A chapter of good.simple.open is called “How to manage it (until you don’t have to)” in which I advocate for employee autonomy and some form of flattened organization. One issue in particular that kept coming up for me through this section was: how do you flatten and give autonomy to those traditional office jobs that have hierarchy built in? In other words, it’s one thing to discuss fresh organizational arrangements for new businesses that thrive on the web, but how do old businesses adapt? or should they?
A friend of mine works in a small business office at the front desk. There is another front desk administrator and they have a manager. The other administrator hates her job. She complains constantly that the management doesn’t respect her and then goes out of her way to guarantee they don’t respect her by calling out sick when she “just can’t be around the manager today” or complaining about every task she’s given. Meanwhile, the manager won’t discipline this employee and certainly won’t fire her because then she has to find a replacement. She’d rather keep the complainer who knows the job than risk the uncertainty of a new employee. As a result, my friend has begun dreading going into work because she doesn’t want to listen to the complainer’s negative attitude all day. Another result is that often the business owner feels like he has to step in because “nothing gets done right if I don’t.”
In cases like these, it’s an uphill battle to convince that business owner that he needs to back off but that’s exactly what he needs to do. Too much middling management doesn’t give you a sharp view of who is good or bad at her job.
In the book, I talk about the ROWE system: Results-Only Work Environment. ROWE allows employees to work completely autonomously, without set hours or office location (unless the results depend on those things). Though ROWE sounds like a fantastic idea that could only be applied to a small number of remote jobs, I think my friend’s job would be a perfect application for it.
In her small office environment, ROWE would have the manager and owner back off and focus on the results of this complaining employee. Once her results were the currency of her job, it would be easy for her manager and the owner to evaluate her performance. It would probably make the employee happier too. She wouldn’t lack for respect if she knew she was judged on her results and not overseen on every tiny task.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of bad jobs is that they have a bad system baked in: bad management, bad structure, bad clients, bad products. There’s something about “The Way We’ve Always Done It” that isn’t working for them but they don’t want to make the effort to break out of that cycle. ROWE is just one idea to shake up the status quo. In good.simple.open, I list several others but dozens more are just a Google search away.
Our jobs are a large part of our lives. Not making every effort to improve them will impact every other area of our lives. Sometimes all it takes is a change in focus from managing employees to letting their results speak for them.