Employee Heatmap – The Simplest and Most Effective Tool in the Management Arsenal

One of the hardest things for senior managers to maintain Situational Awareness across their entire organization. Ego and averaging often obscure the reporting up through your hierarchy.

Mid-level managers don’t ask for help because they don’t see how their team’s problems are impacting the organization as a whole. This lack of reporting or “the blame game” can hide the root causes of cross-functional problems.

Whenever I face uncertainty, I collect and visualize data to gain a deeper understanding of the problem.

Capturing Data Efficiently

Every week, managers are required to report their individual team members “stress load” in a shared google sheet. In aggregate, over-time, this Employee Heatmap data becomes immensely valuable in understanding your teams’ performance.

This quick report (~2 minutes for a team of 5) allows both you and your managers to visually see changes in employees status across your entire organization. This insight allows you both to determine where to focus your analysis and assistance as leader.

The Employee Heat Map

Spreadsheet Heatmap of Employee Stress over time.
A quick review during the weekly management meeting visually helps you determine where you need to ask questions and assist.

Download the Employee Heatmap Example.xls

What is Stress Load?

The Employee Heatmap is built on a quantitative value that we call “Stress Load”. “Stress Load” is defined as Workload + Familyload.

As a Human-First leader, I view my employees capacity as the combination of two things. The 8-hours they spend on the clock and the issues they’re facing during the 16-hours a day that I don’t pay them for.

My managers collect these data points during their monthly 1-on-1s with their direct reports. They adjust the monthly self-reported “stress load” number based on their direct observation when reporting it in the management review weekly.

What is Workload?

Workload in the Employee Heatmap is quantified on a scale of 1-10. 1 being almost completely unsaturated to the point of boredom and 10 being complete saturation at an unsustainable pace. 4-6 is the Goldilocks Zone.

Depending on your team composition, you may regularly see 6-7 . Challenging workloads tend to keep Type-A employees more engaged and therefore might not be a negative indicator. Sustained values in the 8-10 range usually indicate an underlying issue that needs attention.

I encourage my managers to restate the number and ask “What does that mean to you?”. If the self-reported number is out of the Goldilocks Zone for that employee, I instruct them to ask “Why do you feel this way?” It’s important that the direct manager understands what is driving the stress level of their employee’s workload numbers.

Qualitative reasons often drive higher workload numbers. Employees doing work that they don’t enjoy or having to work with someone they dislike is more often the culprit than being overwhelmed by volume. Managers tend to be better at recognizing tasking issues than rooting out qualitative drivers.

My astute friend Mike Canzoneri solves this problem by breaking down his version of this process into 3 values: Workload Emotional, Workload Quantity, Family Load.

What is Family Load?

Family Load is also measured on a scale of 1-10. 1 being almost completely stress-free to the point of boredom and 10 being overwhelming stress that detracts from the employees quality of life.

We respect our employees’ privacy as a cultural value at my company. Managers are instructed to not ask for the “Why?” with this number. If their employees volunteer the information, they are told to keep it in confidence. This qualitative input can help the manager to bias the monthly number appropriately for the weekly reporting as the employees life-situation continues to develop.

Long Term Value of the Employee Heatmap

Trend Analysis of Employee Heat Map
The trend, leading, and trailing, indicators all provide valuable insights on your process and people.

If you graph the data in the Employee Heatmap, you can start to determine leading and trailing indicators as well as recurring trends in your team’s functioning.

I’ve used this data to make staffing plans, deconflict teams before they were in a negative feedback loop, and change how we schedule work. It’s pound-for-pound the most powerful tool in my personal management toolbox. I highly encourage you to try it, modify it, and share the results.

Questions of the Day

What’s your favorite tool for managing your employees? Do you have any other tricks for keeping a pulse on in-direct reports?

Premature Optimization is the Root of All Evil

"We should forget about small efficienceis, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil" - Donald Knuth
H/T: @lpolovets

Donald Knuth was specifically talking about algorithms in computer software, but the lesson applies broadly to product development, startups, and self-improvement.

