ROWE and row your boat

Remember the idyllic days of kindergarten filled with catchy songs and rhymes? The innocence of it all! One song I remember is the ditty:

“Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”

I was reminded of this song in relation to an organization’s culture. Culture in a simple form describes “the way we do things around here.” If everyone is not rowing in the same direction, it can make or break an organization’s ability to thrive or become dysfunctional. The organization’s culture creates an identity that tells employees and the public what treatment to expect from the organization. The culture can be influenced by the industry that the organization belongs to, the employee demographic or the history of the organization. Scholars have defined organizational culture as shared beliefs, norms, assumptions, and core values of the individuals within an organization. Regardless of the influential factors, the leader has the responsibility to create the desired culture which will support the identity he/she wants the organization to have.

The current business climate has forced organizations to re-think their human resources practices, change aspects of their culture and improve employee engagement. One system that has appealed to some organizations is the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) system. It is an outcome of a certain type of corporate culture, for example a flexible, democratic environment. As described by MindTools, it places the emphasis on the deliverables from employees rather than a specified work schedule. Employees have the flexibility to govern themselves with support from their managers. The deliverable must meet a pre-determined timeline and be quality work. The length of time it takes to work on the project or the amount of time spent in the office are irrelevant.

The ROWE system may not be suitable for all environments because it requires a strong organizational culture to maintain its success. It is also not suitable for some working environments with roles that require stability, and structure, especially when interacting with the public. An organization’s culture under the ROWE system must be healthy and strong with effective leadership. In healthy cultures employees feel valued and will reciprocate the perceived support through high performance and high engagement.

A strong culture has cohesiveness among its members in terms of expected behaviour and values. A suitable leadership style under the ROWE system would be situational leadership where leaders encourage their employees through motivation and goal-setting. The ROWE system, due to its emphasis on autonomy, would require an environment built on trust, support, accountability and clear communication.

Culture is the blueprint for an organization’s health and success. It determines how the organization functions, the behaviour of its members and the things it values. The culture promotes shared values and serves as a beacon for employees on how to problem solve and conduct themselves. An organization is successful when it consistently meets its goals through high performance. Goals cannot be met without input and output from employees and employees will not be motivated to do the work without a positive environment. The culture is the grounding for individuals and the organization on a whole. A negative culture derails the growth and strength of the organization. A negative culture can form when there is misalignment between touted beliefs and actions. In other words, everyone and everything must row in the same direction.

The building blocks – mission, vision, values and strategy must align with the culture to ensure a consistent identity and avoid confusion. The consistent messaging will reinforce the culture and promote unity both inside and outside the organization.

Times are a changin’



“The only constant is change”, as the saying goes. Work as we know it is being turned on its head with telecommuting, working with and managing teams in various geographic locations, emerging technologies such as Chat Bots and AI etc. Not to mention the many external factors that affect the internal workings of organizations such as policies, regulations etc. Many employees and organizations are dealing with how to manage these multiple changes. Change management is an intervention used within organizations to get employees on board with change and minimize disruption to the business.

As a Learning and Development professional, the change management hat is one that I wear at times. The difficulty with being a change agent, is that I need to get on board with the change quickly so that I can then help others to embrace it. One skill that can help employees embrace change quickly is adaptability. This is your ability to manage disruptions and adjust to new conditions quickly. Go with the flow. It is beneficial to keep an open mind.

Let’s talk about how to manage change in organizations: it begins with each individual.  Organizations are comprised of people working together towards shared goals. If the people do not get onboard, change cannot be successful.  So how do we motivate employees to embrace change? There are several tactics that can be applied but the key is to emphasize the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor for each individual. Explain what’s in it for them – give them the autonomy to own the change.

Effectively managing change requires managing people and managing those processes, tools and techniques that will impact those people. ADKAR is one of many models available that’s used to help identify, diagnose and strategize. This model comes from the organization Prosci.

The acronym means this:

A – awareness of the need for change

D – desire to support and participate in the change

K – knowledge of how to change

A – ability to implement the required skills and behaviour

R – reinforcement to sustain the change

The model is only a tool because each organization has different needs. However, to manage change effectively, there are common threads across organizations.

Thread 1: Leadership buy-in is essential

Thread 2: Alignment with strategic business objectives

Thread 3: Techniques must appeal to individuals – establish engagement and learning

Effective change happens when everyone’s on board.

