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Running a business

5 essential steps to setting up a functional results-only workplace environment

Once upon a time, I worked for a large corporation that fastidiously clocked my hours, vacation and sick days. They evaluated my performance by how hard they FELT I was working, and that was often measured by how long I sat in my chair. The guy next to me sat in his chair just as long as I did, but was half as productive. Our earnings, and potential earnings, were the same. I won’t lie. It was disheartening.

When I left to start my own outsourced bookkeeping service, I wanted to create a workplace environment in which results were the only thing measured, recognized and rewarded. I wanted to do away with the administrative quagmire of time tracking and the subjective measurement of workplace performance. To do this, I modelled my company’s management system on the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) system developed by Carli Ressler and Jody Thompson.

What is ROWE?

The basic logic is this: when, where and how you do your work is less important than what results from that work. In other words, ROWE is about productivity and output, not hours spent at a desk or in meetings. ROWE provides a great deal of flexibility for employers and employees; however, this eschewing of the traditional management model has gotten mixed reception.

Proponents of ROWE champion the myriad benefits, including potential cost savings, improved work/life balance, increased productivity and lower staff turnover. Opponents point to the lack of centralized oversight, reliance on self-discipline and potential for unethical behavior (arising from a results-at-any-cost mindset) as strikes against ROWE’s effectiveness.

Despite the controversy, I saw ROWE as a possible competitive advantage – a tool that could bring our team closer together and help our associates grow and succeed. We implemented ROWE two years ago. Our administrative burden has significantly reduced, and nearly all our employees have expressed greater satisfaction with the level of control they have over their schedules.

Here are the five key principles that my team and I used to guide us through the process:    

1. Be accessible anywhere, anytime

The whole approach collapses if you don’t have the infrastructure to support it. In practice, this means shifting your filing and admin to a cloud service, such as Google Drive or Dropbox. In our case, providing outsourced bookkeeping services also required getting our clients to use an online software, QuickBooks® Online (Canada), or QuickBooks Online (U.S.), so that associates could interface with clients remotely.

2. Come from a place of trust

Trust your employees from day one. Trust that they don’t need strict office hours, will do their work, will take sick leave only when necessary, and will complete or delegate tasks to make sure clients are cared for before they go on vacation. Remember that this level of freedom is new for you, but likely for them as well. Give your employees some space and flexibility, and only withdraw your trust if it is proven to be misplaced.  

3. Delegate ownership instead of tasks

Creating a functional, flexible, results-driven workplace means shifting away from a “Do this, do that” style of management. For me, this was really challenging. I had to learn to pass total responsibility for a client to an employee and say, “You own this file. If anything goes wrong, find a way to fix it.” The associates who stepped up became more entrepreneurial and started to see themselves as trusted advisors, not just junior level data entry clerks. It was a huge boost for employee morale.     

4. Train with intention

Of course, handing over responsibility means training staff more frequently, and more intentionally. We not only had to explain what the associate needed to do, but also why, and more importantly, what success or good results looked like. This set clear expectations. Our associates knew what to do, how to do it and how to tell if they were doing it well. They also had the competence and the trust needed to excel.

5. Clearly define the meaning of “results”

If you’re going to compensate people based on results, you must define those results. In addition, those results must be reflected in the compensation structure you establish, and the rationale of the compensation structure must be clearly communicated to your associates. We decided to offer a base salary, plus a monthly results-based bonus. This made discrepancies in pay rates fairer because people could see and understand how and why the top producers earned more.

ROWE has significantly contributed to employee morale. They understand what a “result” is, what it means and how they are compensated on it. These results tie into the company goals, so when the associates win, the whole company wins. 

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