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A Closer Look at Results-Focused Education

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We sat down and had a conversation with our good friend Jeff Herzberg at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (PLAEA) about ROWE and education. We trained PLAEA’s pilot team through a Beyond Telework Workshop and recently brought selected PLAEA employees through our Training Certification program.  Those certified internal trainers will now lead the entire agency into a ROWE!  PLAEA is an organization that assists over 33,000 students and supports 3,500 educators and 200 administrators in central Iowa. Some of Jeff’s stories are going to be featured in the new book, Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It, so we wanted to share some of that conversation with all of you today. 

I’ve been really pleased and surprised with how ROWE has resonated with educators and the effort to not just reform education, but reimagine it, as Jeff says in the interview.

Below is part of our conversation with Jeff and a clip of the interview, which you can watch in full here if you’re interested in learning more. And of course you can pre-order your copy of Why Managing Sucks to read more about ROWE in education. We’re really excited about Jeff’s chapter!

Cali: What made you crazy enough to be the Results-Only Work Enviornment pioneer in education?

Jeff: Besides the fact that you two were so convincing, after we read the book and had some conversation, it just made sense. School is not working for everyone, everyone knows it but no one was willing to do anything about it. I knew it was the right thing to do and just went right ahead.

Jody: Teachers can’t be ROWE! What do you say when people push back?

Jeff: Is what we’re doing working today with all kids? If we’re all honest and willing to risk saying it, then the answer is: Absolutely not, it’s not working for today’s kids. Everyone is working so hard–parents, teachers, kids, administration. The system’s broken. It doesn’t need reforming, but reinventing.

Cali:  Companies are freaked out about being first in their industry, when it comes to big changes like ROWE. What has changed for you?

Jeff: In Iowa, we got rid of seat time. We don’t want to focus on time as the constant. We want to make extended, high-quality learning the constant. Our current system worked 100 years ago when we were preparing kids for assembly lines. We’re moving toward competency-based education.

Jody: What were some of the challenges to adopting ROWE?

Jeff: We’re still experiencing them as we expand from our 50-person pilot to implementing throughout the agency of 240 employees. The big question is, how do we define results that we’ll be held accountable for? I want to shoot for something bigger than standardized test scores. Look at the big picture, not just all the activities that we’re doing. Like your new book says, we want to manage the work, not the people.

Our showstopper when people challenge what we’re doing is to say: “You don’t want to focus on results?”

Cali: Do people look at you like you’re crazy?

Jeff: People are polite and say “That’s nice” and they stand back and see if it’s going to work for us.

For the first time in my career we’re getting to have multiple conversations about employees really talking about the work. There’s a lot of excitement internally, but some fear like “what if it doesn’t work?”

Cali: It’s about waking people up to be accountable and really own the job.

Jeff: Most people want to be accountable and responsible. Recent Gallup study: only 11% of workers report being “engaged” in their work. If education workers are following that trend, well no wonder we’re not getting good outcomes! We’re talking about unleashing the potential of our employees. Stop doing things that are a waste of time, and start doing things that will really have an impact.

This article was originally posted on ROWE on November 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson are the Founders of CultureRx and creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Their first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. They have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.

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To Meet, or Not to Meet: Why All Meetings Should Be Optional

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 Meetings. They look like work. They feel like work.  They smell like work.  There’s nothing like getting the team around a conference table, batting around random thoughts to make sure everyone is on the same page. And, you never know when a good topic or idea will mightily rise up out of conference table dust!

A study by career site Salary.com on workplace time drains found that “Too many meetings” was the No. 1 time-waster at the office, cited by 47% of 3,164 workers, up from 42% in 2008.

I once worked at a large corporation where our team had a full-day, recurring mandatory meeting every month. Everyone on the team was expected to attend. It was meant to get everyone motivated and on the same page, and was a meeting that a consultant suggested would help us collaborate, build closer relationships and share pertinent updated information. It was a way for leadership to be visible to inspire, guide and motivate us. And not attending the meeting created so much guilt, you’d never even think of skipping out.

Recurring meetings can be — and often are — huge time wasters. They create a block of time that you and your colleagues must then fill, in some way.

