Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Work Sucks!


Have you ever wondered why working from 9 to 5 is the social norm? Have you ever thought about how silly and childish it is to gauge people by their attendance in the workplace? Have you ever thought that there must be a better and more productive way to work? How stupid are office politics? Do you think it's time that knowledge workers get treated like adults?

take a second...

This rant was inspired by my latest read, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it. In this book, Calie Ressler and Jody Thompson of CultureRx completely tear apart the office protocols that exist in most workplaces today. This includes everything from ridiculous work schedules to unnecessary meetings. Their solution, which is really bold, is something they've coined as the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). This new work framework is pretty self explanatory, but can be summarized by the following:
  • People work whenever they want, as long as the work gets done!
  • People work from wherever they want, as long as the work gets done!
  • Every meeting is optional.
  • Nobody talks about how many hours they work.
  • People are measured by results!
I know there are a lot of people shaking their heads right now and saying, "This would be impossible in my big company!" Well, believe it or not, ROWE was actually born in the corporate offices of Best Buy! Today, every single one of their offices works in a ROWE! Furthermore, a lot of big tech companies have worked in similar frameworks for a long, long time.

The school system is an ironic example that bolsters the argument for a ROWE. In college/university, students have complete control over there time. They are also measured by results (marks). Classes, although not recommended, are completely optional. Believe it or not, at the age of 19, students are living in a ROWE! How funny is it that you actually have less control over your life after you graduate? This shouldn't be the case.

In order to go further with ROWE, you need to understand the concept of Sludging. This is "the negative commentary that occurs naturally in the workplace", and its primary purpose is to judge people about frivolous things. Here are a couple examples straight from the book:
  • "Coming in at eleven again?"
  • "Another vacation? How many vacation days do you have?"
  • "I wish I smoked. Then I could always be on break."
Does any of this sound familiar? According to Ressler and Thompson, the first step in creating a ROWE is eliminating Sludge. The way to do this - which is exactly what we started doing at I Love Rewards - is to call people out whenever you see/hear anything that resembles a Sludge. Simply yelling the word is sufficient, and tends to make it funny. But the underlying point is to make it clear that Sludging is absolutely unacceptable.

Obviously, there is lot more more involved in implementing a ROWE. The book goes into great detail about the process, so read it if you get a chance. CultureRx has even created a ROWE Launch Kit which I found pretty amusing.

Ultimately, giving people control over their time and trusting them to get work done is the way of the future. If businesses aren't willing to accept this, then they'll be left in the dust. We have more than enough technological infrastructure to allow people to work whenever they want, wherever they want. Clinging on to labour laws that were created before the Computer is absolutely ridiculous. We need to move forward as a society, constantly questioning the way we do things. A ROWE will do nothing but help employers as well as employees. "When you start to treat people like adults, they will respond like adults." This, in the end, will produce the only thing that maters; results.

Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome!

50 comments:

Unknown said...

I think ROWE is a nice concept but it has some challenges (as the people who work for Best Buy will tell you). Here are 3 of them.

Challenge 1: Lack of measurable results.

Organizations must first have clear and measurable results for each individual (which is difficult to do for every role). If they are able to accurately measure performance, the challenge then becomes that there are a number of important factors of success that no results can measure. For example; the contribution to culture, assisting team members, going above and beyond (outside of the thing you are being measured on), fit, living the company values etc... As a business leader, I can tell you from experience that I would rather have an individual who consistently misses their goals by 10-15% but who consistently improves (which is only done by hard work), is a great cultural fit, helps their peers succeed, has a positive attitude, lives the company values, shares my vision and is just great to be around. Versus someone who consistently achieves 110% of their goals, but is negative, a cancer to the corporate culture, has a poor work ethic, is selfish and doesn’t play nice with the other kids. As all great leaders know, they can help you achieve amazing results with time; they can’t change your DNA.

Challenge 2: ROWE is not customer-centric.

Imagine a teacher, who started teaching at 10 am, but who’s kids show up at 8:30, or a call center rep who strolls in at 10:15 when people have been calling since 9, or an ER doctor who saw their “goal # of patients” and went home just as you walk in with a medical emergency. Great companies are built by people who listen to and focus on their customer’s needs, when their customer needs them.

Challenge 3: What happens when you miss?

A commissioned sales person understands that if they are at 70% of their goal, they will earn 70% of their commission. But what about Finance? Teachers? Or even Lawyers? Would a risk adverse accountant accept 50% of their pay cheque because 50% of the receivables were past 60 days? Would a teacher be fired if their students performed below average on a standardized test? Would a lawyer agree to defend someone but only get paid if they won? The reality is that a very small percentage of society would agree to be held accountable if they missed the result. They couldn’t afford to. Business couldn’t afford the turnover, because the sad reality is that most people don’t achieve the results they say they will.

In conclusion, I am a huge fan of organizations that focus on results, but the reality is that the Results Only Work Environment is a very simplistic approach to the complex and intricate world of business.

Razor

Zakir Hemraj said...

Thanks for the comments. Here's my response to your arguments.

1. Creating measurable results is a cultural change. The reason why most corporations suck at it is because they don't have a reason to create them in the first place. That is why they always seem forced; work still gets done without them. But when people understand their performance will be measured by results, a lot more effort will be put into creating realistic and relevant measurements.

Also, working in a ROWE doesn't mean you have the right to be unethical and negative. Managers can have an extreme impact on this, and handle problems on a case by case basis. Saying that people will act negative in order to achieve their results is just an assumption. At some point you have to trust the fact that you have great people that will work in an ethical manner.

2. There are totally circumstances where a full-fledged ROWE doesn't work, and you pretty much nailed those examples. But, I still think that there is a lot more flexibility that can be implemented in service-based roles. For example, an SLA to customers could be created by upper management and a department could collectively create their own framework for hitting those SLAs. This is still my biggest issue with ROWE, and I would love to discuss the matter further.

3. People don't hit their goals because they haven't set appropriate ones. As I said in the first point, goals set in most corporations aren't used for the same reasons as measurements in a ROWE. In my opinion, saying that people aren't willing to be accountable is a form of running away from the problem. Besides, a ROWE doesn't say that you instantaneously fire people if they don't produce results. The point is to create relevant measurements and work on them. Employees will work on making better measurements if they understand the importance. Also, a ROWE doesn't infer making everyone's job commission based.

In conclusion, I understand your points and I agree that a 100% ROWE is not the solution for every business. But there are aspects of a structured time framework that are silly and outdated. Employers and employees must not accept this framework as the norm and must instead work together to find the appropriate balance.

Anonymous said...

Razor: I think ROWE is absolutely customer-centric. As a teacher, being available to your students to engage them in learning IS your result. In a call center, answering phones IS the result. As a doctor, healing/diagnosing/treating patients is the result (perhaps it's better definition of the result that's the real issue). Results should align with customer support.

fnthawar said...

Great discussion.

I would sum the general ROWE argument as follows:
- you need measurements (ROWE or non-ROWE work environment). No points for just being in the office!
- management is more explicit (are the goals right, measurements right?)
- ROWE gives top players the space they need to succeed. You shouldn't be scared to give your top players more freedom
- you don't need people in the office 9-5pm to have an amazing culture (Trilogy, Microsoft, Google, 37Signals, are examples of small and large companies)

Brelynn said...

I would love to know more thoughts about implementing portions/modifications in a call center. We are looking into the possibility.

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