Blog Post 3-25-14

Creating Performance Plans for Teleworkers

Manuel wondered if the other first-year supervisors in his administrative unit felt as out of control as he did. The agency continued to ramp up its telework program, and five of Manuel’s seven direct reports were now teleworking three days a week. They were all good employees, but how could he really be confident they were using their time wisely? How could he know what kind of support they needed, and whether they were staying on track? Sometimes it felt like he was trying to manage a team while blindfolded.

It occurred to him one day to talk to his branch manager about it. Linda was a 25-year veteran of the agency, and had always maintained an open door for her people to seek her counsel.

“I just feel like I’m in the dark,” Manuel explained. “I’m too out of touch to be effective as a supervisor.”

Linda nodded, clearly familiar with Manuel’s discomfort. “A critical piece of the issue is what you’re doing in your performance plan meetings,” she said. “Can I give you a tool that might help?” She stood up and wrote on a white board:


“I’m sure you’re already familiar with the SMART model for setting performance goals,” she said. “But let’s look at some of the distinctions you need to make when it comes to teleworkers. Specific doesn’t mean you should lay out your expectations in terms of specific activities; it means you should talk about the specific results you expect. Don’t tell your teleworker about a meeting you need her to attend; tell her what the outcome of that meeting should be.”

“That makes sense,” Manuel said. “But how can I apply the measurable criteria to everything? For example, if I’m talking to my team leader and I want the outcome of leading a series of meetings to be that the team functions more cohesively, how can I measure that?”

“We often make the mistake of thinking that something can only be measurable if we can count it or put it on a graph,” Linda replied. “But measures can be qualitative too. Consider telling a “Situation-Action-Result” story about observable performance. For example, your teleworking team leader was faced with a situation in which she needed to create cohesion on a team that usually only met via teleconference, and she did so by allocating time during each call for team members to get to know each other on a personal level and build trust. The result was that team members tended to give each other the benefit of the doubt when things didn’t go well, rather than pointing fingers.”

“I can do that instead of having a quantitative measure?” Manuel exclaimed, clearly surprised.

“Sure!” Linda said. “Let’s face it, there are many things that matter to performance but can’t be quantitatively measured, right?” Manuel nodded.

“So the next steps are relatively simple,” Linda continued. “Tell your employee how this particular piece of the performance plan aligns with agency mission and vision; in other words, how is he contributing to the big picture? Then make sure the goal you’re setting is realistic, given his pay grade and level within the agency, and make sure to put a time element on the goal, either a deadline or a general time frame. Does that all make sense?”

“Absolutely,” Manuel said, feeling more confident than he’d felt in weeks. “Thank you!”

Want to learn more about leading teleworkers? Click on the following link for a free leadership snapshot on Telework and SMART goals or contact Alli at