There are a number of myths that prevent managers from being strong, but one of the most common questions we hear at RainmakerThinking is, “How can I possibly keep track of my employees’ work on a regular basis?” So many managers feel there is simply not enough time for them to effectively monitor each employee’s progress while completing their own work at the same time.
Now, post-pandemic, the majority of leaders are responsible for managing hybrid teams. The supervisory short-cut of managing by time and place won’t cut it anymore. And guess what? That’s been true for some time now! Just because someone is sitting at their desk, working long hours, doesn’t mean they’re doing their best work. In fact, overcommitted teams are a classic sign of undermanagement.
Successfully monitoring employees starts with establishing a routine of regular, ongoing, one-on-one meetings. This one step alone will radically improve any manager’s ability to stay on top of the details and hold people accountable. But oftentimes it’s the case that managers have to be in the habit of checking on an employee’s work outside of those regular conversations, as well.
There are five ways to monitor the actions of employees, even if you’re not working in the same location.
One of the most effective ways to monitor an employee’s performance is with your own eyes. Watching an employee interact with a customer for a few minutes will tell you more about that employee’s customer service performance than a batch of customer feedback surveys. If you are having difficulties helping an employee succeed with a particular task, “shadow” that employee while they do the task. This might seem impossible to do remotely, but the capabilities of smartphones, tablets, and laptops today allow for so many communication options. Video calls, screen sharing, and remote-access programs can effectively mimic over-the-shoulder observations and real-time corrections to work. If all else fails, find any way to arrange an in-person meeting.
In every one-on-one conversation with every employee, ask for an account of what that person has done since your last conversation: “What concrete actions did you take? Did you meet the clearly spelled-out expectations?” Then listen very carefully, make judgments, and ask more probing questions. Asking for an account is the number one method for holding a person accountable for his actions. Then move on to discuss next steps. As long as you are consistently carrying out your one-on-one management conversations with every person on a regular basis, this element of monitoring performance will become routine.
You can also ask employees to help you keep track of their actions by using self-monitoring tools like project plans, checklists, and activity logs. Employees can monitor whether they are meeting goals and deadlines laid out in a project plan, make notations within checklists, and report to the manager at regular intervals. Activity logs are diaries that employees can keep, noting contemporaneously exactly what they do all day, including breaks and interruptions. Each time the employee moves on to a new activity, they note the time and the new activity they are turning to.
Check your employees’ work carefully in process along the way. If an employee is not responsible for producing a tangible end product, then watching that employee work is the same thing as reviewing work in progress. If they are responsible for an end product, spot-check it while the are working on it. For example, if the employee manages a database, spot-check the records. If the employee writes reports, look at drafts. If the employee makes phone calls, record them and listen to a random sample. If the employee makes widgets, check some half-done widgets and see how they look. You can’t actually keep track of everything every employee does, but you can check random samples on a regular basis.
Gather intelligence. Ask customers, vendors, coworkers, and other managers about their interactions with specific employees. Always ask question about the employee’s work, never about the person. Don’t ask for evaluations, but ask for descriptions. Don’t ask for impressions, but ask for details. And don’t believe everything you hear; the unverified statements of third parties are simply hearsay. But the more you keep your ear to the ground, the more you know which sources can be trusted. So, ask around on a regular basis.