Why you need to unblock Facebook: Performance management and social media

At Cognology I talk to a LOT of Australian companies about best practice performance management. These conversations include the 250+ organisations using our talent management software. But they also cover a broad range of Australian HR professionals, consultants and executives.

Through these conversations, I get a good feel for the performance issues that are keeping leaders awake at night. And one of the biggest concerns I’m hearing today is about social media use (especially Facebook).

There’s a real concern about the amount of wasted employee time that’s spent on Facebook. Execs are concerned about the bottom line impact of the 22 hours each week that the average Australian spends on social media.

Banning social media has never been less effective

At the same time, I’m seeing widespread concern from HR leaders that banning social media is less and less effective.

Ten years ago blocking websites may have worked. Today if an employee wants to look at Facebook, they have a wide choice of devices. And most of these devices are owned by the employee.

Even if you ban social media, research shows that about 40% of employees will end up on Facebook during work hours. If they can’t use Facebook on their work computers, they’ll use their phone, laptop, or any other device they have.

Why Facebook isn’t the CAUSE of your productivity problem

I think there’s much more to the “Facebook is costing us millions in lost productivity” story. In the hundreds of business I’ve worked with, I’m yet to see an example where Facebook is the real cause of the productivity problem.

More typically, social media use problems are a symptom of deeper issues in how you measure and manage performance. In my experience:

“Facebook is costing us millions in lost productivity” usually translates to “we don’t know how to hold our employees to account for their output”.

The solution is to focus on managing output, not monitoring input

Facebook (and every other form of social media) are real and present distractions in the work environment. They’re not going away any time soon.

To be an effective worker today you have to be effective at dealing with these distractions (and many others). Delivering results regardless of distraction is a critical skill for the future of work.

Few managers would disagree with the importance of delivering results on time and on budget. And when you really dive in, all roles have results and output. Results might mean delivering projects on time, or delivering high quality content, or high client satisfaction.

Moving from measuring input to managing output

The key step in making the transition to managing output is to define well-specified goals and competencies. Real performance accountability means agreeing these goals and competencies with every employee. And it means regularly holding every employee to account for delivering on this agreement. Real performance accountability makes Facebook use irrelevant

The beauty of goals and behavioural competencies is that you can manage to these, rather than worrying about whether people are spending time on Facebook.

My own experience with this is that this transition can be quite liberating. All of a sudden you don’t have to watch people to make sure you are getting value. You just look at the value you’re getting as the goals you’ve set are achieved.

So if you think you’ve got a problem with Facebook, start thinking about how you can make the transition from monitoring input to managing output. Managing for output requires more work upfront and more hard conversations. But it also gives you the power to dramatically increase productivity, hit goals and reduce day-to-day management overhead. Sounds like a great deal to me!

How are you addressing social media use in your workforce? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Jump into the comments below and let’s start the conversation.

Image credit: Spencer E Holtaway Under licence CC BY-ND 2.0

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