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ROWE: The Grown-Up Version of Work

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There’s something inherently wrong with the way we work.

That’s the premise behind Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson’s Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) initiative. They believe the modern workplace is cluttered with regulations, expectations and antiquated practices that have nothing to do with the actual work we’re supposed to be doing. In fact, these things usually interfere with it.

ROWE seeks to change this by focusing on the one and only thing that really matters: getting the work done, and doing it well.

What ROWE is (and isn’t)

ROWE is different than flex-time and work-from-home programs, which still operate on traditional metrics of time tracking and accountability. It’s more of an anti-program, really. There’s no time-keeping, no mandatory attendance, no need to explain yourself if you work better in the evenings or want to take an afternoon off to watch your kids play softball.

In a ROWE, the only thing employees are measured by is the results they produce. How they do their work, where they do their work, and when they do their work is their prerogative. As long as the boss sees projects completed well and on time, it’s no questions asked.

When you stop and think about it, it seems kind of ridiculous that everyone doesn’t already work this way.

What ROWE does differently

Here’s a quick breakdown of the benefits of focusing on results only:

Workers are more efficient. It’s a generally accepted truth that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. If you have to be at the office for eight hours each day, you’ll find a way to keep yourself busy, whether it’s dragging out that report you’re writing or spending some time in Farmville. It’s a waste of both the company’s time and yours.

Disruptions disappear. Gone are the aspects of “work” that interfere with actually doing your work. So much of our workday is filled with distractions that have nothing to do with producing results. Co-workers stopping by to chit-chat. Meetings that last forever but resolve nothing. Hour-long commutes in rush-hour traffic. All this nonsense is eliminated in a ROWE, so you’re free to focus on simply doing the job you were hired to do.

Employees get their lives back. In this age of 24/7 availability, the lines between work and home are blurred. (Ask anyone with a Blackberry connected to their work email.) ROWE gives employees the ability to control their work-life balance whatever way works best for them.

Attend a conference call by cell as you pick up your dry cleaning. Write a report on your laptop while you watch your kids at the playground. Instead of trying to compartmentalize “work” and “personal” time on someone else’s terms — and feeling guilty when neither area gets your full attention — employees are able to live whole, integrated lives on their terms.

Adults are treated like adults. Do we really need someone telling us when to take our lunch break or how many days we’re “allowed” to get sick? We’re grownups. We manage households, finances and families, all with no supervision and no employee handbook to keep us in line. Being treated like we’re 10 and can’t be trusted is insulting — and resentment doesn’t fuel an employee’s best performance.

Sure, some employees really do need someone glancing over their shoulders, but ROWE is good for that, too, as you’ll discover in the next point.

The wheat is cut from the chaff. One of the biggest concerns about ROWE is that people will take advantage of the system (or lack thereof). But the nice thing is that in a ROWE, those kinds of people are exposed pretty darn fast.

Let’s face it: some employees are really good at playing the 9-to-5 game. They’re masters of office politics, nodding enthusiastically at every meeting, chipping in for every birthday/retirement/shower gift, coming in 15 minutes earlier and staying 15 minutes longer than everyone else (and making sure you know exactly who isn’t as punctual as they are). What do they actually do all day? Who knows? But they’re model employees!

Refreshingly, none of this is worth a wooden nickel in a ROWE. If you don’t produce results, you’re out. And as an employer, wouldn’t you want to know who your “good” workers really are?

Employers win, too. Happy employees are better employees. Disgruntled and burnt-out employees won’t give much more than the bare minimum needed to collect their paychecks. But empowered, satisfied and respected workers are inclined to actually care about their work, to feel like their efforts matter and to want to deliver the best results possible.

It’s a win-win.

Want to learn more about ROWE? Check out Ressler and Thompson’s book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, or visit the ROWE website.

Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.michaelreynolds.com Michael Reynolds

    Love your great piece on ROWE! Especially the title: “The Grown-Up Version of Work”. How true! Thank you for explaining it so well and featuring it on your blog.

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      You are very welcome. I’ve loved ROWE from the instant I first heard of it, and I’ve featured it on my little blog before, but it was great to get an opportunity to introduce it to a larger audience.

