We need to stop going to work.
You will not forego a paycheck. You will still contribute to an employer. You will still do your job. But stop going to work.
We fixate on work as something very static – it is a place we go, it is a number of hours, it is in at x-time and out at y-time. What if we removed the constraints of work as time and place and instead let it be about results and delivery? Perhaps you would still drive to an office. But maybe, sometimes, you would sit down at a coffee shop and plug through the report that will help bring your assessment data to life. Or you may interview that amazing RA candidate for a position at 7:00pm because she is studying abroad in China; it will be 9:00am there and after she has woken up. In higher education we employ many inconvenient, time-wasting methods of accomplishing tasks simply to fit it in the business day, to occupy an office, to have face-time with fellow employees. The current methods, from my best account, can leave us feeling depleted, unsure of the outcomes we are seeking, and questionably student-centered.
Think about the end of the last academic year. What were the results of your work as an impact on the department, division, and institution needs? We talk about learning outcomes, educational programs, and training methods. We fill our resumes with bullet-points of quantitative accomplishments. But how often are the results we deliver linked to the overall programmatic function of the areas we serve? I would argue that many of us are paid to sit in front of computers in office buildings. I would argue that many of us attend meetings because no one has had the power/audacity/willingness to change the status quo to say no and so we sit there and attempt to contribute, or make to-do lists, or try to check some email on the side, or worse, get sucked in to the meaningless momentum these meetings can take on. We waste time and in turn resources – because what is not our greatest commodity and strength if not time – when our focus is on filling hours and incessantly returning to the conversation of juggling, balancing, and self-care. I struggle with this conversation of workplace wellness continuing in the student affairs industry. Not because I do not believe wellness is important, I do. But I disagree with the conversation continuing until we address the bigger issue. Something has to change at the core of our profession because what we are doing is not working for so many people that conference after conference, tweet after tweet, blog post one after another we continue to grapple with how to make all the work happen. We struggle with the work – not with delivering results. Never have I heard a professional complain, “Wow. I really delivered on that new learning outcomes assessment for our student staff. And now I can’t seem to find the time to spend with friends outside of work.” No. The issue is “I work so many hours, I can’t seem to find the time to spend with friends outside of work.” Do we spend our hours reaching results or do we spend them biding time? I hear about flex-time and comp-time and of course vacation time. But what if we removed the time element from all of that. What if we delivered results and met outcomes and let the time take care of itself.
The headlines of tuition increases, the economic outlook, the dire straits many of our students exist in when trying to make higher education affordable is a real concern with a bleak outlook for many of us. Budget cuts. Staff positions not approved. The seemingly standard line of “do more with less.” And yet, we continue to allow our office environments to function the same way. “Do what you have always done; get what you have always gotten” as the saying goes. We will not deliver anything differently for our students and our campuses until a fundamental shift occurs in how we enable staff to perform. Could there be solutions to some of our department and campus’ greatest problems simply lying dormant beneath the complaints of work-life balance, being in at 8:00am after being at a staff meeting until 11:00pm, and filling time, filling labor, unclear on what the delivered results we should be working to achieve?
Enter a Results-Only Work Environment or ROWE. The premise of a ROWE is to give employees complete control over their time allowing a focus on the results and outcomes expected and a shift in supervisory function from managing people to managing the work. I recently had an opportunity to preview Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson’s book “Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It.” This builds on the idea of ROWE and what it looks like in action in the workplace. Companies from Best Buy to Netflix to child care centers are covered in the book and how a switch to a ROWE mindset created an empowered work culture and a release from 9 to 5 to truly focus on delivering results. The following are a few from among the 13 guideposts of a ROWE environment:
- People at all levels stop doing any activity that is a waste of their time, the customer’s time, or the company’s money.
- Employees have the freedom to work any way they want.
- People have an unlimited amount of paid time off (PTO) as long as the work get done.
- Work isn’t a place you go; it’s something you do.
- Arriving at the workplace at 2:00pm is not considered coming in late. Leaving the workplace at 2:00pm is not considered leaving early.
