Reid Blackman’s Recommendations on Best Practices for Deploying NPM

Managers are struggling to gain insight into what employees are doing and NPM can help to deliver that insight. But NPM is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used well or poorly. Used well, it can help managers to help their employees be more productive, benefitting both manager and employee. Used poorly, it can lead to hastily made, underinformed decisions that erode trust. This document offers recommendations on how to deploy NPM in a way that delivers value to managers and the employees they work with and oversee while maintaining and building on trust and respect.

  1. Any manager deploying NPM must first be clear on why they are deploying NPM, what they aim to accomplish by its use, and clearly communicate those answers to all employees. Managers should also invite feedback and conversation with employees both to ensure understanding and to create an opportunity for employees to offer recommendations on how NPM can best be used given their conditions.
  2. A key feature of NPM is that it distinguishes between business applications and websites and non-business applications and websites. Managers should talk with their employees on a departmental level about what applications and websites are relevant to their work. For instance, someone in the marketing department may make use of Instagram or Facebook to analyze trends while someone in IT doesn’t have a need to access those sites for their work. If direct conversations are not possible then managers should use surveys to gain insight into what applications/sites matter to whom.
  3. NPM doesn’t categorize overall productivity. NPM tracks quantity of active hours on a computer and what business applications and websites are in use during those active hours. It does not track time spent working not on the computer, e.g. on the phone or at in-person meetings. The data NPM provides is to help fill in part of the picture of productivity and does not represent the whole picture. Thus,
    • Managers should not expect all working hours to be captured by “CPU busy hours.”
    • If a manager suspects someone is being underutilized or is not working enough because they are not logging many active work hours, mangers should have a conversation with that person asking if they could potentially take on more work or whether, in fact, they are working quite a bit but not on the computer. In general, managers should see data of this sort as a starting point for a discussion.
    • Relatedly, managers are advised against using the numbers presented in NPM in decisions about firing, promotion, bonuses, etc. This is because the data means little without the context filled in by the employee. Further, tying rewards/penalties to hitting certain numbers encourages gaming the system/cheating and will alter behavior in a way that is conducive to getting a high score instead of being productive.
  4. NPM can be used to help set and execute on priorities. Managers and employees can use NPM together to spot inefficiencies, room for improvement, larger departmental problems, etc.
    • An example of a conversations might go like this: “Let’s talk about and set your priorities. Now given those, what should we expect your time spent in business apps to look like?”
    • A follow-up to that conversation might go like this: “We agreed that reaching out to people on LinkedIn is a bigger priority than watching content for the purpose of upskilling sales techniques. You may not have noticed this yourself because it’s easy to get sucked in by video, but you’re spending 2x more time on YouTube than LinkedIn. What can you do to make sure you’re apportioning your time wisely between different business applications given our agreed upon priorities?” Or in the case of an employee seeing the numbers for him/herself: “Whoah – I’m watching too many vids!”
  5. NPM can be used to learn about what employees need
    • It is easy to assume that someone watching YouTube videos is not working. However, people could be watching online videos because they’re doing marketing research or they need to acquire a new skill. Managers can ask employees about this. For example: “When you watch YouTube (or Instagram, Facebook, etc.) what are you looking for? Is it skills upgrading? Is it market research?”
      • This information can help managers see if they need to provide a kind of support they are not currently providing. For instance: “A lot of our employees are taking it upon themselves to upskill themselves through educational videos on YouTube. The problem is that there’s no quality control here. We should build a program around what videos we recommend/approve for upskilling and can play a stronger role in getting our people the content they need.”
  6. Employees working after hours is an occasion for discussion. Managers should check in with people working x hours or more after hours and ask, for example, “Is this what you need to do because of personal circumstances during quarantine (e.g. employees need to watch children during the day)? Are you finding that there is too much for you to do? Do you simply prefer working at these times? Are you finding that your after hours work is required when certain kinds of projects present themselves? Could we figure out how you could work more hours during business hours and less after hours?
  7. Share data with employees. Transparency is important for building and maintaining trust. Allow employees to see the data they are generating so they can learn from the data and be ready to discuss it when a manager requests a meeting.
  8. Accept that very good workers will not always be able to do very good work all the time — especially under present circumstances. These are unique times and it would be wrong — both ethically and factually — to make decisions about who is and who is not a good employee or a hard worker based on performance under these conditions. Some very hard-working and talented employees may be stretched extraordinarily thin due to a lack of school and child care options, for instance. These are people you want to keep because, in the long run, they provide a tremendous amount of value. Ensure that your supervisors take the time to talk to their supervisees when the numbers aren’t what you want them to be. And again, that conversation should reflect an understanding of the employee’s situation and focus on creative solutions, not threats.
  9. Monitor your own systems to ensure that people of color and other vulnerable groups are not disproportionately affected. Central to any company’s diversity and inclusion effort is a commitment to eliminating any discrimination against traditionally marginalized populations. Precisely because they have been marginalized, those populations tend to occupy more junior roles in an organization — and junior roles often suffer the most scrutiny. This means that there is a risk of disproportionately surveilling the very groups a company’s inclusivity efforts are designed to protect, which invites significant ethical, reputational, and legal risks.

Still reading? We’ve clearly captured your attention. Why not speak to us in person?