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The Year's Best Book On Work-Life Balance

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on June 10

cali and jodi book.gif

One of my favorite workplace stories was about how two HR renegades staged an underground coup to secretly topple the face-time, butt-in-chair, analog culture at the headquarters of Best Buy. The story—Smashing the Clock (No Meetings. No Schedules. No Joke.)—detailed Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson’s very un-HR-like experiment. Their workplace psyops ended up radically altering the corporate culture at Best Buy.

Now they are working on doing the same at other companies. Their book, Why Work Sucks and How To Fix It, is landing in bookdstores now. It details the experience at Best Buy and how other companies can go about dismantling industrial age cultures that no longer work in the digital age.

I’m thrilled that Cali and Jody will be serving as our as experts here to address all of your work-life challenges. The work they have done at Best Buy is some of the most important, groundbreaking work going on in HR in the world. They are disruptive innovators in the best sense of the term.

Go ahead, ask them how they can help you.

Reader Comments


June 11, 2008 08:51 PM

Jody and Cali, I'm wondering what advice you would give to companies that are worried about the security of their work and intellectual property rights and thus are reluctant to embrace telecommuting programs? And thanks so much for your leadership.

Michelle Ross

June 12, 2008 10:14 AM

I would like to know how I can get my company to seriously look at your techniques. I'm in IT and I work for a place that has applications that need to be supported 7am-6pm Mon-Fri. I just changed to this job from a company that allowed me to work from home for 7 of the 8 years I worked there and since coming to this new employer, I've had health issues that allowed me to work the majority of the time from home as well; however, it is not this employers policy to allow this under normal circumstances. This is what I want to change--I have had awesome reviews and I've worked from home 98% of the time--I can do my job from home-I even went through a major conversion remoting in. I have less stress, more privacy for my conference calls, less interruptions and when I'm waiting for something, I can throw in a load of laundry. It is WIN-WIN - how do I get them to see this?


Michelle Ross

Cali and Jody

June 12, 2008 03:03 PM

Kelly - every company has concerns about data privacy - Best Buy did as well. What it really came down to was TRUST. Does the company trust their employees - as adults - to KNOW that the information they are accessing off-site is sensitive? And, there are so many technology solutions that insure network security - like Virtual Private Network (VPN). So, we feel, though it's a valid concern, it really isn't a concern if you trust your employees and use data security tools. Bottom line? If an employee is going to share company information or secrets with the competition, they'll do it regardless of whether or not a telecommuting program is in place. Today Best Buy has over 3000 corporate employees working when and where they please - with wireless laptops and VPN. Productivity is up 41% and voluntary turnover is way down. It's all about TRUST!

Cali and Jody

June 12, 2008 03:37 PM

Michelle - we FEEL your pain! We also had a very hard time convincing managers at Best Buy that ROWE would work. But, what we did was continue to focus on what's important to managers: productivity, engagement and loyalty. And, we never gave up on the idea. ROWE is a big change, and it takes courage and perseverance to get it off the ground. We have some free downloads on our site - including a business case - that might be helpful for you when entering into conversations about ROWE: Also, band together with others in your organization that feel like you do - that KNOW there's a better way to work and live - just like you. You don't have to 'go it alone'. As you get further in your conversations with leaders, suggest a ROWE Pilot - depending on the size of your company, one team or department can go ROWE first. Then, management can see firsthand how it works in the company culture before committing to a full roll-out. The ROWE lifestyle is truly liberating. It's worth fighting for!

Robert S.

June 13, 2008 01:16 AM

Jody/Calli -

I work for a technology company in the midwest that has an office as well in Washington, DC. The Washington, DC office (where our CEO and other top brass are) is very progressive with teleommuting and flexible work schedules. Here in the midwest in a town of about 100,000 in the middle of nowhere they want nothing to do with alternative work arrangements.

Many employees want to try out a staggered 10-hour work day, 4-day work week. We'd still have 5 day coverage, but it would help us all with getting some life/work balance back into our lives and cutting down on energy expenses. Yet, many of us are terrified of asking because we already know the answer is going to be "No". One person already was laughed at when they even skimmed the topic.

Any advice on how to approach this? I feel this company wants to talk the talk but doesn't want to walk the walk -- i.e., they claim to want to save energy costs and reduce expenses but are deadset against any idea that is out of the box to do so. The classic excuse is always "well you'd miss meetings" -- something we have way too many of to begin with.


