Smashing the Clock: Getting Rid of Time Standards

The cover story this week in Business Week is called Smashing the Clock. It is the story of Best Buy’s removal of all expectations of when and where you work. The only thing that matters are the results. I’m not trying to say that this IS LEAN, or ANTI-LEAN. But if lean is about how to get the most out of people, then this story is worth reading.

Here are some of the assumptions that go into a system such as this:

  • Face time is not as important as productive time (something I deeply, deeply support having had experiences with extreme face-time expectations)
  • people will be more productive at different times of the day, depending on personal preferences
  • people will be more productive in different environments (such as sitting in the park or as one example noted, your hunting blind)
  • measure people, with high expectations, for output or outcomes

Here are some the assumptions that might contradict a system like this:

  • face-to-face time produces better overall outcomes than email-to-email interface
  • everyone is equally motivated to perform (obviously, this is the ideal but no one comes close to this ideal; it’s just a matter of how MUCH abuse you are willing to have, not IF)
  • the HOW does matter (there are better ways and ONLY measuring output can have a big miss)

I think it’s important to note that this will not work everywhere. I certainly have questions about doing this in their stores, but you obviously can’t run an assembly plant like this. The assembly line moves or it doesn’t; one person missing for 60 seconds results in something not getting done.

This is really an experiment that is by no means complete and is really worth watching. If anyone has experiences with this, or anything like it, please share.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to be notified about posts via email. Learn more about Mark Graban’s speaking, writing, and consulting.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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6 Comments on "Smashing the Clock: Getting Rid of Time Standards"

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  1. Anonymous says:

    There are some promising elements there — focusing on the results and what gets done rather than HOW and WHEN it gets done. You’re right to raise the pro’s and con’s, jamie. Rather than people just copying Best Buy, they need to do what works for their business and their process.

    I’ll quibble with the idea that lean is about getting the most OUT of people. That sounds like you are draining a resource, like getting oil out of the ground. Toyota talks about building people and their careers. I imagine this is so that you can also get work out of them for the organization — more like the idea of planting trees and letting them grow so you can harvest fruit (and let the tree keep growing).

  2. Karen Wilhelm says:

    Most corporations, especially in white collar jobs, will take as much as you can give, and more.

    People spend a lot of time, 60 to 80 hours a week, trying to meet unrealistic expectations especially since work is not cut back at the same rate as employment.

    We have not spent enough time understanding muri, the waste of overload or overburdening. It can be applied to machines running with no PM, but also to people.

    The human being does not have unlimited reserves of thinking, problem-solving, or emotional energy.

    Yet the pressure is on them to overwork themselves. And don’t hold the front-line manager solely responsible. He or she is likely to be judged by the amount of apparent effort and face-time seen among the employees under their supervision.


  3. Jamie Flinchbaugh says:

    I’m not saying that you EXTRACT work from people like squeezing the juice out of a grapefruit. Investing in people, engaging them, and so on – it’s all so that someday you can ‘harvest the fruit.’ You obviously wouldn’t want to let someone else do it.

  4. Jon Miller says:

    When I read this article about Best Buy I thought “what a horrible idea”. Introducing this type of variability in a business is a poor choice. If this is the only way to Best Buy can motivate workers and keep people happy…

    TPS, and therefore Lean, is about how and when (process) you get things done, not the what (results). Bad processes can produce good results by luck. Good processes produce good results.

    Quoting Gary Convis from a recent article:

    “There’s only a couple of ways you get in trouble at Toyota,” Convis told employees. “One, you don’t come to work. And two, you don’t pull the cord when there’s a problem. … Those two things get you in trouble. Anything else, we’ll train you.”

    See more on that here:

    I don’t see how Best Buy trains people or identifies and solves problems like this. They’re lucky Toyota is not in their business.

  5. Mike Lopez says:

    I’m part of generation X and the work arrangement in this article really appealed to me. I would love to work that way. I find my most productive time is from 7pm-12am. If I was able to spend half the day with my kids and work at night, I would gladly do it. This would also bring the importance of negotiating performance to the forefront.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thats one of the Lean issues – it’s not about people they are resources that need to do things right or get trained. Theyre people not German Shepards.

    We’re seeing far more ongoing improveemnt in areas awhere lean has been abandoned in favor of cascading the organizatoinal goals throught the organization and letting people set their goals to achieve the corporations goals – so, yeah come to work at midinght but keep the quality and standards.

    Somehow there needs to be a shake up. This Lean stuff is anti society, anti people and just perfect for nit pickers…

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