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Results Only Work Environments with Jody Thompson (part 1)

Luke Szyrmer October 13, 2020 73

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What happens when you focus company culture on results? Turns out, quite a lot…and there’s a lot of unexpected side effects. So much of everyday corporate life is just a coping mechanism for not having enough clarity about intended outcomes.

About Jody Thompson

 Jody Thompson is the Founding Principal of CultureRx┬«, headquartered in Minneapolis, MN. Thompson is an engaging domestic and international keynote presenter on the future workplace and has been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, and HR Executive Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC, MSNBC and CNN. She has coauthored two best-selling books on the modern workplace and contemporary management principles, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It and Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It. 

Jody works with select organizations to bring them to a state of sustainable high performance. For the past 14 years she has personally facilitated the change management communication and training process in organizations across multiple industries with a variety of roles, including retail, manufacturing, government, professional services, and education in both the private and public sectors. Her clients consistently see increases in productivity, employee engagement, client satisfaction, and the ability to attract the best talent from all generations. 

Visit https://www.gorowe.com to get in touch with Jody. 


It’s amazing what teams come up with when they’re presented with the idea that we’re not going to measure your time anymore, hmm. We’re not going to measure if you’re available, we’re not going to measure how busy you are. We’re actually going to measure the work. People get really excited about that. You know, it’s OK, I’m free, but I’m getting paid for actually proving out a measurable result with my own, not only myself, but my team.

And this is entirely possible to do. You are listening to the online remotely podcast, the show dedicated to helping lead distributor teams under difficult circumstances. I’m the host Luke Szyrmer and I’ve participated in a run distributed teams for almost a decade. As a practitioner, I’m speaking with experts on leadership, strategic alignment and a lot more to help you navigate the issues start facing after you get. So today, we’re talking with Jody Thompson about results only work environments. Now, this is a really interesting culture shift if you’re capable of doing that within a company because you’re actually focusing on what needs to be done and not on proxy measures like whether or not people are sitting at their desk or they’re in the office has a lot of really interesting implications.

And not surprisingly, a lot of employees are actually quite happy about it when things are completely clear. So without giving things completely away, let’s get into the interview.

Jodi, welcome to the Aline Remotely podcast. I wanted to ask you first to tell us a little bit about what a row is and where it comes from.

All right. Look, I love to talk about the results only work environment, of course, the results only work environment is not a flexible work program. It has nothing to do with the conversation around work location or work time. That’s a platform of accountability to measurable results and one hundred percent autonomy, meaning I don’t ask permission to work in another location. I don’t have to tell people where I’m working from. It’s really just around being held accountable to the actual work, which, as you can probably imagine, managers have to be crystal clear with employees about what the measure of the actual work is.

So we’re moving away from measuring time and presence to measuring results only.

The reason why I found it quite interesting is this focus on results. One of the reasons why I think it was difficult when I first encountered it was defining what those results need to be, particularly in an environment which is kind of knowledge work software, where part of the work is figuring out what the work is, which therefore makes it possible to then manage it. But that’s done together with the team. How do you go about defining what those results are if you’re running a team or running a company?

I think that’s an interesting question because why are we getting paid? Aren’t we getting paid to understand what the work is and produce a result? What’s happening in organizations is they don’t have to get clear about what those measurable results are because what’s getting in the way is managing people’s time. So what I can do in an organization is I can never be clear. But if I show up and I talk about how busy I am and I go to a lot of meetings, then I must be working.

But in the future, work is going to be the work, not the illusion that I’m working or the behavior cues that I look like I’m working, like I’m logging in and logging off and putting in my time sheet. That’s completely outdated. So what we do is we pretty much force the issue by taking away that old currency of work so that the only thing left to talk about is what are we doing? Is it the right work? Is it getting us where we want to go?

Is it attached to the organization outcome? Is the activity that I’m doing right now the right activity to get the work done in a way that we all agree is measurable? When I was onsite doing workshops, I would ask a group of thirty people in a room how many of you are crystal clear about the measurable results of your work? I would get maybe 20 percent of the people saying they were clear. And the other 80 percent, we’re not clear what isn’t that what management is about?

