Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It

"...work is something we do, not a place we go."

- Why Managing Sucks, page 26

The working world today is broken.  Organizations are asking employees to do more with less, we waste hundreds of hours commuting at the worst times of the day, and we lose too much time in endless meetings.  We continue in this mode as many others have for generations, and wait for the day when we can retire and finally get some sleep.

Good news – there is another way to work. 

In Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It, authors Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler challenge us to redesign the way we work with the creation of a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), a workplace model they invented over ten years ago while working at Best Buy.  They want us to focus on the results, and not worry about the how, when or where of work.

In the five years since they published their first book, Why Work Sucks, their model has now been successfully implemented in many organizations, and these companies are realizing tremendous business outcomes as a result.  This isn’t a fantasy description of a “fun place to work” – this is a new model for how work should be.  They believe flexibility shouldn’t be provided to a chosen few, it should be ingrained in a changed corporate culture that provides employees with “improved ability to manage their whole lives in a healthy and happy way.”

The essence of it is that employees, not managers, need to own the work.  They alone should determine where the work should be done (whether office, home, or coffee shop), when the work should be done (start at 2 pm? end at 2 pm?), and how the work should be done.  Managing becomes a coaching, measurement and issue support role, ensuring that targets and objectives are clearly defined and revisited often.

Not convinced?  Read on…

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Wake Up! We Need A Better Way

"We’ve learned that when people have complete control over all of their time, they begin to use it wisely to optimize every aspect of their lives, including work."
- Why Managing Sucks, page 6

We see countless studies on employee engagement, with employees who are frustrated by inconsistent work practices, combined with increasing financial and family pressures.  They are overwhelmed and unable to contribute fully to their work.

The authors argue that we are over-managing the work schedule by insisting on set times and places to work (with employees focusing on face-time with the boss or colleagues), and seeing poor productivity from our efforts.

Still not convinced?  Here’s how it can work.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Don't Manage The Hours, Manage The Work

"...one of the biggest, most dangerous management traps is focusing on time."
- Why Managing Sucks, page 72

For managers and employees, it is much easier to manage by the clock.  If the employee is at their desk at the expected time, both parties may choose to believe that success will follow.

In a ROWE, employees decide how, when, and where they will get work done.  If you’re thinking “we have a flexible work environment so it must be a ROWE”, flex work policies simply confuse the issue.  The control is still with the manager to set guidelines, ensure the policy is followed, and employees are “checking in” from their home office during business hours.  In a ROWE, there’s no set schedule, no check in – you focus on getting the work done.

Managing by time doesn’t help us get the right work done.  It’s easier for managers to work this way, because they can see their employees and may believe that means they know the work is getting done, but as the authors tell us, we need to manage based on clear, measurable outcomes, not by time.

“An authentic ROWE is, in its essence, a contemporary work culture built on the foundation that we hire people for clear, measurable results.”

Hmm, no set schedule? If you’re thinking that this feels like you will be expected to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, guess what?  Most employees already are.  The difference with ROWE is that “every day feels like Saturday”.  You manage all of the aspects of your work and your life, and you are in the driver’s seat.

Well, does ROWE = anarchy?  On the contrary.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

No Results, No Job

"Everyone was hired to do a job. They need to be clear about their measurable results. If they can’t meet results, no job."
- Why Managing Sucks, page 30

All this time, we’ve been focusing on the wrong thing.  We’ve been reprimanding employees for being late, and avoiding conversations about outcomes.  Or worse, we’re unclear about what exactly is required, leaving everyone to work in ways that aren’t driving business results.

One of the biggest challenges for managers in moving to a ROWE is they now need to set clear goals, and deal with performance issues quickly.  Employees need to understand that they are responsible for getting the work done, and managers must focus on ensuring outcomes are met. “HR should be coaching managers to be results-focused and objective, and not to cling to old subjective beliefs about what work should look and feel like.”

They are clear to say – this is “disruptive social change.”  Implementing a ROWE in its truest form won’t be easy, but it is the only way to address the significant workplace issues we face today.


The book is packed with ideas, client testimonials and suggested tactics for starting to make ROWE-like changes immediately, even in environments like education, healthcare, and manufacturing.  If you lead people or have a boss, this is a book to read as a team and start to explore how you can create a ROWE for your organization.   Studies show ROWEs have significantly higher productivity and employee engagement, and can be a marketplace differentiator.

I am excited about sharing this book with my clients.  With Why Managing Sucks, managers and employees can really start to picture a different way of working, in an environment that meets the needs of managers and employees alike, by focusing on the results.

Have you worked in a ROWE?  Can you imagine working in a ROWE organization?

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Alyssa Burkus

ABOUT Alyssa Burkus

As a consultant, I work with entrepreneurs and senior leaders through periods of significant change in their organizations, by delivering strategies, new programs, and coaching to build the workplace foundation they need to shift their company to new levels...
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