The Facebook factor

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There seems to be a growing trend amongst workforce management technologies to play up the divisions and mistrust between management and staff. There are advertising themes based on: ‘Do you know how your staff really spend their day?’ and examples of how technology can monitor every key stroke and every application to show how much time staff spend on Facebook, eBay, Netflix, etc.

But surely this is to miss the point and to misunderstand the value of data in operations. Data should exist to help engage, motivate and focus the development of people. It should not exist to monitor, oppress and punish people. 

When technology firms imply that staff are fundamentally untrustworthy and it is only through the use of technological monitoring that they can be made to work hard and stay on task, they are doing their potential client base a huge disservice. It may be beguiling to talk in terms of ‘information is power’ or ‘if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it’ but this can create a downward spiral of mistrust, rewarded by cheating and leading to greater mistrust between workforce and management.

So what’s the alternative?

  • Assume positive intent. Most people at work will do a good job and take pride and pleasure in it given the opportunity. Don’t make the self-fulfilling prophecy that people are lazy. That is just lazy leadership.
  • Operational data should exist to engage people. If front line people can see how the data that they provide or is captured about them helps to plan the work, to give them a more controlled, less stressful, environment and helps them to deliver better service to customers, they will be more invested in the data and take more interest in its accuracy. Rather than having an escalating arms race between ways of manipulating the management information and ways of policing that manipulation, make it visibly in everyone’s interest to capture and maintain accurate, useful data.
  • Help people to stay (genuinely) busy. People work best when they are ‘in the zone’. This is true in the sporting world and in the workplace. If people feel the task in front of them is challenging to the point that they would feel it an achievement to pull it off while believing they have what it takes to do it they are more likely to raise their game and stay focussed. 
  • Develop engaging leadership. You can’t impose engagement – you have to build it. If leaders – from Team Leader to COO – are actively engaging everyone in the operation in the task of delivering excellence to customers then most staff, most of the time, will do great work. If staff are spending time on Facebook – as suggested by some of the big workforce management firms – this says more about your leadership skills than it does your technology.

The management guru Deming once said, in criticism of one simplistic and lazy management technique, that we should eliminate quotas and management by objectives and substitute leadership. Perhaps a modern update would suggest eliminating intrusive monitoring?


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