Peaceful Revolution: Getting to the Truth

02/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's always interesting to us when we see "the lists" that are released every year of the 100 Greatest Places to Work For or the Top 50 Workplaces for Women. The lists tell one story and often, people on the inside of those companies tell another.

The lists say managers are understanding in the area of work/life balance. Schedules and other aspects of work are flexibles. There is a ping pong table in the break room. Employees are encouraged to stay healthy by making it to their doctor's appointments.

Now, we're not interested in tearing anybody down. As part of our research into work-life issues, we've read a number of studies that talk about how it's not uncommon for managers at large organizations to "fly under the radar" with their own pro-employee, results-oriented work culture. These managers look the other way on vacation policy or sick time policy as long as their employees produce. And there are also entire organizations that value results over perception.

But we've also encountered a number of organizations that suffer from what psychologists call the actor-observer bias. Usually, the actor-observer bias comes into play in the workplace when it's time to lay blame. When a coworker screws up, it's because she's incompetent. It's because of a personal defect. But when we screw up, then we find blame in external circumstances. We were victims of the market, the weather, the voodoo curse that was placed on us when we were on vacation in New Orleans.

We're all familiar with the actor-observer bias when things go wrong. But this psychological quirk also comes into play when life goes well. When a company is happy and successful, it's easy for people to ignore the flaws in their work culture.

When we introduce Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) to audiences and companies, they often say "we're already ROWE." Then it's our job to get to the truth by asking a few simple questions.

Q: Does everyone have the ability to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done?

A: Yes. Everyone except administrative assistants. They need to be in the office in case we need them. And we do have core hours that our employees need to adhere to. And flexibility does need to be granted -- it's a privilege, not a right.

Q: And would you say your employees have autonomy all the time?

A: Yes. Except during September, October, and November. It gets crazy right before the holidays so people have to be in the office. And we really hit a busy time in March and April, so everyone knows it's all-hands-on-deck then.

Q: Do people of all levels have the right to question whether or not work is necessary?

A: Of course. Except if the work direction comes from Bob...or Nancy...or Larry. If they tell you to do something, you pretty much have to do it. And...if you're a Level 6 or below, there really shouldn't be any questions - the work is pretty straightforward.

There are a million variations to this conversation. And you'll never know what your organization's blind spots are until you start looking past what makes you exceptional and start closely examining what makes your work culture like any other. We know you're great. But you can always be even greater. When you read or hear about Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), take a step back and let your humble side shine through. Don't assume you're already focusing on the right things...there's a good chance there's room for improvement. And remember: The question isn't if you should become a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), but when.

A Peaceful Revolution is a blog about innovative ideas to strengthen America's families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change. Done in collaboration with, read a new post here each week.