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A supervisor catches a glimpse of an employee texting. It wouldn't be a big deal except for the new policy that forbids employees to text, tweet, email, or friend during the shift. The supervisor reports it and the employee gets a black eye...not literally. He gets written up, which taints his work record.
The employee thinks that's ridiculous, so he files a grievance with the union. The union steward -- during work hours -- meets with the employee and his supervisor for an hour and a half. No dice. So it goes to second step, again during work hours. Another hour and a half tacking on department and labor relations managers and it's on to the third step of the grievance process. At third step, an entourage of HR and union leaders join the party for another hour and a half.
Results: Non-performance (texting) = 7 seconds; Lost work (from grievance proceedings) = 108,000 seconds (or 30+ hours). And it's not finished yet.
In another workplace, an employee is caught sneaking off to the bathroom between breaks. It's happened twice before, so it's time to teach a lesson. The employee is sent home without pay.
Results: Non-performance (time in the bathroom x 3) = 30 minutes; Lost work (due to suspension) = 270 minutes (or 4.5 hours).
In any workplace there are dozens of rules and policies. Of course, some rules make sense and protect people from accidents and ethically compromising situations. But others are carryovers from sweatshop days when employers thought it necessary to control every aspect of on-the-job employee behavior. There are computer use policies, time limits for breaks, rules against socializing, phone use, email, leaving the work area, and a host of dos and don'ts, all supposedly intended to keep order and maintain productivity. We obsess over any behaviors we decide are bad for the workplace to the extent that we lose far more performance over our obsessing than gets lost in actual rule violations.
In our misplaced zeal for hyper control, we should ask ourselves what we really want to manage: Non-performance or performance? If we manage non-performance, we waste energy checking up on people making sure they follow rules and that they aren't NOT working. How productive is that? Consider that we could spend all our time making sure employees comply 100% with the rules and get no production. On the flip side, we could get sky-high results and ignore all the petty rules altogether.
What really matters in the workplace? Are we fixated on rules to control social chatter in the team, or what we need to do to wow customers? What problems does it create when an employee jabbers a lot, but accomplishes twice as much as everyone else and is a great support to the team? Maybe the employee works better that way. Why should we care if someone sends a text message or two, posts a Facebook message, or takes a couple extra needed bathroom breaks if he or she is working hard, and at the end of the day, does a great job?
Our fear is, if we don't crackdown, "Everyone will do it!" But so what if they do? The goal is high performance, not to be able to report 100% compliance to petty rules that make the workplace miserable and have nothing to do with performance.
Obsessing over non-performance doesn't translate into productivity. But inspiring performance can. When employees are working hard and getting results, non-performance issues suddenly seem less important. So why sweat the petty, non-performance stuff? Be a leader that helps employees perform well and spare yourself a couple of Rolaids over things that really don't matter when it comes to high performance.
Trying it on for fit:
Look at your work rules and policies, written or not, and make a list of those that are intended to control behavior or punish people for veering off task. Make a crude attempt to calculate the number of times, or time spent, discussing them with employees and estimate the value of added productivity you gained or lost by addressing them.
Consider the value of the slightest improvement in employee performance that results, or could result, from your coaching to improve employee performance by focusing on performance instead of non-performance issues.
Make a plan to shift your conversations with employees from non-performance issues like rules and policies to performance improvement goals, commitments, and outcomes. And get rid of the nit-picky rules and policies that have a lot to do with control and little to do with performance. Note the change in value by shifting to more productive conversations.literally.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!
For information on purchasing reprints of this article, contact sales. Copyright 2013 CyberTech, Inc.
Your point about managing non-performance is right on, but get rid of the union and all of that "your infringing on my personal space" grievance crap goes away...
Jerry Watson 12.27.11
Marullo, what planet are you from getting rid of a union is not as easy as snapping ones fingers. I have been union and exempt. I am currently exempt I have worked at both union and nonunion sites. Business in the US could not claim the high moral ground before unions. We take many things accomplished by unions for granted, little things like weekends and limits on child labor. Look around the world many businesses still have products produced by child labor. It is all about money. Do you think if they would not do the same here?
