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Obama – Leadership by results

November 15, 2012

Having successfully won the election for a second and final term Barack Obama has just four years to deliver his vision, the re-election distraction now thankfully behind him.

Barack Obama

What kind of impact do you think Obama's leadership is having on the world's most prominent nation?

In 2016 journalists will look back on his eight years in the top job and reflect on his style, character and skin colour, while historians will assess the impact his leadership has had on the world’s most prominent nation.

Historians assess success very differently from journalists and we should follow their example in our organisations.  Day to day behaviour is important but of much greater significance are the results our teams and leaders generate.  There’s a growing trend towards Results Only Work Environment or ROWE – a radical concept in which employees are measured on output not attendance.  So it’s okay to sleep in if you are tired, wait at home for a delivery or play golf at 2pm so long as you are meeting your targets.

Organisations like Best Buy and Gap have achieved significant growth by loosening their grip on employee behaviours such as time keeping and instead measure and manage their teams by their results.  In reality lots of team leaders do this informally in their organisations with the following benefits:

  • Clear Expectations: ROWE requires strong leaders who can set goals in line with strategy and clearly communicate their expectations to their team.  In traditional organisations poor leadership often goes unnoticed because the blame is spread across several people; this can’t happen with ROWE.
  • Better Communication: ROWE will quickly fail if team members aren’t kept informed of one another’s schedules. Consequently teams get really good at updating one another on what they are working on, when and where.
  • More Cover: Employees working in ROWE teams are more willing and able to learn additional skills, in order to fill in for colleagues.  The flexible attendance of ROWE employees means that standing in for one another becomes normal practice.  So holidays and sickness impact ROWE organisations less.
  • Healthier Employees: Monitoring performance not  presence allows staff to attend doctors’ appointments, catch up on sleep or exercise without feeling guilty.
  • Greater Talent Retention and Acquisition: Best Buy recorded an increase in employee retention of 27%  The work-life balance that ROWE offers helps organisations to attract and retain key talent.
  • Promotes Equality:  Parents returning to work, people wishing to observe religious festivals and the disabled find ROWE accommodates their needs, often more effectively than carefully crafted policies.
  • Fairer Pay:  Without the confusion of long working hours and complex job titles it’s easier to align individuals’ pay directly with their contribution to the organisation.
  • Suits Younger Workforce:  Generation Y have grown up using the web as their primary source of news and means of communication, resulting in an ‘always on’ approach to work regardless of place.  As mobile technology continues to improve, the role of the workplace will inevitably diminish, lessening the value of managing by attendance.
  • Filter under-performers: ROWE identifies poor performers quickly and transparently. Mediocre and incompetent employees will not be able to survive in this kind of environment, they will understand their shortcomings and seek roles more suited to their areas of strength.
  • Empowerment: ROWE creates an environment of trust.  People are treated as adults accountable for getting work done on their own schedule.  Greater trust speeds up processes, leading to better and quicker decisions, invariably a competitive advantage.

One word of warning, initiatives like this tend to fail when introduced with fanfare and given snappy titles.  Better simply to allow team leaders to adopt the practice in a manner that best suits their team and their work. The higher up the approach begins the greater the likelihood that it will cascade through the organisation.

To find out more about ROWE, you can buy the book – Work Sucks (click here).

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