Jody Thompson

Focused on Results

Today’s executives need to manage work, not people

by Kate Pavao, February 2013

Result-Only Work Environment (ROWE) pioneers Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler argue that giving employees measurable goals —and complete control over their own calendars — is the key to driving company efficiency and promoting work/life balance.

Thompson and Ressler help companies around the globe move to a ROWE with their consulting business CultureRX, and managers will find plenty of advice and case studies in their new book Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It. Here, Thompson talks to Profit about what it means to move to a ROWE, why all meetings should be optional, and why this new way of working might make more sense to Millennials.

Thompson Bookcover

Profit: Why do managers need to change the way they do their jobs?

Thompson: Based on our experiences talking to workers at companies all over the world, we’ve learned that people aren’t really clear about what they’re supposed to be doing at work. They’re not clear about why they were hired, what they’re supposed to be producing and how their work is being measured.

What they’re really clear about is when they’re supposed to come in and when they can leave. That’s the culture of work.

What we need to move to is a model of measurable results. Managers need to stop managing people and start managing work better. Let people manage themselves.

Profit: What do managers have a hard time initially understanding about ROWEs?

Thompson: Here’s where they get the most hung up: They think that Results-Only Work Environment is a work-from-home program. They really get all bound up with, “How am I going to control everyone’s schedules and know where everybody is?”

They have to get off the notion that flexibility even matters or exists. Moving to a ROWE model can be really difficult when you feel more comfortable knowing where everybody is all the time, physically. I think what managers are really concerned about is that employees won’t respond.

Guess what I say to that? If your employees don’t keep the work moving along, then they shouldn’t have a job with you. You don't have to prescribe that you need an email back within an hour. If you’re clear about measurable results, everyone knows how to do their job. They will know how often they need to respond.

Once managers flip into this mindset, their brain can’t go back the other way. They are just befuddled by how the rest of the world is functioning.

Profit: What are your rules for meetings?

People tell us 30 to 80 percent of their time is wasted in senseless, unproductive meetings. Instead of scheduling a meeting, stop for a moment and say to yourself, “What exactly do I need?”

First, understand the outcome that you’re trying to get to. Then ask yourself, “What’s the best way to get there?” Oftentimes, getting everybody together in a meeting room might not be the best way for you — or for the people who have to drive in to the office and waste four hours of their time listening to you ramble on.

Here’s what happens in a Results-Only Work Environment: The meeting organizer no longer has control over everybody else. If you think a meeting is the best way to get work done, you can put it out there, but employees gets to decide for themselves if they want to come. Every meeting is optional. I might get your meeting invite, and say, “You know, I understand what you need. And here’s a way we can get it done more efficiently.”

Profit: How do managers start moving to a ROWE model?

Thompson: A Results-Only Work Environment is transformation in how we think about what we do every day, so it’s a difficult proposition to try to do it in little pieces. A lot of people want to only take pieces, because they want to control the flexibility. They still want to have mandatory meetings, and have people in the office at least three days a week. They’ve just lost out on having a Results-Only Work Environment, because they’ve introduced something that doesn’t matter.

At CultureRx, we help a lot of managers at larger companies roll out ROWE to smaller groups. If you have a larger organization of 150 to 200 people, you can incubate it with a group of 25 to 50 and see how it works without committing to the whole thing.

Now, if you’re a smaller company with 50 people or less, it doesn’t make much sense to do that. With these companies we will train people on how to think differently about how they’re managing people, how they’re operating on a day-to-day basis. For example, we have them remove the language of time out of anything they talk about. There’s no more, “When are you leaving?” or “When are you coming in?”

Profit: Are Millennials more open to being managed this way?

Thompson: The next generation wants to work this way naturally. They start off entrepreneurial and nimble, and they know how to work fast and communicate globally. Growing up, they did more group project than the rest of did. They know how to drive an outcome.

Now, they’re entering an old-fashioned, 20th century system, and what we’re telling them doesn’t fit with how they think and how they move stuff along. Millennials are motivated. If you’re clear with them about what they need to deliver, they’re going to do it every time. But if you say, “Shut up. Get in your cube. And don't forget to go to the team-building event at 3,” you’re going to lose them.

They may stay for a while, but they will be complacent, unmotivated and uninspired. Then, they will start looking elsewhere for a progressive organization. They’re not going to waste their time sitting around for eight hours, just because somebody said that that’s how work is supposed to happen. They will start looking for an organization that's first and foremost interested in the results they can — and will — deliver.