Kara Murphy

June 13, 2008 01:21 PM

Hi Cali and Jody!

Huge congratulations on the book. I've read it and it's wonderful. My head hurts from nodding so much (in agreement) as I turned each page.

My question centers around those of us who work for places where watching the clock becomes critical namely from a billing standpoint. I work at an agency where we bill our clients by an estimated set of hours per project, and where we internally have to track all of those hours for everything we do so the billing is accurate. For agencies, or lawyers, or anyone who bills per hour (and as such has to track by hour), how might this sort of arrangement work, when essentially ROWE's foundation is to smash the clockwatching?

MaryAnn Miller

June 13, 2008 06:51 PM

For years, there has been talk of a glass ceiling, and I never felt comfortable with that characterization. So when I read about some research work by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli it really rang true for me. Improving diversity in Corporate America is not so much about breaking through a glass ceiling, as about learning how to navigate around obstacles.
In my own situation, during my 20+ years as a business professional, I never felt victimized, discriminated against or up against a glass ceiling in pursuing my career goals. For me, it was more a matter of choosing how to balance my work and my family. I left Corporate America for six years when my children were born. I was fortunate to be able to return to a comparable position, but so much had changed. When I left, I had an administrative assistant who took dictation; when I returned, I had a computer on my desk – and I didn’t know how to use it. A few years later, we relocated to further my husband’s career. Of course, this required another change for me. My career journey was as Alice and Linda describe – a labyrinth. While this path set me back a few years, I am still on the right track as are many other women who have had to find their own ways to build their careers and blend them with family life at the same time.
The challenge for employers like Avnet is to help employees through this labyrinth so their talents can bloom in the workplace instead of wither on the vine. As the crunch for attracting and retaining good employees continues to escalate, I believe nurturing a diverse talent pool is a competitive tool. I think of the women who, like me, chose to stay home to raise their children. These women often are service-oriented, highly skilled at juggling priorities, adept multi-taskers, and savvy negotiators. These skills are much more difficult to teach than how to use a computer program.
Avnet was well on its way with a diversity strategy when I discovered Alice Eagly and Linda Carli’s work. But it helped to bring home to our all-male senior executive team that an important part of our diversity strategy is first raising awareness about barriers to diversity. Most companies don’t intentionally discriminate; they recognize that women make a strong contribution and want female representation at all levels. They don’t know what they don’t know, however. Once they understand the subtleties around gender bias, they can make a conscious effort to make the environment more conducive to attracting and retaining females.
A greater awareness of these issues has helped us develop new approaches to how we identify talent; select future leaders; mentor, transfer knowledge and define job requirements. Selecting leaders based on traditional measures like tenure, technical expertise, and previous successes, has the potential to automatically limit the number of female candidates available for consideration – especially if your organization’s senior leadership predominantly consists of men. As part of our HR overhaul, Avnet is implementing a succession planning program based on an index for learning agility that takes into account key traits including sustained performance, adaptability, behavioral fit, and readiness. This approach has led us to some unexpected candidates and created new career paths for Avnet staff.
Clearly, workforce demographics are changing and it will be more difficult to attract and retain key talent. We at Avnet view the female population as critical to our future success. In particular, we will be targeting women who have stepped out of the workforce to raise families. Some may have stepped out for just a short period and may be interested in a flexible work arrangement. Others have been absent from Corporate America for 20+ years, and may require some training to learn the newest technology and business processes. It will take some time for Avnet and all of Corporate America to understand these dynamics and embrace the strategies to be successful in recruiting women returning to the workforce.
One thing we know for sure is that we need to redefine work – not just for women but for all workers. We will need to implement creative programs such as career deceleration for individuals nearing retirement, recruiting at multiple entry points in the career cycle, and offering cyclic work. The workplace will soon look very different.

Cali and Jody

June 14, 2008 06:27 PM

Robert - YIKES! It scares us to think that your 'bosses' think alternative or flexible work is 'out of the box' thinking. It's been around for at least 40 years. And, it also saddens us that they brush you aside. Hmmmm . . . don't they know human beings are their greatest resource?

