Don't Punch the Clock

Mike was one of my best employees. His projects were on time and well tested before going to QA. He worked well with other teams, and with out team members. He took direction well, and sought out guidance on his career. He was communicative, and years after I left the company where we worked together, he continued to advance his career and moved in the direction he had wanted to go, into management.

I hired Dominic twice. The first time it was a recommendation, the second I dragged him across 2 states to get him to work for me. Dominic was always dedicated, constantly working to improve his skills and knowledge. He would ask for help when he needed it, and pushed me to be a better leader by always challenging me.

John I also hired twice. John was the first "regular" employee that I coached into management. He was dedicated, open to feedback, and highly technical. He worked hard to understand the business side of the equation and was well respected by those he worked with. He had the kind of confidence you love to see in a leader, and a collaborative style that makes you want to work with him.

While not the only top performers that ever worked with me, these three share a common thread, beyond being fantastic employees. How were they similar? Unless there was a good reason, none of them came in before 10 am (Dominic usually edged toward noon). They each had their reasons. And if there was an early meeting or a dire need for them to be in the office by a specific time, they were there. Otherwise, it was a late start to the day for each of them. And each of them stayed late each day they came in late, without anyone telling them to.

This seems directly counter to what is expected in most business cultures, doesn't it? Aren't you supposed to be in your chair by 9 am (or 8 am)? And you're only a good, productive employee if you sit there until 5 pm, right? If you don't follow that pattern, you're a slacker. That's what traditional business philosophy tells us, and I've worked for many places where that remains the expectation.

But these 3 - and many others - prove otherwise. Most of the time they had choice and autonomy in their schedules. They came in at a time that worked for them, and they worked until they were done. They were loyal, talented, strong performers with a sense of urgency in their work. They were, and still are, the antithesis of "slacker".

You may not have a lot of flexibility with time management with your team, but if you have any at all, let your team benefit from it. Start by remembering that each person has different needs. Try and meet those needs as best you can within the constraints you have in your role. Try one of these strategies that will meet the letter of your company's policies but still give some flexibility to your team and their schedules.

- Stagger start times - let earlier risers come in and leave early, and night owls come in and leave late. This allows you to always have someone on your team in the office
- See if you can set "core hours" - times when everyone must be there but they can come in before or after that time as best fits their needs
- Strict office start and end times? I never forced my teams to take PTO for appointments and such. Giving someone 2 hours every few months to take care of something important let's them know you care about their well being, and, really, when's the last time any of us only worked 40 hours in a week?
- Be willing to treat each person's need for flexibility differently. Treating people fairly is different than treating everyone the same

The people who work for you should be - and hopefully are - adults and professionals. Treating them as such shows that you respect them as individuals, and makes it easier for them to return that respect. By giving them some autonomy over their own schedules you'll be on the path to creating a happier and higher performing team.

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