For the two days preceding the big mandatory meeting, everyone was either 1) running around like crazy trying to prepare what they had to present, pinging off all other team members like a pinball machine on steroids interrupting the real work or 2) dreading the upcoming mandatory meeting and beginning to fake ‘coming down with a cold’ so that if they didn’t attend, they could pull the ‘I was ill’ card.

Wait. How can it be mandatory if you can use certain excuses to get out of it?

I took notice of who didn’t attend one of these meetings. I knew that these people were ‘in the office’, but for some reason weren’t present in that room. What gives, I wondered? I thought it was mandatory. So I boldly asked a couple of these suspiciously absent people why they didn’t attend (my bad – since they were my superiors). They answered by informing me that they had to attend to customer needs. Really? So did a lot of the rest of us in the mandatory meeting who didn’t have the hierarchical weight to use that excuse.

Two acceptable excuses for missing a mandatory meeting:

  1. I’m sick (called in sick or at workstation sick, and don’t want to pass germs to everyone in the meeting . . . cough, cough)
  2. I’m taking care of business (i.e., important enough to get a free pass)

The two days after the mandatory meeting there was a flurry of complaining, lamenting and teeth-gnashing about how much time we wasted in it – and the lack of value it added to our work. We contemplated how we could get out of the next one. But whether we were spending time in the meeting or just complaining about it, the one thing we weren’t doing was working.

So there were basically five days where we experienced a serious loss of productivity: two days before while we scrambled to get ready, one day to meet, and two days to complain. Let’s do the math*. There were approximately 200 people invited to the mandatory full-day meeting monthly, with an average salary of $50,000.  If all 200 attended, the salary cost for one day was $38,461.  Now do that each month for 12 months and the salary cost is a whopping$461,532.

And this math didn’t account for the productivity loss both during and the four days surrounding the meeting. It didn’t represent the cost for the room, continental breakfast, mid-morning snacks, boxed lunches, mid-afternoon snacks and continuously flowing beverages.

Now that’s just one meeting per month with 200 people.  Think of all the meetings going on day after day, hour after hour with resources who agree that 30 – 80% is wasted time – er, money. And no amount of meeting effectiveness trainings or lists of meeting protocols has fixed it. In decades.

Some organizations have tried to fix the overwhelming amount of meetings by designating a period of time where no meetings should take place, say ‘No Meeting Thursdays’. The challenge is that the culture still believes that meetings are necessary to get work done, collaborate, communicate, etcetera. So these organizations simply hold more meetings on the remaining four days; or, people have forbidden, “secret meetings” on no-meetings day.  A no meeting day is a technical fix to a deeper problem.

Yet it’s possible to remedy this broken relic from the days of yore once and for all. All you have do is:

Make every meeting optional. 

Even the mandatory ones, or those where the organizer is the VP, manager, or some other hierarchically important person. Status update meetings are optional. Stand-up morning meetings are optional (yes, we’ve worked with clients that are also working with the Agile methodology). Staff meetings are, too.

The problem is poor planning, believing all the stuff we believe about meetings that isn’t true, and accepting meeting mediocrity. It’s politics, posturing and positioning — and it’s a big fat waste of time.  It gives the person scheduling the meeting ultimate control. Besides, it’s not polite to decline a meeting we think is going to be a colossal waste of time, right?


Think about meeting math again. It’s our job to do our jobs. And part of that is–or should be–utilizing resources effectively and not wasting them. The task of having a productive meeting falls first in the hands of the person calling it.

Before scheduling a meeting, every meeting organizer should answer the following:

  1. What do I need exactly?
  2. Is what I need relevant to the outcome I or the people I’m working with are trying to achieve?
  3. Is having a meeting (IM, SKYPE, on-line meeting, conference call, in-person meeting) the best way to get what I need?
  4. Is there a more effective way to get what I need that uses everyone’s time more effectively?
  5. Who is an integral part of helping me get what I need?

If you determine that yes — the best way to get what you need is by holding some sort of meeting — then it’s up to you to convince the people/person you are inviting that it’s a good use of their time, too. They’re not just going to blindly accept your meetings anymore.

