In The Workplace

We are a medium-sized private enterprise. After more than one week of the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve finally realized that work-from-home is an option for some of our employees. Now, my boss is asking me to prepare a policy and a system to help us monitor the performance of our workers. Please give me your advice. — Jurassic Park.

All of us need only four people in our lifetime: A banker, an actor or actress, a minister or priest, and a mortician. One for the money. Two for the show. Three to get ready. And four to go!

Nothing more than that. In the workplace we don’t need micro-managers, also known as “helicopter managers.” If you add to that, there will be confusion, delays, and unnecessary waste all over. That’s why you don’t need the police or the military to monitor people, unless in case of emergency or if you live in a communist state.

Take journalism, for example. We don’t need to be monitored every second, every minute or every hour of the day and yet we come out with the paper first thing in the morning, every day. You know people in the editorial department have done their jobs when you see their output first thing in the morning.

Do the management and owners of broadsheets and magazines do hourly monitoring of all activities inside the editorial room prior to publication? The answer is, no. They don’t do that. That’s because they trust the editors, columnists, writers and other editorial workers to do their job.

All the editors need to do is to come up with general guidelines to ensure objectivity in reporting — which is to present both sides of the story. Otherwise, you’ll be accused of bias. Of course, as you can imagine, we live in an imperfect world. There are many crooks in this planet that are making journalism a bad occupation.

And so my short answer to your question is this: You don’t need to micro-manage people. You don’t need to constantly look over the shoulders of your workers.

Instead, agree on mutually-acceptable performance standards. Then, create a simple, daily key performance target that your workers submit to you via email at the end of their “work shift,” even if they’re at home. Of course, there are online performance monitoring tools that you can buy from the market except that it may not be tailored to your requirements, but they could be too expensive.

You may consider it later, depending on the complexity of the tasks and after you’ve trained your managers and workers to be independently responsible. Otherwise, you may well use the remaining weeks of the lockdown to experiment giving your people the chance to work without their bosses constantly micro-managing them.

Gone are the days of command-and-control management. It’s an old strategy useful only in case of war and other national emergencies, like what we have now. Micro-managing people is useful only when you are working for certain government agencies including the health department, interior department, labor department, among others, but not to point of choking the bureaucracy.

Command-and-control style management is not appropriate in the private sector. The best approach is to empower and engage people up to certain limitations, depending on the nature of the task, timeline, standards, and budget. I know part of the problem is that some management people refuse to let go.

Old habits never die. Fortunately, the COVID-19 lockdown allows us the opportunity to let go of command-and-control. It’s the best time to change. Do all things in a crisis that you can’t do during normal times. Given the current lockdown, which could possibly be extended, I would like you to consider the following measures that you can adjust depending on your particular situation:

One, use email to bring all workers in on decision-making. It’s the best way to have a record of the pros and cons in solving issues of major importance. Undoubtedly, soliciting the opinion of people is a key factor in coming out with the best possible solution. If you’re the boss, avoid the temptation of rejecting the views of the majority without good reason.

Two, let all team members take care of themselves. This includes reminding goof-offs and other dead wood to do their jobs well. If there’s a strong sense of collaboration within the team, it is always the best way to handle problem workers. Generally, peer pressure is always a good approach rather than the boss disciplining the problem employee.

Last, reward and recognize the work of the team. Show appreciation for the team effort rather than the work of one person. If necessary, you can do that later during the annual performance appraisal when you get the opportunity to discuss those milestones or challenges with the individual fast-tracker or freeloader.

There’s no doubt that people managers who devolve a certain amount of authority and responsibility to their people get the best results. “Empowering leaders had more creative and helpful employees” and “employees were more likely to trust leaders who they perceived as more empowering.” That’s according to a group of researchers who published their findings in a 2018 article in the Harvard Business Review.

Researchers Allan Lee, Sara Willis and Amy Wei Tian also discovered that “feeling empowered doesn’t always boost routine task performance.” At times, it can does “more harm than good” such as when “empowering leaders burden their employees and increased their level of job stress.”

Therefore, just like other approaches, you can do well if you will apply the right balance under the right context. Beyond anything else, any attempt to monitor work performance during the lockdown goes a long way, but only if you’re paying attention to their best interests.

Remembering birthdays or discussing worker hobbies can go a long way. After all, they’re not clock-watching robots.

ELBONOMICS: Do all things in a crisis that you can’t do during normal times.


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