To quote Samuel Gompers: "And what have our unions done? What do they aim to do? To improve the standard of life, to uproot ignorance and foster education, to instill character, manhood and independent spirit among our people; to bring about a recognition of the interdependence of man upon his fellow man. We aim to establish a normal work-day, to take the children from the factory and workshop and give them the opportunity of the school and the play-ground. In a word, our unions strive to lighten toil, educate their members, make their homes more cheerful, and in every way contribute an earnest effort toward making life the better worth living. (McClure's Magazine, Feb. 1912)"
If you were born to wealth unions have done little for you. But I am convinced being born dirt poor my life would have been of much lower quality if not for the unions in the US.
Richard Pate 12.27.11
A union contract is basically no different than the contracts that executives have with companies. There are very few, if any, executives who will take a job without some kind of contract in place. And yes, they are negotiated by the executive and company with give and take. If it's good enough for the executives then it should be good that all employees have one. Company policies typically, in and of themselves, are not contracts but work rule documents slanted heavily in the company's favor. If you worked without a contract then you are totally subject to the company's policies with little recourse for bad management. This is America the land of choice and you can choose to take a job under a union or not, totally up to you.
As far as obsessing over non-performance, it is very important to focus on the performance side of the equation. Employees need to know and understand exactly what is meant by meeting the performance standard as well as examples of what it takes to exceed the performance standard. This needs to be established and reinforced regularly in order to develop high performance work teams. Management always has the hammer to correct non-performance and that is a given. Why focus on something that is well known and understood and is there for those who try to screw everyone else. Taking the higher ground of focusing on good performance opens up the workforce to exceed performance goals which is a win-win all the way around.
Richard G. Pate Pate & Associates, Principal email@example.com www.pateassociates.com
Follow us on Twitter: @pateassociates Connect with Us on LinkedIn: Richard G. Pate Check out our blog for all the latest news: pateassociates.wordpress.com
Len Gould 12.27.11
I can't believe these people who think that without existing unions or the threat of same, the corporations or especially the large privately owned businesses would treat employeese any better than pit ponies. Need to read a bit of history.
Don Hirschberg 12.27.11
Jerry, beware of unintended consequences of enlightened laws.
We all know about the horrors of child labor. But I suspect few know about the horrors created by laws prohibiting child labor. In the past many places in south and SE Asia child labor was the accepted norm. It was not pretty. The hours and conditions were bad. But the children were not raped and they lived with and helped feed their families.
Today child labor has been extensively outlawed but in many places it has been replaced with something much worse. Not only are the families deprived of the child’s earnings but the children are too often sold into prostitution and de facto slavery. There are frequently no options for parents.
Jerry Watson 12.28.11
Don, I realize it is a cruel world out there and bringing more and more children into areas with insufficient resources is a lingering problem. I do not know the solution for areas that are like puppy mills for children. I even find it hard to understand why any adult would want to bring a child into life knowing that they could not reasonably expect to be able to provide for until it reached puberty.
My conjecture is that in the brothel or the factory the child is essential a slave knowing little of the joy that I believe childhood should offer. I am also unconvinced that the factory being the lesser of two evils justifies the continuation of the practice of using child labor. Getting back to unions wasn't that what unionism was about securing a wage one could raise their family on and to be able to afford to send children to school until they reached puberty. We all know the old saying "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," laws enlightened or not often have unforeseen consequences.
Garth Barker 12.28.11
My, but the advocates for unions got their hackles up on this article in a hurry. Nothing was said or implied that unions were bad however in many cases unions have created situations for employers that are unsustainable in certain economies. The time lost during strikes and the over bearing cost of entitlements negotiated by unions have broke other wise good companies. This just isn't smart for either employer or worker. The article is a good shot at common sense and for the most part implies the use of common sense for work ethics.
