Wisdom Wednesday: Trust

If you look at different articles describing the characteristics of good managers and leaders, many list confidence as a common attribute. For example, in the Indeed.com article, 15 Qualities of a Good Manager You Should Look for, the author states that,” a confident manager “trusts not only in their own skills and abilities but also in those of their team.” This is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with and my goal as a manager and consultant has always been to make myself dispensable. I don’t want my team (or my client) needing me for every little thing. I want my team to seek my input in major decisions that impact process and deliverables and I trust that I hired the right people to handle the day-to-day work and have enough trust in me and themselves that they are free to suggest alternative strategies for doing our work together to improve our processes.

This level of confidence/trust comes with experience. Many new managers struggle to delegate important work because they haven’t developed the capacity to trust that their teams will get the job done – even If it’s not done the same way the new manager would. As a result, new managers quickly become overwhelmed because they’re trying to do the work and manage it – a common rookie mistake.

Last week I saw a national news story warning those who work from home that their employers are probably “spying” on them. The story was mainly about “Tattleware”, a name given to a category of software some employers use to monitor their remote workforce. The story mentioned various methods remote monitoring software uses that enable employers to monitor employee activity. These methods include recording keystrokes and mouse movements, taking screen grabs, capturing photos using the device’s built-in camera, and more. The last part of the news segment mentioned that this type of monitoring was ostensibly justified by the fact that some employees were using Mouse Jigglers (software applications or physical devices that mimic mouse movements) so their computers would regularly look active on monitoring reports or not trigger an alert that their machine had been idle too long, because they weren’t working when they should be.

Ultimately, this battle between the mouse jigglers that fake activity and the tattle ware used to find bad actors struck me as a kind of cold war scenario of escalating technology designed to thwart one opponent in what should be a partnership between and employer and employee It signified a sad lack of confidence (or trust) between managers and their remote employees.

I had to wonder how the situation had deteriorated so badly in companies like this. Who started first? Did these companies suspect their employees weren’t working and implement tattle ware first? Did the use of tattle ware come as a reaction to the use of mouse jigglers.

Regardless of who acted first, I suspect the reason situations like this develop has a lot to do with how some companies were assessing employee “performance” and the degree of resolution they were applying to that measurement. Was it enough for employees to get the job done or were employees required to be “actively” using their computers so many hours per day to demonstrate they were working from home? Was “performance” falsely equated to some expected level of activity?

During the pandemic, we saw that some employers were better positioned for the transition to remote work than others. I suspect that the success of various employers in handling the transition had much to do with having a company culture built on trust coupled with the type of work being done and the metrics used to measure employee productivity/activity. My hunch is that firms that managed the transition well already considered their employees as information workers that were hired to produce knowledge-based analytical deliverables had business cultures that relied on a confidence that their employees would get the job done and didn’t need to be micromanaged in how they got the job done.

In contrast, companies that operated with business models focusing on measures of quantity were more concerned their employees weren’t working when not in the office. These firms likely falsely equated productivity with activity and measured some ratio of active/idle time which precipitated the battle between the monitoring software and devices designed to deceive it.

In this cold war battle between employees and management, no there are no winners, only losers and the company culture and trust suffer. Just as the NORAD supercomputer Joshua concluded in the 1983 movie War Games, “The only way to win is not to play the game” (I’m fully aware this is an odd pop-culture reference for a leadership article, but it works).

A simple Google search of “remote worker monitoring software” reveals plenty of enterprise applications for remote worker monitoring and some “performance” statistics are built into widely adopted applications such as Microsoft Teams. Thus, IT-focused solutions are readily and easily adoptable. But should they be implemented?

Tattle ware Adoption can radically alter employee morale. A 2021 survey by Express VPN reported that 43% of remote workers feel employee surveillance violates their trust; 59% feel anxiety; 26% feel, and 28% feel underappreciated when subjected to such technologies. Further, a 2021 Gartner Survey found that Tracked employees are nearly two times more likely to fake work and they spend over an hour extra online every day on average just to be seen by colleagues and managers. These revelations illustrate how easily, confidence, trust, and culture can be impacted when a purely technological “solution” to monitoring remote worker productivity is applied.

So, what now?

If you’re a new-career employee, you need to ascertain what kind of company culture a prospective employer has. Are they focused on quantity or quality of work? You’ll also want to know how your individual success as an employee will be assessed. This comes back to the metrics used to measure your performance.

Do not ask about a company’s use of remote worker monitoring software in an interview. This is a question loaded with mistrust. However, broader questions about how a company measures employee performance are valid and welcomed by most good managers and leaders. So, knowing the metrics used to gauge your individual success is a common interview question that demonstrates some familiarity and interest in how a perspective employer may compare to others in the same industry.
Consider contacting former employees to ask about the company culture and how they assess employee performance. Ask former employees if they encountered any problems with remote worker monitoring or trust issues. These are all good things to know before you sign on to work for the wrong kind of firm.

For companies, resist the temptation to broadly adopt employee monitoring software; it will breed discontent. Ultimately the best approach is less technical and more fundamental. Create an environment that places confidence and trust in all employees to do their jobs the best way they see fit, focuses on quality outputs, and measures performance using metrics that are appliable to the attributes of the job they want employees and the firm to focus on.

I’ll discuss performance metrics in an upcoming post dedicated to one of the most common and misused metrics in consulting: utilization or billable hours.


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