Tracking performance from home

Think about how you track your team’s performance in the office: if everyone’s hard at work at their desks from nine to five, and you can see (almost feel) that everything’s getting done, then that’s a success, right?

If you’ve already started working from home in the last couple of weeks, I’m sure it’s become clear that keeping track of your team like that is impossible when working remotely. The issue is that most managers are unconsciously accustomed to tracking their teams’ inputs. That is, so long as they can see time and effort being put into the job, meetings are happening and people are staying behind to finish up things, then they’re not too concerned with what comes out the other end.  

That might feel a little shocking, but ask yourself, when was the last time you really checked that the work you and your team were doing was really the greatest contribution you could make?

In the world of remote working, most of the methods you had of tracking inputs have gone. As a manager, you’re isolated from your staff and can’t tell if they’re really at their desks during regular office hours, or if they’re off having a nap, or catching up on Netflix.

Here’s what you need to realise: that doesn’t matter!

It’s time to reassess your measures of success, so you focus on the quality of what is being achieved (the outputs), not the way the work is done (the inputs). That way you won’t find yourself doubting your team unnecessarily. Either the work is being done, or it isn’t. There are some roles that still require specific tasks in a certain order. However these days most things can be achieved in a multitude of different ways, and your way, even if it is the best for you, may not be the best for everyone else (especially now that most of are working in unfamiliar ways and places)

Instead of hounding your employees several times a day to make sure everyone’s at their computer, take stock of the work that’s being produced. Is everything being completed on schedule, and to the same quality as you’d expect in the office (or near enough, as people need time to adapt to remote working)? Are your clients or key stakeholders happy with how everything is being handled? Are they getting what they need, when they need it?

If yes, then your team is still working well, despite being at home. They don’t always need to be at their desks at the same times as they would in the office, because we all adapt to remote work in different ways, best suited to our own personal situations. What matters is that their performance hasn’t dipped. The more control they feel about how they can organise their time, and make it work with the other pressures in their life, the more focused, engaged and resilient they will be.

When you find yourself saying no to these questions, that’s when you go back and look at the inputs. Make sure that there is a clear understanding of what is expected, and that they have the belief that this is still possible now that their working conditions have changed.  You may need to spend some time rebuilding clarity and belief, as the current situation and changes in how we work can easily create wobbles.  I

It is worth remembering though, that in the short term at least, it is likely that the change to remote working might be the only factor causing the dip, which can only be resolved through support (probably a mix of psychological, managerial and technological!) and allowing employees the time to adjust.

The key to tracking performance remotely is to redefine what ‘success’ means to you and your team. Previously, unconsciously, you might have related it to inputs and how long your people spend on tasks. Be wary of this, as it can lead to (very ineffectual) presenteeism, where the only focus for your team is putting enough face time in with you to appear busy.

Define success in terms of output-driven KPIs, that connect the work your team do with your team’s purpose. The purpose of a team or business unit is not measured in numbers of meetings,  reports delivered on time, or how many calls made; these are just inputs designed to help you hit your goal. 

By defining measures around what you want to achieve and not how you think it needs to be done, you can allow the team to find their own way. So, no matter when, where, or how your team chooses to work, you can be confident that they’ll perform as well outside the office as in it.

The right mindset for remote managing

I get it: remote working and managing are scary things, and no more so than in times like this. There’s an overarching feeling of uncertainty about the world – it feels as if your work situation changes as often as the news headlines do!

When you’re so used to having direct access to information about how everyone is doing, losing that can give you a sense of being out of control that’s hard to come back from. You can no longer mobilise people into instant meetings, have mini one-on-ones over a coffee, or even catch up at the water cooler.

Despite this, as a manager, it’s important to make sure you have the right mindset for working at home, for the sake of leading your team effectively. You need to be comfortable with the uncertainty around you (or at least appear like you are) as, for the most part, you can’t change that. However, what you can do is create certainty, as much as possible, within the team.

Think to yourself, “What can I control in this situation?” and you’ll find it comes down to two main things: what you need to achieve in the immediate future, and how best you can support the team.

