Can a Results Oriented Work Environment exist in the ADF?

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The rise of Result Oriented Work Environments, or ROWEs, across the globe has sparked a shift in organisational management and culture. Conceptualised by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson in 2008, a ROWE fundamentally aims to make employees accountable for output instead of hours worked.  Organisations from The GAP to the New Zealand Government are moving toward ROWEs in light of studies indicating increased productivity, worker satisfaction and reduced turnover.

While the ADF has shown willingness to modernise its personnel management, through initiatives such as flexible work arrangements and SERCAT mobility, pursuing a ROWE in the barracks environment should be a seriously considered concept.

At its core, a ROWE seeks to shift the mindset of ‘I work from 9-5 to achieve output’ to ‘I work as needed to achieve my goals’. Much of this push has been backed by studies indicating that the typical 8 hour work day doesn’t effectively maximise employee productivity. In the civilian sector this means an office worker may only need to be at work 4 days a week to meet Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – something recently proposed by the Japanese Government.

Alternatively, employees may be able to achieve their KPIs while starting work at 10am everyday – the onus is on the employee to determine how and when to work in pursuit of required output.

The unique roles and responsibilities of ADF members would require selective implementation of a ROWE. Unlike typical office workers, ADF employees are charged with the defence of the nation – a task which is continuous and not limited to a certain window each day. Resultantly, certain units and tasks are unsuitable for a ROWE. An example are those force elements expected to be on constant alert such as: Army’s ready brigades, deployed Navy vessels, or many of the RAAF’s operational aircraft.

However, beyond this there exists the potential for units that operate in a barracks environment to adopt the principals of a ROWE in pursuit of increased productivity and satisfaction. The four key elements of a ROWE will be explained below in terms of their applicability to the ADF.

Employees must understand what their role is in the company

The ADF does a thorough job of ensuring members understand their role in each unit. The training provided to ADF members throughout their entire careers is often far more than is afforded to typical private sector workers. Additionally, the presence of an overt military hierarchy reinforces where members sit and subsequently what their role should be. The combination of training and hierarchy allows a Navy cook, for example, to understand what their role at their unit should be given their rank and position.

Employees must understand what they are responsible for

Again, the ADF firmly meets this criterion. All ADF jobs are paired with documents such as an employment profile or duty statement that lay out areas of responsibility. These provide a clear indication of what each member can expect to be responsible for and what tasks will reasonably fall within their remit. Army logisticians therefore understand that their role is to provide support to combat units, with a typical responsibility being the management of stores and warehousing. Organisationally, this gives broad direction to all units and personnel, allowing them to operate somewhat autonomously without the need for constant direction and supervision. 

Employees must understand what the measurement for success is.

It is in understanding the metrics for success where the ADF broadly fails – members operate under broad statements of responsibility that often lack clear metrics for day-to-day success. The strategic measurement of success is inherently clear, a safe and secure Australia; however, for individuals it can be unclear how to contribute to this weekly. The result can be a barracked workforce, that is those not undertaking special or extraordinary duties, coming to work each day without a clear idea of what their specific output should be.

If an RAAF clerk understands their role, to provide administrative services, and their responsibility, to a specific unit or geographic area, but does not understand their tangible output, then the result is a mindset of attendance – not performance. Arriving at work each day with the expectation that you will simply be present, and attend to tasks as they come up, reduces collective motivation – the success of each day is signified by the arrival of a 4.30 knock off.

Undoubtedly, tasks will be completed, but the pressure is generally external, X task completed by Y date at the request of Z. Resultantly, there is little motivation for that individual to complete the task before the given time – nor is there any expectation that they will do so. This dynamic is what the introduction of KPIs and ROWEs have sought to address in the private sector. They provide employees with measurements of success that can be met, with the reward being increased time off.

Employees must understand what succeeding, or of failing, on these measurements means.

Given the lack of specific performance measurements, the ADF also fails to articulate the implications of failing or succeeding. Egregious workplace failings can be met with disciplinary actions that are tied to specific criteria. Comparatively, there is little ability for addressing small failures – the goalposts of which to measure them against are absent. Similarly, commendations and awards exist to reward outstanding achievement, yet for small successes the tangible rewards are typically absent.

The Benefits

Initially the transition to a ROWE will force leaders to consider how to break down roles and responsibilities into daily or weekly tasks. This process itself would likely be informative, providing clarity to areas that have previously been a ‘grey zone’ of responsibility. Once leaders within a unit have established KPIs for its workforce they are able to focus on more pressing issues each week rather than needing to task subordinates.

If the ROWE model has been truly adopted, managers should be happy to allow flexibility in working hours and locations. Given that a ROWE seeks to measure output, not hours worked, if the KPIs have been adequately considered there is no reason for members to stay until 4.30 if it is not necessary. The onus is on managers to determine where the specified KPIs meet strategic intent, if not they will need to be adjusted accordingly. For the workforce itself, these KPIs should provide not only direction for effort allocation, but also a level of extrinsic motivation.

Inequalities will arise as some workers prove more efficient in meeting KPIs than others, hence achieving more flexibility or time off, but this isn’t necessarily a drawback. As workers become incentivised to meet KPIs, in pursuit of external rewards, they will be likely to innovate and improve the current processes. Furthermore, if KPIs are structured in a way which requires unit cohesion and co-operation, as opposed to individual success, then a ROWE can ensure there aren’t some who are left behind.

Moving Forward

As the private sector modernises workforce design with the implementation of ROWEs, the ADF should do the same. Transforming the working mindset from one of attendance, to one of output, places greater responsibility into the employee while also encouraging performance and innovation. As private institutions show a willingness to adapt to ROWEs, increased pressure will be placed on the ADF to keep up – especially as workers around the globe show desire for more time off.  The unique role of the ADF will place limits on the implementation of a ROWE in certain environments, however this should not obscure the benefit it could have to the barracked workforce.

About the author: Jack Ryan is a junior officer in the Royal Australian Air Force currently supporting the F-35. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy where he studied politics and history. You can follow him on twitter @justjackryan.