Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution

shelf3Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson

The way most people work – with defined work hours and a defined location – was developed to support an industrialisation of work. In a time when it made sense for a company to centralise their workforce. That time has passed, but the habits of that workplace have persisted; most of us work 9 to 5, in an office, surrounded by colleagues on similar schedules.  We have the technology and the communication tools to work differently but it rarely happens. When I read Scott Berkun’s book “The Year Without Pants” I really struggled to imagine how that freedom of work would apply in a large traditionally bureaucratic company, “Why Work Sucks” starts to answer that question.

The big challenge to traditional thinking about work is the myth of time. In my last job I was on a forty hour contract, but that time quota is irrelevant. What matters is whether I got the job done – it’s time to focus on results.

In the words of Ressler and Thompson “In a results-only work environment people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done”.

Reading the examples in the book I did find myself mentally resisting the concept of a results-only work environment (ROWE). I kept thinking “but we need people in place for tasks” (I had in mind the publication of quarterly figures), then I realised that the final clause of the statement covers that. If there are tasks where people really do need to all be in one place then that is what will happen – if you have the right team and the right leadership in place the team will organise around the work. In fact this is exactly what had happened in my old team; they knew very well what they needed to do and sorted out their availability together.

And if you don’t have the right team in place? ROWE seems to uncover the non-performers; if you’re managing on results rather than time those with lower results become very visible, very quickly.

why work sucks bookcoverRessler and Thompson are now consultants working with companies to introduce this concept, having made a success of it at Best Buy. But Best Buy famously killed ROWE last year saying they needed “all hands on deck” and employees in the office as much as possible to “collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business”. In the discussion around the decision the CEO expressed a view that ROWE only worked with a delegation style of leadership, I don’t think this is true, but it does point to one of the big challenges of ROWE; management.

If a manager only has to manage on the basis of where everybody is for the forty hours of their contract plus an annual look at progress (which is true in many large companies) then the job is pretty easy. But if you’re working in a ROWE as a manager then you must know the content of the roles in your team, and the abilities of the team to assess progress on a daily or weekly basis. You must be able to set direction and you must be able to hold people accountable much more regularly than under traditional systems.

Under ROWE a lot of HR’s role disappears, if people can work whenever they want (as along as the work gets done) there’s no need for holiday leave or sick leave policies. If the results are being assessed constantly that whole annual performance assessment process can also disappear. In fact a lot of processes are put back in the hands of team managers.

And back to that leadership question; I think ROWE can work well for a variety of leadership styles; democratic, affiliative, coaching or pace-setting leaders should find it easy to adapt. An authoritative leader may find it harder, as they lose some control of how things are done. A coercive leader will probably fail in a ROWE, but since this style is best used in times of crisis it should be a rare style in a functioning company.

I think there are some contexts when a pure ROWE won’t improve overall performance – anything that has a high personal service or very high urgency probably won’t work well. But that’s a relatively small proportion of work done today, so why are so many of us working in sucky environments?

The book is a good read, interspersed with some good examples from people working in a ROWE. As a manager I tried to focus on results and give my team as much freedom as possible to organise their work, but I still found I had a lot to learn about my attitude to time as I read this book. I missed any real discussion on the changing role for managers, although to be fair that may be in the follow up book “Why Managing Sucks”. I also found it a tad too optimistic – there was little examination of when it might not work or what might need to change across the company to make ROWE work. I still closed the book wishing I’d read it much earlier in my managing career.

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ESN Playbook 5; Structure.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 3.30.08 PMI’ve been working on chapter outlines for the ESN Playbook, there’s so much to say about this topic but I’ve developed a simple structure that is helping me stay on track, and not stray (too far) into those nice to have topics that can be so distracting – I want this to be useful.

So here’s a mindmap of the structure I’m working on, you can see the topic breakdown that I’m starting with. I’m trying to think of each endpoint of the mindmap as “three blog posts worth” just to keep me sane.

ESN Playbook MindMapThe ESN Playbook Survey is still live – I’d love to have your input.  You can reach it here, it’s about 20 questions and will probably take 20 – 25 minutes to answer.

You can read more in a previous ESN Playbook update for more detail. Once I’m happy with the chapter drafts I will publish them for input and comment, based on current progress that will be about mid-March.

If you’d like to be part of the research, suggest a resource or offer feedback you can contact me;

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Happiness at Work is Linked to Success

Lasting positive change is apparently simple, just repeat the following habits for 21 days;

  • 3 Gratitudes
  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Random Acts of Kindness

(Go to 11.05 on the video, Shawn Achor cites the research supporting this).

