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Why Managers Should Focus on Output Rather Than Employee Activity and Behaviors

    Human resources should understand the dynamics and psychology of work and culture, so that they can ensure management training and expectation that leads to good business outcomes. In this blog, we cover the need for managers to focus on employee output and value rather than activity.

    As a manager or employer, you want to ensure that your employees are productive and efficient in their work. However, measuring productivity can be challenging, especially in the era of remote and hybrid work. How do you know if your employees are spending their time on the right tasks and delivering quality results? Our first tendency is to scrutinize visible behaviors-getting coffee, absent from asset or work area, talking to coworkers, etc. The inability to do this with remote workers is why managers monitor activity such as the number of emails they send, the hours they log in, or the websites they visit, etc.

    This common mistake focuses on monitoring activity rather than output. Output refers to the outcomes or results that employees produce, such as number of pieces or dollars generated, the projects they complete, the goals they achieve, or the value they create. This requires that your managers not only understand the output needed for the business to be successful, but that they also have calculated the resouce hours needed to accomplish the objectives and meet metrics

    While, monitoring activity and "undesirable" behaviors can be easier to track, it does not necessarily reflect the true performance or productivity of employees. In fact, focusing too much on activity and undesirable behaviors can have negative consequences, such as:

    • Reducing employee autonomy and trust
    • Creating a culture of micromanagement and surveillance
    • Encouraging busywork and inefficiency
    • Ignoring the quality and impact of work
    • Demotivating and disengaging employees

    It is crazy for us to have a stated agile, collaborative, and innovative culture, then shut down dialogue and interactions that don't fit our "appropriate behavior" mindset, or enact "Big Brother" monitoring. A lack of trust and interrupted thought flow is stifling and shuts down optimism and removes motivation. What we really want is for employees to do what they want to do, but have what they want to do align with the purpose of the organization. This alignment comes from knowledge sharing and engagement, and structuring work to set output expectation. Here are some examples of incorporating this approach:

    • Set clear and SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By setting SMART goals, you can define the expected output and standards for your employees, and track their progress and performance accordingly.
    • Automated workflows like Smartsheet, Monday, Wrike and Hubspot push work to employees, keeping their "in box" steadily loaded and help managers understand resource capacity and demands.These platforms also provide ways for employees to monitor their own performance.
    • Integrate peer reviews and 360-degree feedback. Peer reviews and 360-degree feedback are methods of collecting feedback from multiple sources, such as colleagues, managers, customers, or stakeholders. These methods can help you gain a more comprehensive and balanced view of your employees’ output, as well as their strengths and areas for improvement.
    • Perform regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings. Check-ins and one-on-one meetings are opportunities for you to communicate with your employees, review their output, and provide guidance and support. These meetings can help you maintain a positive and trusting relationship with your employees, as well as address any issues or concerns that may affect their performance.
    • Conduct meetings with no agendas, but armed with questions that need answered. This forces the meeting leader to have a specific focus for efforts, and efforts focused on productivity. Meetings are expensive and every time we have wasteful, and worse still repetitive wasteful meetings, we set a bad expectation for the individual mindset.
    • Have discussions regarding knowing vs.doing gaps. These are those instances where we know that certain actions and activities would lead to positive outcomes, but we have yet to take action. These discussions will help drive forward thinking and activity that will result in desired outcomes. Sometimes people just need a nudge to overcome inertia.

    Setting expectation for output based upon company needs, helps us:

    • Increase employee autonomy and trust
    • Create a culture of accountability and results
    • Encourage innovation and efficiency
    • Improve the quality and impact of work
    • Motivate and engage employees

    This creates an environment that helps people thrive and can be very rewarding. This further incrases engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

    Lori G. Fisher, PMP-PCHRA Social Media Chair