Len Gould 12.28.11
1) The concept that child factory labour is acceptable because it is the only choice amojng the ones possible (child labour or prostitution) for the workers making your $150 running shoes is so bankrupt its beyond belief.
2) I speculate that the only reason child labour workhouses aren't operating in N America or Europe now is because laws wouldn't allow it, not because manufacturing ownership has any problem with it. So if a practice is illegal here, why should we support it in Asia?
Don Hirschberg 12.28.11
My father was born in Chicago in 1897, the eldest of five boys and one girl. His father was born in St. Louis, his Irish mother in Ontario. He was fortunate to go to Carl Schurz HS, a very good school, for two years. He was educated by then and got a job to contribute to the family. My grandfather was a printer at RR Donnelly perhaps the largest printing company and he wore a suit and hat and carried a stick to work and would have made more than average salary. Even though the family had better than average income from the father, even though they all lived in a house they owned, even though among all the children there were never behavior problems, only the two youngest of the 6 children got to graduate from HS. It was economic reality. They all flourished.
Government programs did not exist. They hadn’t yet been created.
At 16 my father got a job as a corporate office boy. He did whatever needed to be done. If that meant composing a business letter he did it. (Can you imagine a 16 year old today tasked with composing a corporate business letter?) Then, two years of HS did produce educated people.
The economics in some countries do not allow good choices between selling children into slavery/prostitution and decent childhood. The messenger is not the devil. As I am infamous for saying: We have too many people to solve our problems.
Len Gould 12.29.11
Don: It is always dangerous (and almost always produces eroneous results) to generalize from a particular. And todays HS graduates are far better educated than those of 100 yrs past. The knowledge it takes to graduate highschool today with a decent average would have made Leonardo or Newtons jaws drop.
Jerry Watson 12.29.11
Before you start with that condescending tone you might consider following the comment line. Look at the very first comment from Marullo and my response to him. I would venture to say I have forgotten more about unions and hard work than you will ever know.
Do you have any facts to back up your conjecture presented as fact? Like an example of an "otherwise good company" bankrupted by a union.
To quote Samuel Gompers a second time, “The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.”
I am not ashamed of being a union supporter or being a manger that cannot be part of a bargaining unit. I am aware of both the positives and the negatives of unions. I admit it is hard to get the rank and file to accept they are being over paid from persons making as much as any 20 of them. Due to this and other factors Executive management often fails to earn the credibility with the workers to get them to make consessions.
It is a little absurd to think that union members would purposefully bankrupt their employers so they could lose those same overpaid union jobs and often their cushy union negotiated retirment plans.
Don Hirschberg 1.1.12
Further to what people know today vs many years ago: young people who know how to use electronic devices are credited with knowing about computers, etc. That is nonsense. Because they can use programs only means they can use programs. Few people who use refrigerators have any idea of thermodynamic cycles. Few people who use cars know much about cars. I submit the owner of a model T nearly 100 years ago probably knew more about cars than most people do today.
I have finally learned to confidently use a singular verb with “none.” None of the students IS (not ARE) prepared. I still am a bit shaky about lie, lay, am lying, have lain as contrasted with lay, laid, is laying, have laid. Alas all for naught as I see even highly edited published stuff now comes with “none of them are.” Wrong.
But if I had been better at academic grammar it’s not as likely I’d have become an engineer. (A clergyman, unlikely for an atheist, a doctor, possible, a lawyer, maybe – more likely a teamster.)
Looking at Len’s criticism of me above I notice that in only two sentences he misspelled four words. (eroneous, todays, highschool and Newtons) Further, he didn’t say “from” where needed and years should have been either spelled out or written yrs. (Not just yrs) I am light years from being a purist. And his errors did not distract from his meaning. Our English language is very forgiving, a feature I heavily rely on.