Being Agile


The new buzz word in organizations stem from a project management methodology – agile.

What does it mean to be agile as an organization? Typically, the word conjures images of sports teams, fitness training or intense competitions or for the warm and fuzzy, dogs panting through jungle gyms. Although most people confuse agility with speed, they are two very different concepts.

Agility means being nimble – moving quickly and being able to change course easily.

It is not an easy task for a large, complex organization to achieve agility.  Think of an obstacle course with hoops, cross bars, tunnels and planks.  The maneuvers, twists and turns in order to compete and deliver on strategy could bog down even the leanest, most well-run among us.  If done well, it could pave the way for strength, nimbleness, skilled and controlled movements.  

We need to be able to respond to our highly competitive environment and adapt appropriately. This is the essence of agility. Working in an agile environment, you do not need to wait for perfection before you make a much needed decision or wait until the project is finished before you evaluate. Isn’t it great if you can course correct with minimal impact instead of realizing at the end of the project that you’ve missed the mark with huge consequences?  Agility fosters continuous learning, openness in communication, collaboration and sharing.

As employees, we play a role in contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization, improving processes and managing risk. Continuing to assess and reflect on performance and goals will not only keep you flexible but also affect the nimbleness of the organization in leveraging the right talent for the right roles. Agility is also applicable on our career paths. We must keep learning and developing to be able to move quickly and effectively.  After all, an organization is only as good as its people.


Is your organization behaving?


“Oh behave”! as Austin Powers would say in the Spy movie. Behaviour, or lack thereof, is very important in an organization, so much so that it affects not only the culture and employees’ performance but the company’s bottom line. The news is flooded lately with examples of poor behaviour in the workplace. Uber and Amazon comes to mind. Uber with the toxic woes of diversity issues, discrimination and sexual harassment. It was reported, via an editorial in the New York Times, that Amazon has a culture of punishment, overachievement and fear. These factors influence how employees behave at work – their attitudes and attributes in the workplace.

The field of organizational behaviour is a very important one as shown in the two examples. It is concerned with predicting, explaining and managing people’s behaviour at work. For better or worse, we all participate in some form in our organization’s culture. I work for a major insurance company which is on a tear of a culture shift brought on by many variables –  both internal and external. The internal factors are heavily weighted by the external factors such as the current social and technological climate. Yes, the robots are here. Welcome to the age of automation.  The name of the game is: adapt to survive or perish.

Organizational behaviour goes hand in hand with the field of organizational psychology. Organizational Psychologists study the behaviour of employees at work and how they shape the culture of an organization. Why do people stay with a company? Why do they leave? What motivates people? How can teams work together effectively? These are all questions an organizational psychologist would analyze as part of their work in organizational behaviour.

We all want to work for organizations that cultivate synergies with their people, processes and systems. Organizations that are strong, collaborative, engaging and innovative. Cultivating and maintaining those attributes start with the social aspects of an organization – the effort of its people. Let’s not forget the role of leaders in organizational behaviour. It starts at the top. Employees typically model what they see and experience.

When employees are engaged, demonstrate a willingness towards learning, are motivated etc. they in turn create positive, rewarding organizational cultures. It starts with cultivating critical behaviours.

How about you be the best that you can be


Another year coming to a close. What a year it’s been filled with highs and lows of all sorts! Was this a good year for you? How many goals did you cross off your list? Did you grow personally or professionally this year? These are all apt questions as we get through the frenzy of the holidays, approach a New Year and begin to take stock of the old. But, what if we abolished the cage of setting goals in the New Year and just focus on being the best that we can be at all times? Sometimes we place ourselves in restricting, impossible situations which only add undue anguish and stress to our lives.

I’ve often heard the expression that a career is a journey and not a sprint. There is nothing promised to anyone. Sometimes we work hard and get the desired results but other times, the results we seek are elusive. Either way, keep going! Continuous learning has proven to be the secret to being the best that you can be – growing personally and professionally. This puts the pressure off achieving everything all at once. I’ll use the analogy of starting to save. Let’s say your goal is to save $10,000 in three years. The thought of coming up with that lump sum all at once is pretty daunting but if you break it down into contributing $277 per month or $69.25 per week, it immediately becomes a more doable task. It’s the same with continuous learning – learn and improve as you go – a little adds up to a lot.

