I’m a member of the management team (3 of us who directly report to the CEO), in a start-up company with 12 people. Our office is very casual, but we work really hard. We’re not strict about start times or dress codes or lunch breaks. I would truly describe everyone at the company as an A performer.
Our founder/owner/CEO is especially casual. He isn’t always in the office from 9-5, he’ll text or take personal calls. However, he works nights/weekends/vacations when most of us are not working.
The management team, including me, make and enforce the rules. We record PTO, keep projects on schedule, etc. We work hard to protect our startup culture while balancing the need for guidelines and rules. We try to not legislate problems, but to deal with them on a one-by-one basis.
One of our A performers (my direct report) is constantly on his phone. Every time one of us walks by he’s on his phone. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but it rubs me (a millennial!) the wrong way. He absolutely gets his work done (he’s a top performer!), but it feels wrong.
Is it worth saying something? Am I just being old fashioned? The precedent has been set at the top, and we strongly value our casual “just get it done” culture. How can I say something without sounding like a hypocrite (based on the precedent)?
It’s absolutely true that if you have an A performer you don’t want to nit pick. After all–if someone is doing his job and doing it well, you don’t really care how he’s doing it. (Presuming he’s not doing anything illegal, which doesn’t apply here, but just thought I’d throw that out.) But, the reality is, if someone is doing something really annoying, it is affecting the office. But is this? What do your fellow managers think about it? Do the other employees notice?
Your job as a manager is decide if it’s something that can be ignored or if it’s something that should be dealt with or if it’s something you can ignore but will affect the employee’s future. I strongly believe that a manager’s job is not just to get the job done, but to prepare the employees for the next job–internally or externally.
In this case, I’d probably approach it casually at first. “Woah, Jim. That phone seems to be welded to your ear.” He may not realize that anyone else is noticing that he’s on the phone a lot. And, it may be that he’s not truly on his phone as much as you think he is–we call this “the van is always at the corner” phenomenon. That is, when the van isn’t there you don’t notice it, but you do notice it when it is there. He’s undoubtedly on the phone more than most people, but he may not be on it all the time, like you think he is. It might be informative for you to make note of whether he is on or off the phone just to confirm that he is always on the phone.
The next question is, who is he talking to? Maybe he’s just a phone person versus an email person. So, when you and I have a question for someone, we send an email and wait for a response. Jim might just call everyone. Some people like the phone. A lot. I’m not one of them, but there’s no harm in being someone who does. As you said, he’s an A performer, so maybe this is part of the secret of his success–he can get instant responses because he calls instead of emailing.
But, if the calls are personal or he’s loud or it’s just downright weird, it’s affecting his potential and you, as a manager should mention it to him. “Jim, I’ve noticed that you’re on personal calls a lot. You’re a high performer and I value your work, but the constant phone calls are holding you back. Can you limit your personal calls during the work day?” Notice how this is not a super strict “YOU MUST GET OFF THE DARN PHONE!!!” because he’s doing his work and his behavior is merely annoying.
There’s another way you can approach this, which is to bring it to his attention and see what he thinks. He honestly may not realize that his behavior is inappropriate–if this is his first real job, he may not know. “Jim, I’ve noticed you’re on personal calls a lot. Generally, when we’re at work, we should be working and leave the personal stuff for after hours. Of course, we’re not super strict about that and we understand that from time to time personal calls at work are necessary, but you’re reaching excessive levels. Do you think that this affecting your productivity?” And let him answer. You can explain that perception is reality and when he’s on the phone all the time, the perception is that he’s not working and that could affect his potential internally and externally.
Since it’s not a huge problem, you don’t need to address it as a huge problem. If it becomes a huge problem, you need to address it as a huge problem. If, for instance, his performance starts to suffer, you will need to be more direct. “Jim, you missed the deadline on this project. Your constant phone calls are interfering with your ability to get your work done. Limit personal calls to lunch.”
Edited to add: Duh. He’s probably not talking on the phone. He’s probably doing everything else. The advice is the same, except for the personal calls things. Maybe it’s personal texts. Maybe it’s internet surfing. If it’s a company phone, he should be reminded that they company has the ability to monitor whatever he’s doing and read his texts, so maybe he shouldn’t be texting his girlfriend all the time.