Leadership and culture

Tame business volatility in 2022 with a renewed focus on results

Published on January 06, 2022

Happy New Year! 2022 is here, and it looks like we’re in for another volatile 12 months. What’s in store for us? The on-going COVID pandemic, the Great Resignation, global supply-chain issues, record inflation, extreme weather, and other uncertainties and unknowns that are bound to emerge. Happy New Year, indeed.

Now more than ever, we could use the benefits of a results-oriented approach to work. Leaders, managers, and employees alike could gain work that is more enjoyable, more productive, and more compatible with the irregular, unpredictable demands of life. In turn, teams and organizations could get better at satisfying customers, seizing opportunities, and weathering downturns to come.

But adopting such an approach is easier said than done. Results-focused work is fundamentally different from work bound by the traditional, 40-hour work week and other longstanding conventions. People new to the approach—that’s going to be most people, by the way—can quickly get overwhelmed by unfamiliar principles and practices, which wind up overshadowing the promised benefits and consequently discouraging the adoption effort.

Embracing results-oriented work, then, is going to require a fair amount of upfront education, both to familiarize people with this new way of working and to ease any fears they may have. The lessons below are a good place to start.

Results recap

The first lesson is really a refresher of the results discussion from an earlier post. To recap, the results-only work environment (ROWE) strategy championed by the change management firm CultureRx will serve as our benchmark for results-oriented work, thanks to its focus and global adoption in a variety of industries, from financial services to manufacturing.

In a ROWE, you are 100% autonomous. That is, you have total freedom to work as you see fit. But you are also 100% accountable, so you take total responsibility for delivering the expected results. In turn, “each person can whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done,” as CultureRx founder Jody Thompson puts it.

Beyond autonomy and accountability, clearly defined results – and clear communications about those results – are critical in a ROWE. They are essential to getting the work done.

Lessons on collaboration

In a ROWE, employees own their work (100% accountability). You can think of employees in a ROWE as entrepreneurs in a way. Thus, as owners of their work, they have a key stake in collaborating with their managers around what outcomes they should be aiming for, and how those outcomes will be measured.

Such collaboration fosters employee buy-in. When employees have the opportunity to help define the outcomes and measures by which the outcomes are evaluated, then they can clearly see the importance of their work in the bigger picture. An entrepreneur would never waste their time doing something that didn’t serve their purpose or customer’s needs, and neither should an employee.

ROWE-style collaboration also elevates employee competence and counteracts complacency. Employees are capable professionals and treated as such. They are the ones doing the work every day and thus have a clear line of sight on what matters and what they need to be successful.

Leaders in the organization continue to lead—determining strategies, initiatives, goals, quantitative and/or qualitative measures of success—but employees have control over their jobs. Employees determine how to take action in their own unique way, based on their role, team, and department.

“For employees, control over their jobs is truly important,” said Elliot Nibbs-Kohl, a ROWE master trainer at CultureRx. “It’s the difference between being told ‘this is what we need to accomplish, and this is how you’re going to do it’ and being told ‘this is what we need to accomplish, so what do you think is the best way for you to contribute? What will that look like and how should we measure success?’ Those questions then become a strategy session between the manager and the employees.”

Managers in a ROWE play a different role compared to traditional managers. They don’t manage people—how, when, or where they work. Instead, they manage the work and ensure deadlines are met, budgets are on track, and customers are satisfied. To drive the point home, ROWE managers are known as “results coaches” because adults can manage themselves.

Lessons on clarity

In a ROWE, some results can be more clearly defined, and more easily evaluated, than others. A repeatable, uniform result manufactured on an assembly line—a network server or router, for instance—is easier to precisely define and evaluate than a novel result created for a unique event such as closure of a complex trouble ticket or a total experience strategy that combines customer, employee, and user experiences to improve your business.

