If you’ve not seen it, the general gist of the story is this. The employee in question has two broken bones in his left foot, so for the length of his shift packing products, he sits on a stool.
Turns out that sitting on a stool has no negative effect whatsoever on productivity. In fact, this guy packs more products during his 12 hour shift than anyone else on the team.
But, in the boss’ eyes, sitting down “is completely unacceptable behaviour” because it doesn’t look like you’re busy. If the other guy is standing up and you’re not, then it looks like he’s working harder.
I think I’m safe in saying to this audience that this is utter, utter nonsense. Disciplining your most productive employee because you’re looking at a nebulous “do they appear to be busy” metric instead of the underlying numbers is not a clever way to manage a team.
And yet I’ve seen this myself. I’ve worked on projects while I was in house where we’d lose a customer who was seeing great results – massive returns on investment, outperforming KPIs – because they’d had a cold approach from a competitor who said “you don’t know what they’re doing if they won’t do a daily worksheet.”
When I was still freelancing, I had one of my biggest clients leave temporarily because their head had been turned. Now I’d spent days in their offices at the start of the relationship. I’d seen how the sausage was made, chatted to everyone from the MD down to the lads packing boxes. I’d tried out their products. I understood everything inside out, so I could produce exactly what they needed off the back of an email a month.
Their MD though. Had his head turned by an agency that could look busy. An email a month? They don’t know what I’m doing! Come to us, we’ll give you weekly status meetings, full spreadsheets of time spent.
And it worked. By their metric of looking busy. And it made the client’s marketing department look busy because they had to train this new agency up on hundreds of products. And after three months, they realised they were better off with someone who understood the company, the customers and the market than someone who understood how to look busy.
Now I learned a lesson from that. It was that I was right. It’s not important to look busy. It’s important to produce results. And that often means frontloading work.
With our message first approach, we look incredibly busy at the start of a relationship. Because we have to be. Workshops and site visits and customer interviews and end user interviews and interrogations and meetings.
And then, after that, when we’ve got the message right and we understand your company? Then it gets quieter. Because it’s not about looking busy. It’s about being productive. It’s about producing the right copy, guided by all that work that came before.
And if you want to know whether that’s effective, you don’t need to have a weekly meeting or a daily timesheet. You just need to look at your bottom line.