Book Review: Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It

March 15th, 2009 in Books, Business, Career

Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It
is a great book.

I've always thought that traditional work would eventually transition to contract work where people get paid to produce certain results. The problem with that is not all work fits contract work. Cali and Jody have envisioned (and implemented!) a workplace with traditional employment instead of contract work where people are measured by results, not time. I think that's pretty amazing. They call it ROWE, Results-Only Work Environment and they've implemented it at Best Buy.

The problem with most work environments today is that they reward the amount of time we work, not the amount of work we get done. The authors suggest a couple of strategies:

  • Stop making negative comments about time, "Sludge". So don't joke about how late someone got in, don't apologize for getting stuck in traffic, don't note what time email was sent. "Stop using the words early and late and antiquated terms like by the end of business today. Stop talking about how many hours you work or how hard you're working."
  • Make sure you are results-orientated. Every employee should know what their goals are and be measured on their results, not hours worked or time in the office.

By doing this, you treat employees like adults, they'll be happier and they'll do more real work as opposed to more made up work to look like they are working. (Like arriving at 7:30am and reading the paper online for the first hour.)

While the authors had a lot of good advice and how to, I wish they'd spent less time talking about how great peoples' personal lives are in a ROWE environment (I buy it but I think their examples just made ROWE seem like a boondoggle.) and more time on how much more work gets done. Because in order to get companies to buy in to ROWE, they need to understand that much more work will get done. Or at least the same amount of work will get done and employees will save hours and hours of "being in the office" or attending unnecessary meetings.

I also think that open source embodies the results-only model. In open source people only see what is done. They don't care how many hours you spent sitting in front of your computer. They don't care how many meetings you attended or how many conferences you went to. You are measured by what you get done. (I also think they are pretty good at recognizing non-code type work, but that's for another blog post.)

FYI, I liked the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke–the Simple Change That Can Make Your Job Terrific much better than I liked the authors' blog.

14 Responses to “Book Review: Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It”

  1. Christian Neumair says:

    Interesting stuff, thanks!
    I totally agree about the result orientation for those who actually do the work, but on the other hand somebody has to care for the organization in a company.
    If you have customer-oriented feature / time plans, the resource allocation *has* to be done by someone with schedules, meetings and joke.

  2. stormy says:

    You can always make someone’s job making sure the customer is happy or the organization runs smoothly. They still have goals and can be measured based on their results, not time.

  3. no says:

    I think this is just plain wrong. There are a lot of jobs that cannot be measured by results, and have to be measured by time. For example, research on computer science, or even normal software development, is something you can hardly estimate, so then how to measure results?
    It’s like if the foundation payed you based on your results. Do you want to move to that mode instead of being payed a fixed amount of money each month? Come on, don’t lie.

    ateeq ahmad Reply:
    May 3rd, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Dear No,
    I think you are mistaking the central point. Time is not a problem but we should not use it as a cudgel to brutalize adults in the workplace.

    I work in results-oriented market research and I have goals too.
    1. I write proposals for research
    2. Estimate the time( yes we do measure it for rough goals not using it as a cudgel to beat the team up)
    3. Work on them for the appropriate. Sometimes I am very successful but most times my ideas are duds.

    CRUCIAL POINT: The duds are very important to my boss too! I am very happy in my workplace because I am encouraged to experiment all the time. True, my half-cocked ideas get laughed at sometimes but that is not personal. This ROWE also means you leave egos at the door.

    Regards
    ateeq

  4. Chenthill says:

    I think any work can show results. Even if one is researching there should be something one would be finding which are smaller results setting the path for a bigger one (am I missing anything? ). Going based on results would be a wonderful thing. I am going to show this blog post to my manager sometime :) thanks!

  5. fct says:

    In our company we work (informally) on a totally results-oriented approach. The deadlines would always get skipped cause the intended results weren’t correctly specified and the customer would constantly move target. We are researching a formalisation of the process by adhering to agile development.
    Also, we have a base salary with a fixed amount and bonuses depending on achievements, individual ones (measured subjectively by a couple of managers) and company-wide ones (completion of projects and customer satisfaction polls during the last year).
    So I disagree about normal software development. In my opinion measuring productivity by time (deadlines) will go the way of the dodo, same as it’s happening with LOC estimations.

  6. stormy says:

    Then I think we need to work harder at defining what the job is and what results would be. I’m not talking about paying just bonuses. I’m talking about paying for work done, not time in the office.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Even results-oriented work has to incorporate some concept of time: an employee who can produce a given result in less time has done a better job than one who can produce the same result in more time.

  8. stormy says:

    The idea is that you get paid for results. If you get things done faster you either have more time for yourself or more time to do more work and make more money.
    Nobody cares if it took you an hour to write a report or ten hours. They care that it’s done and how good it is.

  9. Thomas Thym says:

    I think (or hope) this concept is not about another method of payment but about another way of thinking about work and management. It’s about output instead of input orientation, results instead of great shows. It offers a chance to leave not well reflected old management reflexes (processes) (like long time consuming meeting showing (no, not showing, just talking about) others how brilliant I am) behind and offer the employees a great amount of freedom. And we all know: Freedom is fun. ;-)
    Like the open source community model this is not the best concept for everybody (I’m sure some won’t like it at all.) but for some it will be a way to find passion at work. Isn’t that worth a try?

  10. stormy says:

    Absolutely. I think the open source world embodies what Jodi and Cali are advocating for.
    Although I do think there are people who might not ever like the open source model, I think it’s very empowering and freeing for most people.

  11. no says:

    I still think the results-driven-development is not a panacea, because it often drives developers to seek less-quality solutions that at least work. So it’s kind of contradictory to what open source usually means.

  12. no says:

    For example: introducing workarounds instead of contributing fixes to the libraries your using (but there are tons of other examples).

  13. stormy says:

    I always think you get what you measure. Results should not just equal done. Results should also have quality components in it.