I had put it off for as long as I could, and it was time to finally bite the bullet and get it done. I sent a message to my manager and told him that I was going to work from home the following day in order to knock a few things off my list. I knew others on the team did it occasionally, but it felt weird staying home instead of making the daily commute. And you know what? I really liked it. I actually got more done from home, accomplishing all of my key “to do” items and a few more. I was less stressed and felt satisfied for the first time in a while by the time I returned to the office the following day.

—–

I can still remember sitting in front of my computer that day all those years ago. I remember how I felt, what I was working on, and what the results were. I tell the story because it is a perfect example of what people are saying about how they get work done.

A Quick Primer on the ROWE

I realize that some of you might be newbies to the “ROWE” term, so let me break it down for you. The idea of a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) is fairly simple: you work when, where, and how you want to–as long as you get the job done. In other words, the place and method don’t really matter, but the results are more important than ever.

The point that ties in here is a core tenet of the ROWE movement: work is a thing you do, not a place you go.

If this sounds intriguing, I’ve written fairly extensively on the topic if you want to explore:

People Least Productive in the Office

The title for this post reflects the latest FlexJobs survey, which shows that just 7% of workers think they are most productive in the office. Ouch.

This is a reflection of the open office floor plan debate that has been going on for a few years now. People are just not able to focus, concentrate, and get things done when they are stacked on top of each other like cord wood. Is that actually a surprise to anyone?

The data actually says that this is a bigger problem than we realize, even if we just look at technology and the interruptions it can provide.

Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that the typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between interruptions, and it takes approximately 25 minutes to return to the original task after being interrupted. A further study found that those being interrupted make up to 20% more mistakes than those working in an uninterrupted environment. This makes me wonder what the cost of all this “multitasking” really is!

Know How Your Best Work is Done

Despite this somewhat gloomy outlook, it’s important to know how your best work gets done. Here’s my story.

The truth is that I’m an introvert, and my best work is done when I am in a quiet place where I can concentrate. I simply cannot work in an environment with a lot of noise or mental stimuli. In fact, in my day job I can go for eight hours straight without hearing anyone unless I have a meeting on the calendar. And that is fine with me, because it allows me to focus wholly on the task(s) at hand.

When I think back on my time working in a cubicle environment, I valued it in some ways and despised it in others. I really liked being connected to my staff and being incredibly accessible to them. On the flip side, it was really tough to have private conversations without scheduling a conference room or finding an empty space to connect. In addition, with my focus issues, I was never able to be fully productive since there was pretty much always an employee that wanted to ask a question, tell a story, or just be that chatty person that wandered around all day.

What each of you should do is think about how you work best, block out focused time, and try to minimize distractions that do not add value to your day. I learned a lot about this in the book Two Awesome Hours, which I referenced in a previous post.

Another book that quickly hooked me was Two Awesome Hours. The basic premise is that we were not meant to sit at a computer for eight plus hours a day working at a single repetitive task without breaks. That’s what robots are for. Josh Davis, PhD, says some people can get as much done in two good, productive hours as others can in an entire day. The concept has to do with a few different elements of work, but the part that has been most interesting for me is working on focused activities when I’m most “on.”

Good luck with managing distractions and being productive, my friends!

Analytics in the business world serve many purposes, and a survey by the American Management Association uncovered the top five reasons business leaders say analytical skills are necessary today.

Which of the following create the greatest need for analytical skills in your organization?

  1. Accountability for results 67.0%
  2. Competitive environment 61.6%
  3. Complexity of business environment 52.6%
  4. Increase in customer data 51.3%
  5. Risk management 50.7%

business analytical skillsI found the results intriguing, because while we say we need accountability first and foremost within our organizations, many leaders often do a poor job of actually communicating that need. Oh, they’ll tell people they need to be accountable, but when it comes down to time to measure performance, they’ll think about things that don’t really tie into accountability for results. Having analytics to drive those sorts of decisions will be a positive overall; however, it will also mean that leaders and managers can no longer rely on other unimportant “measures” of performance.

