Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson are the founders of CultureRx and creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

How to Boost Accountability in the Office

Focus on managing the work and not the people.

When we talk about work-life balance, telework and flexible schedules typically spring to mind. But it turns out that these tactics fail to deliver the freedom that workers increasingly expect and the accountability that public- and private-sector organizations require to successfully serve their constituents and customers.

Simply showing up and sitting at a desk for eight or more hours per day won't cut it. It's all about results, or what we like to call the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

Achieve and Be Accountable

Telework has taken a beating recently, with Yahoo's announcement halting the practice one of the most high-profile examples. We could applaud the company's decision if it had the courage to focus on results and give employees the freedom to work in the most productive way to achieve those results.

Focusing on results requires managers to do the hard work of weeding out poor performers and creating an environment where everyone is on a level playing field. Each person has complete autonomy and accountability to achieve agreed-upon, measurable results. No results, no job.

Technology has made it possible to collaborate and communicate from anywhere, anytime. There's ample proof that employees can be productive outside a rules-based, traditional work environment. Scott Berkun, author of the upcoming book, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, deems absurd the idea that creativity and collaboration are hindered when workers aren't side by side.

Change the Vocabulary

Start using the word "work" as a verb instead of a noun. As we discuss in our book, Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It, work is something we do — not a place we go. If we're focused on managing the work, we can stop worrying about managing employees' time and presence.

By conducting clear, objective and performance-based conversations with staff, we are able to focus on getting the work done. Shifting this focus not only yields results, but also boosts employee creativity and productivity. From the manufacturing floor to call centers to IT workers, ROWE can transform industries.

Managers must trust their employees to make the right decisions so that they're able to work in the most productive way possible. If they can't trust their staff to achieve results in such a work environment, then why are those people still on the payroll? More to the point, why were they hired in the first place?

We see one big mistake being made by managers in certain areas of government agencies, help desks, call centers, retailers and anywhere that physical presence might be necessary to achieve results: Management feels a false sense of security because they see their employees every day. That's dangerous because employees may be displaying "presenteeism," which means they're physically present but not focused on work. Even worse, these workers often don't know what their goals are or how they're being measured.

By giving employees the autonomy to do what they want, wherever and whenever they want, as long as the work gets done, managers will find that there's nothing to distract them from the only thing that matters — results.

Telling Issues

The difference between managing work and managing people looks a lot like the distinction between a coach and a micro-manager.

What managing people sounds like:

  • What time did you get in?
  • We need everyone in the office for an all-staff meeting.
  • Team A may work from home, but Team B may not.
  • We all need to be working harder, like Sue — she has been staying until 7 p.m. every night!

What managing the work sounds like:

  • I need that report by 2 p.m. on Thursday.
  • We need to improve our first-call resolution rate by 10 percent by April 30.
  • What are your ideas for meeting this goal?
  • Let me know when you need my help.
Oct 02 2013