Reduce the usual timeframes you workaround. While three months may have been a reasonable length of time to look ahead previously, we can hardly predict what will be happening in three days now. If you limit your plans to the next day or so, you can have a much more decisive say in how it will turn out, which helps keep your staff focused on getting their jobs done. Focusing on the time frame that you can control will help the team members regain their sense that they are in control of the situation.

One thing to note, though: be prepared to balance the control you have over your team’s work, and the control they have. It’s great to give tasks out, as that helps focus the team and provide direction for the day. But you’ve got to let individuals have a say in what they do and, particularly for remote workers, how they do it. Every time you take control of something that you did not need to, you weaken their sense of control; and that risks increasing their feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

Everybody’s going to have a different schedule when working from home, and having an overbearing boss demanding they send the finished product to his or her inbox every hour is going to cause unnecessary stress. Trust in your team to get the job done, to help them create their own sense of control.

Take on a mindset that assumes the best of your people. When things go wrong, understand that it is because everybody is feeling a little stressed right now, and this was just a mistake. Do not personalise mistakes, or assume that they are happening because people are not as focused as they would have been in the office. Just because you cannot see the work being done anymore does not mean that they are not working. Let’s face it, the team has managed to carry on working when you were in a meeting or popped to the loo; they will also be working even though they are not at their usual desk.

Be curious about your team. Use this time to get to know them a little better, so that if things do go wrong or off-schedule, you can identify if they’re struggling with working remotely. Previously they will have relied on close colleagues for support, so now’s the time to reach out for yourself. There’s probably something you could be doing to make their lives and work easier! Even if there isn’t, they will appreciate knowing that you care.

Having the right the mindset about how we work together is an essential key for success as a remote manager. If you can bring control back to your immediate surroundings, and make a conscious effort to see the best in your people, you’ll be one step closer to nailing working from home.

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

How do I know my team aren’t watching Netflix?

If you’re a manager whose team just started working remotely recently, at one point or another you’re bound to wonder to yourself: “My team could all just be bingeing Netflix right now, and I’d have no idea!”.  This is natural: people understand the world through small triggers and tiny interactions, which disappear when you’re not together.

Of course, it’s going to feel strange at first to not be able to see your team putting in the work you expect from them. But, this is exactly why being able to trust your team, and be trusted by your team, is so key when managing remotely.

Unconsciously, a lot of managers are used to managing inputs: that is, they assess their team’s performance on how much time and effort they see is being put into producing the outputs (the results of the work). However, this style of management encourages forms of presenteeism, which really exhausts your staff without any added results to show for it.

What people should be managing (at all times really, but in particular when you’re not in position to measure the input), are the outputs. Put simply, if your team is still performing at the levels they were back in the office, then you can rest easy!  In fact, pat yourself on the back; us mere mortals will be slowing down a bit as we get used to this new way of working.

Reaching the stage where you are comfortable will take time and effort. This is where you need to rebuild trust with the team, accepting that they’re putting in the requisite work to reach the desired outcome, and ensuring that they know you’ll support them in achieving this.

The disappearance of interpersonal interactions with the team can leave managers feeling as if something is wrong. If it starts to feel like this, however, before you jump to any conclusions look for evidence to back up that feeling, or else you’ll be chasing up employees for nothing, and risking the trust that you have in the team relationships.

How do you get this evidence? By being communicative with your team. Have regular group meetings.  One way is to use the techniques developed by agile software developers, where at each regular review meeting each team member is asked to talk about

  1. What they’ve completed since the last meeting,
  2. What they’re going to do next,
  3. What help they might need in achieving that.

When you and your team are open like this, you can start to build an idea of what to expect from everyone and identify who’s struggling to adjust to remote working and needs some help.

Make sure to balance out the information you build up here with empathy – everyone’s going to adjust differently to working from home and the difference in individual workers’ openness can affect how much you trust them to work. Be conscious that some employees are going to stay out of your way, while others might over-communicate, which will imbalance how you perceive the work they’re putting in. This is a great time to check that perception against their outputs, to see if in fact, they are both producing equally great outputs.

