As a non-technical CEO, how do I know if an engineer isn’t goofing off if I’m not watching them all the time?

Sometimes non-technical, first-time entrepreneurs feel frustrated that their developers aren't working hard if they are not on site, and the CEO cannot observe them at work. 

This can breed a lot of resentment and is a dysfunctional relationship in the making, because the question itself suggests a lack of trust and confidence between the employer and the employee.

If you are that CEO, then there may be a few things at play here.

  1. You may have brought the person on board in haste and you don't feel comfortable about their ability to deliver and their work ethic 
  2. You may not have invested time to build a relationship with that developer, and therefore you don't know how hard or how smart they work. 
  3. You may be undergoing a leadership transition for the first time in your career - moving from being a contributor to a supervisory role - and don't have a lot of reference points to calibrate how to work with direct reports.

So, if you find yourself in this position, what might you do? The first line of defense is always to talk to the employee to understand their capacity and velocity, relative to the tasks they are given to perform. How much work can this person do in any given time? Are the tasks routine, complex, or open-ended and involves R&D work? Having an open conversation will give you information you may not know you needed so you can assess the employee's productivity and ability to self govern more accurately.

Additionally, on the hiring side, you should always screen for culture fit when interviewing candidates so you are aligned on expectations of values and work ethics. Once you bring them on board you should have frequent check-in's with your staff, to make sure you set expectations and have a ready made routine for the employee to share progress and raise concerns.

That said, sometimes people become disengaged over time if they are not feeling tightly engaged. Engage them by sharing the broader business context so they always know how their own work ties in to the big picture.

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