A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
February 7th, 2014 by William

Rowe, Rowe, Rowe Your Boat

Last week’s post brings up a critical issue facing most workplaces: work-life balance. Management teams will preach that they support a culture of work-life balance yet, as we learned last week, behaviors that border on workaholism are praised and encouraged. However, for management teams serious about providing their workers true work-life balance there is one proven way to have it both ways. That way involves the commitment to shift to measuring employees by their “results” not just (or only) their attendance and to allow them the privilege of working “flex-hours.”

Enter what’s called the Result’s Only Work Environment, or ROWE. The “Results Only Work Environment” is a human resource management strategy co-created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler wherein employees are paid for results (output) rather than the number of hours worked. While Thompson and Ressler may have trademarked the acronym, that doesn’t preclude any organization from implementing the key strategy of a results-only approach to management.

Results-only is a management strategy where employees are evaluated on their performance, not presence; where workers can work whenever, and however they choose to, as long as they achieve their results. Notice I didn’t say “where” in that statement. I’m not a big fan of allowing employees to “work-from-home.” Face it most jobs really can’t be done completely from home. Also there should be constraints on the “when,” such that there are not people coming in at all hours of the night.

Sounds like it could be chaotic and quite frankly it can be. That’s why many organizations are averse to flex work schedules−it can quickly get out of control. Yahoo was the latest big corporation to put a stop to the work from home aspect of their flex work schedule.

That said many flex work schemes implode simply because of a lack of true management support. Since an organization’s management teams exerts the strongest influence on culture, nothing undermines a supportive flex work-life culture more quickly than management who flaunts work-life balance on one hand, yet believes that flexible work and work-life initiatives are nothing but frills that serve to coddle employees. Another way that flexible work schedules can fail is because they necessarily require being coupled with a results-only philosophy−to continue to measure employee performance by old standards of performance leads to distrust and ambiguity. In other words deep down management stills harbors the distrust that when an employee is “out of sight” he/she is probably not working.

So how is each employee’s “results measurement” determined? This is the hardest part of implementing the results-only philosophy. First the boss and the employee must ask the question: “Who in the organization actually counts on the employee for his/her results?” Certainly the boss counts on the employee, but don’t the employee’s coworkers count on him/her too? And how about any subordinates of the employee? What about the firms’ customers? And don’t forget there’s people in others parts of the organization that rely of the employee’s results? Isn’t the employee accountable for results to all of them, maybe in different ways? It’s not just the boss that the employee owes results!

The question then is to determine for each of these dependencies “for what” is the employee accountable for? Each of these results areas needs to be explored and quantified or the results-only measurement system will fail.

When there’s incomplete definition for the results expectations, it leads to important needs being dropped and frustration from all parties. There needs to be a clear mechanism to sort out any misalignment of expectations between parties. So when expectation and results don’t match, the blame-game begins and quickly spirals out of control–playing politics becomes an effective path to working around the system and this pulls everyone in the organization into the interpersonal drama and the “games people play.”

On the other hand, when an organization has an effective process and supporting culture to clarify “what” the employees will count on each other for, they can channel any frustration of misaligned expectations into an opportunity for organizational learning and evolution and change.

Last, but not least, another factor that must be addressed is that results obtained without any consideration for how they are obtained, i.e., ethically v. non-ethically is destructive to any organization. In other words the end does not justify the means. To gain individual results people can’t leave a trail of dead bodies.

Despite the potential downside, a result-only method of evaluating employees is supported by decades of research studies that have shown that it can be a key−but not the only one−to motivating and engaging a workforce for maximum performance, commitment, and satisfaction.

Results-only works when management and the employees understand and agree on what needs to be done, and then the employee is given the autonomy, trust and support to accomplish those objectives in the ways that work best for them. Also, for it to work effectively, management must provide “timely” feedback and recognition to let the employee know how well they’re doing against the objectives. This is probably the single area that, when not done properly, could derail the best laid management intentions when setting up the results-only environment. That’s because most organizations are still mired down in the once a year drive-by that is the performance review process that is a remnant of the command and control mentality still prevalent in much of the business world.

Doug Kirkpatrick, one of the pioneers of Self-Management, explains why giving up the command and control mentality in favor of results-only mentality is important: “The command-and-control management model, a relic of the Industrial Revolution, no longer harmonizes well with a world where information moves at the speed of light. Self-Management starts and ends with the premise that in order to achieve greater productivity and engagement, people should not employ force against others and should keep their commitments. Self-Management principles simply respect the way we already live our lives outside of work. In our personal lives, we make all kinds of crucial, life-changing decisions without a boss−where to go to college, who to marry, what to do for a living. If employees know what to do and how to do it, why do they need managers?”

The command and control management mentality is based on the belief that stress makes an employee perform better while, on the other hand, boosting his satisfaction makes him lazy. This underlying belief persists because command and control is still alive in many modern businesses. Why? Despite enormous research evidence to the contrary command and control is simpler for managers to comprehend and much less challenging than becoming a true servant leader.

Can a results-only work environment universally work, that’s the question? Certainly not, if a key feature to its success is allowing employees a flexible work schedule. Recall from last week’s post, the 2010 study published in Human Relations, in which a group of researchers, led by University of California Davis business professor Kimberly Elsbach, conducted extensive interviews of 39 corporate managers. According to that study the lack of face time was a central problem for employees, who are routinely perceived more negatively than workers the boss sees regularly. In the long run, these negative perceptions hurt the performance reviews of the flex workers. The take away is that despite management appearing to support flex work, results-only work environments, the deep down attitudes of managers may not have changed at all.

Research has shown that a work culture where employees are truly held accountable for “results not attendance” is a powerful predictor of employee work-life balance as well as a key element in job performance, organizational commitment, and employee retention rates. Unfortunately for organizations teetering on the edge of extinction, the last thing the management team will consider is allowing the employees more freedoms. What usually happens is that in bad times that’s when the screws get turned on the employees, thus further demotivating them and thus sealing the fate of the organization.

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