Aren’t we supposed to be clear with people about what the measurable results are? That’s the job.

How do you get to a point where you do have a something that’s meaningful because you can measure things, but then how do you make sure it’s not just a vanity metric number of times somebody turn the page or something. So how do you get to something meaningful?

So there’s goal setting processes out there that measure work activities. And I think what you’re getting at is really interesting. Look, because you can measure a lot of activities that aren’t getting you to the real goal or outcome that the organization is striving for. People aren’t talking about what is the ultimate outcome, what are we as an organization trying to achieve for our customer and then get it down to the team level? What we do when we come in as an organization is we pull away all the subjective measures, the activity measures, and then we start talking about what is the real measure of the work and how is it attaching to the ultimate outcome of the organization.

It’s amazing what teams come up with when they’re presented with the idea that we’re not going to measure your time anymore. Hmm. We’re not going to measure if you’re available. We’re not going to measure how busy you are. We’re actually going to measure the work. People get really excited about that. You know, it’s OK, I’m free, but I’m getting paid for actually proving out a measurable result with my own, not only myself, but my team.

And this is entirely possible to do. We just worked with an organization in Canada, two thousand people, Coast-to-coast. They are all in a results only work environment now. And they’re not talking about where they’re working from. They’re not asking each other, when will you be available. Hmm. They’re just really crystal clear with each other about what they need and when they need it. And they talk about the outcome that they need to achieve together as a.

And they understand what the measure of that is. I get a lot of people saying we’re knowledge workers. So how do you measure that? Yeah, that’s that’s a huge copout. What do you mean? How do you measure that? What are you supposed to be driving toward or striving toward? There’s ways to measure it, but we haven’t stepped back and really examined it. We just believe that knowledge workers can’t measure results.

And if we continue to talk like that, we’ll never get clear about something like the company decides they want to do a new product. Is the measure that the product goes out the door or what’s the that’s the type of knowledge work like a new software product, for example.

The measure isn’t when you get it out the door, that’s an activity. The measure is did you actually please the customer? Is the customer satisfied? Now, what’s interesting about what you’re saying is that there are project timelines, so people need to hit deadlines and there’s a product launch that needs to happen and all that. But really in the bottom line is you can get products out there on time on budget till you’re blue in the face. And it might not be what the customer needs, you know, so they have to start with the customer.

You have to start with the ultimate outcome you’re trying to achieve for the customer that you serve and then decide what the product is and follow the timeline.

So by customer, just to confirm, you mean external customer, not internal customer also.

Correct. The people inside the organization are resources for you. You work together to achieve a result for the ultimate customer, which is whoever your company has decided it’s serving outside yourself.

Let’s say you have a company defined result. How does that work across department boundaries and practice when you have a results only work environment because the results can be department specific, or how does that work?

Yeah, absolutely. There’s aspirations that each department has. So each department has a function inside the larger organization. But the work that they do still has to map up to the ultimate outcome of the organization. Otherwise, how do we know that they’re actually helping move the organization forward? Here’s an analogy. If I said we’re all going to go on a trip tomorrow, meet me at nine o’clock in the morning, what would be the first thing you’d need to know?

You have to know where we’re going. OK, so let’s pretend you think we’re going to ski in the Swiss Alps, but we’re really going to Hawaii on the beach. So you pack all the wrong things. You spend a lot of time with your activity. You pack your bags, you bring your skis, you’re all ready to go. And you get to the airport and I go, let’s we’re going to the beach.

So we wasted a lot of time. The team that does the reservations for everybody, they have us going to 50 different places because they didn’t understand where we were going with them.

And so all we knew was get there at nine. So we all scrambled around and we waste of time and we waste of resources because nobody knew where we were going. So that’s a simple way to look at an organization. And I know organizations are extremely complex and they try to break down silos, but were they need to really start, is everybody clear about where we’re going and who our ultimate customer is? Then all the different departments can figure out how they help move the organization in that direction based on the work they do.

Is that something that can be done just in a smaller group of, let’s say, senior people or should it be done with everyone? How do you define the a lot of people work with leadership to make sure the leadership is strong.