      • http://tarheelsintransit.wordpress.com/ Kelly Giles

        You and me both, Kelly! When I first read about ROWE, I’m pretty sure I yelled “YES, where have you been all my life?!” :)

        • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

          As did I. :)

  • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

    “It’s a generally accepted truth that work expands to fill the time allotted for it. If you have to be at the office for eight hours each day, you’ll find a way to keep yourself busy…”

    Where can I get this job? The jobs I’ve had, there are never enough hours in the day and each day starts with finishing up what didn’t get done the day before. And, of course, it seems that the whole ROWE premise is built on the type of job that can be done remotely. There are still a lot of jobs out there where that just isn’t possible, either because the tools used are too expensive or bulky to be taken off-site, because a physical presence is needed, or because the company doesn’t have the resources to set up remote connections. And take a conference call while doing errands? Do you really want to make the other callers listen to the noise in the store? For the sake of courtesy, when I am on the phone, I don’t do anything else.

    As far as meetings go, I think I’ve been in three, and at least one was to make sure everyone was on the same page before a supervisor went on vacation. And most coworkers will only stop to chitchat if you allow it. When I worked in cubicle-land, I would answer whatever immediate question was at hand and go back to work; people got the message pretty quick.

    And sick time? This is a straw-man argument. Of course you can take as much sick time as you need. Almost no company on the planet is going to have a negative repercussion against being sick. But they are only going to pay for a certain number of days. And frankly, I don’t get why a company should pay you for being sick at all.

    • http://www.michaelreynolds.com Michael Reynolds

      Hi, Edward! ROWE is not telework. A ROWE is an organization that is 100% focused on results. Sometimes this means working in a location other than the office. Sometimes it means working in the office. It all depends on the desired outcome.

      • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

        I was responding to the third point in the article “workers get their lives back.” That whole section is dedicated to working outside of the office. If ROWE is neutral on the topic, then it shouldn’t be discussed as a benefit.

        • http://www.michaelreynolds.com Michael Reynolds

          Well, you are correct in that “telework” is not a benefit, but rather the freedom to choose where and when you work is the benefit. I suppose we’re splitting hairs now :)

          • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

            But my original point is that it just isn’t possible for some positions and organizations. It’s not about treating workers like adults vs children, it’s about whether or not it’s even possible.

            There are days where I would certainly appreciate being able to telework, but they haven’t invented the equipment yet to make that possible for the work I do. My company isn’t insulting my intelligence or maturity by not giving me “the freedom to choose where and when i work.” They are just acknowledging a real limitation of technology.

          • http://www.michaelreynolds.com Michael Reynolds

            Actually, ROWE is possible for any organization because any organization can focus 100% on results. ROWE is not about remote work. It looks different for each organization so it may *appear* to be “not possible” for some organizations but once you realize that ROWE is organizational culture, not telework, then it becomes more clear. For example, we recently migrated a child care center to a ROWE. Obviously the teachers show up to the classroom when the kids are there because their outcomes are tied to teaching kids.

          • KellyK

            I think the “adults vs children” part shows up when people are told when or where to work for reasons that have nothing to do with the nature of their jobs. If you have to show up in a particular place to get things done, that’s a result. If you have to show up in a particular place because your boss doesn’t trust you, that’s being treated like a child.

            Does every part of your job require you to be on-site, or just parts of it? Does every part of it have to happen at a certain time, or just parts of it? I think that for every job, some flexibility is possible. How much and what kind is what varies. My husband’s job is a great example of this. He works on flight simulators. Clearly, he can’t take those home, or take home the development environment on his work computer. But he can write a design document from home, or discuss requirements with the customer on his cell while on the way to visit relatives (if I’m driving). There also aren’t major limits on *when* things get done. Some things are synchronous, like meetings with a customer. Other things can happen whenever. If he fixes a bug at 7 AM, then takes the dog to a vet appointment, comes back and updates documentation at 2 PM, it doesn’t matter *when* that work happened during the day, it matters how well it got done and that it happened before any deadlines. Similarly, with Michael’s example of child care, teachers have to be where the students are at a scheduled time, but it doesn’t matter when or where they write up lesson plans or read up on child psychology.

            ROWE doesn’t mean “Everybody gets to telework.” It means “people do work when and where it makes sense for the specified task *and* for the other parts of their lives.” It has to make sense for both of those things, not just one or the other. But if you take each task separately and think about whether the limits on when and where it happens are about the task or about arbitrary rules, you end up with at least some flexibility in pretty much every job.

          • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

            “Does every part of your job require you to be on-site, or just parts of it? Does every part of it have to happen at a certain time, or just parts of it?”

            Yes, every part of it. The state set the start time and work continues until the day’s tasks are completed. If I chose to come in an hour later, I would be forcing everyone I work with to work an hour later. Everyone works as a team; there really are no individual efforts.

            The extent of my flexibility is I can tell my boss I can’t work a certain day and she gets someone else to do my job for that day. But there are no parts of it that can be done on my own schedule.

