The end of the hourly work

Paying by the hour is dead. Managing by objectives takes place.

Having contracts staying how many hours a week you are expected to work has been a good tool for many years, however it is being challenged lately.

With the increasing practice of people working remotely it becomes harder and harder to enforce such contracts – both from the employer and employee’s perspectives.

A new model is needed.

Why it doesn’t work and it doesn’t matter

We have now witnessed the rise of the flexible work in the past years, then the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the transition to flexible work setups for everybody. The result of the transition was quite surprising: An overwhelmingly positive attitude towards working remotely while keeping the productivity levels strong.

These results were even more obvious after kids were back in school, and parents allowed to have a ‘normal work-day from home’. Working from home works. It works wonders when you have the right tools, the right setup, the right mindset.

From a manager’s perspective a question quickly crept in: ‘How do I make sure my employees are working when they are supposed to?’ Even managers that will never admit to have asked this question as well.

However, the most interesting question is:

Does it matter how many hours they have worked?

The correlation between the number of hours put into a task and the quality only exist up to a certain point. After that, the benefits are marginal, which makes me think that the best person to judge how much time to spend at a given time is the employee, not the manager.

Wait, what?

Yes, you as the manager is by far the worst person to judge the time to be allocated to a given task. As a matter of fact, you will usually run into the opposite issue, where your employee wants to spend more time at a task than what you believe is reasonable.

As a manager your main contribution is by defining very very very clear objectives, time-frames and boundaries, as well as rewards and consequences. This is the framework that will allow your team to manage their time properly and decide when it makes more sense to spend more or less time at a given task, a given day or week. Considering you have responsible and self-sufficient employees

What to do instead – managing by objectives

Now you know what your main contribution is:

  • Define and communicate clear objectives
  • Set time-frames and make them explicit
  • Communicate boundaries
  • Communicate rewards and consequences

After reading this list, you will see that none of the objectives are related to making sure your employees sat at their desk, or worked a given number of hours.

You are not paid to be a time keeper.

You are paid to help your team understand what they have to do, when they have to do it, why they have to do it, what are the boundaries they need to operate within and what happens if they do it or don’t do it-and the most important part-how what they are doing connects to the big picture.

Your job is not to enforce the hours worked. Your job is to help your team do their best work

Where this goes wrong

You might think that the points above are obvious. It is obvious you need to communicate objectives, set time-frames, boundaries, etc. What is not obvious is how explicit this needs to be in order to be useful. Being explicit and clear is the tricky part in all of this.

Clear objectives can be uncovered by asking the question: How does this looks like when it is done? And having a very precise answer to it. All too often we say things like “You will feel when it is ready”, ” I will know when I see it”…these kind of criteria will not do. Knowing what you want to accomplish is a pre-requisite for doing anything and not running around like headless chicken.

Time-frames can be obvious to understand and hard to do right. Here the point is: when do you expect to see the outcomes and how much ready should they be? Do you expect to review it or not? Who approves and when?

Boundaries are the next and most neglect point. Are there any considerations that needs to be included or aspects of the job that can or cannot be done? Are those communicated? At this point you are not allowed to think that your employee ‘get it’. There is no such a thing and psychology research shows us how bad we are at reading people’s minds.

Rewards and consequences are not necessarily related to bonus, firing and all the obvious mechanisms. Some interesting points to clarify are, “what is the visibility of this deliverable?”, “why do we need to it?”, “what really happens if we don’t do it or if we drop the ball”, “what does it mean for all of us?”. The catch here is, if you lack this understanding, you have no hopes of delivering and helping your team so you need to do your homework first.

But…what if they are not working all they can?

Short answer: It doesn’t matter.

The important thing is that they should be doing the best work they can.

However, it is important to understand what best means in this context.

The best work should always be measured in relation to the objectives. What this means is that not always the best quality, the most polished result, the rounder ball, etc will win.

Sometimes speed wins over quality, sometimes quality wins, sometimes collaboration and change-management wins, etc.

The objective determines what best work means.

What do you think about it?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *