ROWE migration step 3 – eradicating Sludge

This is the 3rd part of my ROWE interview with Michael Barata – this time the topic is Sludge! For the purpose of understanding the context and its use below, the definition of ‘Sludge’ used in a ROWE is: any negative (toxic) language (garbage) in the workplace that is used to cast judgment about how people are spending their time. The cultural aspects of having sludge in the workplace are all negative and cover 3  areas. These are:

– Sludge Justification: A natural response to receiving sludge

– Sludge Anticipation: Telling lies or making excuses about how you spend your time from 9-5 in anticipation of getting sludged

– Back Sludge: Talking with others behind co-workers’ backs about how or when they work.

It is obviously fundamental to rid an environment of Sludge when transitioning to RESULTS only and removing all notions of Time Management. So to the interview:

“Our sessions are running every week on a Tuesday and I find myself getting excited on a Sunday knowing that we are fast approaching the next one – asking around I find I am not alone!

I have to admit though, I was slightly apprehensive about our Sludge Session after such an amazing KickOff session. The fundamental reason for this I realized, was funnily enough, because both I and the team all thought that there was no ‘real’ sludge to eradicate. We have a great culture here at Xpandand it is because of that and our reputation in the market place that we have won numerous awards, have a happy ship, and find no issue attracting top talent, and I didn’t want for it to be irrelevant. So I have to admit, I opened with aplomb that whilst it might not be so relevant to us, it was clearly ultimately important we go through this session at least from a mind change and cultural learning perspective….boy are we glad we did!

The first warning sign that we might have underestimated Sludge was given in Cali & Jody’s lead up which introduced the example of a team who thought they had no Sludge to eradicate, but went on to uncover they had loads. Luckily that wasn’t exactly us, but what did transpire was a realization there was more than enough Sludge, just hidden i.e. that we Sludged through comedy or internally, on ourselves or to ourselves. There was no ‘back’ Sludging per say but there was plenty of [Sludge] anticipation and [Sludge] justification – even if just internalized. The discussions and learning around this were clearly moving for people. I myself realized I had been trained and brought up so strictly on beliefs about time that I was my own worst Sludger! Again, I was not alone.

In a company with excellent work ethics, the traditional inclusion of time beliefs were very evident. Everyone just Sludged themselves and feelings such as ‘guilt’ and ‘worry’ were aired way more than expected. One really interesting aspect that came to light was the idea that this was a comforting ‘support’…that somehow without these time games of give and take we would be less supported. As a leader, I was so glad this surface and it was very cathartic for all to start the change process on this with presenteesim vs. true support as the main focus. We have a way to go on this path but we made a great start and people felt liberated.

“Throughout the past month, as we were new to ROWE and now on the cusp of practicing ROWE, it has been an enlightening journey. I learned more about myself – beliefs, strengths to fears. This is a chance to better myself as a person and a professional, I can’t say I’m feeling 100% ready for the ride but definitely looking forward to see what it’ll be like in a year’s time! To use my dear colleague’s words – it’s time to free myself.” – Kay Lee, Consultant

The whole team came in at about 5 – 8 (out of 10) on the self assessment at the end and have been discussing these ‘feelings’ and ‘realities’ very well since.

So to surmise, whilst having a healthy and strong modern but still ‘time traditional’ work place, we still have sludge to eradicate. We have realized we need to help each other eradicate being so ‘time’ hard on ourselves to change such deep seated beliefs. We have challenges to deal with in terms of guilt and stress based around time as well as making sure the right support is there when this old and unproductive framework is removed. It is a great feeling knowing everyone is on the same page and working together to achieve this. Everyone is getting very excited about Culture Clinic and to GO LIVE!”


About Rob Fanshawe

Currently MD, Asia for Xpand Group, living in Singapore with his wife and dog (golden retriever), his passion in life is simple, “people”. He loves everything to do with meeting and understanding them to helping them and businesses realise their potential through the resulting positive connections.

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