I read “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It” by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson right before the Coronavirus hit. And because many business leaders are thinking about if, how, and when their staff will return to the office this is an interesting book to consider right now.
Not sure how this one got on my radar. I don’t think work sucks so it’s not a title I would normally be drawn to—someone must have recommended that I read it. Definitely not the type of book I normally read but I am glad I did.
After posting 7 reasons companies should offer flexible work the other day, I thought a few quick thoughts on this book would be in order.
Results-Only Work Environment
Why Work Sucks outlines the benefits of a results-only work environment (ROWE). The book was written in 2008, so the concept isn’t new. But it certainly feels new. The authors created the concept of the ROWE while working at Best Buy where it was rolled out broadly across the organization with great success.
First, a Results-Only Work Environment is already working. This isn’t a theory or a wish. The corporate headquarters of a Fortune 100 company [Best Buy] has embraced this idea and it’s working for them both financially and in terms of employee happiness.”From Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It.
In a ROWE, hours aren’t tracked or monitored, there is no ‘work schedule’ and all that matters is the results of your work—the outcomes and the value you deliver to the organization through that work.
You may think you are progressive and operating in a ROWE culture (I did), but the book presents a lot of challenging concepts that make me realize how deeply ingrained the concept of a workday is in my psyche. A flexible approach to a work schedule is not the same as a results-only work environment, where there is no obligation to work a certain number of hours per week or be in the office certain days or hours, all meetings are optional, and adults are treated like adults.
In all my years in HR I’ve never encountered a single talent management program that delivered such a high return on such a low investment…We made a difference in the bottom line—and that’s the goal of every business leader.”
The book provides a good overview of the impact on employee well being and turnover, along with business results. It also provides a good discussion of the beliefs that make this type of transition difficult.
Be crisp and clear
In a ROWE people are only measured on their results. Results, not time. But time so ingrained in our framework and construct of work. It sounds radical. Because it is. But it also makes a lot of sense.
But one of the reasons that implementing a ROWE is so challenging (conceptually and literally) is that companies and leaders don’t always know how to define and measure goals.
The success of implementing a ROWE relies on the way managers change, adapt, and hold people accountable for results versus time. It’s not easy to be clear about what results are expected—it’s actually a big shift for some people. To do a ROWE right managers need support and help to undo their old thinking and gain clarity around how to articulate expectations for outcomes.
Independent of a ROWE work environment, the book reminded me of the importance for companies, leaders, and managers to be “crisp and clear” in terms of expectations and outcomes. Crisp and clear. What a fantastic phrase. There is no way a ROWE can work if everyone doesn’t understand what’s expected and how they will be measured.
What matters more—time spent or results?
Results, obviously. So why does time spent matter at all?
I thought I was pretty progressive about work. But the book challenged some of my beliefs and showed me how much the workday mentality is ingrained in me. It also left lots of questions I don’t know how to answer, like how it would work in a support (or other shift-based) organization where set hours of coverage is needed (if everyone makes their own schedule, what happens when there are conflicts in the schedule….), or how well this operates for roles that typically need a lot of coaching, like sales development.
I am a very “remote first” type of leader, but apparently I hold lots of bias about being visible (both in myself and in people who work for me). When I was reading the book I realized how much of an emphasis I put on it for myself. I am visible. Both because I am working a lot, but also because that’s how I view one of the responsibilities of work.
Lots to think about and I predict it will change how I approach work, management and leadership to some degree.
I’m not sure I am fully ready to toss aside schedules and meetings. Again, I have some pretty deep-seated beliefs. But I love the idea of treating people like adults, of people feeling trusted to do good work, and of measuring employees on their results. The book definitely pushed me to think differently and go further. The concept is really logical. Results are what matters and all that matters.
Anyway…if you think work can, and should, be different, it’s worth the read and the subsequent reflection it will inspire. Especially if you are interested in exploring the topic of how to build a company culture centered on results and not on face-time this is the book to grab!