Question: Impact of Results-Only Work Environment

We are a 40-person technology startup business thinking of moving to a "results only" culture. The goal is the move people away from "busy work" to focus every employee on stuff that really matters to our customers and long-term success, without adding too many managers.

- What are the pros and cons of making such a move?

- What will such transition entail?

- What are some ways to tell who'd flourish or flounder in such an environment?

5 Expert Insights

Big question - why?  Brooks is right - you have a finger on the problem, but you're moving to solution WAY too fast. "Flavor of the month" culture change is driven by throwing solutions at problems that have not been clearly defined. The solution doesn't work, so next month try another solution.

As a 40 person tech company, you have a unique culture and I suspect is was established at start up, with clear relationships that included the founder. As you grow, those relationships try to stay the same, but cannot because of the growing demands.  You are at a perfect point to do some hard internal assessments - what is working, what is not, and as Brooks said, where you want to be.

You might want to read some of the recent articles on Amazon - apparently a "results only" company although not self declared. And then, I would suggest embark on a discovery process - where are we today, where do we want to be 5 years from now, and what do we need to do to get there.

Organizations are complex systems - you pull one lever, and it throws off everything else. You need to be very sure what that lever ("results only") is attached to.

I suspect that if you questioned all your employees now, they all would say they are producing a result. Can you be sure you can define all the results you want? If the end goal is creating profitable customers, what are the intermediate steps? You should definitely have results-directed culture, but the "only" can be tricky.

If people are doing busy work, they are not being managed properly.  redefining your company as a "results only" company will not fix these management skills. People are motivated by:

     Autonomy-the opportunity to be creative in how you do your job, as opposed to being micro-managed.

     Mastery-Having the knowledge and skill to do your job well.

     Purpose-Understanding how your work fits into the aims of the company, and buying in to the aims of the company.

If they are doing busy work, what is missing from the three above?

I do not think you can predict who will thrive in a new culture. In my experience, there are a lot of surprises.

To tell you what is entailed in a transition like this (I am assuming that you need to make some transition) would require a lot more space and time than I have here. My own approach is to start by understanding what you have now, and where you want to be. Then you develop a plan to remove the barriers that are keeping you where you are. This is usually not simple, but I have occasionally seen massive culture changes happen almost overnight.

You have a finger on a problem. I do not think you have a finger on a solution.

With 40 employees - as of now - you have an excellent opportunity to achieve buy - in and collaboration among your workforce.
I agree with my 2 colleagues responses. My suggestion, why not randomly split the 40 employees (everyone, founders included) into 4 or 5 smaller groups. Have each group discuss this issue and come up with pro/cons, or even next steps.  I assume many of your employees are millennials who seek an "awesome work experience" one that gives them a stake in, and asks for their input. So maybe take advantage of that. See what develops. Do not dictate any approach. Wait for your employee's feedback.
Nothing to lose. No real rush.
Best regards.
Marc Miller

Carol's response was upvoted, owing to her perspective on the timing and process of implementing change.

I do question this notion of "results-oriented" company.  We've seen that abused since the Industrial Age, and it has only led to stress and distancing from the workplace.

What is needed (everywhere) is a culture that supports continuous learning, aligning talents and skills (strengths, if you will) with corporate goals, set out by a clear vision from the leaders - named and unnamed - across the company.  Now, with 40 folks, that is a known set of people, so getting to them to set a vision and then align it across the company should be accessible.

Successful managing can be about aligning people with their meaningful work which also advances the corporate goals - not overseeing (intensively measuring and holding people accountable for) the completion of "results-based" work effort.

Congratulations on your progressive thought process and for recognizing the dangers of 'busy' work.  As a start-up, you are in a great place to begin implementing best practices and processes that will positively impact your bottom line.

I am a huge believer in each employee having a "drive for results".  I do get a bit concerned when I hear the terminology "results-only culture".  My initial thought regarding this phraseology is "but what about the people"?  You are very right to focus on "what really matters to your customers".  To be successful at that, you will want to enroll your employees in the journey.

Larry's response speaks to a visioning process.  This, combined with identifying the company's mission, is a first step.  From there, I would suggest implementing a organization-wide competency model.  Remember, company culture (whether a results orientation or activity-based) is derived from the behaviors and expectations of the company leaders - which then results in the behaviors of the employees.  By implementing a competency model, the leadership is able to identify the employee behaviors that will move the company toward the future.  The Lominger competency set is a great place to start.  

Another important step will be to establish a performance management system where goals (aligned with what really matters to the customer) are identified and employees are held accountable to these goals as well as the defined behaviors in the competency model.  

Many moving parts here.  These initial steps will enable you to shift the focus from busy to profitable.  

Best of success to you!