revenue operations

why your team lies about their workload

by: alex guest -
4 mins read

The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect is a behavioral reaction that states someone will change their behavior when they know they are being observed.

Revenue leaders can use this to their benefit when you're looking to promote specific, productive behaviors. Sitting with your team on a Friday or at the end of a quarter will likely keep your team on task. However, if you're looking to have individuals self-report on an unverifiable statistic like hours worked or general workload, it's unlikely that you'll get accurate data.

Here's why:

Typically, salespeople are smart, think ahead, and the best, are good at playing games. So, if you were to approach your team and ask them, "Can you tell me how many hours you've worked each day for the last week?," you'll see intentional inflation and deflation.

Generally, those underperforming will inflate the hours they've been working to demonstrate "effort." After all, perceived investment and dedication can go a long way in preserving your job during a temporary slump in production! Where this skews the numbers you're looking for, the deflators are far more nefarious.

Overperformers see through your game.

They feel that things have been busier, they know they're working harder, but they're certainly seeing it paying off in their commissions. More work means more opportunities and more opportunities means a bigger paycheck. After a quick calculation during the split-second that you've asked them about their recent workload, they've determined that more headcount will redistribute their newly found wealth so they'll hold off on inviting new competition by responding, "It's about the same..." That is until they hit an absolute breaking point.

When they're overloaded, they'll see their performance dip because they're too busy and they're dropping the ball across their pipeline. You'll begin to hear about "burn-out" in your 1:1's and PTO requests will spike. Now, it's too late to add capacity while capturing the opportunities that are being lost to overwork. You needed to take action 30, 60, or even 90+ days ago.

The solution:

Psychological studies have developed an ingenious way to capture more accurate data from those that know they're being watched: Just convince your participants that something else is being observed.

Instead of asking your team a question about hours, poll them on something unrelated and seemingly innocuous through a system that automatically records the time like email or chat. Everyday for a week or two, send everyone a non-threatening question in a group setting an hour before most people start work or leave. Soften the questions in how you frame it and the information you're asking for. The trick here is to avoid overachievers from responding before/after their actual workday. Instead, shoot for a question that they will answer while they're warming up as they get started or cooling down from the day.

"As you get started today…

  • … share a goal that you have for the week."
  • … tell the team about your most important call today."
  • … send out a link to your favorite sales book two sentences about why."

"Before you leave for the day…"

  • … let everyone know something that you learned this afternoon."
  • … update your pipeline and drop a link in this thread."
  • … give me your coffee order for tomorrow morning, I'll have it ready for your all!"

Sure, you could just see when they come into the office or come online, but you might forget, miss a timestamp, or not have the luxury of observation as more people work from home. These responses also come along with the added benefit of team building.

From here, get the delta of each persons' responses and you have a reasonably accurate idea of daily hours worked per week for salaried employees. Granted this is more of a measure of presence rather than true work, but if your team is truly overloaded, they're focused on performing tasks. With less biased hours in hand, you can go back and ask your team to self-report hours to compare accuracy, but I've always found that my assumptions hold true; overachievers deflate hours worked, underperformers inflate.

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