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  • Tara Rethore

How to Kill Productivity

Two practices that almost guarantee productivity loss: management by fear and surveillance.


Unless you’re in law enforcement or security, “surveillance” should not be part of the organization’s vernacular. And even then, surveillance should only apply externally, not to your own people.


I’ve seen too many articles and posts that talk about monitoring employees’ work, particularly among remote staff. The focus seems to be on reassuring managers that their employees are working even when they can’t see them. They fear: “Out of sight. Out of mind.” Reports of rampant quiet quitting certainly don’t help this perception, even while many recognize that disengagement and checking out aren’t new phenomena.


At best, surveillance is a colossal waste of resources – managers who monitor; employees spending time accounting for their time; technology to track activity; dashboards loaded with metrics that bear no relationship to outcomes.

At worst, constant monitoring fosters a level of detachment that kills productivity.

Surveillance erodes trust and destroys commitment to the work, the mission, and the vision. If you’re lucky, dissatisfied employees will quit quietly. If unlucky, they’ll depart with great fanfare, ensuring all know precisely how leaders behave in your organization. That diminishes brand and can negate years of goodwill.


Either result is simply bad business. Recall the surge in public resignations that have dominated social media in recent years. Consider the shift in unionization from manufacturing to service sector jobs. Remember the news stories detailing management failures.


Surveillance builds barriers rather than creating an appropriate line of sight and fostering the accountability it purports to address.


It’s time to change the tune, as I advised here.

Stop surveilling people.

Instead, focus on the outcomes people deliver. Redirect attention from monitoring people’s work to those activities that boost productivity and engagement. Invest time and effort in the things that build trust, develop your people, and recognize the value that’s delivered. Identify the actions you can take to encourage commitment and deliver the outcomes needed to achieve objectives.

Implement the one action with the greatest potential for positive impact for your team.

Surveil outcomes, not people. Or get used to watching your people walk out the door.

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