ANALYSIS: Last month my articles introduced you to my Leading Hybrid Teams model and the center of the model — forming, storming, norming and performing.

This month we continue to  look at the top of my model and explore setting objectives and measuring performance for your hybrid team.

The focus of this article is performance measurement.

– Remote Report

For far too long, bad bosses have feigned measuring productivity and performance by quantifying the length of time an employee is in their line of sight.

For them, performance is measured by hours at the desk.

Now you know, I know and your employee knows that sitting at a desk has no correlation with productivity or performance.

Yet the practice still prevails.

When some, if not all, employees on your team are working remotely, how do you measure performance?

You can’t see how long they are sitting at their desk. Or can you?

Big Brother?

You could, like many of your foundering colleagues, resort to Orwellian tactics and invest in employee-surveillance software.

TOP10VPN reported that the global demand for employee surveillance software increased by 87 percent in April 2020 compared with the monthly average prior to the pandemic, following an initial 7 percent bump in March.

In May 2020, demand remained high, at 71 percent above pre-pandemic levels.

This demand was sustained in the succeeding months, from June through September, at about 51 percent above pre-pandemic measures.

The numbers speak for themselves. The onset of the pandemic resulted in bosses (note the absence of the term “leader”) asking themselves the question, “How am I going to be able to watch my remote employees?”

The answer: monitoring software. Software that can record every keystroke made on a computer; track the location of mobile employees; take screenshots of employees’ screens and make video recordings; monitor internet usage and browsing history; monitor emails and spy on mobile devices. The list goes on.

The irony is that this software provides bosses with no more performance insight than having an employee in their line of sight at the office. It just tells them if they are at their desk.

Employees working remotely have told me what they are doing in response. A paper clip in the insert key registers as constant keyboard strokes.

Placing the mouse on top of an analog clock or watch that has a second hand fools the software into thinking you are moving, as the ticking of the second hand resembles mouse movements.

Heavy weights and vibrating toys are also being used to achieve the same outcomes.

But let’s be clear, monitoring should only be used for security and legal purposes. If you monitor your employees, you are shouting “I DON’T TRUST YOU.”

Good luck with that!

Managers who do not have the capability to performance-manage remote workers are not likely to have the capability to effectively performance-manage on-site employees either.

The adjustment

Our approach to measuring performance needs two fundamental adjustments.

First, leaders need to be able to measure performance based on outcomes and not hours spent at a desk.

Most of our employees are knowledge workers. They are not making widgets, allowing performance to be measured by how many widgets are produced in an hour.

Productivity can’t be measured by the increase in widgets produced each hour over a given period of time.

Knowledge workers think for a living. Their outputs are often intangible and difficult to define.

Knowledge workers explore and generate ideas and concepts. They create, distribute and apply knowledge.

Leaders have to measure outcomes and value, not hours at the desk.

Take the example of an employee being asked to write a proposal paper. The process of producing a proposal paper is not reliably measurable in quantitative terms. You do not know that a proposal paper written in 10 weeks is better than one written in five weeks.

The value of the proposal paper is not in its production, but in its usefulness. You have to measure the outcome of its use.

Producing a proposal paper that is never used is an output measure of productivity.

Producing a proposal paper that is utilized and informs decision-making is an outcome measure.

You have to measure knowledge workers on outcomes.

The second adjustment is the removal of proximity bias.

I mentioned this bias in my last article.

When setting objectives, you should create a level playing field upon which every team member’s performance can be assessed fairly.

Proximity bias can creep in when assessing employee performance.

Proximity bias is when managers place a higher value on the work they physically see someone doing, while discounting work that is done out of sight.

Employee performance and their delivery of outcomes should be measured equally across all employees irrespective of their location.

If you are a good leader, you will manage workflows and employees in a fair, equitable and respectful way across diverse workstyles and locations.

You will lead with inclusivity and equity.

Co-creation

Leaders who measure knowledge-worker performance should include the employee in deciding how performance will be measured.

Measures are co-created and agreed upon.

You and the employee should discuss:

  • Outcomes to be achieved
  • Timeframes
  • Perceived obstacles and blockers
  • Factors that will support achievement of outcomes
  • Ways in which the outcomes can be measured

Regular assessment

If you are still conducting performance reviews on an annual basis, you are living in the Dark Ages.

These reviews provide no benefit to employees and are generally used to “rank and yank” employees.

This approach uses a competitive evaluation model in which employees are scored and ranked once a year and those at the bottom dismissed.

Today, leaders must coach and mentor employees and help them reach their highest potential.

You should be undertaking continuous performance management by conducting regular, focused conversations with your employees. This ensures that employee objectives remain aligned with team and organizational goals.

Regular feedback allows the employee to build on their strengths and address their areas of weakness. There is little an employee can do if you dump all of the feedback you have accumulated over 12 months in one sitting.

As Thomas Koulopoulos said in an article for Inc.com:

“Using feedback on performance to course correct once a year, or even twice a year, is akin to trying to navigate a minefield by reviewing your performance after you’ve crossed it … only on this minefield the landmines are shifting underground as you walk through them!”

Development

Leaders need to be competent at setting the right objectives and using the right measures; providing effective feedback on a regular basis; and being active listeners. Unfortunately, these leadership skills are lacking in many.

However, these skills can be learned. If you are a leader lacking these skills, have the courage to ask for development in these areas.

If you are an executive who knows your leaders need development, put in place a leadership-development program that will equip and enable them.

Conclusion

As I have previously written, employees now have the power. We have proved that remote working can work and that most employees can work from anywhere.

This means that not only do employers have a global talent pool to choose from, but employees also have a global company pool to choose from. They are not limited by geography.

Unless you uplift leadership capability in your organizations, you will lose your talent and be a distant spot in the rear-view mirror of your competition.

Setting the right objectives in the right way with the right people is a key component of the leadership capability uplift.

Providing feedback on performance on a regular basis to allow for course correction where needed is the sign of effective leadership.

Karen Ferris is an organizational change-management consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. Her opinions are her own.

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