Building trust while managing workers remotely, then, is a matter of building regular, structured communication, while remaining aware that different people work differently. If you can appreciate what’s coming out, instead of being hung up over what you know is going in, your team will be able to operate as efficiently as if they were still in office.

Clarity is key

Are you clear about your team’s purpose and objectives? Is your team clear about them? My experience studying and challenging workplace behaviour suggests that most teams don’t have clarity about their purpose, or how their purpose relates to the big picture: in this new world of remote working, that’s a real issue for managers.

The proportion of clarity that we gain from daily interpersonal interactions should not be underestimated. These small moments that happen in passing through the day, at the start of meetings, or in corridor conversations underpin how we understand the world. In the office, even if you have rigorous project plans in place, staff will get more actionable information about what’s needed in their day-to-day work during informal conversations by the coffee machine, than from the formalised communication channels.

As you start — or increase the amount of — remote working, have regular sessions with everybody, to make sure everyone’s comfortable asking for guidance when necessary. Otherwise, you won’t really be managing a team, but a group of individuals who can only hope they’re doing the right thing. To start, meet more frequently than you think you need, then back off as the team becomes comfortable with the new ways of working.

After a few days of remote work, stop and think to yourself: “How am I finding all of this? What questions might my team have about our situation?” Use that reflection as a platform to get in line with your people — identify issues they might be having and offer solutions from the get-go, instead of putting them on the spot (where they may feel they have to respond with “Doing great, thanks!”).

Organise online social time for everyone to catch up on personal matters. Give time in work-related calls for people to have a relaxed chat (a perfect time to show off your pet or favourite mug).

What experience shows me, time and time again, is that it’s almost impossible to over-communicate when teams start working remotely. Don’t just assume that something like a WhatsApp group will totally solve the issue. Chat groups and emails hide emotion and anxiety, making it harder to know when you need to intervene as a manager. Video calls are a great way of maintaining clarity in your team, especially while you can’t meet in person, as you can still pick up on physical clues such as body language. Even conference calls will give you a sense of how people are coping since during the call you can gauge not just what is said, but how things are being said by different team members.

As we move forward into uncertain times for the shape of the workplace, put extra effort into maintaining clarity when managing remote workers. Give your team discrete and clear guidance of what’s required from them and keep them up-to-date with what’s happening in the rest of the team and the company. By doing so, you can significantly ease the challenges of managing remotely.

Showcasing WWYD at the Festival of Work

We are looking forward to attending the Festival of Work, a fantastic new event run by the CIPD, and showcasing our game-based learning resource What Would You Do? (WWYD).

Running in London on June 12 and 13, the Festival of Work combines the CIPD’s Learning and Development and HR Software and Recruitment shows, with an added element focusing on the future of work.

It should be an informative and inspiring event for HR and L&D professionals – and we’re hoping some of them might like to drop by our stand and try out What Would You Do?

Based on concepts of peer-assisted learning and psychological safety, the game aims to prepare managers for potential workplace situations before they occur in reality.

We’re firm believers in the power of game-based learning, and we’ve witnessed the benefits for ourselves while introducing What Would You Do? to L&D practitioners.

So this blog takes a look at the reasons why game-based learning is so effective in helping to solve business and management issues. Read on to find out more.

Why use game-based learning?

  • It unlocks latent tacit knowledge and skills

All employees have knowledge that’s almost never utilised. Game-based learning can unearth this hidden potential by bringing people together to discuss everyday scenarios, and share knowledge and insights.

  • It brings learning to life

Fed up with not getting ROI from your training investment? When learning lacks practical application, it fails to stick. Gamification brings teams together to discuss how the theory they’ve learnt in the classroom would work in practice, test meaning and find a solution to common issues.

  • It removes friction and improves collaboration

Gamification makes learning social, which improves collaboration, communication and team work. It helps to break down internal friction and barriers by increasing awareness of peers’ roles, ideas, perceptions and experience.

  • It removes silos and presents the bigger picture

Specialised teams (silos) can be susceptible to a lack of communication, an insular perspective and unhealthy internal politics. Game-based learning brings people together from different teams, increasing collaboration and communication, creating continuity, and helping individuals see issues from a wider viewpoint.

