Tag Archives: virtual employee management

Creating Accountability with a Distributed Workforce

When the term Micro-Manager is mentioned, it incites painful ideas of a manager that is smothering, controlling and demotivating.  But the conundrum for most managers of field teams or distributed workforces is how to ensure that the job is getting done without over managing.  Because a team of employees, spread across multiple locations, is not as easy to monitor with drop-in daily observations, like a centrally located team, many managers can overcompensate by trying to over control those things that they cannot see.  Manager’s want their teams to reach all set goals, but without smothering them.

The key to ensuring management’s happiness with a team’s performance levels as well as the team’s happiness with their ability to spread their wings, is a combination of clearly outlining goals, creating responsibility, and generating individual accountability.

Setting the vision & creating expectations

A good vision creates inspiration and motivation for a team which creates the catalyst to drive a team’s performance.  When setting a vision, keep it at top level goals, not the specific tasks it takes to reach them (this is covered next).  Because a remote team is more at risk for feeling disconnected from the company, they can tend to focus more time and energy on things that they perceive to be important but that might not really be of the most importance to the team or company.  So setting a vision, and keeping a remote team focused on it, is critical to the team and company’s success.

Once the vision is set and communicated, expectations need to be created to define how the remote team will reach that visionEvery employee wants to do a good job, but they need to know what that looks like to obtain it.  Creating the expectations, lets each employee know what they need to do to be successful, and what the end picture will look like.

Creating Responsibility

If you give someone the responsibility, they will more likely than not live up to it.  However, if you don’t trust them with the responsibility, then they will never have a chance to reach it.  Take a simple scenario observed at a corporate meeting where all sales people across the country met semi-annually to discuss the new product line and strategy.  At this meeting, for the first 2 days, after every 10 minute break, the regional managers would go out to find their employees and alert them that the break was over and they needed to get back into the meeting room.  As a result, over 75% of the sales reps never returned on time to the meeting and waited for their manager to alert them to return.  They were conditioned that the manager would let them know, so they didn’t need to take the responsibility to look at their watches to see when 10 minutes was up.   This approach removed the responsibility from the sales reps and placed it on the regional managers.

On the 3rd and 4th days, the regional managers took a different approach; they didn’t alert anyone when breaks were over and just started the meeting on time – even if everyone was not in the room.  Those that arrived late (after the allotted 10 minutes for the break) had to disrupt the meeting to get to their seat.  Those that arrived late more than once over the 2 days, were pulled aside on the next break for a discussion with the manager on the importance of being on time.  By the end of the 4th day and the last (5th day) of the meeting, not one employee returned late to the meeting after break times.  With the regional managers shifting the responsibility to the sales reps, it freed up their (the managers) time and made the sales reps responsible for their own actions.  The key to this was setting the expectation and holding them accountable if they didn’t reach it.

This is a good example of a micro vs non-micro management approach.  Releasing yourself from these micro management tasks frees up your time to focus on more important things.   Increasing team member responsibility creates less management needs.

Accountability – Micro-monitoring vs micro-managing

Setting clear goals is like a virtual manager that keeps everyone focused without having to constantly look over their shoulder.  However if you set these goals but don’t implement some sort of accountability and tracking system, YOU will ultimately have to be that system.  This means a very time consuming, management intensive process of nagging employees, to inquire on how they are doing toward their goals, and micro-managing to ensure goals are met.  The more you can empower your employees to track their own progress (with a simple delivery method to you), the better results you will get:

  • They will manage themselves
  • They will be more self motivated to reach their goals
  • You will empower them to be responsible for themselves which will demonstrate your respect and trust for them
  • You can free up your time to work with them on more productive items such as their talent development

Shared accountability creates a feeling of partnership with each team member.  It also enables people to learn from both their successes and mistakes.  So rather than micro-managing a team, a manager can enable them to micro-monitor their own individual performance.

To do this successfully, managers need to implement a tool that helps employees track their own progress.  This tool should also be something that they can deliver to you with minimal effort.  It should not be too time consuming and should be easy to decipher for both you and your employee.  An Excel spreadsheet or Word table are good vehicles, or possibly an automated intranet system if that is available to the company.  These should be completed and submitted weekly and monthly to keep everyone on track.  Here are some things to consider when deciding what goals you would like them to track:

  1. Specific – Clearly outline the details of each goal so they know what to strive for.
  2. Measurable – they must be measurable.  What will the successful completion of the goal look like?  If it is subjective “Need to get better client service ratings”, there is room for argument on if they have succeeded on the goal.  Is a .01% better rating successful?  It could be argued that it is a better rating than 0.  Instead set a metric such as “Need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings.
  3. Attainable – on the flip side, if goals are too hard, where more than likely most people won’t reach them, then people won’t feel motivated to reach them.  Ie. “Increase your business by 100% this year”
  4. Results Oriented – if a goal is something that everyone does anyway “put details of each transaction in the system every day”, then it isn’t very motivating and becomes more of a busy work task in tracking it. These are processes in how things should be done in the business, but not a performance goal.  These types of things should just be noted in an overall team process handbook, or in training.  Make sure goals are geared to motivate people to stretch.
  5. Time Based – This can be another subjective area.  It need to be clear and concise on when each metric should be obtained.  “You need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings by the last day of the month.”  Everyone is better motivated when they can keep a deadline date or timeframe in sight.

Once the goals are set, and a self-monitoring matrix system is put in place to track goals, set time frames on when each employee should deliver their tracked goals to you electronically.  Then spend a portion of your regular communication with them reviewing the overview of the goals.  Don’t fall into the trap of going through each individual item with them.  Look at the matrix obtainments from a balcony view, to discuss trends or patterns with them.  This will allow you to look at how their performance is doing overall, and coach them on their overall progress.

What can be monitored – how can we monitor it?

What must be managed – how can we manage it?

It is important as a manager to identify what can be monitored by the individual team members, and then create a tracking matrix that they use to deliver their progress.  This will set their responsibility and create the accountability system.  Start by identifying tasks and goals that they can track themselves, to enable them to micro-monitor themselves and free you up from micro-management.  Secondly, it is important to identify what items must be managed because they cannot be self-monitored by an employee performance tracking system.   Because enabling micro-monitoring through your employees will free up your management time, use it to focus on more of the talents that are critical to the team, but harder to track quantitatively.  Look for qualitative things that are important to the business, to focus your management and coaching efforts with each employee on, such as: team work, creative ideas and innovations, strategic thinking, positive attitude, etc. . . .

by Jenny Douras

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