Watch Carefully

Careful planning, constant communication and a willingness to nurture the fragile flower of employee trust can go a long way toward turning invasive technology into invaluable technology.


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The Business Case: Del-Air, a Florida heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractor, needed a better way to track its more than 400 technicians on their various jobs. In January 2004, the company distributed GPS-enabled mobile phones with a time-tracking application. Employees now punch in using their phones. The application logs both their location and the time they signed in.

The Employee Concern: Increased micromanagement of employees' activities would rob their freedom and add stress to their jobs.

What Del-Air Did Right: It linked its new technology to its bonus system. Del-Air technicians are rewarded for completing their work quickly. But when time sheets came back on paper, nobody knew if the company was getting legitimate data. That uncertainty made it difficult for employees to trust that the bonus system was fair. Now, Del-Air CIO John Rucker says the workers accept that the playing field is level. "When they pass out the incentive cheques," Rucker says, "everybody knows who the big hitter was. If the employee is efficient with his time, there's a better than average chance they'll get a bonus." And Rucker believes that's helped Del-Air keep its best employees. Better yet, the information can help Del-Air identify employees who could benefit from additional training.

Del-Air learned from a previous experience with a GPS tracking system that it launched about five years ago. "After a short period of orientation - 30 to 45 days - we essentially stopped promoting the benefits of the technology," Rucker says. And how did that work out? "We lost almost 20 percent of our techs in a rather short period," says Rucker.

The Lesson: Carrots work better than sticks.


Grant an Amnesty Period

The Business Case: To end the practice of employees doing favours for each other by punching each other out on the time clock (making it difficult to schedule work), Air Canada installed a secret camera.

The Employee Reaction: Outraged that they were being spied upon, the workers struck earlier this year.

What Air Canada Did Wrong: They implemented the system without telling their employees, thereby playing "gotcha". They compounded that mistake by firing the employees they caught.

What Air Canada Should Have Done: David Zweig, professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at the University of Toronto, says the problems at Air Canada might have been resolved through communication and training. Air Canada, he suggests, should have told its employees that the old practice of clocking out for buddies would no longer be tolerated - and that in order to end that behaviour, the airline was installing cameras in the maintenance facility. Management should have opened a dialogue discussing why the practice was occurring in the first place. An amnesty period after installing the cameras might have defused the rancour that led to the strike, Zweig says. (Air Canada ultimately did reinstate the fired workers and open discussions with the union - but only after the damage had been done.)

The Lesson: A hidden camera should be a last resort, not the first. "The first reaction for organizations is that monitoring is an easy out," says Zweig. "Other options can take a lot more time and a lot more trust."

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