  • It creates psychological safety

Gamification creates a safe environment for players to share thoughts and ideas, and to discuss and debate issues in the interest of playing the game. This means players can be more open, communicative and creative without fear of failure.

  • It’s engaging and fun!

Traditional training can be uninspiring and fail to resonate with learners. Instead, when people focus on a game, they are so engaged, they don’t even realise they are learning!

Find out more about our game-based learning tool What Would You Do? by visiting stand F11 at the Festival of Work on June 12th and 13th at Olympia London.

Or click here to read more.

Social learning and the 70:20:10 model

Social learning is about the way we learn, while the 70:20:10 model concerns where we get our learning from. Both are linked and relevant, we think, to the work that we do at Thinking Focus, so we thought we’d take a closer look at them.

The social learning theory first formulated by Albert Bandura in 1977 shows that we learn best by imitating the behaviour and actions of others. It’s all about people learning from each other; picking up new skills, ideas, opinions and experiences from those around them.

This applies equally to learning in the workplace. Think about it: where do you feel you have learnt most of what you know? During formal education? Or from your own experience and the insights of your colleagues?

Social learning in the workplace is about interacting with others through good communication, knowledge sharing, discussion, collaboration, and being transparent about what you’re doing and why. Colleagues can help each other, either explicitly or tacitly, to understand ideas, experiences, systems, methods and processes. Yet most of us come into work with the rules set that tells us to do exactly the opposite, work it out on your own, don’t share, don’t copy other people’s work. These are the learning rules that schools operate by.

Most L&D professionals are familiar with the 70:20:10 model proposed by Charles Jennings. In fact, it has become a standard part of discussion regarding learning and development processes in the workplace. The model evolved from a report in the 1980s which analysed a survey of 200 senior managers. It found that they reported that 70% of what they knew had been learnt on the job or through experience, 20% had come from social interaction with other people, and just 10% had been learnt through formal education.

Although there’s been some criticism of the 70:20:10 model, some of which we agree with, we nevertheless think it’s useful in showing the rough proportions of experience, social interaction and education needed for learning. It does broadly tell us is that, to meaningfully and effectively learn new things, your experience and the input and experience of people around you is the most important thing. Social learning does tend to fit into 90 per cent of this model.

It’s all a great starting point for reflecting on how individuals within your workforce learn and what the best ways therefore might be for their personal development. It can be used as the basis for a wider L&D strategy that can have far reaching effects on the culture and mindset of the organisation as a whole.

At Thinking Focus, we recognise that we essentially offer the 10 per cent ‘formalised learning’ part of the Jennings model, but we do so as the basis for encouraging people to behave in the 20 per cent of the Jennings model by interacting with people, and to share the 70 per cent, their experience and knowledge.

In our coaching sessions and training workshops, and through our learning resources such as the Strategy Wall and our management development board game What Would You Do?, we are encouraging behaviours that enhance social learning. We create environments where the group learn from other and teach each other, generating conversations and giving people the tools to go and do the 20 per cent in real life. We are highlighting the untapped knowledge and experience that people could access from their colleagues.

We encourage meaningful face-to-face discussion and debate. We offer formalised learning elements and use them to highlight, encourage and create social learning by developing skills and behaviours that cause peer-based learning and self-reflection.

How does coaching help when leading sales teams?

Coaching can help generally in the workplace, and not just when leading sales teams. From a management point of view, it’s a great skill or ability to have, regardless of the team you are leading.

Here, Richard and Graham look at how knowing the way to coach properly can be invaluable in helping develop your people, including sales teams.

The first thing to know about coaching is that many people misunderstand what it is. Mention the word and their first thought is possibly about a sports coach, shouting at their team from the sidelines, imploring them to do better. Or they see it in a negative context, imagining a formalised session with their manager in which coaching is a remedial tool to improve their failing performance.

Although coaching can sometimes be about improving poor performance, equally it can be about helping someone who’s good to get even better. It assumes that the person has some understanding of their role, as well as a certain level of skill and experience. Coaching should unlock the potential of the individual.

