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Startup Parenthood: Throw Out the Hours Worked KPI



Our March #StartupParenthood post on the RJMetrics blog was to be about how the flexible policies we have at RJ manifest in work hours for parents.  That post hasn’t been published yet, but regardless of its outcome, I wanted to reflect in this post on what work hours mean to me.  I have some pretty strong and perhaps egotistical feelings about measuring Hours Worked as a KPI, and it’s worth putting them out there so you know where I stand:

1.  Quantity of time worked as a measurement of performance is crap.  Whether you’re an agency billing your customers, or a manager of employees in an organization, when you value quantity of time worked as a yardstick for evaluating performance, you value the wrong things, and ignore truisms in the workplace.

I’ll compare it to my thoughts on big data – I want less data, not more data.  I want the right data.  If I could double a customer’s revenue with a single column of data, I would do so in a heartbeat – rather than accumulate terabytes of data points.

It’s the same with time worked – if you’re an Account Manager on my team, and you figure out how to have 0% churn while hitting your up-sell targets, all by working 4 hours a day, my response to you would be “What do you do, and how can we get everyone else to do that?”

People are happier and more creative when they sleep, have space to pursue outside interests, and are focused on the outcome of their efforts, not the time spent.  Think about it…people can get lost for hours in a good book, but those some people can feel like a few hours plane ride is tortuously long.  Time is a factual thing, but the experience of time is entirely personal and emotional.

2.  If we measure parents at-work performance by the number of hours  they put (or don’t put) in, society is doomed.  I’ve heard and read things that mention people being resentful of parents who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) put in the same hours as them.  In my 20s, I had no idea if I would be a parent or not, but to me, there was no need to be resentful.  It’s not rocket science:  I work with adults.  Companies grow using the labor of adults.  Adults come from babies.  Babies come from parents.  So, um yea, if I wanted the world of business to keep growing, we needed a whole lot of people to make babies, and presumably, to not abandon them upon birth.  See?  Not that hard to understand why it made sense to me for society to make some allowances for those taking care of the future labor force.

And let’s take both of these in today’s context.   The starting age of parents is rising.  Both the average age of most first time parents is rising, and the number of older people who become parents for the first time is increasing.  (For you data geeks, here are the gory data points from the CDC.)  This brings me to my final thought:

3.  The more experienced you get in your career, the faster you get (better) work done (all other things being held equal).  The faster you get work done, the faster you deliver value – which leaves time for things like parenting.  I’ll put it more bluntly: I get a whole lot of things done in less time than it takes people junior to me to do.  I’m not going to compensate for that fact by working more hours just for the sake of making up for the inefficiency of others.  That’s actually insane.  I own the fact that I’m just better at a ton of sh*t now than I ever was.  It takes me much less time to come up with strategy (I’ve done it a ton of times before).  It takes me much less time to do an analysis and come up with insights (I’ve done it a million times before).  It takes me much less time to architect a product roadmap (been there, done that).  And so on.  I don’t know why we find it so hard to admit that this can come into beneficial play for some parents.  (Full disclosure: I didn’t become a parent until I was 35 years old and had been working in my career for 17 years, having graduated college at age 18.)  We certainly leverage the inverse in hiring and compensation decisions every day:  we hire junior people and pay them less.  Why?  We expect they will take more time to get work done and thus we will need to either mentor them more or hire additional resources to get the same work done.  If we can manage to that reality, we can also admit to and manage to the reality that more experienced people who become parents can get a lot of stuff done in less time.

The long and the short of it to me is that placing importance on the delivery of value over the expenditure of time is a critical component of offering workplace flexibility.  Offering flexibility should not be tantamount to producing fear that people won’t work “long enough”.  Utilizing flexibility shouldn’t produce internal anxiety over an Hours Worked KPI.  Rather, if we measure against results produced (dare I say it…real KPIs met or beaten), both manager and employee become oriented towards real business outcomes.




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