- There are no work schedules.
And I am sure that like me, your mind is reeling with questions. “But, what –” and “How about when –.” Release those concerns from your mind for a moment and consider the issues at hand in our industry. A change releasing an emphasis on time and a focus on achieving results could benefit many of our work environments and in turn our students.
I have worked for great managers. I have worked for lousy managers. The difference, in my experience, has been how involved each has been in managing me as a person. No one, absolutely no one, wants to be told where and how to keep their paperwork, word-by-word what to say in a conduct hearing, or the step-by-step of how to behave in a meeting. And yet, I have experienced every one of those assaults on my professional talent (and then some that are for another blog post). And I know I am not alone in that. I am disheartened that I am not alone. We may seek to understand institutional culture, ask questions, find information on policy, and seek affirmation in going about a path to a result. But none of us wants to have a supervisor who judges the process, or worse, prescribes it. When we do not know where we are headed, we focus our energy in all the wrong places. When a person feels out of control, he or she seeks someone to control. And that is manipulative and wrong. Yet, it happens daily at universities across the country. Bad managers continue to manage the work poorly because the emphasis becomes on controlling people rather than creating conditions that allow results to be delivered, because after all, if you are not at work than how can I possibly know that you are working. Ressler and Thompson put it perfectly, “No one, anywhere, gets up and thinks, ‘I can’t wait to be managed today.’”
Imagine if work, by default, was not referred to as a place we go but rather as what we do. We talk about going to work often and our disposition is for it to be a noun more often than it is a verb. Picture your office to be a resource for your use to perform rather than a place you are expected to exist for forty hours each week. Seeing place as a function of how the work is accomplished rather than the destination is but one shift in mindset for a ROWE. Ressler and Thompson are clear, “A ROWE is most certainly not a free-for-all. It’s an environment of responsibility and accountability, for the results and to one another.” So what if our focus shifted instead to that. No one knows how someone is performing in the workplace simply based upon showing up. We know performance because of the results. To end the burn-out cycle we need to shift our focus. Is sitting in an office waiting for students to stop by at 10:00am part of creating results? Would you and your students be better served by being present in the student union at noon when the place is swarming for lunch? Then that’s where you should be! Know the the steps you can take to create results that matter and lose the restraints. Resller and Thompson shared that ROWE-trained organizations focus on five questions that help create a dynamic results-focused organization:
- What is the ultimate outcome?
- Who is the ultimate customer?
- What are we doing that is enabling the ultimate outcome?
- What are we doing that’s not?
- How will we measure success?
This is outcomes-based thinking and it is not new to higher education. Think about the shift we have been making in assessment and student learning over the past decade. We are making important strides in how we approach our work with students. Now we need to take needed steps to improve the way we go about our work, allowing us to focus on the results in a relentless way that refuses to be bogged down in the minutia of sacred cows and phony restrictions. We are all already accessible 24/7. Whether the email sits in your inbox or the message goes to voicemail we work in a time that is far outside of the restraints of a tradition workday that was initially created during an era of very different workplace needs. Instead of being filled with dread to look at your phone outside of work hours, what if you felt control because you master your schedule and you deliver the results?
I do believe it is our faulty logic of building a profession around workday hours that has led us down the path we are on. Remember, it is not about time but it is about results. How you use time to gain those results is up to you. We need to take a hard look at why our offices function as they do, for what reasons restrictions are put in place for how an employee uses his or her time, and release the fear mentality that drives checking offices to see who is working when and falsely promoting unhealthy work behaviors. ROWE gives a compelling framework to question the practices we utilize that causes personal dysfunction in the effort to achieve work-life balance, that limits how we deliver with finite resources, and could drive us to greater performance with a call toward results-driven work. I wonder about a university where everyone functions as results-only. What would it look like? What would it feel like? How would decisions be made?
I want to experience that university. What do you think?
Check out the first chapter of “Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It” here: http://www.gorowe.com/clientuploads/WMSChapter1.pdf