          • Jennifer

            Actually, you’d be surprised how well ROWE works in the kinds of work environments you wouldn’t expect. For example, Harvey’s is a company who makes the original seatbelt bag. They need employees to come into the “office” in order to manufacture the bags. And yet they just transitioned to a ROWE and everything is working out great. Check the video out here: http://www.gorowe.com/2011/07/08/ktla-made-in-america/

        • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

          This goes back to the truth that ROWE doesn’t apply to all job situations. That particular section may not apply to some workers’ positions, just as the “distractions” section did not apply to the particular environment you find yourself in.

          But it is a very real benefit for the jobs that it does apply to. In an ideal world, we could all find perfect work-life balance; if you’re the aforementioned assembly line worker, I realize that’s not feasible. ROWE seeks to make as much commonsense change as possible for each workplace according to its needs. At the least, it can open up the discussion of why the majority of workplaces function the way they do, how employees’ ability to work their own terms is evolving along with technology, and how we all define what “work” really looks like.

        • KellyK

          The “Workers Get Their Lives Back” can happen in a lot of ways. For jobs that can be done remotely, people can work remotely. For jobs that have to happen in the office but don’t have to happen at a specific time, people can set their schedules to avoid rush hour or pick up their kids when they need. For jobs that have some of both, people can do the parts of their jobs that are flexible whenever and wherever, which again, gets them more freedom to do the other things they need to in their lives. Because time isn’t tracked in a ROWE unless it’s legally required (non-exempt employees), if you are super-focused and productive for six hours and get everything done, you don’t get busywork dumped on you for the other two. If you have a ton of stuff to get done but have a dentist appointment on Tuesday, you can work ahead on Monday so that you can leave early Tuesday without hurting your results.

          Another part of “getting your life back” is that everything you do for work has to be tied to a result. If it doesn’t have a business benefit, you don’t do it. This results in cutting a lot of wasted time out of the workday. ROWE is big on getting rid of unnecessary meetings and tasks. It’s also big on more planning and fewer fire drills. Even if it doesn’t result in less time spent at the office or less time working, it’s going to result in more productivity, less stress, and less frustration, which leaves you with more energy to do everything else you need to accomplish in other areas of your life.

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      You bring up valid points which are very common questions people have when first introduced to this concept. I hope you don’t mind me addressing each one as I think plenty of people will have similar concerns. The word limit of this post required me to make some brief, introductory explanations and examples that will obviously leave plenty of room for people to ask questions.

      So, in response to your points:

      -If your job requires you working 8 hours straight (or 10 or 12), then by ROWE philosophy, you would need to be there 8 hours (or 10 or 12). This isn’t a “get out of jail free card”; if we’re focusing on results, then you’ve gotta do the work required, whatever that work is, in order to achieve those results.

      -Yes, there are plenty of jobs to which ROWE doesn’t lend itself word for word. If you work in any sort of service industry (waitress, cashier, McDonald’s drive thru attendant), then you’d better be there when you’re supposed to, or you’re gonna have some pretty angry customers on your hands. If you work on an assembly line, you’d better be at your station putting your cog into its widget when you’re supposed to, or else the entire works will get backed up. There are clearly plenty of situations in which ROWE can’t be followed by the letter; but you can still give employees more flexibility in picking their schedules, more say in how they do their job if they have ideas for improvement, more empathy and respect, etc. It’s not a perfect translation for all types of job, and ROWE recognizes that.

      -The conference call while doing errands example was just that–an example of ways in which you can do your work on your terms. If you’re in the middle of a crowded mall and you can’t hear yourself think, obviously you wouldn’t chose that time to attend a call (again, we’re back to the importance of still delivering good results).

      -You are very fortunate to work for a company where meetings are scarce and to the point. And yes, there are plenty of ways to deter chitchat. I was merely citing examples of some common distractions that a large portion of workers often face and can relate to. (Again, word count limits.)

      -I believe that not getting paid for sick days would, to many people, be considered a negative repercussion of getting sick. Aside from the hourly vs. salaried pay debate, if you are hourly and will not be paid for sick days, there are plenty of people who can’t afford to lose even a day’s pay. They will drag themselves into work, exposing coworkers to their virus, doing subpar work because they are ill, and potentially making themselves sicker so they wind up missing more time down the line. Salaried workers? They may get a warning if they go over their sick allowance, then something worse.

