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As a Leadership Style ‘Big Brother” Isn’t Going to Work

As a Leadership Style ‘Big Brother” Isn’t Going to Work

June 18, 2020
“Using software to monitor what someone is doing on their computer screen does not gel with showing trust in your workforce and it’s certainly not a way to motivate people,” said Jim Guilkey, CEO S4 NetQuest.

Trying to figure out what millennial and Gen X employees need from a workplace culture has practically been a national pastime for manufacturing leaders. While most have a pretty good understanding of these workers’ preferences, and many have solid programs in place, there is now another large wrinkle to consider.

As COVID-19 has pushed much of the workforce into home offices, and many want to retain this arrangement permanently, managers are trying to figure out ways to ensure high levels of productivity.

One increasingly popular solution is to employ technology that can monitor employees’ workflow. Software is available that can track keyboard strokes and mouse movements. Other programs can record what webpages employees visit. There is the capability of downloading videos of an employee’s computer screen.  And technology placed on phones can keep tabs on what employees are doing during the workday If that wasn’t enough an employer can enable an employee's computer webcam to take a picture of the employee every ten minutes.

“This ‘big brother’ approach isn’t going to be well received at all by younger workers,” explains Jim Guilkey, CEO of S4 NetQuest, a company that provides learning programs to many large manufacturing companies. He is also the author of M-pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage; What All Executives Need to Know.

“Using software to monitor what someone is doing on their computer screen does not gel with showing trust in your workforce and it’s certainly not a way to motivate people,” Guilkey added.

And it’s not just the young workforce that objects. “I’m a Baby Boomer and I would be offended if that technology was used on me,” Guilkey explained.

Is Panicking a Smart Leadership Style?

While understanding the need to ensure a high level of productivity, especially in these tough economic times, Guilkey says that a “balance must be struck between people and profit.”

He understands that right now leadership is in a bit of panic. They are concerned about making it through this challenging situation. “A knee-jerk reaction to micro-manage, and monitor the workforce, is not a good long-term strategy. Once the economy picks back up the measures you took will be how you are viewed in the marketplace. How will you retain and recruit future employees?”

Do Your Metrics Require a Heavy Hand?

Instead of moving toward a system that relies on closely monitoring people to achieve specific business metrics,  look more carefully at what you are measuring advises Guilkey.

“Here is how I measure our team. I ask three basic questions. Did you get it done on time? Is it within budget? Was it the highest quality?”

Those are the metrics that matter, he says. “I don’t care how they achieve this, I trust my team.”

Trusting your team is the “people first” approach of a leadership strategy that provides long-term results.

Guilkey gave the example of how he is communicating with his own team while they work remotely.  

At their Monday meetings, they don’t focus on the projects that are underway but instead use the time to talk about the creative ways team members are using their quarantine time. He encourages them to show photos of their families and DYI projects.

“ I believe that as a result of facing this pandemic together, my team is tighter,” says Guilkey. “We know more about it each other than we would have under regular circumstances.”

The teambuilding exercise Guilkey uses is part of building trust, which is key to an engaged and successful workforce. “I tell companies that if they have to use a "big brother" approach, it’s really a red flag that something is wrong in the organization,” Guilkey says. “If you feel the need to monitor people so closely you either have an internal process problem, are not managing people correctly, or you don’t have the right people in the right positions.”

Finding the right people for the right jobs is one of the biggest challenges manufacturing is facing and will continue to face. Once the economy is on a stronger track workers will have choices about where, and how they will work.

“Trust is something highly valued by this younger generation,” says Guilkey. “If an employer trusts them to get their jobs done, in a way that best suits their talents, they will stay with those types of companies. And that, in turn,  will ensure the high level of productivity a company desires.”

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