Perfection is the Enemy of Progress

Wikipedias worth of man-hours have been spent building features that the customer never requested and rarely use. Companies have spent millions on inventory to achieve economies of scale on products that crater in the market. They should have shipped first and asked questions later.

Stop futzing around and ship it! Premature optimization is often procrastination in disguise. If you’re “making it better” before someone has used it, you’re letting fear of judgement keep you from learning.

Don’t worry about scaling, don’t worry about “nice to have”, just start! Start going to the gym, spearhead a new process at work, ask someone to buy your barely functional prototype. Even if you fail, you’ll be at the same place as if you were still planning; the only difference is, you’ll have a data point from the real world. Now you can adjust, incrementally better, then ship it again.

Questions of the Day

What aspect of your life should you be shipping instead of optimizing? Is there a feature in your product or startup that’s a good idea but you haven’t had a customer ask for it yet? Tell me about the time you sunk days of oyur life into solving a problem that didn’t exist.

How to Solve Ambiguous Problems with Simple Data Visualization

Visualization of data often yields better insights that just looking at the numbers.

I routinely encountered optimization problems and I struggled to solve them effectively until I developed this simple framework.

In this post, we’ll work through the example “Where should I live?”
Click here to access the example spreadsheet.

Optimizing for real-world problems is usually challenging because they tend to multivariate. They also tend to impact more than one stakeholder, which often means there are different priorities that should be considered. Additionally, variables can often inversely correlated, qualitative in nature, and/or unique solutions have wildly different values.

Whenever things get complicated in my life, I try to develop a process that I can tune as I gain more experience. Here’s my current approach for optimizing complex decisions.

Steps to Resolution:

  1. Determine Variables
  2. Weight Variables
  3. Collect Data
  4. Visualize Data
  5. Discuss quantified result

Determine Variables

Create a list of all meaningful values to consider when evaluating the problem. Then, ask other stakeholders about what factors they would consider when determining a solution.

As these conversations occur, you should document the entire list of concerns in a spreadsheet.

Example Variables for “Where should I live?”:

  • Proximity to Work, Family, Friends, Food, Activities
  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Pet/Child-Friendly (Booleans)
  • Cost of Living Adjustments
  • Additional Income Possibilities (Rental units, access to a better job market)

Weight Variables

Have each stakeholder (including yourself) put a weight on each variable privately. Then gather together to discuss the reasons for each weighting. Based on the discussions, work as a group to determine your final weightings. This socialization of concerns often helps me achieve a deeper understanding of my own goals, while also getting buy-in from people who will be impacted by the decision. Lastly, generating these “shared ideals” weightings allows you to focus on the most important aspects of the data when evaluating the visualization.

Collect Data

Aggregate your data in your spreadsheet. Sometimes it helps to normalize data if the options are very disparate in their values. One way to normalize is through the use of ratios between two of the variables from the same option.

In this example, we create a ratio of Total Cost of Residence / Take Home Income in order to normalize the Total Cost of Residence for different geographic areas.

Visualize Data

Use conditional formatting (tutorials: google sheets / excel ) to heatmap cells or simply turn cells red/green for boolean answers.

Implementing this visualization technique will usually highlight one or two prime candidates from your data.

While I’m building my visualizations, I also highlight the top three column headers, based on the outcomes of the variable weighting discussion. This additional step highlights the “deal breakers” that sometimes exist in candidates that otherwise look great on paper.

Spreadsheet showing highlighted cell that is a "dealbreaker"
In our example, “Middle of Nowhere” looks like the best candidate, until you realize that it’s the worst candidate in regards to our “shared ideal” distance to family.

Discuss quantified results

Last but not least, bring the visualized results back to the group. They provide a great starting point for discussion among stakeholders. Since you determined your “shared ideals” before you gathered/evaluated your data, it allows you to have a more candid discussion of the options.

One last thing, It’s important to remember that all tools have flaws and the winning result in the rubric isn’t always the best solution qualitatively. You’re not bound by the tool that you created, often the discussion it generates is worth more than the data it provides.

Question of the Day

Do you have a similar process? Where have you applied it in your life?