      -That being said, I specifically raised the sick time issue because it gets to the heart of ROWE: People are human. People have lives. People get sick. You should not penalize someone for being human and getting the flu, especially if they are an otherwise fantastic worker and you know they will work their tails off to make up the work they missed. There is so much about the modern workforce that dehumanizes employees, that overlooks their basic rights and needs, and ROWE seeks to take a step back and say, “Let’s be reasonable here. What really matters is getting the job done, not following the Employee Handbook to the letter come hell or high water.”

      I hope these answers help a little clarify my intended portrayal of ROWE. I welcome any other questions you (or anyone else) might have. Discussion is so important and I know this was only a cursory introduction.

      • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

        I guess what I was mostly taking exception to was the implied argument of the title, if a company isn’t allowing its employees to do whatever the want as long as the work gets done, they are treating their employees like children.

        And part of it is that I’ve never actually worked in a large corporate setting, so I don’t have any experience in such rigid inflexibility that a system of “chaos” – complete flexibility – would be needed to counteract.

        But I still stand by my argument against sick leave. And it even seems to go against ROWE. A person is paid to do a certain job. If ROWE is about getting that job done, regardless of how, paid leave is about paying to NOT get that job done. Despite how laudable the reason for offering it, paying someone to not work is fundamentally at odds with trying to get work done.

        • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

          I understand. Again, it’s a matter of describing ROWE in a broad, introductory light to those who’d never heard of it before.

          We can debate forever over the implied arguments of any phrase ever written, extrapolating potential nuances based on our own preconceptions, the experiences we bring to the debate, etc. But that’s simply creating arguments for the sake of creating arguments. Some statements are simply statements, which not everyone will be able to relate to based on their experiences, not “if, then” hypotheses.

          In a large corporate setting, as I think many people who’ve worked in one can attest, you very often feel like you are being treated like a child, a cog in the system, always stepping around red tape and antiquated rules and having your every move determined and watched over by the people “on the top floor.” It can be extremely frustrating, devaluing, and can deeply erode employee morale. If you don’t work in that sort of an environment, those arguments wouldn’t resonate with you, and I understand that.

          ROWE only becomes “chaos” when people abuse it or apply it incorrectly. With everything always coming back to results, you need to have a clear vision of what needs to be done to make those results happen. You have every bit as much responsibility and obligation as in a non-ROWE–even more so, really, because you’re being trusted to do your job without someone peering over your shoulder constantly. Flexibility and order don’t have to be mutually exclusive–with mature, dedicated employees and an open dialogue between workers and management, everyone can be on the same page working for the same goals, even though they have more personal discretion over how they complete their own piece of the puzzle.

          I see where your sick leave argument is coming from. I think, as Michael mentioned somewhere here, we’re getting down to “splitting hairs” or arguing essentially over the same thing. If your sick leave is excessive and gets in the way of doing your job, then yes, your ROWE manager would have to speak to you about that. The occasional day off for the flu, however, is something management needs to be more flexible and understanding about–just like someone’s child getting sick at school and needing to be picked up, your car breaking down, or any other real world issue that comes up from time to time but (in a large, regulated corporate environment) can result in employees being punished if the philosophy is “by the book or else.” Pay someone to do whatever they want, not show up frequently when they need to, etc.? Absolutely not. Make reasonable, compassionate allowance for the fact that employees are human and have lives that sometimes need attending to? As long as they’re producing their results reliably and with a good work ethic, yes.

          I just want to say that I really appreciate your raising these issues, Edward. I think you’re representing a lot of people’s concerns and questions here, and I honestly respect you for examining this thoroughly and really engaging with it. I’m throwing out answers to give you (and everyone else reading) a chance to better understand the real-world applications and motivations behind ROWE, but I do genuinely respect your positions and thank you for creating a great opportunity to discuss.

          ~Best,
          Kelly

          • KellyK

            There are a couple things about paid sick time that are important to note. First, in a ROWE, with a focus on results, no one is counting how many days you spend curled up under a blanket coughing your head off. They’re looking at whether you get your work done and/or make arrangements with coworkers to cover what needs to be covered. Yes, there are jobs that you can do from home while sick and jobs that you can’t. Some jobs you can do parts from home and other parts have to happen in the office. Sometimes you can catch up the next day, sometimes you have to trade tasks or shifts around with coworkers.

            The point is that in a ROWE if Bob is home sick twelve days and still meets all his goals and does good work, it shouldn’t be held against him, because the work got done. If Steve is home sick one day all year, but doesn’t get things done or does them badly, that’s a problem. But in a traditional environment, Bob gets in trouble for too much sick time and Steve gets an award for attendance.