Coaching helps give structure, focus and clarity to people who know they want or have to do better. It helps them to move forward by using the knowledge and skills they already have. This can be done by asking questions that cause a deeper level of thinking. If a member of your sales team tells you “I want to get better at sales”, narrow it down for them by asking “What aspect of sales do you want to get better at?”. If, for instance they reply “Lead generation”, ask “What aspect of lead generation?”

Once the questioning has helped someone find their focus, a good coach will then help them open up their thinking by asking more questions: “So now you know what you want to do, let’s think of ways you could do it.” Get creative and try not to tell them exactly what to do. It’s sometimes tempting for managers to say “When I did your job, what I did was…” or “If you look at so-and-so, what they’re doing really well is this…”. Instead, explore options and draw on what the individual knows or is good at.

A good coach encourages people to think for themselves, rather than telling them what to do, which will limit their thinking.

The next essential part of coaching is to ensure that the person is going to take ownership of what’s been discussed. How are you going to make sure they will put things into action, that they have bought into it? Check their motivation and confidence. Ask when they are going to start? What’s the first action? What specific things are they going to do?

Finally, always offer follow-ups: “What can I do? How can I be of help to you?” And remember, coaching doesn’t have to be formal. It can be as simple as a five-minute chat after a meeting, or in the canteen over coffee. If someone starts a conversation with you and you’ve asked them some questions which have helped with their thinking and their actions going forward, then you’ve coached them.

Cognitive disfluency: What does it mean for your organisation?

In our work helping business teams to become more engaged and active with learning, time and again the concept of cognitive disfluency comes up. The idea that we process information differently depending on how much effort it requires is a fascinating one, so we thought we’d take a look at it in more depth here.

What is cognitive disfluency?

Cognitive disfluency is a term that was first coined by the psychologist Adam Alter, assistant professor of marketing and psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

What it essentially describes is the idea that people process information differently, and that some of it is easy (fluency) and some of it requires effort (disfluency). An example of how this works was shown in an experiment that presented a printed question in two different typefaces – one hard to read and one easy – and asked people to spot the mistake. The proportion of people that noticed the error in the hard-to-read font was higher than the easy-to-read one. Alter suggests that a harder-to-read font makes us put more mental effort into reading, and we are therefore more likely to retain the information.

On a wider scale, fluent processing allows us to take in key information quickly but not necessarily to retain it or even understand it in a meaningful way. The whole experience becomes meaningless, less engaging and unsatisfying. Conversely, we process disfluent information more carefully and deeply, and this naturally results in us understanding it better. This is why the idea of cognitive disfluency has been suggested as a great way to assist learning.

Why is cognitive disfluency important in business?

Think of all the data and information that is presented before us – or our teams – within the workplace. Most organisations now offer their people key decision data in an easy (fluent) way, whether through dashboards, reports or search engines. While these tools can be invaluable, they can also make the data meaningless and hard to retain because they allow people to get to the specific number, target, forecast or performance data whenever they want to. This often means we don’t have to think about, generalise or extract the data.

So why is that a problem? Well, if people don’t have that data with them when making key decisions, or if they don’t have an intuitive understanding of the information and what it means, they will be unable to incorporate it in their decision-making. They will also be unable to learn from it. Data creates knowledge, and knowledge creates understanding – but when there is too much fluency in the information, it reduces this second step.

So should we make information more disfluent?

A lot of the data that we use day to day needs to be fluent.  We need to be able to access and use it quickly, so it should be easy to digest.  However, information that is easily consumed is also easily forgotten.

In almost everything we do there are a few key measures that tell us how we are doing against our goals and targets.  Data such as production data, sales information or financial projections need to move beyond abstract numbers and become more intuitive, becoming much more central in our awareness, moving from organisation knowledge to personal understanding. It is this data that needs to be deeply understood so that it can underpin the decisions we make.

How should organisations present their people with important details and data to ensure it is meaningfully understood and retained?

