In some ways, traditional command and control managers had it easy.  “Do it because I said so” was the expectation and ‘keep your butt in your seat for eight or more hours per day’ was how they made sure it got done.  It was a pretty straight forward system.

In today’s work environment, it doesn’t work that way.  Not only do our employees have very different expectations of how they work, but the nature and speed of much of the work itself is different.  Technology has been a driver of significant change in our work world.  Employees of all ages want more autonomy and flexibility and to be empowered to do their best work.  Micro-managing is a de-motivator for almost everyone.

This can create a challenge and potential conflict for managers who are more comfortable with that old- style approach.

Effective managers must make the shift – focus on ‘what’ your employees are doing and what they are accomplishing rather than ‘how’ they get the work done.

When I coach my clients about this, I am frequently asked (with sincerity) “but how will I know if they are working if I cannot see them in the office and at their desk during normal work hours?”  Here’s a news flash – I know lots of employees who have mastered the art of looking busy at their desk.  A well-placed computer monitor lends itself to hours of solitaire, on-line shopping and frequent Facebook check-ins.  Add a few coffee or smoke breaks, bathroom runs here and there and of course, lunch with friends and they can fumble through quite a few hours ‘at work’.  Unless the manager is physically monitoring their work all day every day, sitting at your desk is no guarantee that actual work is happening.

What to do instead?  Create and support a culture focused on trust, empowerment and accountability.  It can work.  There are some best practices to help achieve this kind of environment.

  • Identify and communicate your organizational values. What is important in your team?  A focus on results, customer service, and innovation will encourage your employees to act that way.  Be clear about what behaviors will not be tolerated.  This will provide the needed context for your team.
  • Next, define expectations – it is almost impossible to have a high-performance culture without clear communication of performance expectations. Identify what success looks like for each person and make sure you tell them.  This is about outcomes – not process.  Focus on the desired impact rather than just on activities (for example, set an expectation for new accounts – not on the number of cold calls made).
  • Spend the time and energy to clearly identify success metrics that will drive your business forward. It’s about results and not effort.  It’s critical to focus on the right stuff – the stuff that matters.  A favorite example of mine is when HR has a recruiting metric for ‘time to fill a job’.   It doesn’t take much imagination to see where that could go wrong here.  How about measuring the quality of the hire instead?
  • Pro-active, regular communication is critical. Routine one-on-one meetings with team members – either in person or via conference call – are a great way to keep tabs on progress towards goal achievement.  Managers can get early warning of potential problems so that you can identify and remove barriers or find additional resources.  Expect regular status reports from your employees – operate with the ‘no surprises’ rule.  Follow up immediately and provide feedback on what is working and what is not.
  • Organizational policies are important. They help to identify the boundaries for behavior.  These guidelines will help to establish expectations and support accountability.   For example, it may be helpful to have formal telework guidelines to ensure adequate customer service, safety, and productivity.
  • Hold your employees accountable for their results. Employees must take some ownership to speak up if they are having problems – it’ not all on the manager.  Deadlines, milestones, goals, quality standards, turnaround expectations, and participation in key meetings and events are all valid metrics to evaluate success.  Have consequences for both positive and negative performance and be consistent in your approach.
  • And finally, don’t forget to recognize and reward success. Link the rewards directly to their success – it will inspire your employees to repeat their performance.

At the end of the day, its more productive and rewarding to manage people and results rather than micro-managing process and compliance.  It’s about the what – not the how.