What gets measured gets done. So be clear on what you want done and measure that. When it comes to the three levels of employee engagement, if all you want or need is compliance, measure that. But if you want contribution and commitment, you need to measure something totally different.

Bill Gates used license plates track attendance in the early days at Microsoft. As he said in a recent interview on BBC Radio,

I knew everyone’s license plates so I could look out in the parking lot and see when did people come in, when were they leaving.

Eventually the company grew to a size where that was impractical. But, by then he had created a culture of workaholics.

He met his new secretary at 7:30 a.m. and at some point asked when people showed up for work.

Oh, it’s flexible. Some will show up between 10:00 and 10:30. Others later.

Herbold’s shock was apparent. Everyone showed up at Procter & Gamble by 8:30 every day.

Oh, you don’t get it. They are all workaholics. The ones that show up later probably worked until 5:00…a.m. and went home for a nap and a shower.

At Coca-Cola Japan, no one ever left before his or her boss left. The executives had to be out of the building by 6:30pm to start the cascade if the lower level people were going to get any sleep. Even worse, we’d inadvertently built an incentive system to encourage people to stay until 11:00. It pivoted off two rules: 1) the company paid for dinner for anyone working after 9:00 and 2) paid for taxis home after 11:00.

Follow this:

  • No one thought about leaving until after 6:30.
  • At 7:30 someone took dinner orders. (So, anyone there at 7:30 was likely going to stay for dinner.)
  • Dinner break at 9:00 for 30 minutes or so.
  • Back to work at 9:30 because people didn’t think it was fair to eat and run.
  • Once someone worked until 10:00, they might as well stay until 11:00 to get the free ride home.

By the way, this “free ride home” was a non-trivial matter. One manager working for me stayed until 11 p.m. every night. His taxi home was $200. (Do the math, that’s $50,000 a year in taxis.) I asked him about this and he explained that if he took a train he had to pay for his own $10 taxi from the station to home. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

What gets measured gets done. What gets incentivized gets done. Be clear on what you want done and be wary of the unintended consequences of your measurement and incentive systems so they don’t become counterproductive.

Sometimes employee engagement becomes counterproductive. As I wrote, there are three levels of employee engagement:

  • Committed – At the highest level are the people trying to do “good for others.” They care about the organization’s purpose and teach others as part of their own self-actualization.
  • Contributing – One level up, contributors do things they are “good at.” They collaborate with others and help as they seek belonging and self-esteem.
  • Compliant – At the first level of engagement, compliant people “do no harm.” They show up. They observe. They focus on what’s “good for me” and meet the minimum requirements to satisfy their biological and physiological needs.

If all you need is compliance, go ahead and track license plates.

If you want contribution, track collaboration and coaching. Measure assists as well as goals.

If you want commitment, measure impact on the organization’s purpose. Yes. This is going to be harder to track than hours worked, forms completed and the like. But it’s worth it.

Net, should you track employee comings and goings? Only if all you care about is compliance.