It’s a good idea to look at the fluency of key data or information within your organisation. If it’s being presented to people too easily, make it more disfluent so they have to think about it. You can do this by:

  • Asking for reports that require some small amounts of manual work to create, such as looking stuff up
  • Ask people to interpret data, not just produce it
  • Change layouts so people have to search a little, or read more carefully, to find things

But beware

A word of caution, though: Disfluency should be used sparingly. We’re not suggesting that you should make your people work hard for every piece of information they need. After all, not all data needs to be retained or fully understood.

In addition, too much disfluency can be draining. It uses up more energy, increases complexity and heightens stress levels. Instead of continuous disfluency, there should be brief moments of it when appropriate for processing essential data and information.

How should we bring the (sales) number to life?

Bringing the number to life is vital, whether you’re working in sales, managing a project, leading a team or running a production line.

If you understand and internalise the number, it allows you to monitor your progress and your tracking, intuitively know where you are and what you need to do, inform your decisions, understand how you need to react in real time, and see the bigger picture.

Otherwise, it’s just meaningless data to you.

Here, Paul and Rob discuss why many people are looking at the numbers but not really thinking about what they mean. They discuss the importance of bringing the number to life, and how we can do it.

What’s stopping us from bringing our number to life?

  • There is too much information at our fingertips.
  • Think of the wealth of reports, dashboards, BI systems and other technology that we can extract data from
  • It’s too easy.
  • We can easily look up the number we need at a particular point in time, and therefore we don’t need to retain the information in our head
  • The desire to measure everything.
  • You simply can’t retain every single piece of information put before you – which leads you back to relying on dashboards or systems

So, how do we bring the number to life?

  • Keep it simple.
  • If you have a wealth of data in front of you, focus on maybe the three or four core measures that really tell you something. Break down the number to give you something tangible about what you need to achieve each week/month
  • Engage with the data.
  • Too many people just input numbers into a system or sales platform without recognising the importance of thinking what those numbers mean. The idea of ‘cognitive disfluence’ is key here – the fact that we retain information and learn more if we actually interact with what we’re trying to learn
  • Start with the goal.
  • Instead of looking at the data and feeling that we have to do something with it, look instead at what you’re trying to achieve. What numbers do you need to pull out and understand to reach your goal?
  • Leaders. If you’re a leader, help your people to work with the data and think what the number really means. Give them the raw information they need and ask them to compile a report about some of the core data. You could break it down and ask different people to look at particular bits of the data. Ask them: Help me understand what’s in your figures and what does that tell you? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Why has this bit changed? What does that mean?

Why do some sales people only think about the sale?

In our work, we usually tell people that having focus is a good thing. But when it comes to sales, just being focused on the sale and nothing else is not so good. Sales is part of getting your service to your customer, but you can’t just be focused on that – you’ve got to have a bigger purpose as an organisation.

In this podcast, Richard and Graham discuss why some salespeople only think about the sale – and how such tunnel vision can impact on your customers and your colleagues.

Sales people are, of course, very targeted and often very driven by what they need to achieve. But having such a singular focus can mean you forget about the other important things that sit around the sale.

If all you’re concerned about is getting that sale – hitting your targets, getting the number – then you disregard the other parts of the sales process that are really important. A company that’s all about sales creates an aggressive culture, with salespeople who are highly motivated and focused just on getting money from the customer. They’re not bothered about the end product that the customer gets, or the quality of service. And colleagues in other departments, particularly customer-facing staff, can often feel like a spare part, tasked with delivering impossible promises made by the salespeople just to win the sale, or sorting out complaints from dissatisfied customers who have been promised one thing and received another

Of course, if your job is in sales, you need to be concerned with ‘the number’. But you also need to consider the customer experience, your product, the health and wellbeing of your colleagues, and your organisation’s culture and ethical boundaries. Ask yourself: If I make the sale in this way, what does it mean for the customer and for us as a business, and how might it impact on the other departments?

Considering the culture of your organisation is particularly important if you’re the person setting the targets. Be mindful that the targets you set will drive a certain kind of behaviour so make sure that the sales process you’re encouraging reflects the culture of your organisation.