The Employment Market is Backwards

The employment market has it all wrong. Conventionally and traditionally, full-time jobs are characterized as 40+-hour-work-weeks. Consequently, employers believe that they are paying for people’s time. And that belief leads them to expect employees to keep their butts in that office chair for those 40+ hours or otherwise put in 40+ hours of work every week. Although there is some emphasis on results, and employers do strive to hold people accountable for their work product, there is still this underlying emphasis on “time spent” and instead of “results delivered”.

That screws everything up. First, ambitious professionals looking to achieve results become disengaged over time. Smart, efficient, professional employees who figure out how to do their jobs in 30 hours instead of 40, may feel like they still “owe” their employer another 10 hours, and their employer may expect that too. Meanwhile, managers that harp on time spent often don’t recognize the value these employees are adding by creating efficiencies in their processes. Instead those valuable employees are treated like immature and unprofessional workers whose time must be closely monitored and tracked. In lieu of giving these employees a pat on the back, saying “thank you, good job,” giving them a bump in pay, or offering some flex time, some employers will give them work, have them take on someone else’s projects or otherwise find a way to keep them busy until 5:00 rolls around. Over time, resentment builds, and employees don’t feel recognized, valued or appreciated. These employees (and many others) often become disengaged or even worse, negatively engaged. Employee morale suffers, the employer-employee relationship suffers, turnover increases, lawsuits become a risk and it’s a lose-lose for everyone.

Similarly, not-so-ambitious employees who just want a paycheck may end up taking their sweet time in accomplishing their tasks with no effort toward creating efficiencies in their process. They take as much time as they are given to do their jobs, even if they could do the job in half the time. Because they are not compensated for their results, they are incentivized to use up every minute to do their job. These employees can easily take advantage of their employer’s ignorance of technical knowledge, lack of management, etc. because the emphasis is on the hours worked and not on the results delivered. Again, the business suffers, employers get frustrated, turnover increases, lawsuits arise, and it’s a lose-lose again.

Unfortunately, this is rampant in small and medium-sized businesses that hire internal accounting staff. Business owners often don’t have the technical accounting knowledge to hire, train manage, and lead accounting professionals within their business. So instead, they try to hold their staff accountable by watching the clock and making sure employees are putting their time in. Little do they know how much time the work should actually take! More often than not, the reality is very different from the business owner’s perception.

Time for a Shift

It’s time we change our perspective. It’s time we focus more on results delivered than time spent. It’s time we hold each other accountable and change our expectations. But how? How do we shift our mindsets in such a drastic way? In a world where there is so much mistrust, fear of people stealing time and money, a constant concern over not getting screwed – how do we lead from a place of trust toward full accountability and results?

At a la carte solutions, our employees are scattered around the city, working from various locations at different times. Some are onsite with our clients while others are working from home, the library, a co-working space, or a Starbucks. I don’t have the luxury (or the crutch, depending on your perspective) of being able to see them sitting in an office chair for 8 hours a day/5 days per week to make sure they are working. Yes, they complete timesheets, but I have no real way of knowing how much time they are actually spending at work. And I don’t really care. What I care about are results. I care that they are taking care of my clients, doing the work we promised we would do, when we promised it. A lot of trust goes into this of course. But I’m not sitting back on blind faith hoping that our employees are doing the best they can, working hard and positively engaged. No way! We have systems and processes in place to make sure they are.

For example, our clients actually give us letter grades using a Report Card to judge our performance. Every quarter, we give our clients the opportunity to grade us with A’s and B’s (so far no C’s and D’s thank goodness!) on how well we are delivering a la c.a.r.t.e results (Completeness, Accuracy, Reliability, Timeliness and Excellence). We also have a recognition and rewards program in place where employees publicly recognize each other for living our core values, providing excellent service, and doing high-quality work that is a la c.a.r.t.e. Our operations team performance is measured by how long our clients stay with us and how often they refer business to us. We have all kinds of metrics and Key Performance Indicators that tell us whether our team is delivering results or not. So we don’t need to be able to track their time to tell whether or not they are producing results. We can easily tell.

If this resonates with you and you want to shift into a results-oriented mindset, my advice would be to start by answering these 3 questions:

  1. What results should I expect if my employee does his or her job well?
  2. How can I measure whether or not my employee is achieving these results?
  3. How much am I willing to compensate my employee for those results and is that in line with his or her current compensation structure? If not, what changes can I make?

As you think about these questions, keep in mind that there is no thought given to time spent at all. If you as an employer are being reasonable with your expectations and your employee is solid, the economics of time and money will work themselves out. Also keep in mind that there may be some non-monetary perks that you could consider offering to your employee with regard to question #3 above. Now that you are emphasizing results and not time spent, things like working remotely suddenly become a huge advantage to you both.

Once you’ve answered those 3 questions, sit down with your employee and have a conversation. Explain to him or her the mindset shift you are trying to make and why you are making it. Work with your employee to develop metrics and key performance indicators that will signal to both of you whether the desired results are being realized from the work being produced.

If you are able to successfully navigate this change in mindset, I promise that you will see huge shifts in productivity from your employees, profits from your business, and above all, peace of mind!

As always, if you need help figuring out how to hold your accounting staff accountable, figuring out how to measure their results, or even what the desired outcomes from their work should be, give us a call. We’re happy to help.


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