The last item on the list inspired a bunch of students to share biscuits with classmates stuck studying in the McGregor (no relation) Reading Room at the University of Virginia. If you’re looking for ideas for Random Acts of Kindness, there’s a whole website on the subject.

The idea of happiness as a work outcome is an easy target for the cynics, but the research is there, and it’s not a new idea; Alexander Kjerulf wrote a book “Happy Hour is 9 to 5”  first published in 2007 which talks about the connection between happiness, motivation and success.  It’s perhaps not surprising that he comes from Denmark recently assessed as the world’s happiest country in a UN report.

A fact that the national brewer was quick to adopt for an advertisement in Copenhagen’s airport. Fair enough, I did find their product an agent to feeling happy when I was there last week.

happydenmark

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Lessons from Implementing an Enterprise Social Network

I went to Copenhagen to attend the IntraTeam event last week and talk about what we’d learnt implementing an enterprise social network at ING – that ESN was called Buzz. Here’s the presentation I gave – with some added speaker notes.

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Implementing an Enterprise Social Network?

About 40-50% of companies have implemented an Enterprise Social Network. Are you one of them? If so please help me understand how you’re implementing it, what have been your challenges, what have been the successes.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 10.24.20

The survey will take about 15 minutes and if you have have any further questions please contact me on twitter (@changememe) or email (changememe AT outlook DOT com)

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The Week I was Europe

For the last week I’ve been running the @I_am_Europe twitter account. Just for fun.  I choose to tweet about Digital Europe, and came up with a few themes to focus on across the week. There was a slight delay getting a working password so I got to tweet for six days but on the first day I rested.

My themes were; Digital, Commerce, Education, Relaxing and Entertainment, and Creativity. I didn’t stick to the themes particularly tightly as I threw in some news from the digital world as well.

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I came up with some background images to match the themes, all photos I’d taken. There’s a prize if you can correctly identify all locations.

If you’d like a turn being Europe you can apply on their site.

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Internet is a Human Right

InternetRightsThe internet is a human right, and everyone should have access.

Sounds far-fetched, we’re used to thinking of human rights as connected to security, equality, freedom; all the big stuff.

But Article 21 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states

Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

A quick search online shows that many countries are putting their public/government services online including;

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • UK
  • USA

The UN has run a survey (latest data 2012) looking at “e-government”, which evaluates how ready a government is to provide information and services online, and how ready a country is to use those services. A lot depends on the political and economic situation of the country, just compare Somalia and Sweden to see this difference.

The Charter also lists “the right to education” and “the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community”, both of which increasingly have an online dimension. Governments, including local governments, are also seeking citizen participation online for local decision making.

Across Europe internet penetration is high at about 73%. It reaches close to 93% in Netherlands, but that still leaves more than a million people not using the internet. Across the EU it’s a third of the population.

As governments move services online they reduce the offices and physical services at the same time. At what point to governments have a responsibility to make sure online access is available to all? At what point does the drive to rationalise services and put them online start to infringe people’s rights?

I’ve been managing the @i_am_europe twitter account this week, and posting on a digital theme. It’s got me thinking about governments role in digital. A week ago I resisted the idea that governments had a role to play in the digital world – an attitude that probably marks me as one of the “digital elite”. But discussing some of the issues around digital and reading up on the EU plans it makes sense that governments and international bodies take a role in shaping the digital world we live in, making it a fairer place.

You can read more about progress so far on the EU website for the Digital Agenda, from the site it seems that good progress has been made – it’s harder to assess the actions of national governments, which is where citizens might notice a difference.

Of course this doesn’t mean that governments should build and deliver a full suite of online services, but that there is a need for a digital strategy for a country, and a need for international co-operation.

In my digging around the internet I also found out about the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which, according to their website

The purpose of  World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.

There is a call to add your local initiative to celebrate this day to the site – so far there’s just one event from Geneva, but there is time to add yours, the date of celebration is 17 May. I’d give you more detail, but to download the “circular letter from the ITU Secretary-General” I’m required to log-in for no good reason. I recall facing the same thing when I wanted to read some of the documents relating to the EU’s digital agenda – so I logged in using a fake identity out of peevishness.

The role of governments/regulatory bodies is about rules, policies and control. The internet world strives for openness and the technology lets us remove communications barriers. In my world people share ideas in 140 characters, there’s a dialogue across social media, books are co-created. Governments and regulatory bodies miss this mindset,  which begs the question; are they fit to lead a Digital Agenda?

Image: Internet, 5 minutes, $1.00 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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