So, it turns out in the early days of Microsoft Bill Gates memorized the license plate numbers of employees so he could know who was in the office. He considered this part of his fanatical dedication to work, but it actually shows a serious lack of understanding about work.
Now, I'm not saying that his methods failed-obviously, they didn't. But just because someone is successful in their business doesn't mean that everything they do makes sense. What could he have done instead of spending time memorizing license plate numbers? Just about anything. Here's why this is not a great business practice.
Hours in the office don't mean a great deal.
Sure, Microsoft is full of programmers who are going to be able to do more work when they are at work then they would being elsewhere. (After all, working from home wasn't terribly practical in the beginning days of Microsoft.) But, what can you really tell by the number of hours someone is in the office? Not much. Is their work the best? Are they producing quality work, or goofing off? What's the productivity? Butt-in-seat time isn't the best way to judge people.
A boss that knows if your car is in the parking lot also knows if that's your car at the grocery store, the church, or someplace unsavory that you really don't want your boss to know you frequent. I know, I know, just always be good. But what if it is you trying to be good-attending your therapist appointment or visiting your relatives in jail? The thought that your boss can spot your car anywhere is just creepy.
It's not even accurate.
For years, my husband and I both worked in pharma. (He still does.) I worked for a big company, and he worked for a market research firm that did business with my company. One day I got an email from security threatening to tow my car and tell my boss because I was parked in the visitor's lot. Except it wasn't me, it was my husband. I had had to register any car that I might drive with the security office, which means that my husband's license plate was listed. A phone call straightened it out, but still.
What if, instead of my husband on a meeting, I'd just borrowed his car? And my CEO looked out the window and couldn't see my car. Am I to be judged a slacker for that day? What if I started carpooling? Or taking public transportation?
It's passive aggressive.
Seriously, why would you spend your time looking out the window, judging performance and dedication by a measure that no one would expect to be judged by? Just be honest with your employees that you're looking at is how long they are at the office and not at their actual contributions.
There are better things to be learned from parking lots.
When I worked for Wegmans (a company that is regularly near the top of Fortune's Top 100 Companies to Work For List), then CEO Bob Wegman was rumored to be capable of pulling into any store parking lot and estimating the take for that day-with a high degree of accuracy. He knew his business so well he gained actual knowledge from the parking lot.
What else can you learn from your parking lot? Well, you can learn if your employees are working long hours just by looking how full the parking lot is. You can also tell if you have enough parking, if people have nice cars, and if people from the neighboring restaurant are using your parking lot. Other than that, spend your time doing other things.
If you want to memorize, memorize names.
How much better would it be if, instead of license plate numbers, Gates had memorized employees names and faces? People enjoy it when the big boss knows who they are. They feel valued. If you want to know who is in the office, look at the people, not their automobiles.