The Most Unproductive Conversation Leaders Are Having

The Most Unproductive Conversation Leaders Are Having

There is one conversation that comes up time and time again when my corporate HR and Leader friends are sharing their work stories with me. It’s a conversation that drives me nuts. It’s a conversation that I used to have, too, when I was working in the corporate world, so I can see how it is perpetuated in that grey, cubicle-filled, bureaucratic world. Several years ago, I realized how wrong and unproductive this conversation was. It has taken me quite a while to get past it. Change is hard.

To some of my friends, I owe an apology. Chances are, you’ll read this and think “uh oh, she’s talking about me!” And I am. But I’m really talking to the world of workplace leaders. There is this one conversation that you’re having with your people on a regular basis that drives me nuts and is completely unproductive. Even the most enlightened and forward-thinking of you are having this conversation. If we’ve talked about it, I’ve likely tried to bite my tongue. You’ve seen me cringe. I may have been unable to hold back and come out with an argument or question that was uncomfortable. I’m sorry. But I must try to stop you from continuing this crazy conversation…

The most unproductive conversation you are having is about TIME.

That’s right. It’s about how Sally called in sick, how Bob leaves early all the time, how Tracey takes long lunches, and how Don has another Doctor’s appointment… again! It’s about the gall of some people, thinking they can make up their own work hours and not show up every day by 9. It’s about how people resent their coworkers because of the time they’re not at their desks. It’s about how unfair it is that Martha gets to work from home. It’s about how much time Brenda spends on Facebook when she “should be” working. It’s about summer hours, Christmas break, and long weekends. And it’s all irrelevant to your business and unproductive as a focus.

Here is the truth about TIME.

1. The work will take as much time as someone has.

Ever heard of Parkinson’s Law? It states that:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Parkinson wrote this somewhat in jest, based on his experience working in civil service, but in effect, this law is often true in the corporate world. How many times have you planned to spend hours working on something, gotten pulled away, then realized you had only an hour left to complete it, and yet, you somehow got it done? Although arguably, many of us have reached the limit, for a time, we all seem to have been given more work to do and somehow we continue to complete it all.

2. Just because people are “at work” for a certain amount of time does not mean they’re working.

One of my favourite examples of this happened in my home town, Hamilton, Ontario, last year, when 29 workers were fired for misconduct and time theft. Basically, they clocked in and slept, went shopping, took long lunches, and more. The city had to use covert surveillance to find that people were not spending their time working and ultimately not getting their work done. The city, like most workplaces, manages people by the amount of time they put in. What if they turned that on its head and, instead, managed by results. Knowing these workers were responsible for things like patching potholes, manage the result – safe roads, pot-hole free – not the time people are clocked in. If these workers were more focused on the purpose of their job, and less on their hourly pay, the work would be more meaningful and the outcome (safe roads) would be more likely.

3. Just because people are not spending their time “at work” does not mean they’re not working.

Have you ever responded to a work-related email while waiting in line at a movie? Pulled out your laptop to work on a project while at home? How about been distracted or pulled into an unproductive conversation while at the office? I’m guessing you’ve said yes to at least one of these. Truth be told, I’ve worked in environments where I could barely get any work done from 9-5, so I stayed late and took most of my work home with me, where I could get it done in peace and quiet. Where do you do your best work? Where do you get your best ideas? Chances are, many of you will answer something other than “in my cubicle at work”.

4. It doesn’t really matter how much time or what hours someone spends at work if they don’t get their work done.

When I stop zipping my lips during conversations with leaders whose employees are “taking advantage” of the system or somehow “working” fewer hours, I ask “Are they getting their work done?” Whether the answer is yes or no, that is the better question to be asking. I’ve worked with plenty of people who were “at work” for plenty of “extra” hours but still didn’t get their work done. A disengaged or unproductive employee will be that way for 8 hours or 12 hours a day.

5. If you’re managing people’s time at work, you’re managing the wrong thing.

When you base a conversation on how much time someone is spending “at work”, a few things happen. First, the employee tends to get defensive. They often have an excuse or reason for leaving work early, coming in late, etc. Secondly, you perpetuate the myth that time is what’s important, rather than the work. Thirdly, you feel like you’re babysitting. (C’mon, you know it’s true!)

Please, stop babysitting and start leading.

In today’s world, technology allows us to find new and faster ways to get work done. It enables us to work anywhere. Wouldn’t you love to have a highly engaged, collaborative team who provides amazing products or service and gets great results? Stop having this unproductive conversation and start talking about strategy, purpose, customer needs and how to exceed them. Stop managing people’s time and start coaching about results.

Flipping this switch isn’t easy. There is more to it than changing the conversation. It is a shift in the way we manage work, a change in the relationship between managers and employees. That’s why I love what CultureRx® have done in creating ROWETM. It’s why I recently became the first Canadian Consultant certified to develop ROWETM in organizations here.

In a ROWETM “there is no judgment about how you spend your timeTM.” In fact, this is one of The 13 GuidepostsTM of a true Results-Only Work EnvironmentTM. The conversation is about the work. The manager is a Results Coach. The focus is on your ultimate customer. People figure out together how and when to provide exceptional service and get great results.

It just makes sense. And it stops the unproductive conversation, saving both managers and employees time and stress.

CultureRx® is the owner of the Results-Only Work Environment™ and ROWE™ trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property which identify the innovative management methodology. 



  1. February 24, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    […] The Most Unproductive Conversation Leaders are Having […]

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  2. March 22, 2016 at 8:03 am

    […] Let’s stop talking about how people spend their time and treat them like adults, with the right conversation about the result they’re […]

    Reply »

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