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More than Cookies for Girl Scout Workers

Leaders at the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council decided that going ROWE was the right move for their workforce. It created organizational trust, resulted in more meaningful performance evaluations and increased worker initiative.

This article accompanies Anytime, Anywhere.

Sunday, August 1, 2010
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All it took to transform the workplace at the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council was for its CEO to go on vacation.

Browsing around an airport bookstore before her 2008 trip, CEO Jessica Lawrence grabbed Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, the creators of the Results-Only Work Environment concept.

"By the time I was getting off the plane, I was calling my HR person and saying, 'You need to go out and buy this book and read it before I get back from vacation,' " says Lawrence, whose organization employs 48 people and includes 4,000 volunteers who help to oversee 10,000 girl scouts.

But, with the culture at the Girl Scout Council so deeply rooted in time-and-attendance, making a ROWE transformation was a challenge.

When Lawrence first started working at the organization in 2003, "there was one person ... who would stand at the front door with a clipboard and mark down if people were more than five minutes late."

While that eased over the years, she says, the hierarchical nature of the organization stymied changes since most ideas -- even minute details -- needed to be filtered through company leaders.

"If an employee came up with something creative or innovative or different, those ideas got shut down. I had experienced that myself," says Lawrence. "At a certain point, you didn't feel motivated anymore to give the organization your absolute best because it didn't seem to matter."

Once she was named CEO in February 2008, Lawrence was poised to make changes toward more work/life balance and a creativity-friendly atmosphere.

"I knew we needed something really huge to jolt our staff out of that old way of working," she says.

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Employees generally warmed to their newly found freedom right away, Lawrence says, although managers had some difficulty letting go of basing their employee evaluations on time-and-attendance issues and shifting focus to their expectations instead.

There were also some workers who couldn't handle the laid-back structure and left the organization, she says.

"We have had a couple of people who have had a hard time working with a lot more self direction than they had in the past," she says, "so some of those people were not able to meet their results. They just found that working in that type of environment was not the right fit for them."

But overall, ROWE has been a success at the Girl Scouts Council. People avoid meaningless conversations at work in favor or more purposeful communication, and team building is "stronger than ever" because there is finally a sense of trust across the organization, says Lawrence.

"It's really helped us zone in on the stuff that's most important in performance management, not just looking at somebody's ability to show up for work on time."

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