            Secondly, paying for sick time is a benefit, but it’s not just a benefit to the employee. Helping people stay healthy helps them be more productive. Not giving people an incentive to come to work sick minimizes the spread of illnesses. (If you limit people’s sick time, don’t complain when they come in sick and get you sick too!) In some industries, it’s a major health and safety issue. In medicine, particularly a nursing home or pediatric setting, expecting someone to come in while sick puts patients at risk. Food service too. Expecting people to come in sick and serve food? Yuck!

          • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

            I can agree that the focus should be on results instead of how many days you took off. I’m not advocating for people to come in to work sick, but I just don’t think we should pay for people to be sick.

          • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

            What I meant was that with the first reading of the article, it seemed like the argument was that if your employer doesn’t utilize HOWE, then they are treating you like a child. But after reading your response, I can see that it was just a hook to get you to read the article (well it worked!).
            I didn’t mean chaos in a negative conotation; just that chaos is defined as a lack of order. And the idea of HOWE is to remove the strict order from work.

            I guess my counter-argument for people who don’t like how large corporations traditionally run things is to get a job with a smaller company. Small business does account for 90%+ of all businesses and ~50% of all private-sector jobs in America.

            I don’t believe that I’m splitting hairs on the sick leave issue. I’m fundamentally against the idea of it. But I am willing to agree to disagree on the topic.

          • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

            As am I. I really appreciate the dialogue you’ve started. I knew the Brazen audience would really engage with this topic!

  • http://twitter.com/leaderEx Sachin Kundu

    Results matter in the end, as you rightly put.

    Management by Objectives given by Drucker in 1954, and then improved upon by Deming offer similar suggestions.

    One important thing to note is, that setting goals and then giving autonomy to achieve those goals might sound great and expected from an american perspective which promotes individualistic culture, but not necessary in social tribe based cultures(http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sheena_iyengar_on_the_art_of_choosing.html)

    One problem I find with ROWE kind of suggestions is that, since it all boils down to “my performance” and “my goals” sharing is minimized. In knowledge industries distributing knowledge is as important as acquiring it. ROWE kind of environments promote competition over collaboration which have a potential of becoming destructive(http://www.leaderexperiment.com/5-great-ways-to-totally-destroy-collaboration/)

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      You bring up a good point. ROWE might sound like an “every man for himself” kind of arrangement, but in truth, it is very much dependent on everyone working as a team, not only pulling their own weight but making sure they cooperate and collaborate in the most effective, efficient means possible. If someone needs a piece of information you have, it’s your responsibility to share it with them. If someone needs you in the office to help them work through a problem, you arrange for that. Autonomy and independence can work alongside teamwork, not in competition with it, so long as everyone is truly focused on doing the best job possible.

      It always come back to results. “Your performance” and “your goals” in many jobs involves being part of a team and working with others. How you do that, however, is something for you and your fellow workers to determine.

  • Piet

    This sounds great in principle. Almost too good to be true. Is there anybody out there who can comment from experience and share some of the parameters of their work. If goals, outcomes and expectations are not clearly defined (which they frequently aren’t) then I seriously doubt that ROWE will work.

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      Part of the transition over to a ROWE would involve defining goals and expectations, both for the company overall and for each individual employee. It isn’t just a matter of “O.k., we’re going ROWE now–good luck everybody!” (thankfully) There is a definite, gradual process by which both employees and bosses are trained, dialogue is opened, and the transition is done carefully to make sure the new environment best suits and serves the particular company doing it, as well as its employees.

    • http://twitter.com/mcarneymedia Michael Carney

      I can respond from experience Piet, that it’s definitely not too good to be true. Our company has experienced great success so far embracing the ROWE concept.

      To keep my comment short and to the point, you are correct that the “results” part of ROWE has to be clear. What’s been encouraging to us, though, is that as people who are responsible for these results are given trust and freedom to get those results, we all inherently have a much clearer idea of not only what those results are, but how best to achieve them.

      I’d be happy to share more or answer more specific questions if you have them.

    • Anonymous

      The serious problem with ROWE is the same serious problem with any other movement that is centered around respecting others—it’s easy to say one thing and do another.

      Much of the good work people try to do in organizations is completely undercut by managers who are more interested in self-preservation than they are in dignity and progress. It’s the same reason why motivational posters are usually a joke. We give lip service to doing the hard work to make real changes, but don’t actually make the effort.

      Much of the ROWE model sounds like common sense. But common sense, of course, is not all that common.

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  • Luiz Gaziri

    Interesting definition: The grown-up version of work. Totally true!! Besides being of popular knowledge that times have changed and some classic strategies don´t work anymore, we keep managing our businesses in the 19th century´s way. Modern leaders must know that trust is far better than control. Go Rowe!!

