The use of technology to monitor work performance is on an increase. Some of it may be good but some of it may not be necessary. According to a 2016 article from the Boston Globe, the amount of money technology companies plan to make on performance devices or software within the next few years will go from $200 million to $500 million. The New York Times recently reported Amazon is developing a wristband to track employees’ movements so packages can supposedly be shipped faster. Are there other less expensive strategies workplaces can use that will help not just with performance issues but the overall organization? The answer is yes and we’ve seen it. One simple strategy is to just interact with each other.
By including employees or asking employees for their ideas on how to improve productivity, it costs nothing except the time to get together and discuss the issue. It helps not just with an isolated problem but with the entire performance of the organization. Involving employees has proven to have significant benefits for those organizations that have tried it.
A perfect example we use over and over again is Skinner Diesel who had horrible safety performance issues. Those issues were costing the owner so much money that he was ready to close but by asking employees and involving them in safety matters, he has been able to expand his business and increase his employee benefit package. According to cultural assessments we did at the worksite, employees also agreed improvements had been made not just in safety but in the overall atmosphere. Safety committee meetings are productive and typically last no more than a half hour unless there are other issues needing attention. This did NOT involve expensive technology to monitor performance.
Another group we worked with involved offices in different locations. These employees were concerned about losing their jobs to technology. A labor-management committee was formed to look at the issue. They had productive meetings that lasted approximately two to three hours for over a year to look at the work each of the offices was doing. The offices all did the same type of work but each had a different approach. All of these employees reviewed the jobs being done and looked at the technology that was being used. The outcome was amazing. Instead of complaining and being afraid of the technology, the employees saw how it was helping them with their jobs. They utilized the information and the technology to design more productive offices. No employees lost their job and, in fact, were able to help write their own job descriptions. Everybody, including the organization, made gains addressing the problem without the intervention and cost of monitoring devices.
In another example, a manager at a team meeting addressed the usage of rags which was adding increased costs to the organization. The manager shared financial information with the team so everyone had a better understanding of the situation. While this was not a significant issue, it was a good issue for employees to consider since they used the rags. Once again, a productive discussion took place with how the rags were being used and how fewer rags could be used. The end result was the rag usage went down and so did the costs associated with it. The employees in that meeting not only changed their habits but went back to the shop floor and encouraged their peers to change their usage, too. Once they realized they had solved the problem, the employees asked the manager, “What else can we do to bring down costs?” Again, NO robot or monitoring technology was around or needed to be used to change the work habits of employees.
Technology to address performance may be a good idea for some jobs. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) posted on their website in 2015 when it’s beneficial and some thoughts on how to implement the technology. Performance technology can help with training or help delivery drivers with safety issues or finding locations. Data derived from the technology can also be beneficial it also depends on how that data is interpreted and used. What is more important is how the technology will implemented. SHRM suggested what we have advocated, talk to employees about it first. Having face-to-face conversations can help with buy-in and let employees know you respect them and want to hear from about the issue. Listening and answering their questions will help ease concerns and build trust. Involving them from the very beginning will provide huge rewards! They probably will have some ideas to help with implementation and will be more willing to help with implementation.
Working together helps us learn about each other. It provides different perspectives that can best be conveyed through face-to-face interaction. Identifying issues and concerns helps us to better understand each other. Listening to other people can help us think differently or expose us to things we may not have considered. A person in a team may very well be able to design technology that will help a group solve a problem but it should be done after there has been discussion about the problem being addressed.
Concerns on employee performance, too, can be addressed other ways. For example, a manager can meet periodically with an employee to determine how the employee is doing on a project. It also provides an opportunity for coaching or assistance if need be. If technology is being used just to catch employees doing something wrong, that only creates bad work environments which increases more costs such as turnover and lower productivity. Most employees want to do the right thing. If there’s a problem with an individual, it should be taken up with the individual.
As I hear some of these stories about performance monitoring technology, I think about the movie, The Time Machine, based on the H. G. Wells book. In the story, H. G. Wells creates a futuristic population that replaces humans. One of the groups in this future race is the Eloi which was supposed to represent the elite class in society but to me, it represents us and the use of technology. The Eloi act like robots because they barely interact with each other. They lack the ability to act on their own even for survival. They couldn’t save one of their own people from drowning, they didn’t know how to grow food and they had no leadership. Their ability to solve problems had diminished. Is that where we’re headed? Will we allow the use of technology to increase so that we don’t have to interact with each other but allow the technology to tell us how to think or move in a certain way?