Meetings are one thing: a tool to get to results. If the tool is not doing the job of getting you to results, you’re using the wrong tool — over and over and over. It’s just like using a screwdriver when it’s a hammer you need. Using a screwdriver for a hammer’s job will get you suboptimal–or worse, no–results in addition to wasting time and creating frustration. Forcing people through a strong-arm management style (that meeting is mandatory!) to use the wrong tool to get the job done is poor management of the work.

Originally posted on ROWE on Monday, October 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jody Thompson is one of the Founders of CultureRx and one of the creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Her first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, co-written with Cali Ressler, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. They have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.

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10 Tips for Becoming a Workplace Politics Rebel

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The other day, I read an article on Forbes called “Tips For Dealing With Lazy Co-Workers.”

It’s a fun topic, isn’t it, because we all love to feel like we are the only ones working hard. And it’s such a hardship to put up with lazy old Joe in the next cube over. Ugh!

Time to review one of our favorite words: Sludge.

“Sludge” is the toxic language we use to judge people for how they spend their time. It’s based on old beliefs about how work should happen.

Sludge is when someone says, “10:00 a.m. and you’re just getting in? I wish I could come in late every day.” The belief being expressed here is that work happens between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The person who isn’t in the building at 8:00 a.m. is therefore not working.

Focusing on lazy co-workers is a waste of time. It’s Sludge.

Changing Workplace Culture

No one wins when you play office politics, so stop playing the game! For all the lists out there that we’ve seen lately (ahem.. “Tips for Pretending Like You’re Really Working” or “Tips for How to Dress Like a Really Serious Professional” or “Tips to Fake Being ‘On’ 24/7”), I present to you a Results-Only perspective: 10 Tips for Becoming a Workplace Politics Rebel

10. Remind yourself that you are an adult.

That’s right. Ask yourself why, as an adult, you have to ask your boss for permission to do the following:

Take a longer lunch
Leave early
Arrive late
Use the restroom (Yes, some clients of ours used to be required to ask for a hall pass!)
Explain why you’re not putting in extra hours

9. What is fair? Getting paid to deliver results. Period.

Remember college? If you didn’t know the material, you got a bad grade. If you skipped every class and had no clue what classes you were even taking and got a bad grade, you were accountable. No results? No GRADE. You are getting paid to deliver something for the organization. At work, what it should come down to is this: “No results, no job.”

8. Get clear on measurable results.

What isn’t measurable is subject to interpretation. This puts you as an employee in a bad spot and tempts the boss to reward face-time and presenteeism.

Not sure what you’re supposed to be doing or delivering? Do not waste another minute filling time. Go to your boss and be relentless about identifying–in writing–how you are going to measure your work. What is success? And then run from anything that is subjective.

“I’d like you to work on being a team player” is absolutely not a business goal. It’s up to the interpretation of everyone around you and you’ll never win that one.

7. See old beliefs for what they are. Old.

Relationships are best built face-to-face. Some people just need more supervision. People who are in the office are more dedicated. The best collaboration happens in the office. Core hours are important to the customer. People who telework are slackers.

If any of these beliefs made you say “that’s so true”’ then you’re six degrees of separation away from focusing on what is important. There’s a new definition for the social aspect of work.

6. Stop talking about “availability”

It’s time to cease the wasted energy surrounding these phrases: “Who is available?”, “When will you be available?”, “Are you available from 8-5?”, “Will you be available next week?”, “What time this afternoon will you be available?”, “We need to be available for our customers.”

Get a grip! We have voicemail and email–the superheroes that work 24/7 to gather information for us. So that we can get work done. Voicemail and email are on 24/7, but that doesn’t mean you should be! In response to all that gathered information, what people need to do is…coming up in the next point.

5. Respond. Not fast…not slow…but based on the work.

Respond to the needs of the business – the work. Who best knows your job? You. And according to #6, you have superheroes gathering information for you so that you can respond to the needs of your business. Only you know how speedy that needs to be.

An on-call surgeon has a different response time then an accountant (unless it’s April 15th). If someone asks “will you be available on Friday?” respond politely, but firmly, with the magic phrase: “is there something you need?