Anyway, enough venting. Here's a great resource with a ton of stats: You many need some of these in your back pocket. We would also suggest banning together with the other people you mention - or better yet, do your own little 'flexibility' experiment with one team or department UNDER THE RADAR. That's how we did it. The CEO didn't really know about ROWE until we were 40% of the way through Corporate Best Buy. (Don't know how big your company is - it is easier to fly under the radar and a bigger company. If we would have taken ROWE to the leadership, it would have NEVER gotten of the ground. Managers are afraid of losing power and control. They're used to monitoring the hallways.

Get a copy of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It and share it with a manager who you feel is open and more progressive. Enlist others to read the book. Try out some of the ideas - like eradicating Sludge, and having conversations with your managers about measurable goals and outcomes - it's a piece of cake to measure people on face-time and hours and much harder to manage based on measurable performance.

Saying "if we do flexible work schedules you'll miss meetings" is just LAME. We all know meetings are mostly big time-wasters and political posturing vehicles.

Cali and Jody

Cali and Jody

June 16, 2008 08:33 PM

Kara - the billable hours conundrum does create conflict with the ROWE mindset which is all about removing time tracking from the equation and focusing only on delivering results.

We like to use the activity of changing a tire to illustrate what we mean when we say any time-tracking is problematic. Say for example you have two people change a flat tire. One person takes 2 hours to do it (bills the client 2 hours), while the other person takes 15 minutes (bills the client 15 minutes). I'm sure you already see the problem. The client loves the guy that took 15 minutes, but the boss loves the guy that took 2 hours because billing the client more time benefits his business.

The outcome of changing a tire is the same in both instances: the car is back on the road. Some people might say that the outcome is changing the tire, but that's where the problem lies. Changing the tire is an activity, not an outcome.

So when thinking in hours, or billing in hours, the hours need to get filled up with activities so that more hours can be billed, which creates the need for more activities and on and on. You can see why in this scenario the outcome might get lost.

Focusing on the outcome and the outcome alone – and forgetting about time (while still meeting deadlines) causes everyone to become more efficient with how they use time because nobody is getting rewarded or penalized on either side.

But, the billable hours/tracking time model has been around for decades. And it won’t be an easy model to overcome. It’s deeply engrained in our practices. In a Results-Only Work Environment, non-exempt or hourly employees who have to track time still share one of the most important benefits – they have complete control over how they spend their time – with no Sludge. The do not have schedules. They are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. And, they’re trusted to get the work done. They do not have to ask permission to go grocery shopping on a Wednesday morning or visit their sick friend in the hospital on a Thursday afternoon. They don’t feel guilty and are treated like capable adults. They do, however, have to track hours in accordance with the department of labor guidelines.

Even if you are in an environment where you bill clients by the hour, and track time internally, you can still move in the direction of a ROWE: Remove Sludge. Get clear on measureable goals. Make every meeting optional. Say goodbye to scheduled office hours.

Someday, time tracking will be gone from work culture. This is a big change - one that will take years to overcome. Each step, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem today, will move us forward.

We’re glad you liked the book. Pass it on!

Cali and Jody

Rob Wilson

June 20, 2008 03:13 PM

With gas prices getting ever higher, I see telecommuting as becoming a huge benefit for businesses. They will not need to invest in large buildings to house all the people necessary to run the organization. All kinds of expenses decrease in that scenario.

I believe it all comes down to proper management. I am currently helping several companies realize the benefit of "virtual sales management." I manage their sales force (typically small 5-10) from my home via phone calls and online assessments and training tools that helps me help them become better sales people. The sales reps love it because they don't have someone looking over their shoulder making them second guess themselves constantly. I get far more honest responses than I typically do from in-person evaluations. For some reason, people are more honest in a computer survey than they are face-to-face.

Thank you Cali and Jody for brining this type of work-life balance to the forefront. I lost a very successful sales career because I valued work-life balance. The person was a manager that figured I should eat, sleep, dream, and breath the company. If I wasn't in the office for 70 hours a week, I must not have cared. So now I am in business for myself.


September 27, 2008 09:04 PM

Check this site out

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Cali Ressler, Jody Thompson and Brazen CareeristBest Buy HR renegades Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson and Yahoo’s “Brazen Careerist” columnist, Penelope Trunk, tell us how to juggle responsibilities without going crazy.

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