"Why do we still pay Al Levi for ongoing consulting three years after we first started working together? Because I know how easy it would be to fall back into our old bad habits."
Steve Lowry, Owner
Lowry Electric, Inc.
Hatfield, PA
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Checking In vs. Snooping

In a bunch of management articles and blogs I’ve read in the last few years, there is more and more discussion about the ever-growing amount of time being wasted in the office by personnel and staff in the field.

A really good blog on this subject is in the link below:


The issue I’ve had from the beginning of my first becoming a manager, then an owner and now an industry-consultant is to find what is the right balance between checking in on staff and what amounts to spying on employees.

I will confess that while at work I’m all about work and that is pretty much what I expected from my employees and that’s what I teach my clients to expect from their employees. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for time to just hang out, chat and share a laugh. Remember, we come to work as much to socialize as well as we do just to collect a check. To my mind, that time of coming together whether in the break room for office staff or at the local 7-Eleven™ or Circle K™ is vital to team building. It’s worse when people are “stealing” productive time to do solo-time wasting activities.

My friend who worked his whole life in big corporate America told me that there was an art to always looking busy… whether it was pouring over stacks of reports in the old days when stuff got printed that then turned into staring at the computer when the stuff moved to digital. Productivity didn’t change much. People just found new ways to look busy.

I know that many Techs wake up and already have it figured out how many calls they plan on doing that day and people in the office also wake up figuring out just how much they will do today. It’s only human nature to want to do the least if left to their own devices. Who at your company if unchecked can’t figure out how to expand the work to the desired timeframe? That of course being their desired timeframe, not yours.

None of this makes people bad employees; it just makes them human.

The problem is this ever-expanding productive time wasting activities can rob you of the profits you need to have a profitable business that benefit you, the owner, and also them, the employees, and even your customers.

Time wasting is going on in both the office and in the field.

So, what can you do about it?

You can choose to buy software and computer tracking programs that can see just how much time is being spent on which programs. You can limit access to certain websites. After all, it’s your computer. Just know that this worked great awhile back. But with the advent of everyone carrying a smart phone loaded pretty much with a limitless data plan, employees who get wind of this tracking just use their smart phones to bypass your computer so they can handle the pressing need to check their status and post some pictures online.

You can have cameras on people all over the place and record everything at any time of the day. Of course that really does come off as spying on people and it screams, “I’m watching you.” Or worse, “I don’t trust you.” Besides, who’s going to watch all of this?

You can time track field employees by GPS tracking or even track them on their company-provided cell phones. Software that is tied to this can also see about productivity.

All of this comes down to the hard balance between accountability and spying on people.

To me, I feel it’s great to use technology but you must let staff know that you’re doing it. The worst thing that can happen is they find out on their own what you’ve been doing to check on/spy on them. This will cause a giant us vs. them rift between management and employees. Nothing good will come of this. I’ve seen it all too often when I first arrive to do consulting. I learn of this because I conduct one-to-one interviews with a good sampling of the staff where they know that what they say remains strictly confidential. The conversation quickly turns to us vs. them and they are more than a little bit angry with their bosses.

Proactively, I believe that office design done right, the way I teach it, you can reduce these issues with visual accountability. There needs to be everyone down on one level, no ivory tower management that is disconnected from employees. There needs to be an open floor space with a minimal of closed doors in an open seating plan. The goal is to have people sitting in the building determined strictly by the Organizational Chart. The managers must be in close proximity to those they manage. It’s not about spying but being there to be in touch with what’s going on, lending support when necessary, seeing how time is being spent and trying to catch them doing something good and making a big deal out of it.

People actually like when you pay attention but only if it’s more about complimenting them than criticizing them.

Doing ride-alongs with Techs is helpful is so many ways you won’t believe it. Being side-by-side, encourages people in the field to feel like they’re part of the team. One of my clients told me he had a great way to improve his ride-alongs. He made it a goal to let them know they are appreciated for what they do and he gave them a great reputation to live up to. This he found actually got his troops to perform better. I believe just being there with them also encourages this right kind of behavior.

It’s also vital that you recognize that employees like to be treated like grownups and not kids. I learned this lesson many years ago when I found myself fuming because my guys would load up for a job early and then pull up the block and proceed to hang out at the coffee shop vs. proceeding to the job. Finally, I said to the team, “I’m not your dad. You can stop for coffee and do whatever but you need to be at the jobsite [if they were an installer] or first service call [if they were a service tech] within 30 minutes of the start of day.” They were now in charge of managing their time accordingly and all I checked on was whether they called in when they arrived in the correct timeframe.

Finally, I am a firm believer that you “Can’t expect what you’re unwilling to inspect.” That means you have to be amongst the team as management to see what is and isn’t going on. The good news is this builds a better team culture and that is what separates ordinary shops and great shops.

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If you find that you keep saying to yourself...
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  • We are delivering an inconsistent level of service.
  • I feel like I'm answering the same questions over and over.
  • I spend more time as an employee than as a manager.
  • Call-backs keep me from moving on to new calls/sales.
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  • This business just isn't fun for me anymore.
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