Books 12.04.2011

Just Finished: Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It…

I just finished Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson.

This was a hard book for me to get through.

Not because I didn’t like it. I really liked it. And not because I found it too technical or too dry. It isn’t.

I had difficulty getting through the pages of Why Work Sucks because every other page or so my mind would be off in a dead sprint toward some distant land. Authors Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, in their examination of why “work” is the way it is, have seemingly dropped little mind-triggers every few pages that just might make you draw huge stars in the margins or stand up shouting “Yes! Yes! Exactly!” And by you I mean me.

In a nutshell, Ressler and Thompson ask why, in a 24-7 global economy,  we still adhere to a definition of “work” that was spelled out over a century ago. They ask why we still place more emphasis on face time than we do on results:

“Work sucks in corporate life today because we have time all wrong. Just look at the two stories above. The first person wants to ‘score points’ for coming in fifteen minutes early. The manager in the second story expects people to stay until six because that somehow shows dedication. Coming in late four days a week might cost you your job. Staying late every night might get you a promotion. You can’t leave at four thirty and you better not come in at nine. And at no point is there any discussion of the quality of the work being done. It’s just time, time time. We all labor under a myth: Time + physical presence = results.”

Why shouldn’t we focus on the results? If a morning person is highly productive from 5am until noon, but completely brain dead by 3pm, should they really be required to sit at their desk until it is “socially acceptable” to leave? Tradition says yes. But as this book points out, tradition is completely out of date.

More organizations are starting to see what happens when they treat their employees like adults, empowering them to focus on the results, the results, the results. With the increased trust and freedom to control their own time, the employees are not only happier (lower voluntary turnover rate), but they are far more productive, in many cases. One Best Buy supervisor—who was admittedly worried about the transition to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), discusses the outcome:

“I am in awe of what ROWE has done for our productivity… A good year for us pre-ROWE used to be completing 300 audits in a year. Last year, in a ROWE, we completed 612 audits—double what good used to look like. This year we’re on track to exceed last year. And we’ve lost one team member, so we’re doing it with fewer people than we had pre-ROWE.”

Of course, not every employee makes it in the transition to a ROWE. Some of those who excelled at showing up to meetings in the traditional work environment somehow struggled to show what they’d actually produced in the results-only environment. There is another really interesting anecdote in the book about an employee who had six meetings canceled due to a snowstorm. Out of the six meetings, four were never rescheduled and two were resolved over phone and email.

Managers might fear losing “control” of their employees. But as manager one points out, this is a misconception. “I thought that if I could see them all in their cubes that they were working hard for me. Now that I’m in a ROWE, I realize that was all just an illusion—I really had no idea what they were doing. As managers, we’re bound to this illusion. It’s time to let go and really see what our employees can do.”

Perception is not reality. Sitting in your cube is not, necessarily, getting work done. Presenteeism is not the answer, it is the symptom of a larger problem. If you already know this and would like to see what life can be like “on the other side,” I highly suggest picking up this book


Books 09.08.2011

Just finished: Born to Run

Despite what my legs and lungs tell me, human beings are some of the greatest endurance runners on earth. At least that’s what Christopher McDougall and his panel of experts prove in his book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

Even if you’re not into running or exercise, this book is a must read if you are at all into adventure or anthropology. And you just might be inspired to get off your ass and out onto some trails, because the stories of human achievement and persistence are sincerely hard to put down.

Run your ass down to the local library and pick up a copy.

Actually, I listened to the unabridged audiobook from Audible– the narration is top notch– Fred Sanders is like the Nate Dogg of Audiobooks, ask somebody.

Books 07.21.2011

Just Finished: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

I don’t know if I mentioned this, but I was fortunate enough to attend the Future of Web Apps conference in Vegas. Learned a ton.

Anyway, Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, was a keynote speaker at the conference. Zappos played a big part in making it a really fun conference. They’re headquartered in Vegas and Tony is really keen on trying to make the downtown area a happening tech scene. I think they can do it.

I really like Tony’s outlook on work. Surprisingly to me, he never seemed to be a workaholic. He wasn’t an overachiever in school either, in fact his first college ventured involved crowdsourcing and publishing study notes–mainly so he could pass the classes he’d slept through all semester. When it feels like work, he would disengage. When it was something he could really pour himself into, he’d make magic. I think a lot of entrepreneurs and creative types can relate to something like that– if your heart isn’t in it, it’s not likely you’ll hang around too long.

After selling LinkExchange– the company he cofounded with a college friend– to Microsoft for $265 million, the 24 year old Hsieh was offered an additional 20% of his cut to stay on at LinkExchange for one more year. But his heart wasn’t there. So instead of just “showing up” and collecting another couple million, he got back to what he does best– starting companies.

I made a list of the happiest periods in my life, and I realized that none of them involved money. I realized that building stuff and being creative and inventing made me happy.

Hsieh admits that writing isn’t his strong point, but the book is written in a very conversational manner and is an easy read. I think anyone who has considered starting a company, or who just isn’t finding their desk job very satisfying, will find Hsieh’s enjoyable and inspirational. Fun read.

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Michael S. Mioduski is the founder of GhostRanch Communications, a presentation design studio.