Len Gould 1.1.12
Don. Criticism accepted, though a great many of the errors are typing, not spelling. Much also due to rapidly loosing grammar rules due to using the new generation's "Tenglish" (english contracted for text messaging).
Malcolm Rawlingson 1.7.12
I think the point of Kevin's article has been missed entirely. In almost every major company - and especially knowledge based companies (Microsoft, Apple, Intel, HP to name but a few) the whole company depends on the performance inside the brains of their employees. Those individual chunks of grey matter are readily switched off by the petty rants of employers harping on stupid rules.
What Kevin should also have mentioned is that the public admonishment of an employee for say, tweeting a couple of lines at work, results in much more costs than a few Union meetings. It not only switches off the employee concerned but also a very large proportion of the unaffected employees. Sure they will not Tweet any more but they also will not give their employer the great idea they had that day. They will also talk about it for weeks and months afterwards resulting in a contagion of anti employer sentiment that hits the3 bottom line hard every single time. Difficult to measure but it is very pervasive. When are North American employers going to get it that idiotic Victorian rules are NOT the way to motivate modern employees. Treating employees well means being reasonable and putting in place rules that are useful and serve a purpose. Safety Rules, workplace fairness and equality rules and others have their place but take a close look at the idiotic petty rules that many employers like to wield the big stick over and you will see that the only loser is the employer - always.
Here is a case in point. In a planning group whose task it was to prepare maintenance plans for night shift and the following day shift some, employees were observed playing solitaire on their work computers. A supervisor observed this and removed the game software from all computers. Wielding the big stick (he thought) would teach those errant employees a lesson they would not forget. It did. The employees playing solitaire had performed so well that the necessary plans were out early- well ahead of the required schedule giving maintenance more time to prepare for the following nights and days work. Afterwards plans were prepared exactly on time (or sometimes late) causing maintenance crews serious problems. The supervisor had in fact penalized his top performing employees and sent a message to the rest of them "why work hard" so they did not and reduced their performance to the absolute bare minimum required. So for a few games of solitaire the company lost millions in lost productivity....a brilliant strategy to be sure. And to add a final ironic twist to the ensuing debacle - one of the reasons the employees gave for having got very good at their job was the additional dexterity in using (then new) graphical user interface they got from playing solitaire.
Most employers would do well to scrap some of these arcane rules and realize that this is not 1850. They should also recognize that the most important asset employees offer a Corporation is their brain power. It can be switched on or switched off. Switching it on is hard to do. Switching it off is easy and employers do it all the time.
Many is the time I have spoken to disenchanted employees who have great ideas to improve company productivity but are reluctant to share them with their employers as a result of events to themselves or other employees that happened years ago. "Why should I when I do not get any thanks for it anyway" is often the mantra.
These rules may have been important in a muscle and brawn based economy but in the modern knowledge world they are very very unproductive.
Malcolm Rawlingson 1.7.12
Len - well we may not agree on global warming but we sure do agree on this topic.
"I speculate that the only reason child labour workhouses aren't operating in N America or Europe now is because laws wouldn't allow it, not because manufacturing ownership has any problem with it. So if a practice is illegal here, why should we support it in Asia"
100% right on the mark. If the laws were not there, we would be in exactly the same situation as many parts of the developing world. The problem I have is that while I see many people decrying child labour they are also wearing the clothing and other apparel made by them and appear to have no problem with that. I think that is called being a hypocrite.
That is why I do my utmost (and it is getting increasingly difficult to do) to only buy goods and services from those companies that treat their employees properly. This extends to my investing practices also and is why I almost always invest in North American and European companies who manufacture their goods here or supply services here. That way I know where my money goes and I know they have to obey decent rules in the treatment of their employees. Not perfect by any means but I do assure you that those companies that make footwear for 2 bucks a pair using child and slave labour overseas and sell them at $100 - $200 in this market would think twice if their market collapsed as a result of their practices. They continue to do it because we idiots continue to pay stupidly high prices for their crap because it has a "brand name" label on it.