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      Exactly. So much of the way we do things is based on antiquated ideas of what “work” looks like. Not at your desk? You must be goofing off. Came in 15 minutes late? Clearly you’re not a team player. Employees are judged by standards that don’t make sense anymore, and that results in frustration and resentment.

      Freeing employees up to conduct their work in a way that makes sense not only gives them their lives (and control over their lives) back, but it liberates your best workers to really contribute and innovate in a way they never could when they were just trying to play by the employee handbook and all its outdated rules.

  • http://twitter.com/StaceyMSwanson staceyswanson

    Great discussion about ROWE. Giving people control over their lives and treating them like the adults they are is the best thing ever. It is a win for the employee and the employer. Productivity goes up, attraction and retention of employees improves, and better communities are created. People can volunteer or attend a family function during the day without being stressed or worried they will be slammed for it. Go ROWE!

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      Exactly. It truly is a win-win. Some of the most innovative and progressive companies are that way because they’ve taken the reigns off their employees and allowed them the freedom to really do their best work.

      If all you’re judged on is punching the clock when you’re supposed to, being at your desk when you’re supposed to, and pretending you don’t have an outside life that needs attending to, how many employees are really going to feel motivated to contribute their best efforts? Companies are holding themselves back in addition to their employees by continuing to play by the old, outdated standards of what “work” is supposed to look like.

  • Anonymous

    I love this idea; thanks for sharing! I think a lot of this has to do with our work culture’s inability to quantify knowledge work. We’re still operating on a model where X employee can work for Y hours and produce Z products. Knowledge workers just don’t work that way, and trying to fit them in that mold is resulting in the frustrations you listed above. Are there offices currently running on the ROWE model?

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      That’s precisely it. So much of work has evolved, especially with technology that allows us to work 24/7 from anywhere. But we’re still operating on the old “butt in chair” model that made sense back when you had to come into the office because that was the only place the work could be done.

      Many companies have made the transition over to a ROWE. (In fact, if you look through these comments, there are a couple people right here in Brazen who have experienced it!) The movement originally started at Best Buy Corporate and has since expanded–you can take a look at other companies that have “gone ROWE” here:

      http://www.gorowe.com/know-rowe/rowe-approved-companies/

  • http://www.marketingtechblog.com Douglas Karr

    It’s a great framework for building a company that is producing results. We worked ‘similar’ to ROWE but then went through the program and got certified. The program answered all the low-hanging fruit that we were struggling with and is worthwhile. As the CEO, I recommend a couple of things in line with ROWE.

    First, it requires that you have employees that are self-motivated and great communicators. Take some time and test prospects before you hire them to ensure they fit the philosophy of ROWE. Someone that’s been a clock-puncher their entire career will likely fail (and so they should!).

    Next, I would recommend that you utilize a communication portal. We use Basecamp and are testing with other applications, like Cohuman. This makes it possible to have schedules that may not be aligned, but teams that are aligned.

    I want to grow my company and get my clients results. I don’t care about the myth of “control” or “loyalty” that companies think they have. ROWE is an outstanding framework… one that we actually take from and use with our clients through our engagements…. not just in how we manage our workplace. Great post.

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      Kudos to you, Douglas, for making the transition over to a ROWE. It’s so good to hear from someone who’s been there, done that and can attest to the fact that it works (as well as offer some experienced-based advice on how to implement it). And the fact that you’re bringing the ROWE methodology to your relationships with your clients as well is truly awesome. If only more companies were like yours!

    • Lwheatcraft

      What in the holy hell does the sentence, “The program answered all the low-hanging fruit that we were struggling with and is worthwhile,” even mean? Why not just refer to the “low-hanging fruit” as “questions?”

      I do hate corporatespeak, but I love the idea of ROWE! Good for you!

      • http://www.marketingtechblog.com Douglas Karr

        Because ‘low hanging fruit’ doesn’t refer to ALL questions, only the basics that we needed to understand. Low hanging fruit is a common analogy, not corporate speak.

  • Amy Chulik

    Enjoying following along the conversation here. I personally think that ROWE is such an interesting concept, and I hope more businesses look into it, or at least more workplace flexibility, as a framework moving forward. The the what, when, and how of the way people work is changing; technology is pushing us forward, and I think smart companies are realizing this. While it may not work for every company, there are ideas in ROWE that even the most stringent companies may be able to fold into their organization.