  • Bob has been in the office for fifty or sixty hours a week for the past few months. He must be doing a good job. [Is it possible that he’s just horrible at managing his time/workload?]
  • I know she doesn’t write well, but Mary responds to emails 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She’s really dedicated. [If she’s not sending out the right message, maybe “number of emails sent” isn’t a good measure of her performance?]

In some positions, it’s relatively easy to measure outcomes (sales, for example); however, in others it’s more difficult. For instance, how do you tell your administrative assistant to be “nicer?” Can you quantify that? How do you get an engineer to work “harder?” Those subjective measures are a pain for managers to enforce and a pain for employees to have to ascertain. You need to give them some actual targets to strive for that they understand.

ROWE me, baby

I had a discussion recently with some friends about the ROWE (results only work environment) movement, and it was quite an interesting conversation. A ROWE is a workplace where you work when, where, and how you want, as long as you meet your business objectives/goals. It sounds nice, and I love the idea, but it’s not necessarily easy. The key to making this work is holding each person accountable not for how many hours they log in the office, how long their butt is in the chair, or how long they are logged into their work computer; it’s about the results they accomplish. Again, it sounds like an excellent idea, but managers quickly become anxious at the thought of removing some of the traditional barriers and measurements for employees, even though in the long run the focus is to get employees to focus on the one thing that actually matters: results! This conversation keeps leading me back to accountability, and I’d like to share a few resources with you on that front in case you, like those who answered this survey, are interested in moving toward a culture of accountability.

4 accountability examples, ideas, and suggestions

  1. How many times have you heard a leader in real life or fiction demand: “I don’t care how you do it. Just get it done!” Many times, organization charts and job descriptions push people to perform a set of tasks. This mindset leads people to believe that if they perform their functions they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, whether or not the result was achieved. Effective leaders operate on the premise that their people must focus on achieving results. They lead and inspire them to pursue results by creating an environment that motivates them to ask, “What else can I do?” over and over until the results are achieved. They manage their people so that their “job” is to achieve results. Each person’s daily activities must be in alignment with the targeted results.
  2. In the book Turn the Ship Around, we learn about David Marquet and his attempt to remove the leader/follower model from the operation of the submarine he commanded. When he first took command of the ship, nobody was held accountable for anything, which correlated with the ship’s poor performance record. He began taking steps to give people accountability and oversight of their own areas, freeing him up to be a commanding officer instead of a 24/7 manager of minute details. It’s a great book if you are interested in seeing how other leadership/management approaches work.
  3. Several years ago I wrote about asking better questions to get better results. It’s still one of the most popular pieces, and for good reason. People are hungry for ways to help drive accountability within their organizations, and simply asking different questions is an easy way to start moving into that sort of mindset. More here: Asking Questions at Work.
  4. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton often talk about the data that drives great companies and great teams. After researching extensively, they developed a model that described how the best managers led their teams. The key elements? Goal setting, trust, communication, recognition, and accountability. So not only is it something that helps on a personal level, it also helps managers to get the most out of their teams! More of this found in The Orange Revolution.

 Wrapping up

Back to the study, I would be interested to hear your feedback on some of these items. Do you see any of these five areas playing a part in a need for analytical skills within your organization? Why or why not? What drives accountability in your organization? Is that driver toward an accountable workforce actually getting results?

If you like keeping up with new business concepts, I have one for you: the ROWE.

I’ve talked about the idea of a Results Only Work Environment before, but the latest book by Cali Ressler and Jodi Thompson (Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It) is the handbook for organizations and managers looking to put it into place.

why managing sucksLet me start by saying that if I could flip a switch and turn my employer into a ROWE, I would do it. In essence, a ROWE means that staff work when they want, where they want, and as long as they are getting the results, the rest doesn’t really matter.