What’s interesting about that is when you want to drive true culture change, everybody has to be involved in creating that. So if it’s just the leadership team and the rest of the people aren’t clear and are still in the same authoritarian versus opportunistic culture, then nothing’s really going to change. Leadership attributes are important. But if you really want the organization to operate on all cylinders and be a powerful force in what you’re trying to achieve, then everybody has to be involved in the mindset shift.

Otherwise, we’re just doing what we’ve always done for the past seventy five years.

Clicking and clicking on front page.

It’s funny people clock in and clock out in their DNA, even if we don’t have a time clock at the time.

Clock mentality is how work operates now just to slightly shift direction. Everyone’s suddenly become remote. I’ve heard people compare. What’s going on now, the work culture to be something almost like the Matrix, you just connect into your job every morning, you do your thing, and then at the end of the day, you finish. How do you find company culture in that context in terms of going after results? How do people find themselves then if they don’t have what they’re used to?

So here’s the thing.

Nothing has changed. We’re in a time in history where we can connect with people in multiple different ways. And what people were doing before is they were going into the office still not being clear about the work and filling time in a place. Mm hmm. And what’s uncomfortable for people now, just like it was in the office, is now they’re still attached to a place, the house. They still don’t know what they’re supposed to do, but they don’t have those visual cues that at least they showed up so else to do.

And so now there’s this whole flurry of how do I prove I’m actually working? What does that look like in a world where we’re not in a physical space together? Nothing’s changed. In culture, managers are still managing people, not work. People are still unclear and people are communicating in an unclear fashion with each other. What drives people together to bind together and trust each other and build relationships is clarity. Organizations are trying to figure out how to retrofit the status quo.

They’re trying to get everybody as many people as they can back into the office because that feels comfortable. If I can see you in a workspace, I can assume maybe you’re working.

Yeah, that’s right. And I nothing’s really changed, except that now we’re talking still talking about where people are working from, about the office. Everybody’s in the office before because that was the default location. You just expected that. And we in that kind of got thrown away. But how we operate culture is the way we do things around here. It hasn’t changed. People want choice. Look, they want to have the choice every day to work from the place that makes the most sense to achieve a result and where they can be most efficient and effective.

And when we have to ask permission to work from a different location, then we’ve stopped focusing on results. Now we’re in an authoritarian, permission based culture. No, and that hasn’t changed. It’s the same today. Hmm.

OK, let’s go. Slightly different directions, capacity planning. Right. So you have a result, business result you want to achieve. Let’s say it’s tied to some bigger task, like releasing a product, for example.

And you don’t know if you need three people. Thirty people. Three hundred people given that’s also related to deadlines, how would you go about thinking in the context of a results only work environment of this capacity? Planning is interesting in that what we’ve learned is that people in general are about at 60 percent capacity, even though they’re talking about how they can’t take on another thing. They’re really busy, overworked, overwhelmed. Mm. Any time that we’re in an environment or a culture where we have to fill time, we have to put in our 40 hours, 50 hours, whatever that is, when we have to fill time, we’re not efficient.

Mm. We just never will be because inefficiency helps us fill the time. So now if I stop tracking my time and I have the autonomy to make choices every day about how I get the work done and I’m held accountable to that, but I own all of my time. My company doesn’t own it anymore. I don’t have any incentive for that. Hmm. So I’m held accountable to the real work and I’m free. And now the team, I thought we didn’t have any more time to do anything else.

We’re at full capacity all of a sudden has tons of capacity. We have to pull away from that permission granting type of culture and start guiding performance and focusing on that. You’ll have a lot of capacity. Mm.

In that situation from the individual level, I completely understand. But what about from the point of view of coordinating a team to achieve a result, how big does the team need to be.

What’s interesting about how large do we need the team and what organizations do when they when it feels like there’s too much work. The first thing they do is they hire more people instead of figuring out how to make what we already have more effective. And so I’ll give you one example. I was working with a team, very small team inside of a large organization of six. Mm hmm. And they had to do what we call vendor Reconciliation’s, and they did about three hundred to three hundred and fifty vendor Reconciliation’s a year, this group of six, we moved them into a results only work environment mindset.