At times we may need to do a complete overhaul and go in a completely new direction in order to realize our goals. But, at other times, there are opportunities to build on the skills we already have. I strongly believe that no skill or experience is ever wasted. We can transfer existing knowledge and skills –  apply them to other disciplines, industries or job families.

Regardless of the date on the calendar, remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and you can always hit the reset button at any time.  As morbid as it sounds, where there is life, there is hope. Strive to be the best that you can be!


The move towards performance in the workplace


The word performance has many connotations but I think we can all agree that it indicates that you need to do something. To perform is an action word. In our daily lives, we have a number of ways in which we perform – if you’re an actor/actress you’re on stage in front of a crowd hopefully an adoring one. For those of us who are not physically on a literal stage, the “stage” is our lives. Many of us play a number of roles in our personal lives – wife, husband, father, mother, sister, brother, friend etc. Each role requires a different performance. We are expected to do something pertaining to that role and do it well by producing a favourable result.

Let’s apply this same concept to the workplace. At work, you have a title, belong to a department or business unit, have a job description which reflects your title and outline your duties and responsibilities for that role. In short, you are expected to perform and produce results for your department and company.

Consider this scenario:

Simone works in the sales department for Would Rather Play Merchandise Company as a sales representative. She uses a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) called Salesforce. This is the main tool she uses as part of her daily duties. Although Simone is very familiar with Salesforce, at times she misses some key steps in the system whenever she completes a sale. The end result produces a transaction that is not complete. Simone has performance issues but how do we course correct? Is additional instruction the right solution for Simone?

Let’s analyze this situation a bit more. Salesforce is not a new technology for Simone as she’s been using it for some time. The problem is that she is not using it well. Additional instruction on the technology would be a waste of time. Another remedy would be more effective and efficient in this instance. A performance improvement remedy could be to provide a job aid for Simone for example a step-by-step procedure on how to use the technology. The guide is an easy point of reference that Simone can use to complete a transaction from start to finish. She can then fill in the gaps in her knowledge. Another remedy could be observation. A manager or a colleague could shadow Simone during a transaction to see what she’s doing wrong and provide guidance in real time.

Training is only one intervention in the performance improvement ecosystem. Depending on the problem, training may not be the best solution. It is the job of the Learning/Training & Development professional to analyze the situation and provide the most effective solution. At times the solution may call for a task redesign, more documentation or additional tools or equipment.

Organizations are moving away from throwing training at every issue and hoping for a quick fix. Continuous performance improvement allows the people resources of an organization to do things in a productive fashion using current knowledge, skills and abilities. Although instruction can be an effective intervention, it is only one of many tools available. Performance is encompassing and serves the purpose of continuous maintenance rather than having to do a complete makeover.

Objectives: A roadmap to training success


Remember the days of the Perly’s map? Maybe, maybe not depending on your generation. This was way back in the day. Way before Google Maps or any sophisticated GPS device. I remember before we set out in the car, my grandfather would fish out his Perly’s from the glove compartment. He would spend a couple of minutes mapping out where he needed to go to ensure he arrived at his destination. There is nothing unusual about that. This is the step that any logical person would take. It defies reason that one would set out on a journey, having no idea how to get there and no plan.

Objectives play an important part in many facets of our lives – careers, life decisions etc. In the training world, objectives are equally necessary and important. They answer the question, what do you intend for the learner to achieve? A training program needs to have a set destination with checkpoints along the way. Objectives not only ensure that you arrive at your destination but also provides markers to assure you that you are on the right path.

There are generally two types of learning objectives: terminal and enabling. Terminal objectives describe the expected level of performance by the end of the training. Enabling objectives define the skills, knowledge or behaviours learners must reach in order to complete the training successfully. Both learner and facilitator benefit greatly from these guidelines. For the facilitator, objectives provide a framework for delivery. For the learner, he/she can readily identify the specific points they need to master.

Okay, so we have established that we need objectives in line with the intended outcomes.  Before you set pen to paper or in the digital world, fingers to keyboard, consider these three things:

  1. What should the learners be able to do?
  2. Under what conditions do you want the learners to perform?
  3. How well must the learners perform?

We can break these three questions further into three words: performance (behaviour), condition, criteria. One of the negative things about training programs is that they are ineffective and learners do not see value. The value begins with defining the goals and objectives. Equally, the effectiveness is achieved when the objectives are realized.

We all know the acronym SMART:


Objectives should be all of these things.

This is a good mnemonic to use as an aid. So, while charting the destination, ensure you are SMART about the journey.