Try Measuring Your Team by Results, Not Seat Time

Last Updated Jul 26, 2011 8:26 AM EDT

Who's more valuable to your team: someone who puts in long hours at the office or someone who you never see but hits their milestones anyway? Common sense would say the second person would make your life a lot easier, but most companies manage like they have a meter on desk chairs to measure butt time.

The secret, according to many people, is to manage by results. The actual name for this heresy is a Results Oriented Workplace Environment (or ROWE). One proponent of this, is BNET's own Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas. In a recent post, she talked about it and expanded her thinking in a recent interview on the Cranky Middle Manager Show Podcast (you can hear her hilarious interview here).

There are two reasons Lucas belives ROWE is the way of the future:

  • It limits the ability to micromanage. As Suzanne puts it so concisely, "Micro-managers exist and flourish because many people assume that employees won't work if you don't make them. That is, if I'm not constantly on your case, you won't get your work done". A particularly dedicated micromanager can stand in the middle of a cubicle ranch and hover over several people at once like a gargoyle over a church parking lot. Since people don't like being glared at, there is at least the appearance of activity, which we all know is how the real work gets done. If people are working remotely, how do we know they're actually working? What if they're (gasp) checking their Facebook page on company time? A micromanager you can only make so many surprise phone calls and "check-in"instant messages to so many people in the course of a day. The hope is they'll eventually they'll give up out of sheer exhaustion.
  • It levels the playing field for remote employees and teams. One of the big challenges for companies with remote teams is ensuring that people are given fair performance feedback and a good chance at promotions and recognition. Under a traditional system, the manager looks around and says, "Sally is really dedicated. She's the first one in and the last one out every day. She's our best worker". The fact is, Sally may just not be very good at her job, which is why it takes her twice as long as it does to complete the same task as the person working from home who simply gets the job done and then takes the kid to soccer practice.
By measuring on results instead of activity, companies treat employees like the adults they are. in a nutshell it's "Here's the job, this is what we expect, this is the quality level we expect, here are the tools to do it". Then you offer whatever help, encouragement or breathing room is needed to help them deliver on that promise. If the work is done and the quality is high, they're doing a good job whether you are there to see them slaving away or not.

For a results-oriented workplace to function well you'll need some serious help. You need to have HR processes that support new, definable metrics. You need managers who are willing to work this way and you need to give remote workers the same access to tools and information as everyone else has. Oh, and you need the help of the nice ladies and gentlemen in HR, whether they're Evil or not.

Of course, if you weren't so busy making sure people got in on time or weren't watching YouTube at their desks you might have time to get started on that.

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photo by flickr user gerlos CC 2.0