Many managers fear their people are not working as hard or as smart from home, as they would if they were in the office. This is often dismissed as ‘Performance Paranoia‘. But what if it is actually valid and can serve a valuable purpose?
Summary & Conclusions
Managers are right to be anxious about ‘the Way WE Work’ in a post pandemic world. But the issue goes deeper than ‘hybrid working’, ‘performance theatre’, ‘quiet quitting’ or any other buzzword or convenient label. It goes to the heart of the Way We Work in large organizations today.
Executives are spending 70% of their time on internal collaboration, but they believe that 50% of it ‘adds little or no value’. So, there are lots of reasons to be anxious about performance.
Leaders can transform their anxiety into a productive force by
- Engaging people in a dialog about ‘the Way WE Work’ (as a team).
- Empowering teams (enabling them to take ownership and accountability) for optimizing its performance. Also, for tackling their frustrations and managing the level of pressure they are under.
- Helping their teams to plan – do – review its most important work on an ongoing basis using the 9Rs framework.
This practical approach aims to ensure that whether people are in the office or remote working, they are in the Right Roles, doing the Right Work, working together in the Right Way towards the Right Results, with the Right Resources and so on.
The payback from optimizing ‘the Way We Work’ puts issues like ‘Quite Quitting’ and ‘Performance Theatre’ into context. It has the potential to deliver performance gains and efficiencies of 5-24%. Thus, it can claim the position of the number one strategy for boosting performance and productivity.
Are You Paranoid About Performance?
Remote Working – workers like it, managers don’t – that is a simplified version of the present reality in many organizations1.
Many managers fear their people are not working as hard or as smart from home, as they would if they were in the office. Perhaps, there are times when you have felt this way yourself?
The term ‘‘performance paranoia’’ appear in the countless articles and papers being written on the subject. The advice offered includes: ‘Get over it – stop being paranoid!’ But what if that’s wrong? What if the concerns about the way we work post pandemic are valid and real?
It’s Better to be Concerned Than Delusional!
The trends regarding productivity, labor costs and the economy generally mean that employer are right to be concerned, even paranoid, about performance.
It is not delusional to worry about performance in respect of remote and hybrid working. In the language of one of our coaching colleagues: ‘Telling managers they are ‘crazy’ to be worried about performance is itself ‘crazy’. After all, being concerned about performance is a key part of the manager’s job.
As one CEO put it recently ‘I want all our managers to be obsessed about performance – that is their job! I want them to be continuously thinking – can we do better?’
A Little Paranoia Can Be A Good Thing!
Absolutely, you should be curious about the way your team is working. If you are in touch with the daily realities of work, you are likely to have some concerns too.
While it is easy to say that ‘‘performance paranoia’’ demonstrates a lack of trust this may be over-simplistic. However, while it is ok to experience anxiety about performance, don’t just settle for the easy answer or the simple solution, such as ‘get them all back into the office’ or ‘let’s track what’s happening on people’s PCs’.
‘Performance paranoia’ is real’ argues another of our leadership coaching colleagues. ‘You are feeling it for a reason. So, don’t dismiss it. Listen to it – interrogate it – dig deeper – get to the root of what it is really telling you’.
Closely related to ‘performance paranoia’ are other issues popularized in the media, such as:
Quiet Quitting – a reported rise in the level of disengagement – where people do no more than they need to do to keep their jobs2.
Performance Theatre – the notion that people working from home are making themselves look busier than they really are3.
Given the column inches devoted to these topics it is little wonder that managers are increasingly paranoid regarding performance. Also, that there is a reported rise in the use of Productivity Tracking software.
If anxiety, or even paranoia, about performance gets you to really examine the factors that are driving your team’s performance, plus the factors that are holding it back, then that is positive indeed.
A Better Diagnosis of the Problem
In reality, you will struggle to find any team – office based, virtual or hybrid – that says it is operating at 80% or 90% productivity or efficiency, much less 100%! When you ask them why you will hear a long list of reasons:
- A proliferation of projects and priorities
- A lack of alignment
- A scarcity of resources
- A frenetic environment where everything is urgent
- Challenges managing internal stakeholders
- Cumbersome and slow bureaucratic processes and procedures, even internal politics.
What is noticeable about this list is that it has little to do with remote or hybrid working. These factors are ‘timeless classics’ that existed before the pandemic and will exist long after the pandemic is over. Moreover, they arguably have less to do with the team and more to do with the organization.
So, if you wonder why people are not getting enough done or why they are not enthusiastic about the latest addition to the list of priorities, then look here (the above factors) for the cause.
Admiration Vs Paranoia: ‘I could not do it’ says one of our leadership coaching team. ‘The endless internal meetings, the unrelenting pressure, the growing workload and the internal bureaucracy – the level of commitment we see within teams is amazing.’ she continues. ‘The danger is that the narrative of quiet quitting and performance theater suggests the opposite. Most of the executives that we work with are too busy to be disengaged!’ she concludes.
Paranoia Beats Denial Re. Performance
It could be said that the most deluded managers are those who don’t believe that there are opportunities to optimize performance. That is a worse situation than being paranoid about performance, especially when you see data such as the following4:
The above data suggests that it is no shame to have concerns or anxieties about performance. Indeed, you’d probably be in denial if you didn’t!