    On CareerBuilder’s employer blog, The Hiring Site, I wrote about ROWE after seeing Cali and Jody speak about it at a conference, and we put out a call to our readers to give us their thoughts on whether or not a ROWE environment would work at their company. The results were varied, as you can imagine. If interested, you can read our initial ROWE post here: http://cb.com/w3ZnkG and our follow-up post of reader reactions here: http://cb.com/w2xRG1

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      I *love* the dialogue you started! Just introducing people to the concepts of ROWE, and getting them to start thinking about ways their own working environment can improve, is a huge step. So many people accept the 9-5, “butt in chair” standard as the only way work can be done–and that’s why it’s persisted for so long. The more people start to consider more efficient, reasonable alternatives, the more opportunity we have to really change the way work is perceived and done.

      Thanks so much for sharing your posts (and for the posts themselves). It’s really encouraging how quick people are to engage with these ideas once they’re brought to their attention.

  • Shelly Sorenson

    It has been interesting to read all the comments regarding this blog.

    From someone who used to work 8-5, let me tell you the freedom one feels when you can just do your job and no longer have someone watching to make sure you are at your desk and filling time.

    Filling time gets the company nowhere. As others have stated, it is a waste of time. I used to commute an hour (on a good day) each way to work. I wasn’t always focused on work…I was worried about the commute, about being home in time to pick up my son from daycare, etc. But I was in my chair and that is what mattered.

    In a ROWE, time is just that – time. I have time for my family, for myself, and to do my work. I am the one who decides when I work, where I work and how much to work. But the key is – as long as my work is getting done, I am meeting my deadlines/goals – should it matter where I am, when I am doing it or how long I am doing it?

    ROWE has given me a new found lease on life. My work-life relationship is much more balanced. Because of ROWE, I am able to exercise more, enjoy my son and his activities (school or otherwise) more, and enjoy my family more – because I can…and I don’t have to feel bad about it or worry about how much vacation time I have left.

    ROWE focuses on results. No results….no job.

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      I’m so thrilled for you that you’ve been able to experience the benefits of a ROWE first-hand. It’s such a holistic, “human” approach to work, and as you’ve attested, it can literally change lives. And happy employees = dedicated employees, so everyone wins.

  • http://firstgenerationwhitecollar.com/blog L. Marie Joseph

    ROWE is so 2011. These structured companies can lean alot from this post. I’m also reading the book!

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      Awesome–you’ll definitely enjoy it. It really delves into the background and implementation in a way I just couldn’t in an introductory post.

  • Scott Messinger

    My concern would be that the company would not adequately define “results”. It takes a LOT of management effort to set measurable goals, and then track them. And what about all the stuff you do every day that no one know about? Here’s what I foresee happening:
    Bob: “Hi Tom, can you run that report for me again this month?”
    Tom: “Sorry Bob, that’s not part of the results I need to achieve under the new ROWE plan. You need to get my boss to add it to my required results.”
    Tom’s Boss (later): “Hey Tom, can you please run that report for Bob, so he’ll quit bugging me? Just work it in when you can.”
    Multiply that by all the ‘extra’ stuff you have to do every day, and the ‘results oriented’ part of the plan goes out the window.

    • Cali Ressler

      Hi Scott – this is exactly the kind of thing that a lot of companies (and people *in* companies) worry about.

      In a ROWE, ‘results’ are outcome-based. When we work with organizations, part of the process is defining what the outcome is – and often, there are lots of different ideas on that! Once the outcome is clear, then teams work backwards to identify what activities are important to get to the outcome…and they get rid of activities that aren’t.

      In many traditional environments, activities happen but they may or may not be leading to an outcome. And as long as everyone is busy with activities, that’s good enough. Not in a ROWE. Being busy with activities and effort doesn’t mean anything.

      The scenario you posed wouldn’t occur in a ROWE team because the report would already have been identified as either being important or not important to the overall outcome. If it’s a new report that Bob is asking for, here’s what the conversation would look like:

      Bob: “Hi Tom – I’m thinking that seeing the data from X report would help us reach our outcome. What do you think?”

      Tom: “I need to hear more. How will the data help us?”

      Bob: “Well, we’re trying to keep customer satisfaction at X level and having this data would help us see how we can not only keep it there but improve it – by looking at X.”

      Tom: “Got it – agreed. How about if I get it to you by Tuesday at 5pm – does that work?”

      Bob: “I was actually hoping for it by Monday at 3pm – is that possible?”

      Tom: “How about Tuesday at noon?”

      Bob: “That will work! Thanks, Tom.”

      Tom: “You’ll have it then.”

      How does this hit you?