They did the training. They flip their mindset. Now they’re in a whole different world. They’re not in the Matrix. They’re outside the Matrix looking in. You know, the first year they were in a results only work environment, the same six people reconciled. Seven hundred and twenty vendor, you know, whereas the year before too busy, not enough time. We need more people. We can’t do it. We can only do three hundred and fifty, seven hundred and twenty the next year.

Same six people. You know, we are bogging down organizational effectiveness and what organizations could be providing to the customer. By the way, we think about how we need to control people versus getting a handle on what the work is and letting people be where they need to be when they need to be there and make that decision themselves. And guess what? No results, no job, not no results. I’m taking away your work from home program. Yeah, you know what I mean.

It’s so liberating to feel that you can be clear about what you need to do and get it done. And that’s the reward. Not putting in my time. No, it’s a flip in mindset.

Just so I understand it correctly. It’s the effectiveness needs to absolutely come first and that you’ve got to have the outcome very clear first before it even makes sense to look at increasing number of people.

Correct. We have to look at how work culture is functioning and what’s getting in the way of us having maximum power and capacity with what we’ve got. Mm hmm. That’s interesting. People say to me sometimes when I’m in a results only work environment, I think I might be working more than I used to, but I’m so much happier. Mm. And I feel really energized and engaged and I really want to do a good job now. It’s the freedom that comes with the accountability on the other side.

I think what organizations do often is they try to give more flexibility to people and then when they see that the results aren’t happening, they pull everybody back in.

That’s actually great. But my next question. So how do you avoid falling back to managing time if the results aren’t happening?

By the time you expect for a larger team, you have to hold people accountable to results. And if you’re not holding them accountable to that, if it’s OK to make excuses about not getting work, then you’re never going to get anywhere. So people need to be actually held accountable to what the expectation is in terms of measurable results. It can’t be. Well, I would have gotten that done, but looked did get back to me, so he didn’t get me what I needed, so I couldn’t do what I needed to do.

That’s how organizations function. It’s like blame everybody else instead of I didn’t get what I needed. From Luke, the deadline is coming. I emailed him multiple times. He’s not responding. I go to my results coach, who’s my manager, and I said, you know what? I’m concerned about a deadline. I’ve tried these five things. I’m not getting what I need. How can you help me? I need help right now. I’m thinking if you go to the director of that department and see what’s happening and see why I’m not getting what I need so that we can complete our project or hit the deadline instead of just not doing it, miss the deadline.

What we think we want is flexibility. Hmm. But we have to have the accountability piece on the other side. Hmm. That’s what’s missing. People don’t know what they’re accountable for. They do. They’re accountable to do their time, but will be held accountable to work.

What’s this?

You mentioned the results, Coach, when you implement this, is this a particular person in the company or for the whole company or is it for on a per team basis?

So we like to throw out the term manager. People think about managers in certain ways. The manager manages me. Um, so what we’re doing is we’re taking out that word and we’re changing the the supervisor name or the manager name or the director name to results coach. So now I know I have somebody there that can help me break down barriers and help me think things through and be a guide for me, but not a permission group. They’re not my parent.

I don’t need to ask permission to leave the building at three o’clock. That’s not what they’re there for. They’re there to help me make sure that I am effective in the work that I need to do. And they’re there for somebody I can reach out to for coaching and guidance. But they’re not my time. Keep. They don’t give me permission about my time or work location anymore, so a results coach feels more like an ally to me and somebody that really helps me be successful.

Now, if you try to put in a mentoring program, but that person is still has an authoritarian command over you, around when and where you work and you’re still not clear about results, then your mentoring program isn’t going to be as effective. Really results only work environment levels the playing field. Everybody’s on the same platform. You still have hierarchy, but it doesn’t feel heavy anymore. It feels liberating in terms of the relationship I have with my results coach, who really is clear with me and doesn’t leave me hanging out there wondering what I’m supposed to be doing, helps me understand how I fit into the bigger picture and then rewards me for that, the work that I do, not how many meetings I’m in all week.

So then in between the lines, we are expecting everyone to escalate things to the results.

