Why Productivity Tracking Doesn’t Have to be Scary

April 19, 2024

Why Productivity Tracking Doesn’t Have to be Scary

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Since co-founding Seam, I find myself constantly talking to leaders about how they manage performance. What works? What doesn't work? Are we just tracking performance because Jim in HR wants us to? All important questions – but not immediately simple to answer.

What I normally hear is that performance is measured through a mix of OKRs, KPIs, and gut feeling. OKRs have a range of problems that I won’t dive into here, but importantly, they prioritize “working on the right problems”, over actual productivity within an organization. 

This often results in rewarding people who excel at weaving a good story and playing politics, instead of rewarding those really putting in effort and contributing. Organizations also often have shifting priorities that end up making OKRs stale and a hassle to keep up to date.

I’m happy to say that I no longer track OKRs at the team or individual level. They don’t provide real insight or timely data on what is happening in the business right now. Instead, I track and measure real-time productivity, day-to-day effort, and weekly output. When other executives and founders hear that I track these metrics, they usually have the same reaction: they want access to this data, but are worried about the potential cultural impact that it could have on the team.

Worries of “big brother”, invasion of privacy, and micro managers, all seem to come to mind. Here are the most common hesitations that I hear most often when talking to HR leaders.

1. People don’t like to be monitored

I agree, I also don’t want anyone monitoring my laptop activity (no one needs to know how often I’m playing T-Swift in the background and I will die on this hill). I don’t think strictly monitoring low-level activity benefits anyone. I would never trust software that’s installed on someone’s laptop and tracks keystrokes, mouse movements, or active windows. These methods are an invasion of privacy, provide a ton of useless noise, and are frankly easily gameable.

Instead, managers and leaders should measure the actual work output of their teams (which they already have access to) so they can spot performance issues quickly, offer people help and additional training, see where their best performers are over utilized and heading towards burnout, and understand who is putting in the effort to improve and refine their skill sets.

This method actually improves culture by giving managers the data they need to reward high effort employees, coach and train those in need of support, and stop burnout before it happens.

2. Measuring productivity feels like “big brother”

I always find this objection interesting. Companies heavily track and monitor productivity of some departments, such as sales and customer support, but have almost no productivity tracking in most others. For the same reasons companies want (and do) measure certain verticals, they should measure all of them. 

Transparency and accountability are two essential pillars of a high functioning performance culture, but it needs to be equal across the company or you end up creating a two-tiered system where one tier is immune from scrutiny. 

This is both unfair and misses out on opportunities for improvement and upskilling. Critically, equipping contributors with access to their performance data helps people advocate for themselves and is beneficial for those who are not comfortable speaking up or playing politics.

3. Managers will use this data to micro manage

As with any tool, there’s always a potential for misuse. Managers should be trained on where and how to use productivity data to empower their teams rather than micromanaging them.

As remote work has risen in prominence over the past few years, managers need to find new ways to engage and understand their teams. Checking in too frequently to “see where things are at” erodes productivity and reduces agency. But what we’ve seen after implementing Seam in teams is that the increased transparency results in fewer check-ins and pings. Managers have access to the data they need to ensure they’re only stepping in when absolutely needed.

Today, we’re seeing fundamental shifts in how work is getting done, and as leaders, we need to evolve with it. Focusing on data-driven decisions, understanding productivity, and pushing for a performance-first culture is now table stakes. Measuring productivity, effort, and output is simply not something companies can continue to ignore. The best performing and highest effort employees will simply leave companies that don’t foster a culture of excellence.

So the question isn’t what will happen to my culture if we measure and track productivity, but what will happen if we don’t? 

Sean Taylor

Sean Taylor