Opportunities abound when it comes to ‘the Way WE Work’ – you can see from the graph that executives rate some fundamental aspects as low as 47% (i.e. ‘right way of working together’). The average score across all the factors shown (called the 7Rs or 7 Rights) being 65%.
Focusing on the opportunity, as opposed to just the problem, the graph illuminates the potential in red – with an average of 35% potential across all the 7Rs. So it is that opportunities abound to optimize ‘the Way WE Work’.
Are You Ready to Act?
The figures regarding ‘the Way WE Work’ (shown in the graph) are at once a cause for alarm and a cause for excitement. They suggest that the return to the office, hybrid working and remote working are merely a ‘red herring’ – a distraction from the real issue. The fundamental issues relating to the Way We Work (as shown in the graph) need to be fixed first.
The magnitude of the performance losses in respect of ‘the Way WE Work’ – a full 37% of time lost due to poor internal collaboration – puts ‘quiet quitting’2 and ‘the great resignation’5 into context.
Optimizing ‘the Way WE Work’ is the principal productivity challenge facing organizations today. Importantly, it is also the number one performance opportunity or solution.
One of the greatest sources of waste and inefficiency in the executive workplace results from a lack of alignment, rather than a lack of productivity. With a multiplicity of projects, priorities and metrics, executives find themselves pulling in all directions. This leaves executives to wonder if they are doing the right work (teams can get up to 43% better at this according to the benchmarking data above) or focused on the right result (teams can get up to 21% better at this).
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Frustrations around Remote or Hybrid Working are a symptom rather than a cause of concerns around productivity and performance. The real issue goes deeper.
The real issue is not where we work, but ‘the Way WE Work’. It is just that hybrid working has brought ways of working into focus unlike ever before. Until this the productivity of the white-collar worker has received little attention.
In most cases ‘performance paranoia’ stems from a genuine concern or real frustration about ‘the Way WE Work’. More specifically, about whether people are in the right roles, doing the right work, working together in the right way, towards the right results, etc. Moreover, re-framing it this way enables you to do something about it.
If somebody is doing the wrong work or there is confusion regarding the right result, then whether they are working in the office, or at home makes little difference.
Could ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘performance theatre’ be:
- A natural re-balancing of an unhealthy over-work culture one that was fulled by the blurring lines between work and home as a result of remote working.
- What the economists call the law of diminishing marginal returns – where people have reached the point where working longer and harder actually diminished performance, while also impacting the quality of their life?
- What others call Parkinson’s Law (i.e. where work expands to fill the time available for its completion) – only in reverse. All this is to say that we don’t need people working harder – we need them working smarter!
Paranoia About Team Performance
The fact that more and more of the organization’s work is being done in teams greatly adds to the legitimacy of concerns regarding performance.
Today’s executives say that they are spending on average 70% of the week on internal meetings and other forms of collaboration. As teamwork and collaboration now account for the majority of work, it makes sense that they would also account for the majority of any waste and inefficiency at work. The data certainly suggests that this is true – with executives suggesting that up to 50% of the time spent on teamwork and collaboration adding little or no value. That is a real call to action!
In reality, there will always be opportunities to optimize and improve ‘the Way WE Work’ within large organizations. This is especially true when the work is complex – when it involves teamwork and cross-functional collaboration, multiple stakeholders, competing priorities, limited resources, and so on. Also, when greater speed, agility and innovation are required.
A belief that there will always be opportunities to optimize ‘the Way WE Work is the equivalent of a growth mindset in the workplace.
Performance Anxiety Isn’t Limited to Managers
Managers are not the only ones who are anxious about the ability of their teams to get their work done. A form of performance anxiety is also keenly felt by all those who are swamped by endless meetings, emails and IMs. It is given expression by executives who in an attempt to ‘stay on top of their work’ have switched to an ‘always on’ mode that includes working long days without a break, checking emails before bedtime and on the weekend.
Of course, there will always be people who are not fully engaged – perhaps people who for their own good and the good of the organization should move on. However, the overriding sense of the modern executive workplace is not of disappointing levels of commitment but of heroic sacrifice for their organizations.
- In a Microsoft Survey in September 2022 87% of the employees said working from home has increased their productivity, and 80% of the supervisors didn’t concur. Link https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work-is-just-work [↩]
- See: Quiet quitting: Employees suffering pandemic burnout say they’ve just stopped working as hard by PAUL DAVIDSON of USA TODAY, 14/08/22. Link: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/money/2022/08/14/what-is-quiet-quitting/10304956002/ [↩] [↩]
- Some suggest that this ‘theater’ could be taking more than an hour per day – see ‘Killing Time Report 2022’ by Qatalog and Github, Link: https://language.work/research/killing-time-at-work/ [↩]
- Data from a sample 2500 global executives gathered via Pitstop Analytics 2020-22 [↩]
- One in five workers plan to quit their jobs in 2022, according to one of the largest surveys of the global workforce – PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey May 2022, Link: https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/workforce/hopes-and-fears-2022.html#overview [↩]