Metrics and quantitative measures are best suited to assess the standardized results of uniform work, e.g., the manufacturing assembly line. We know exactly what the results should look like—the router’s physical dimensions, its performance characteristics—thanks to the established standard. Novel results like the closed trouble ticket don’t have a precedent or a standard, so they are often better assessed by qualitative measures that can accommodate wide, unexpected disparities in completing seemingly comparable tasks.

“People can get a little nervous about defining results,” said Nibbs-Kohl. “But at the end of the day, a ROWE frees you to focus solely on results. Once you have the space to do that, that’s what you should be doing: wondering about your results, thinking about how to deliver them and how to improve them. That’s the work!”

Lessons on your customer

In a ROWE, everyone must recognize they all serve the same ultimate outcome, the organization’s purpose and how it uniquely serves society. Likewise, everyone must recognize they all serve the same ultimate customer, the recipient of all the work done by all the teams within the organization. With that knowledge, people can evaluate their work options and choose those activities that make the biggest difference for the ultimate customer and have the biggest impact on the ultimate outcome.

“Everyone in the organization exists for the same core customer, the one who’s buying your product or service,” said Nibbs-Kohl. “Your work may support other employees in the company or third-party partners or vendors, but they’re not customers. All of you are working together, to achieve results for the core customer.”

When colleagues are confused with customers, you risk satisfying your colleagues at the expense of your customers. That is, your colleagues may be completely happy with your work while your customers are disappointed or worse. And it may not even be your work that’s disappointing. It could be supplemental work or a modification made by colleagues at a later stage of the production process. If you believe your colleague is your customer, you likely miss the fact that your actual customers aren’t satisfied because you’re not paying attention to them.

Lessons on cooperation

Despite its nearly 20-year history, ROWE remains an workplace outlier. Consequently, any team, department, or organization that establishes a ROWE will undoubtedly have to cooperate and engage with other, traditional (non-ROWE) teams, departments, or organizations. The engagement may take the form of a customer/vendor relationship or a partnership established to advance mutual interests.

At first glance, interaction between a ROWE team and a traditional teams seems doomed. A ROWE team operates with autonomy, each team member free to work whenever and wherever they want. Meanwhile, a traditional  team works within the boundaries set by its manager, for instance, each member working 9am to 5pm Mondays through Fridays, either at home, at the office, or in some hybrid fashion—depending on the manager’s approval. How do these two teams sync up?

Remember, the ROWE team is accountable as well as autonomous. They’re responsible for delivering the results, for getting the work done. That’s the price they pay for their autonomy. Given the ROWE team’s results-only focus, each team member makes decisions about when, where, and how to work based on the results they need to deliver to the traditional  team. In turn, each team member is where they need to be, when they need to be there, in order to get the work done.

“We have clients who work with very traditional organizations that keep very strict business hours,” said Nibbs-Kohl. “For those clients, ROWE drives a mindset shift from ‘are you available right now?’ to ‘are you getting me what I need when I need it?’ Success requires planning, not chasing people down at their desks and fire drilling them.”

A ROWE team’s push for clarity, deadlines, and plans not only serves the ROWE team, but it introduces ROWE principles to a broader, traditional audience inside and outside the organization. For instance, when you ask a co-worker what they really mean when they say they need something “ASAP,” you move the organization as whole that much closer to better results.

“ASAP is a wildly subjective term,” said Nibbs-Kohl. “I have no idea what it means to you, in the context of the work you need me to do. So ROWE shifts our communication to be more clear about what exactly the work is. You start to ask different questions to better understand the intended outcome, so your work is more closely linked to what your colleague really wants and needs.”

The continuing education plan

Ultimately, work looks much different when viewed through a results-oriented lens. It takes time for people to orient themselves to the new work view, much less appreciate the advantages it offers over traditional workplace customs that have become second nature.

Familiarizing people with results-focused work is just the first step. The results-oriented lessons don’t stop there. They simply evolve as people get comfortable with the new way of working, and then get excited by the new opportunities it creates.

The optimistic enthusiasm  of autonomous, accountable adults—employees, managers, and leaders—lies at the heart of results-oriented business success, and it’s the way to tame business volatility in 2022.

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