Eliciting Excellence

Should Companies Make it Easy to Stay or Easy to Leave?

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times about a new challenge that many companies are now facing with respect to millennials in the workplace.

Many companies (stereotypically, technology companies) provide a number of perks designed to entertain and entice people to work longer hours. They provide things like free meals, on-site laundry and concierge services in an effort to address the most common needs people have outside of work. This culture of dedication to the company and long hours (sometimes long, long hours) has facilitated progress in these fast-paced environments.

But something has begun to shift. In spite of their commitment to their work, millennials are actually forming relationships and starting families! (Imagine that… a life outside of work.) And this has given rise to a new reality. In addition to their commitment to work and to professional endeavors, people want to spend time with their families.

A number of companies have instituted family-friendly policies to address this shift, but frequently, taking advantage of those policies is frowned upon. The bottom line is that simply paying lip service to these policies and discouraging their use is forcing women (and sometimes men) to choose between career and family. The issue of women having to choose between career and family is nothing new, but its impact is especially significant these days as Baby Boomers age and leave the workforce.

But interestingly enough, although companies are looking for ways to keep people at work in an effort to drive productivity, studies are revealing insights for driving productivity which are in stark contrast to this practice. These studies indicate (and in fact, demonstrate) that especially in environments where people work with their minds rather than their muscle, greater autonomy produces dramatically better results.

In his book, “Drive“, Daniel Pink relates how greater autonomy produces better results. He discusses how offering rewards does not improve performance and in many cases, actually drives results downward. Alternatively, having greater autonomy sparks motivation, improves creativity, and yields better results. He points out that management is good for gaining compliance, but autonomy drives engagement.

A great example of this principle in action is the “Results Only Work Environment” (ROWE) developed and implemented by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson at Best Buy. They created a culture in which getting the required results (ethically and professionally) was the only thing expected of people. No one was required to keep or track hours at the office. No one was required to attend meetings. Everyone could work how they wanted, when they wanted, and where they wanted.

The result? Productivity skyrocketed. Engagement went through the roof. And voluntary terminations plummeted. Everyone was simply required to get the job done. Clearly, I’ve oversimplified the process they went through to achieve this successful culture, but you can read about the process in detail, the challenges they faced, and the results achieved in their book, “Why Work Sucks“.

If an organization really wants to increase productivity and results, they should make it easier for employees to leave their office and work in their own style and rhythm. By expecting people to be professional and holding them accountable for getting results (in other words, treating adults as adults), productivity jumps, loyalty increases, engagement is enhanced, and creativity abounds. Grant people autonomy, expect performance, and hold them accountable.