The issue is that I work for a government contractor, and we are required to track each hour worked for every employee (exempt or non) for billing purposes. I’m not 100% sure, but I’m betting the government isn’t about to change the way they do business to align with greater efficiency and effectiveness based on their track record.

The Appeal of a ROWE

Here’s why I love a ROWE. Managers can’t just come to you and say, “Bob isn’t putting in the hours.” They have to come to you and say, “Bob is not achieving the results we agreed upon.” As an HR pro, in which of those situations would you feel most comfortable backing up the manager? Yeah, definitely the second.

It forces managers, employees, and business leaders to ensure that people actually know what they are supposed to be achieving. That’s what really matters. And that, my friends, is a very refreshing thought.

Check out the video below where I talk more about the book. I highly recommend it!

Click here to check out other book reviews.

Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day by Cali Williams Yost

Tell me if you’ve heard this one.

Bob heads home after a long day of work. He’s looking forward to seeing his kids and spending some time with his wife. 

He decides to jump onto his email when he gets home. You know, just to check. 

He sees an “urgent” message from a coworker, and he takes a few minutes to respond. Then another message comes in, and he’s already working, so he might as well respond to that one, too. 

Three hours later, he looks up and realizes that his wife and kids are in bed and he’s missed the entire evening with them. He resolves to look at that “work/life balance” stuff and heads to bed so he can get up early for work. 

Tweak It is the antidote for that guy (and the rest of us). Read on for more good info on work+life.

tweak-it-cali-williams-yostWhat I liked

  • When you’re in the throes of a work/life mess, it seems like everyone around you has it all figured out. Cali throws out a comforting number of “10-15%” with regard to those who are happy with their own work/life. The other 85-90% (AKA most of us) are still trying to find the right steps to take to make everything work in harmony. Next time you have a moment of panic, take a moment to remember that nine out of ten people feel just like you.
  • The “tweak it” method is fairly simple. First you get started. Then you pick a “tweak of the week” to focus on. Then you review and revise your plan and start it all over again.
  • One of the tweaks Cali recommends made me laugh. She recommends balancing “Batman” moments and “Robin” moments–meaning you should take times to chase your own dreams (Batman), but you should also make time to help others pursue their own dreams (Robin). In case you didn’t know it, I’m a Batman fan. :-)
  • A few other quick “tweak it” moments that I particularly agree with: younger workers need to take speaking/writing courses (desperately) and older workers need to take time to sit back and remember why they made their career choice in the first place. That’s a great way to rejuvenate the spirit and reignite the passion deep inside.

Wrap up

I just wanted to take a second to talk about my own approach to work+life, because it might offer some insights for those looking to make their own changes.

I use various tools for flexible work, but I also have a philosphy that helps with the time management side of things. I try to tie as many interests together as feasibly possible. It doesn’t always work and I can’t always make things fit like I’d prefer, but in many cases I am able to satisfy multiple needs with fewer overall actions.

For instance, when I run into a crazy situation at work, I will share it on the blog. It doesn’t really require me to create a new idea, but it helps to tie my work and online worlds closer together. Or maybe it’s time to hang out with the kids. I sit with them on the couch and read a book to review on the blog while they read their books or watch cartoons. I’m there and quickly available if needed, but I’m also working and making myself better. The last way is with book reviews like this one. I read many books to review here, but I also know that I will glean ideas and concepts to help me be better at my work as well.

Those are just a few ways that plays out, but it’s served me well thus far and I never feel like any part of what I do is truly out of “balance” with the others. However, I am vigilant, because I know all to well how easily things can quickly fall to pieces without constant attention.

The bottom line: we all run into work+life issues at some point in our lives. If you’ve ever had the thought that you can manage your work and life in a better way, this book is for you. If you’re interested, click here to get your copy.

Click here for other book reviews.

Thanks to Cali and her team for providing a review copy!

