How to manage outcomes, not hours

How to manage outcomes, not hours

Posted September 16, 2023

From the very first moment someone accessed their work emails outside of the office (most likely on a Blackberry), the need for human beings to be sitting at their desks in order to perform their roles began to diminish.

In our increasingly mobile and cloud-connected world, the hours we spend in the office are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Computers in our pockets have more fire power than the computers we had at our desks in the 1990’s, and we now have the ability to work from any location at any time. The entire world of work has evolved, so the way we manage must also change.

What still really matters are outcomes and results. We all seem to be fairly capable of managing people to outcomes when everything is going well. Freedom and flexibility are a breeze when your team is kicking goals. But what happens if someone is not meeting their KPI’s?

1. Ditch the old-school thinking

When our teams don’t deliver, we usually let our old fashioned thoughts on management prevail. We move to managing via time at work because it’s easy to resort to making judgements about what we can physically see our team doing. Did they arrive in the office 15 minutes late? Did they take an extra 20 minutes on their lunch break? We start to judge by what we can see, but is this really the right way to go about things?

Oftentimes, because of technology and flexible work policies, we can’t physically see the work our teams are doing. That is where trust comes in. We need to demonstrate to our teams that we trust them to deliver on their goals, and we need to give them the opportunity to work in their own way.  Provide them with this flexibility and put the onus on them to make it work. If they have clear goals and a sense of direction, they will deliver.

This isn’t always an easy thing to do though. When frustrated, it’s easy to give in to old-fashioned thoughts. You might feel as though it’s unfair, “I worked for 20 years before being able to negotiate Fridays working from home” and “I was never allowed to be late when I was the junior”. This may be well and true, but times are changing. While you may not have had the opportunity to work from home in your early days, you may instead have had the luxury of a clearer distinction between your personal life and work life. Speaking of which…

2. Be aware of blurred lines

While the ability to work remotely is all well and good, the barriers that define “work” and “home” are being increasingly blurred. The juggling of commitments by parents who work from home, in many cases means that they are available 24/7 – well, except perhaps for those hellish two hours between 5 and 7pm when they need to get dinner, bath and bed sorted in military precision.

We may not physically see the hours our teams put in to their work, but that does not mean that they are not plugging away to deliver quality results. Employers expect team members to take calls from clients outside hours, and sacrifice personal time to have a meeting with the UK team at 10pm, but are not so happy when they arrive at the office 15 minutes late. We can’t forget that flexibility works both ways. It can’t always be give and no take.

3. Presenteeism vs productivity

It’s also important to consider that the most physically present team members might not necessarily be the most productive. “Presenteeism” is defined as “the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job.” Woody Allen once said that 80% of success in life can be attributed to simply showing up, but growing research shows that’s not the case. It is of no value to your company to have a full office, but a team of unproductive people. Sure, they’re ticking the box of being present, and maybe they are going beyond that and staying back late at the office, but are they actually delivering? Again, it is easy to manage on what you can see, but are these employees actually performing, or just putting on a show? If you choose to manage on presence, this is something you need to consider.

4. It’s on us, not them

The relationship between manager and employee is a two-way street. Managing on hours is actually really lazy. It’s easy. What’s a bit more time consuming, but far more rewarding, is spending more time up front having clear and regular conversations with your team members about their goals.

Before you begin to question them on their punctuality, take a moment to consider your own actions. Have you been clear about what you are expecting and the objectives you want your team members to meet? Have you had a somewhat difficult conversation with them about what you really need them to be achieving? An employee with very clearly defined KPIs, objectives and goals should be trusted to manage their time however they need to.

With that being said, if your company prides itself on the values of connection and collaboration, it is not unreasonable for you to place the expectation on your team members to make an appearance in the office often. A culture of connection can’t be achieved if there are never any people around. It is also a great idea to be using digital engagement channels to foster collaboration during the times your team is not physically present. This way you can maintain the culture your company is known for, without compromising the flexibility policies you have in place.

The world of work is evolving, your management style needs to as well. Remember, it’s not about measuring hours, but about managing outcomes. You can’t always see what your team is doing, but you need to trust in them to deliver. This isn’t something reserved for the workplace of the future, it is something that needs to be happening now.

With return to office mandates rising high, get in touch with us today to find out how you can balance office culture with employee well-being to retain and attract top talent.