“Butts in Seats” or “Minds in Action”

Sometimes its the most basic things that get your mind churning!  For me, a graphic posted by Michael Cilla last week did it (his site has a lot of great information and thought-provoking material).  Go ahead and click the link to see the specifics of this illustration, which is focused on time wasted by employees while at work.

Employers are constantly fretting about internet use by employees, presumed frivolous socializing between co-workers, and other random “personal business” on which workers spend their time during the day.  And these distractions can be detrimental, I admit.  But what’s the real issue that this discussion highlights?

The simple way for companies to address distractions in the workplace is clearly not the easiest change to enact, judging by the on-going resistance to it.  So, let’s explore briefly what the true issue is…..

The belief that employees are inherently lazy and in need of continuously tightening rules and restrictions in order to get them to work is, quite honestly, anachronistic.  It’s McGregor’s Theory X.  Employees are lazy.  A cattle prod is needed to get them to work at all.  Picture the boss, bullhorn in hand, cajoling action through the crack of the whip.  It’s old school, and to be frank, it’s been largely proven ineffectual over the years.

What if instead, we actually trusted our employees to get their work done?  What if we stopped viewing “butts in seats” as the solution to productivity gains and instead focused on “minds in action?”

In coaching leaders, I often ask if there are specific times of day when a leader finds his energy and attention levels highest and lowest.  Not once has a leader responded that they are equally capable at all times of maintaining the same high level of energy.  For some, rising early with the sun sparks a burst of energy that sustains itself throughout the morning, but slowly diminishes after lunch.  For others, their energy level starts out low, but builds to a crescendo sometime mid-afternoon.  And yet, despite acknowledging their own oscillating energy levels, they hold out expectations that employees must work steadily throughout the day.  What sense that does make?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll certainly say it again…..why not build an organizational culture in which employees understand their responsibility for accomplishing particular tasks, projects, or assignments and simply hold them accountable for doing so?  If someone can accomplish a task in seven hours (with a high level of quality workmanship), who really cares if they spent an hour during the day on social media sites?  Now, if they aren’t meeting their required tasks, that’s a different story.  But it’s a performance management issue individual to that employee.  The majority of employees will relish the freedom you grant them in doing their work when and how they prefer, maximizing their energy levels and individual productivity.

People want to be responsible.  They want to do a good job.  They want to accomplish their tasks and contribute to the positive direction of the organization.  You know, those aren’t just traits of leadership!

So, stop viewing socializing and internet usage as counter-productive.  Stop equating these activities with laziness or inactivity.  Instead, leverage these realities of the modern workplace to enact a change in the way you manage and lead your employees.  Start providing expectations and holding people accountable if (and that’s a big IF), they fail to meet the assignment expectations.

STOP the “butts in seats” mentality.  START the “minds in action” approach to leadership.

2 thoughts on ““Butts in Seats” or “Minds in Action”

  1. I like your point but do think there are those who do go waaaayyyy overboard. A lot of those Internet bubble companies with the young nimble minds gotta little to heavily invested in “pondering their navel time” forgetting that there is also a lot of grunt work that gets done to accomplish big tasks. I worked for one of them at one point.

    1. I believe that if tasks and/or projects are not getting done, the individuals responsible for them should be held accountable. However, it’s an individual, one-on-one performance management issue that shouldn’t be used to restrict those who would operate best with maximum flexibility. The “pondering their navel time” is only an issue if it’s allowed to supersede task completion. Set project deadlines (or milestone deadlines), and then step aside. Let your employees know that their responsibility is NOT to be at their desk or cubicle from this time to this time, but rather to accomplish the “mission” however and whenever they can within the deadline framework. If they repeatedly fail to do so, it’s time to find another employee who will.

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