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#WFH: Can You Fake Remote Workplace Transparency?

Transparency and openness in an organization cannot be faked for long. Real concern for the individual and the relevance of objectives and agreed upon targets comes from the heart of individuals and organizations. If the heart is made of stone and there is no real compassion, concern and empathy, it will not take long for the true character of the individual or organizational culture to surface. Internal and external Band Aids like parties and outings or retreats will only go so far and will only be effective if they are meaningful and with purpose.

The ultimate measure of effectiveness, in any organization, is client or customer satisfaction. The main purpose of performance appraisals is to help an organization reach that objective. Internal and external pressures can impact performance and how it is measured. Decentralization, budget cuts, political power plays, market pressures, mergers and acquisition—the list goes on—can impact performance for individuals and organizations. Lean organizations are fine but too lean doesn’t work. Asking individuals to do too much for too little reduces performance. Ultimately, it always about quality of service and meeting targets. How those targets are set, what they are and how they are measured may vary but one factor remains the same: Performance measurement is all about service quality. Ultimately, every business, organization and institution exists to serve a need. Performance is a way to identify whether or not that need is being met.

Case in Point: Heritage Bank

Heritage Bank is a large regional bank that has gone through many changes, mergers and acquisitions in the last ten years. Based in the southwest, they have banks in several states and a headquarters in California. The human resources group is dispersed and many of the employee assistance pro-grams are administered online. The bank has experienced sound growth in recent years and has experienced an increase in turnover. The Director of HR is located in the main office but several assistants work at regional offices and virtually. They primarily advise branch officers on recruitment and selection, and do onboarding and compliance work. Typically, the Director of HR only visits local offices when there is a grievance meeting. The bank has some very broad guidelines on management but generally a hands-off attitude. Senior management at Heritage has taken the approach that as long as each branch is operating and performing adequately they are happy not to get too involved on a regional lev-el unless they are directly asked to do so. However, the bank continues to grow and has changed from a small tight-knit organization into a larger, more bureaucratic one. Especially with more people working virtually, senior managers are keen to initiate a performance culture. Currently, not much is being done in this area. Performance appraisal are conducted annually but are not really taken seriously.

Meet the Staff

Alexa Skelly is a regional branch manager and handles banks in several states. She is a gregarious and extroverted person and is very well liked. She is mostly a hands-off manager and is much more comfortable with a face-to-face environment. Her style is typically relaxed and upbeat. Her conversational style is positive and she rarely writes anything down. She views performance appraisals as just more paperwork and not a big deal. Her attitude is that if people do better than they did last year all is well. She is a person who functions from gut instinct, not by referring to manuals and best practices. If she had her way, she would have those virtual workers back in the office. That way they could learn from each other around the water cooler and learn to talk the talk.

David Rosen is the other branch manager. Da-vid is an altogether different character than Alexa. He is quiet and reserved. He keeps to himself and is generally well respected. David views performance appraisals as very important and keeps detailed re-cords on each and every employee. In the process, David reviews the findings against the objectives set last year. His performance appraisals are a series of question asked by David requiring one-word answers. These are recorded by checking a box. The questions are created by David. David takes the stance that performance improvement depends on avoiding mistakes. Performance can only be im-proved in the future by going over what was done in the past and avoiding those mistakes moving forward. David’s employees seem to be defensive, nervous and generally uptight. David would also like those virtual workers back in the office because he is always asking them to justify their activities. He is never really sure what they are doing. He is the first to point out that he tries very hard to communicate very clearly with his employees.

  1. What guidelines would you suggest so that both managers are using the same criteria to evaluate performance in the virtual environment?
  2. What improvements in administrative standards would you suggest?
  3. What suggestions would you make for employee development?
  4. Is the goal of analyzing performance in the virtual environment to make better administrative decisions or to improve employee development?
  5. In measuring performance in the virtual environment is it more important to look at objective or subject data?

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