Tweak It
Reviewed by Ben Eubanks on
Jan 8.
Tweak your work/life to fit your needs
This book focuses on strategies for tweaking your current work+life setup to allow you to get things accomplished at work and home without stressing you out or forcing you to give up your dreams.
Rating: 4

flexible work schedule policy

Wishing I was this flexible

I have a lot of things I’m proud of accomplishing at work, but it’s the sum of them and the trust that my leaders and staff place in me that have the most impact on me. Below you’ll learn about one recent example of how I was able to stand up for our staff and keep a misguided manager from implementing a decision that would have had a negative impact on the culture and employees. It’s the little things like this every day that make me glad that I’m in HR.

Recently we had a discussion about moving from our current flexible schedule policy to a core business hours work arrangement. Some of our management team looked at the decision as a way to force everyone to be in the office at least part of the day in order to make sure everyone is staying on task and accomplishing their work. (Click here for the tools I use for work/life flexibility.)

However, I was more than a little bit perturbed by the idea.

See, I have this funny, old-fashioned notion that managers are there to… well, manage. Continue reading

I work for a small company and have the flexibility to change my work schedule, work remotely, and do a lot of things that would have been unheard of at some of my previous employers. In fact, that flexibility is a great benefit that we offer our staff that doesn’t have a set price tag (hint to the big HR/marketing companies out there: I’d love to have some data on how much people would accept in less salary for the opportunity to set their own work schedule).

As you know, I also blog (duh) and run an online business. I use a handful of tools to help me get everything accomplished, and I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of those.

Productivity tools Continue reading

human resources proposalI’ve been working with our business development team on a big project. The HR proposal portion is an amazing exercise, because it’s all about us forcing ourselves to quantify the impact that we have on the organization. Sitting there and discussing what differentiates our organization from others in terms of recruiting, retention, etc. opens your eyes to the opportunities that we have to drive change on a high level. It’s helping me to see that our part of the business can be as powerful (or not) as we want it to be.

Results-oriented HR

I’ve touched on the Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) in this post on working naked, but that applies to work in general. The basic idea behind ROWE is work when/how/where you want, as long as the objectives are met. There are two main pieces in my mind when it comes to ROWE:

  • The “fun” part of doing whatever the heck you want to do
  • The “hard” part of really, truly, seriously being responsible for some actual results

When people discuss ROWE, they often look at the first piece, but the second one is discussed less often because it actually demands some level of accountability. It requires that you ask better questions, for one. What are real results when it comes to HR? How do you measure that? Are those measurements comparable to other companies in your industry or geographic region?

Take a look if you dare

When I sat down with the team to discuss the HR/recruiting portions of the proposal, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I quickly saw opportunities to bolster our proposal by calling out comments on previous employee surveys, analyzing our Best Places to Work employee responses, and plugging in metrics for recruiting and retention. By the end of the meeting, I was excited not only about our prospects (we’ve clearly differentiated ourselves from the average HR team with some of our practices), but also about having a clearer picture of what our contributions mean on a larger scale.

The little things matter. It’s not just working with a manager to coach an employee through tough times. It’s not just going the extra mile to ensure that when employees do have to leave, they are treated with all the courtesy and respect I would afford any other star employee. It’s not even having an amazing retention rate for our industry that really makes a dent in the company’s performance. It’s a little bit of everything. All of those pieces flow together to paint a picture of success for our organization. It certainly isn’t true solely due to our people practices, but a strong focus on those since the day the company was established means that they play a key role in our continued upward movement.

Your turn

As an HR professional, you are in a unique position to make your organization better. Maybe it’s taking a little extra time with job candidates to help them understand why they weren’t chosen. Maybe it’s picking up the phone to call a remote employee to talk them through a tough time in their life. While those “small” actions might not seem valuable on the surface, they touch more people and build more goodwill toward your HR  team than all the doughnuts and party planning you could ever accomplish.

Take some time today to think on it. What results can you point to that measure your value as a piece of your organization? Are you contributing to, or detracting from, your company’s success? Are your inputs clearly visible? Why or why not?