Jonathan Lautermilch of Smart Shark: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space
Interview With David Liu
You need to understand their work schedule. Building in times where it doesn’t conflict with the assignments your team members are working on will increase their buy-in to what you are connecting with them on. This ensures they see that you consider and respect their time, which prevents them from feeling like they’ve been forced into a meeting that disrupts their day and the flow of their work.
You need to know what your team members are currently working on. Knowing exactly where your team members are on a project or assignment allows you to know what questions to ask, which steps to create to ensure everything is completed on time, and how to best coach and support them.
We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Lautermilch.
Jonathan Lautermilch: Owner and Founder of Smart Shark and Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Fit Pro Collective. Jonathan Lautermilch’s mission in life is to help as many Fit Pros as possible get paid what they’re worth.
Jonathan has 13 years of fitness industry experience, has written 2 books, over one hundred blogs, and is a Co-Host on the Real Talk With Real Fit Pros Podcast. Throughout his career, Jonathan has helped thousands of Fit Pros create thriving careers and businesses within the fitness industry. He’s also a loving husband and lives in Dallas Texas.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I own two online businesses that help fitness professionals start and grow their online coaching business. I have been in the fitness industry for 13 years. I got into online business and marketing after becoming increasingly frustrated with how the companies I worked for ran their business. I knew there had to be a better way for fitness professionals to do what they love while getting paid what they’re worth.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I first started as a personal trainer in 2008 after obtaining my sports medicine degree, I quickly discovered that personal training was primarily a sales job. I had zero experience in sales or marketing. It took me 40 sales consultation rejections before I got my first yes.
To say sales and marketing wasn’t my strong suit would be an understatement. However, the experience of trying and failing repeatedly planted the seed for my obsession with becoming the best at fitness sales. It’s been extremely humbling to help other fitness professionals build ramps over their mental roadblocks when it comes to sales and marketing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote would have to be, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” The saying really clicked for me when I started examining the areas of my life I was successful in and the areas I felt I wasn’t successful in.
When I developed clarity on the four areas of life that really matter and began working on each one, things started to shift for me. The areas I chose are faith, family, finances, and fitness. If you aren’t putting the work in each of these areas, one will eventually affect the others.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The major influence in my life that I can directly correlate my success to is my brother Kris Whitehead.
My brother was like a dad to me growing up. He showed me a different path in life. That path was being an entrepreneur. By working for him and having him take me under his wing at a young age, I learned that I could create my own destiny if I was willing to do the work.
If it wasn’t for him I never would have gotten the “entrepreneur bug” as I’ve grown throughout my career.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?
The main two benefits of having a team physically together are enhanced communication and relationship development.
Having a team physically together makes it easier to communicate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing it.
Having a team physically together makes it easier to build relationships, especially since most communication is nonverbal. Having a team physically together also makes it easier to provide support since not all team members are as willing to cross the digital divide to reach out when they need help.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?
The main challenges outside of the inverse of what I discussed above are performance monitoring and measurement. Are your team members performing well? And how are you measuring their success?
At the end of the day, every business has KPIs and it’s important to get extremely clear on those and to have processes in place to “inspect what you expect.”
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
One: You need to understand their communication preference. You have to be willing to meet your team where they are comfortable (IE: email, phone, text) so you can lead them to where your company needs to go.
Two: You need to understand their communication style. Does your team member need more rapport building upfront? Does your team member need time to process information as it’s given? Does your team member need just the facts and prefer a more direct approach? Learning what they need and matching it will increase the effectiveness of your communication with them.
Three: You need to understand their work schedule. Building in times where it doesn’t conflict with the assignments your team members are working on will increase their buy-in to what you are connecting with them on. This ensures they see that you consider and respect their time, which prevents them from feeling like they’ve been forced into a meeting that disrupts their day and the flow of their work.
Four: You need to know the level of support they need. Newer team members will need more support and reassurance as they are starting. More veteran team members will need more autonomy with their work. Knowing what your team members need support on is critical to great work.
Five: You need to know what your team members are currently working on. Knowing exactly where your team members are on a project or assignment allows you to know what questions to ask, which steps to create to ensure everything is completed on time, and how to best coach and support them.
Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?
The biggest challenge we had was finding a platform that made it easy to house all communication regarding projects the team was working on. Trying to run a company through text messages and emails can get messy real quick.
Getting a centralized platform to house all conversations on specific projects with accountability systems has allowed us to build a well-oiled machine that helps us get projects done efficiently.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
Asana has served as our centralized communication platform to keep all conversations regarding projects in one single place. This has increased our efficiency and results.
Zoom serves as our platform for team building and coaching conversations so nothing is misconstrued.
Email serves as our method for any individual questions outside of projects where we archive email chains to ensure we have written records of all conversations.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
I would say we’re pretty happy with the system we have in place, but if I could add one thing to Asana it would be to include notifications to our clients as we complete specific portions of the project. That would allow them to know what we are doing and allows them to be a part of the process. We currently have a team member who manages those conversations manually with each client.
My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?
I absolutely think so. A lot of businesses were shown their weak spots during the pandemic. It’s also shown that many employees prefer to work from home. Being in a physical space just to be in a physical space serves no purpose other than making the business owner feel comfortable that their employees are working.
Giving employees autonomy around their work increases productivity as it decreases distraction and frustration. Moving forward, businesses are going to have to acknowledge autonomy and workplace flexibility as an important consideration in talent acquisition.
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
I’ve never been one to get as excited about the technology as I am excited for the results it will produce. Any technology that is easy to use and enables our team to produce great work efficiently is something we will eagerly keep our eyes on.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
The only concern I have is too much automation and not enough personal conversation. At the end of the day businesses are made up of people and people need interaction. There are some things you can’t replace and that shouldn’t be replaced. Culture comes down to relationships and that’s something we will always keep at the core of what we do.
So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
We do all our communication through email, DM, phone calls, or zoom calls with our clients. We have clients in 6 different countries so we communicate with them based on what they prefer, just like we do with our team members.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?
My belief on coaching team members and clients is that we’re not doing our job if we’re not being honest with you. We can’t help you grow if we’re only telling you what you want to hear. Setting that expectation in the very beginning allows us to have crucial conversations much easier. Also, making sure to always acknowledge the good stuff they are doing first lets them know we see the value in what they do.
At the end of the day, coaching a team member is about helping them become better. If you truly mean it and come from a place of service, they’ll buy into it.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
We have a culture where we #ringthebell when someone does something great. We have a thread for it in our Facebook groups where we encourage our team members to share their wins in life and have them add the hashtag #ringthbell to their post. We want our team members to be successful, not just in work but in all areas of their life.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The movement I have created and continue to support is, “Go Get What You’re Worth!” Whether that’s in your fitness, your relationships, or your finances. Most people spend their whole life taking what life gives them and simply accepting it. I believe anyone can create the life of their dreams if they’re just willing to do the work.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can find us on our podcast and subscribe at Real Talk With Real Fit Pros. https://fitprocollective.com/podcast
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.