Coach, after trying a few things, or is that how the accountability piece works in a results only work environment, you own your work and what’s your measurable results need to be?

And so that’s where they’re held accountable for. And so if you do that, you’re recognized for that now. And in a results only work environment, if you don’t understand what your measure of your work is or what you’re supposed to be doing in terms of what you’re held accountable to, you’re very uncomfortable because you can’t put in time to make up for it. You can’t just show up and look busy. So it’s interesting how the relationship between managers and people that do work changes.

That’s the innovation. My relationship is completely different and I feel like an adult now, and that’s where the power comes from.

How does a manager who has a larger team under them avoid becoming a bottleneck where everyone comes to them like this? So they’ve they’ve got to manage individual results for 30, 50 people. How does that work as it scales up to three hundred five or something?

You asked a really good question, looking at how the companies actually get to this place where people own the work and results. Only work environment isn’t a flip of a switch. It doesn’t just happen overnight, but it happens through the mindset shift people go through and how they start interacting with each other in a more clear and powerful manner and respectful manner, in a trusting manner that the results coach over time is not so much looking around to see who’s working, but actually being able to see the outcome of the work happening.

And because they’re having conversations with people when things aren’t going exactly right, they’re able to surgically go into those areas and be effective and help them versus just throwing up your hands and going, I have three hundred fifty people. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at.

So it’s not immediate. But then how do you avoid having people constantly coming and asking to refine what the goal is here? I’ve actually had someone tell me that it’s my job as the manager in terms of figuring out what needs to be done, whereas I felt that it needs to be negotiated and talked through. But it’s not something which I need to own fully.

The main job of a results, coach or manager, is to build competence with everybody instead of complacency. So instead of waiting around to be told what to do, if somebody if people are coming to you because they’re not clear, they want to be told, just tell me what to do in a results only work environment, a results coach would say, first of all, tell me more about what you’re confused about. Let’s talk about that. Number two, what do you think you should do next?

We need to build competence by asking more questions instead of giving out more commands, because if people start to think through these things on their own, they’ll come to the results coach less because they won’t need to. If I don’t know what I’m supposed to do right in this moment, I have to sit and think about, OK, why don’t I know what I’m supposed to do, right?

And how can I reach out to maybe I reach out to a team member to say, we had that meeting and we talked about our roles and what I and what we’re doing next and how to measure it all of a sudden got confused. Can you help me out? So the team starts to do that together more because they know as a team they have a goal that they need to reach. So they want. Everybody to be clear about it so they don’t fall apart.

Yeah, and so it’s not always going to the culture and saying, you know, I don’t get it. It’s being more part of a smart mob of people that moves together and helps each other and doesn’t leave anybody behind. It was interesting that he might talk to you about the vendor reconciliation team. There was one person on the team that really felt there’s always somebody. Right. Feel like they’re not doing anything. And when they were in the results only work environment mindset, they got excited about helping this person be effective.

The manager didn’t do what? The people did it.

How can we help you? How can we what is it that you’re not understanding? Let’s talk about the goal again. Is it trying to figure out is it a training issue or what is it because we’re all in this together. It’s Survivor Island and it’s critical because we need a fire built.

Yeah, it’s like high fives all around, you know, instead of the manager coming and going. Now you go get sticks and you shovel around the rocks and, you know, we kind of build a fire because you know what the outcome is being alive. It’s great warm food. Yeah, exactly. And not freezing to death overnight. I like how this is kind of a two way street here, so on one hand, the managers are responsible for having clear results and how those results tie into a strategy.

But at the same time, the employees are expected to come and clarify anything that isn’t clear or highlight that there’s any kind of a challenge that might affect hitting a deadline. And I think that’s fair. Ultimately, the accountability does work both ways. Tune in next time for the remainder of the interview with Jody Thompson.

We get a lot more into the nuts and bolts and figure out how you can start applying this along with a very specific set of actionable things you can do pretty much right away in your day to day interactions with your teams. See you then. Thanks for listening to this episode of the online remotely podcast, if you enjoy the show, please leave a review on iTunes, Google podcasts or wherever you get your podcast.

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