Many of us grew up with the age-old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’re taught to see past the surface level and look for beauty beyond skin deep. However, our initial judgments often ignore pleasantries when evaluating first impressions. It’s part of why dress codes are important in the corporate world. Effective workplace communication helps managers better understand employees and look beyond initial perceptions.
It takes less time to gauge others by how they look than by what they can contribute, but we all know looks can be deceiving. In the workplace, we need to remember that critical evaluation beyond appearances is more than just an issue of manners; it’s vital to company success. We might judge others on perceptions but reality brings results at the end of the day.
The tug-of-war between perception and reality can lead to problems of employee efficiency. Robert C. Pozen, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author of “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours,” wrote for The New York Times about this “hours over results” problem. More efficient employees might find themselves wasting time just to log the same number of hours as their colleagues. What people notice drives us more than realistically evaluating what we have accomplished.
Pozen criticized the hours-based productivity as a remnant of the industrial age that is ineffective in motivating modern professionals. Playing the game of watching the clock to judge when it’s time to quit working conflicts the specific demands of each task or project. Long meetings are an example of when more is actually less. After too long, attention spans begin to waiver and a meeting can dwindle into unproductivity. Pozen recommends using agendas and assigning individual tasks with specific deadlines.
Taking a more regimented approach to structuring meetings requires increased communication. Leaders have to plan ahead, communicate with employees before the meeting and follow-up with individuals after the meeting. Following a communication process will help keep perceptions in check with reality.
Sometimes efficiency comes from looking for “the big ideas, not the intricate details” as when reading long articles and reports. Communicate with your employees the purpose behind what you send them to read. Employees should also ask questions about materials and determine their relevancy.
When you want to judge an employee’s workplace efficiency, look for objective measures of success. These can help managers move beyond their perceptions. Pozen noted how many managers preferred certain employees simply because they worked long hours, but had little substance to show for all of their time spent at the office. Workplace communication should occur on multiple levels, including knowing how to best manage each employee.
Even if you choose to pursue results over hours, you still run the risk of perception overruling the reality of your efficiency as an employee. Communication drives employee performance. Managers and employees should work together to define efficiency by ranking tasks and taking objective measures to determine the particular priorities of their office. Efficiency is not the same as being quick. An efficient employee may still have to work overtime on some projects.
Assessments can help take some of the guesswork out of communicating with employees. The projects employees produce should be the real test of their effectiveness. Workplace communication takes more effort than relying on only our perceptions. We run the risk of destroying employee efficiency if we forget the lessons we learned as children to look beyond the surface.
How has perception overshadowed reality in your work experience?