6. Let go of the clock. Just… let… it… go!

Time only matters if it is about a deadline. Or if you decided to meet at 1:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. is relevant. Anyone who thinks 8 a.m. is some magical time that work should begin and 5pm is some magical time work should end – for most people – is seriously living in 1952.

If you find yourself looking at the clock and barking out comments like “It’s nine o’clock! Where the heck is Bob?!” please go back and review all of the points in this post.

3. Only ‘meet’ if the work requires meeting.

Find yourself getting caught up in unproductive meetings that are wasting your time and going nowhere? It’s not the meeting organizer’s fault. It’s yours. Look at all the meetings you have on your calendar. For each meeting, ask the following questions:

Is there a clear, measurable outcome that will affect the measurable outcome of your work? Do you know your role? Is a meeting the best way to accomplish the outcome?

If the answer is yes, then meet. If not, ask the meeting organizer to clarify these things for you and if they can’t, politely decline.

2. Mind your own business.

Now that you’ve accomplished #8, this is your focus. What time Susie is coming in, or how much vacation Bob is getting, is not important. Each and every day, reach out to people and tell them exactly what you need and when you need it in order to accomplish what you’ve agreed to deliver, and the rest will take care of itself. Whether Jill is working from home, a cabin, or a cube is irrelevant. And how much vacation time Bob gets – yep. Irrelevant.

1. Focus on what matters

At the risk of sounding a bit Pollyanna-ish, your life is what matters. The old adage “nobody on their deathbed ever said ‘I wish I’d spent more time in the office’” had it right. If we continue to play the old workplace politics game that includes who stayed the longest, who put in the most time, who looked the busiest and who was the most effective at sucking up to the boss, then we’re all losers.

This blog originally appeared in ROWE on September 2, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Cali Ressler is co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). She’s the co-author of the bestselling Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, and a nationally recognized keynote speaker.

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‘I’ll Be Fired Instantly’-Company Policies and Results

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Robby SlaughterThe other day, I was chatting with a group of people at a networking group. These are almost all small business owners who are scratching out a living by pounding the pavement, chasing opportunities, and working hard to generate results. Most of them work from home, from coffeeshops, or from small offices. The monthly networking group is a chance to discuss issues and connect with others since these people are truly focused on results all the time.

Except for one woman, who works at a bank. More on her later.

Anyway, the discussion turned to listening to music. Several people noted how much they love listening to music for certain kinds of tasks. They explained how particular songs would motivate them. They mentioned how much they enjoy the chance to work in private and not run the risk of distracting other co-workers with their musical tastes. And then someone in the group suggested a brilliant idea:

“Why don’t we all do a weekly song share? We can each send out a piece of music we’re listening to at that moment. It will be a great way to motivate and support each other. In fact, we can just email a link to a music video on YouTube!”

Everyone loved the idea. It was a great way that results-only people could help each other stay motivated. It was fun and social, but didn’t dominate people’s time. And if you were too busy to listen, you could just delete the email without looking at it.

All except the banker. She muttered, Don’t include me. I can’t click on YouTube at work. I’ll be fired, instantly.”

I am not kidding. She actually told a few of us that she would lose her job by trying to watch a video at work.

There might be all kinds of explanations for this story. Maybe somebody was watching videos excessively, and a rumor developed at her bank about being “instantly fired” for watching one video. Maybe the IT folks have identified a security issue with YouTube, although that seems unlikely. Maybe there are legal issues about accidentally accessing content not licensed to the bank.

But ultimately, no one should work for a company that has either a written policy or an established culture that explains what you cannot do. Work should be about working. It shouldn’t be about trying to identify all of the possible ways in which someone could be at their desk and not be working.

If your policy is that people aren’t allowed to use their work computers for non-work activities that’s like measuring the success of a chef in the kitchen by monitoring other rooms in the building. It’s crazy.

Listen to what people say. Listen to what you are saying. If it’s not about results, it’s not about work.

And, if you want to increase your productivity by 40%, listen to Journey.

This blog originally appeared in ROWE on November 28, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robby Slaughter is a guest contributor at ROWE. He runs a process improvement consulting company in Indiana called Slaughter Development, LLC.

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