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Management By Attendance

Butts In Seats


People management styles change over time as we improve our understanding of human motivation and continually seek to maximize the performance of our organizations. Using a management style that was popular decades ago and expecting maximum results is silly. Instead, learn from those old styles, but adopt the newer, proven techniques.

If you watch the TV show Mad Men you know the Sixties were a different time. The fashions were different. The social norms were different. And acceptable business behaviors were different. Most employees punched a time clock or signed in and out at work. Managers were evaluated on how well they kept their people at their work stations. It was called "Attendance Management" at the time and it reflected what many considered the best way to maximize performance. Now, most managers know better and derisively refer to that old people management style as "butts in seats" because it focused more on attendance than on performance.

Old-fashioned Management Style

A manager who today uses an outmoded people management style like attendance management is telling everyone that he/she lacks the management skill to focus on more complex, more productive motivation techniques. He/she falls back on simplistic techniques like making sure that all butts are in their seats at a specific start time and hopes the team performance will be high enough. He/she hopes that Senior Management won't find out what management technique they are using and hopes that their team's performance will be good enough that no one will look too closely. Hope is not enough. Good managers use techniques that drive performance rather than relying on hope.

Why It Fails

People management styles that are focused on attendance instead of performance fail for the simple reason that you get the performance you critique for. If you manage for performance, performance improves. If you manage for attendance, attendance improves. People simply being at their desk or other workstation isn't going to improve their performance. Their manager has to motivate them.

Attendance management fails because:

  • it puts focus on the wrong thing - attendance rather than performance,
  • it doesn't motivate your team to produce,
  • it actually demotivates them - they don't like being treated like children,
  • it makes them think you don't care about the quality of their work,
  • it confuses them about what the company's and team's goals are,
  • it rewards and encourages low producers to stay because it's a low stress position for them
  • and it tells your boss that you lack management skill.

Think about it. For most of the people on a manager's team, the last time they had to worry about being in place at a specific time was in elementary school. When their manager says "I don't care what you do; just be sure you are at your desk on time" it sends the signal that he or she thinks that they are children, not the professionals they really are. It is demeaning and demotivating.

Sadly, younger workers, just starting out, who get saddled with a manager who manages for attendance rather than performance, may think that that is the norm. When they first become managers in their own careers they may try to emulate that former boss and they will, most likely, fail as managers as well.

What Is Better

A better management style than attendance management is performance management. If you want to improve the performance of your team you need to motivate them to continually out perform their own previous best.

To motivate their team members, a manager needs to:

  • treat their people as adults,
  • set clear, measureable goals for the team and each team member,
  • ask for their input and ideas,
  • always look for and ask the team for innovation,
  • and reward performance not merely effort or attendance.

When you treat people as professionals, let them know that they are important contributors to the teams' success, and that their ideas matter, they will look for ways to improve their own performance. They will look for ways to innovate. They will seek out improvements and enhancements so they can increase their performance.

Bottom Line

Managing for attendance instead of performance exposes a manager’s critical lack of management skill. They may be able to disguise it for a while, but they will ultimately be discovered. And unless they change and focus on the performance of their team, their own management career will be brief.

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