uninspiring task listA big part of working life is being able to show what you’ve done, show the results and then showing what you’re going to do next. Increasingly, as more and more people are becoming focused on their return on investment and getting every bit of value they can out of every resource at their disposal, we’ve found that this show and tell has gotten more involved. Some companies track what’s being worked on to the minute, while others want everything stored and annotated in three different places and some clients want their agencies to spend more time reporting than actually doing the work they’re paying for.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Everywhere I’ve worked has had workflow tracking of some description, and I don’t think it’s just limited to my industry. Whether it’s Basecamp, an intranet, some hideous CRM where every email must be documented, timesheets or a combination of these things, everywhere seems to have something like this in place. I can see the point of it – it’s very helpful to have all your work documented and saved in one place so you can see what’s next, what got done and when, and to have something to push back with if people think you’re not doing anything, but I can’t help but think that we’re starting to miss the point, at least we are agency-side.

Increasingly, I’m hearing people complain that they’re spending more time documenting their work than they’re spending doing their work. Surely that’s the wrong way around? I know clients want to see where their money’s going and managers want to see if people are slacking, but I suppose that’s the inherent flaw of these systems, at least it’s the flaw that’s arisen as more tracking has been put in place.

Trust and Education

It’s not like these things are difficult to falsify. A slacker can say on their timesheet that the time they spent playing Angry Birds was spent on client work and, when an increasing amount of managers don’t really know how to do the work they hire people for, who’s to say how long things take? I suppose that’s the crux of the matter.

Do your clients trust you to do what you’re saying you’ll do? If you’re a manager or director, do you really know what goes into people’s work or do you just try to get by on using buzzwords and hoping for the best? Do you trust your team to use their time appropriately? Could you actually spot someone who wasn’t pulling their weight just from their timesheets, your CRM or your project management software?

The more time I spend in the digital marketing industry, the more I think we could do away with processes like this, or at least streamline them significantly, but only if that trust and knowledge is in place.

A Possible Solution

I believe people actually want to do good work. Most of the time a slacker isn’t slacking because they’re lazy, it’s because they’re either not being challenged, they’re not in the right role and/or they’re out of their depth in the position they’re in.

I believe clients want to trust their agencies or other service providers. I don’t think they really want to pore through every minute that’s been spent on their account or look through gargantuan reports that don’t really tell them anything. I think that they either don’t really know what goes into the work, they’ve been burned before or they’ve got a badly-educated boss hounding them because that’s what they think they need to do. Ultimately, I don’t really believe that we need to be tracking our work to the nth degree – it hurts morale and it gets in the way of actually getting stuff done.

Trust and education is the solution. Educate your clients, tell them what you do and how you do it. Bring them in and show them if you need to, unless you’ve got something to hide, which is another conversation entirely. Educate your managers. Tell them what they need to know, show them that some things might take longer than they think it will, or that some things only take five minutes.

Managers: trust and educate your team. If they’re out of their depth, get them training. If they’re not engaged, put them on something that’s going to challenge them and support them where you can. Trust them to do good work without you looking over their shoulder or questioning everything on their timesheets. Inspire them. If you’re a manager or director that doesn’t want to learn how things are done, go back to stacking shelves for a while – you’re not ready to lead. I’m not saying you have to learn to write code or build links or become a Photoshop expert, just develop actual knowledge of what goes into the work your company ships, something beyond buzzwords.

Maybe if we all spent more time educating our teams, clients and managers, trust would come off the back of it and then we could cut down on the red tape and concentrate on why we go to work in the first place. Maybe it’s a utopian view, but I live in hope.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is there another way? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.