.

As a management and measurement tool, clear, concise objectives are necessary.  There should be a mix of short, intermediate and long-term goals.  If possible, the new manager will be part of the goal setting process.   On an ongoing basis, appropriateness of the goals should be reviewed and any unnecessary or inconsistent goals discarded.  During the scheduled review meetings, progress toward meeting established goals will be part of the discussion.

A poorly managed offsite division can have unforeseen and or disastrous consequences.  In one instance, a company in an expansion mode acquired a disparate operating division.  All staff was in place except for the division manager.  Nothing was done to determine the capability or views of the existing staff.  A search was initiated and new manager was recruited.   Initially, things seemed to move ahead but due to the limited corporate staff, inadequate control was established.  Goals and objectives for the new division were incomplete and poorly defined.  Especially under these conditions, the ability and quality of the new manager is critical in making things work correctly.  The new manager, listening to his staff’s goals moved the division in a direction not in keeping with the corporate goals.  When the company finally started to pay attention, significant funds and energies had been expended in tangential directions.  While not completely wasted, the expenditures were not immediately productive which the division required.  After much effort to correct the bad start, this senior manager was terminated and ultimately the division sold.

A smooth transition was possible in this example, but poor planning, incomplete objectives and inconsistent oversight combined allowing a very expensive and unnecessary failure to occur.  The effects were long lasting and within two years, the parent company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  While this was an extreme case, management of free standing divisions is not something to ignore or treat lightly.