5 ways to manage better without cheap recognition tricks

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 08

When you lay off millions of workers, management does it to save money and to try and maintain profitability. Too often, however, the amount of work stays the same, forced now on the remaining workers. While the Wall Street Journal notes that ” rewards for extra work comes cheap,” recognition tricks really don’t get to the heart of what management needs to do after the layoff:

Facing a deadline to deliver software to a customer, Rockwell Collins Inc. manager Jenny Miller persuaded 20 engineers to work Thanksgiving weekend. Her only lures were free lunch and $100 gift cards.

Ms. Miller’s feat is part of a daily struggle for managers now: figuring out how to squeeze more work from lean, recession-battered staffs.

You’d think that the daunting task facing management is deciding between pizza lunches on the weekends and $5 Starbucks gift cards to keep the caffeine coming.

I get recognition, but I’d rather management actually managed after a layoff. What does management need to do to stop stuffing the same amount of work into significantly less work force? Here’s some suggestions:

Reduce the number of meetings for employees

Seriously, Death by Meeting hurts you in good times. It kills you in lean times. Every wasteful meeting without an agenda, postponing decisions in the meeting and not defining the next actions for the participants to do after a meeting hurts your productivity. The only way to make up every lost hour due to poor meeting planning and execution is more hours at night or on the weekend.

Management calls the meetings; management needs to manage the meetings so there isn’t a wasted moment in them.

Reduce the number of people needed in the meetings you do have

How many times have we asked someone to be in a meeting so they have awareness of the issues in the meeting? Or because it is a standing meeting and they attend even though there is nothing for them in that particular standing meeting?

Or, a person is needed in a meeting for ten minutes to update the participants on some project — but they stay the entire one or two hours for the rest of the meeting? Do your part — then leave.

Meeting participants need to be in meetings to offer input into a decision, make a decision, or will carry out the work from a decision made in a meeting. In a Results Only Work Environment, every meeting is optional because if the meeting doesn’t support progress to your goals, you don’t need to attend. How many companies run meetings like that?

Evaluate the need for recurring work on your team

We casually start a weekly report for some problem we want to track, solve the problem and then four months later we’re still having the team produce the same report. Why?

Every single recurring piece of work your team does needs examining. Status reports are great and important — but do they need to include everything they include now? How about the activities on the report — do they still need doing?

Time is the capacity to get work done. The more time you give your employees by managing the work load, the less the need for cheap recognition tricks.

Evaluate the work process to look for efficiencies

In manufacturing, there is an approach to process called Lean. Essentially, you take out of the process anything that isn’t critical for customer satisfaction. A perfect functional process is one that maximizes customer satisfaction with zero waste. Zero.

If you are doing anything extra that does not contribute to your customer’s satisfaction, don’t do it any more and free up your resources and time to work on the right stuff.

Really eliminate functions

I worked in an ITIL environment and part of my employee’s work was getting Service Level Agreements done for various departments in the company. Management made a decision to not go the ITIL route anymore — and they laid off about 50 people in the department that were working to get ITIL up and going. That included the people working Service Level Agreements.

Two weeks after the layoff, I was asked to provide an overview of our work on Service Level Agreements to another department. After the presentation, they said that their group should be able to help my remaining staff produce Service Level Agreements. Like they were still important even though all the people developing them were laid off.

I offered all the documentation we had and offered to do any presentations about the work we did — but we weren’t going to spend one second doing anything to produce Service Level Agreements. Upper management, by laying off the workforce working on Service Level Agreements, was telling everyone Service Level Agreements were not important to the business.

Too many managers still want to do all the same work without the same staff. Instead, management’s responsibility is to ensure that only the critical work for the company is done and redefine the work after a layoff.

Employees get cheap recognition tricks — but want management

Recognition is important to everyone, but gift cards and bringing in pizza isn’t recognition. Recognition is management understanding that the work needs to change after a layoff. The work done has to be ruthlessly focused on the customer and not on whatever was done in the past.

Sure, there will be some long hours and weekend work after a layoff. But the layoff says we no longer have the amount of business we had or no longer value the functions done by the people management laid off. Layoffs do not mean we have the same workload and we’re dumping all of it on the remaining employees. Then give them gift cards when they work company holidays and call it management.

My rule is that after a layoff, management gets about 30-days to reconfigure the workload. If the workload stays the same after 30-days with a reduced workforce, management doesn’t get it.

  • I particularly liked the tips about meetings, especially to “Reduce the number of people needed in the meetings you do have.” The only thing more frustrating about too many meetings is being compelled to attend a meeting — and expected to stay for the while time — when you really only ned to be there for a small portion of it. Let people maximize their productivity and don't trap them in a room for an hour when you just need their 5 minute debrief.

  • Good additions, Gale!

    And the e-mail pop-ups drove me crazy until I turned them off…

  • Great article! I just read a book called “I Hate People” that focuses on these types of sanity saving measures. Reduction in meetings is a GREAT way to add some sanity back to the worker bee life. Here are some other tips managers can try with their teams to free up time for more productive work:

    -Ask employees to block an hour each morning or afternoon during which NO ONE is to interrupt anyone else's work. Even emergencies can wait. An hour chunk of time can help employees get projects done.
    -Turn off your automatic email pop-ups & find a time each day when you focus your attention on e-mail. Forget about it for the rest of the day! Interruptions like e-mail keep us from getting real value-added work done.
    -Keep meetings to half an hour and always use an agenda (as stated in this article)
    -Allowing employees to work from home actually increases their productivity levels. It's also a great way to boost employee morale right now.

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