      • Scott Messinger

        I’m not sure. First, it requires that management puts in the effort, up front, to define the results. And even then, results are often difficult to measure. Not to mention that the steps to achieving those results are vague at best. If management will handle this on an ongoing basis, then I guess it will work. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is likely to happen. Management set’s up vague goals and then leaves it to their employees to ‘handle’ it. I see this as another way to sort of ‘standardize’ the work process and remove management’s decision making from the process. And the result is to shove the work and responsibility to the lowest level; the average employee.

        In the example above, Bob ‘thinks’ the report will help him keep the customer satisfaction level at ‘X’. But he’s not sure. There’s no direct relationship. Bob could be guessing. That’s OK if Tom has the time to run the report. But if the report requires an hour of work, and Tom’s work day is already booked for 8 hours, then this is going to be a problem.

        Here’s the solution. Managers need to manage. They are the gatekeepers to their employees work. If Bob goes to the manager to request the report, then the manager can make the determination on how important the report is to the overall goal. The manager can then adjust Tom’s priorities to work the report into his schedule, and inform the external parties that Tom’s deliverable’s will be delayed, because a more important task has come up.

        If Managers would manage their employees, then you would already have a results oriented work environment, because managers would constantly be re-evaluating the ‘results’ every day, and adjusting their employees tasks to fit. Unfortunately, organizations are so flat these days, there aren’t enough managers to handle this level of ongoing daily management.

        So companies try these fads like ROWE, thinking they can define everything down to the last letter, and then the employees will just ‘manage’ themselves. The real world does not work that way. It’s vague and ever-changing. People have different abilities. Some are good at managing. Others are individual contributors. And if there were enough good managers to actually provide the structure for the individual contributors (and the managers were trained well and promoted based on management ability, not technical ability) then we wouldn’t need fads like ROWE.

        In short, I’ll believe it when I see it.

        • http://www.michaelreynolds.com Michael Reynolds

          Hi, Scott! If you’ll only believe when you see it, you are welcome to come to Indianapolis and hang out with my team at SpinWeb (http://www.spinweb.net). We’ve been a ROWE since 2008 and have seen great productivity gains and recruitment/retention of the best talent.

          We manage by attaching to real outcomes, we act like responsible adults, and we get the work done. Are we perfect? No. Are we effective? Yes.

          I also know of other companies doing the same thing. ROWE is not a fad. It’s the way work should be :)

          • Scott Messinger

            Again, I just have trouble believing that work can be quantified this way, without a manager making day-to-day
            decisions about his employees job. Employees do what managers tell them to do. That way employees can focus on the details whil managers focus on the big picture.
            ROWE seems like a way to shove the ‘big picture’ responsibilities down to employees who don’t have the training ro skills to handle it. It’s another fad like “empowerment”

            If Managers would just MANAGE, then this wouldnt be necessary

          • http://www.michaelreynolds.com Michael Reynolds

            Scott,

            I appreciate the discussion. Do you feel that employees should not be privy to the “big picture?” I.e. should employees only told what tasks to do and not be included in things like company vision, strategies, etc.?

          • Scott M

            I agree that employees should be ‘privy to the big picture’ and understand the company vision. But additionally, management should break down the company vision into individual tasks that the employee needs to perform in order to achieve the company vision.

            Unfortunately, this takes a lot of effort, which many managers seem unwilling or unable to put forth. Instead, they seem to want to should this responsibility down to the lowest level, under the guise of ‘empowering’ employees.

  • http://stasbbs.blogspot.com/ Stasbbs

    great piece on ROWE!

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      Thank you.

  • Ricky

    What about bathroom breaks? Is it ok to masturbate in the bathrom at work?

  • http://nikipaniki.com Niki Torres

    Kind of late in the game but reading about this is really uplifting. If I ever do start my own company, I want it to be on ROWE.

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      If you do, please let me know, because I would love to come work for you! :)

  • http://cb.hbsp.harvard.edu/cb/web/product_detail.seam?E=29575&R=496018-PDF-ENG&conversationId=391707 Matthew Hall

    ROWE sounds like the system many salesmen have operated on for years: commission-based salaries. When my father was job-hunting, he adamantly refused to work for someone using these results-only systems because he knows that results aren’t always easy to come by, especially in a down economy. When results and objectives are difficult to reach, it can create a lot of misery for the worker as they scramble to meet said requirements.

    The appeal of a traditional workspace is job security. A bad month won’t mean your family will go hungry. “[N]o time-keeping, no mandatory attendance, no need to explain yourself”: doesn’t this sound like any door-to-door salesman? Or any commission-based worker, like an artist? All of these reasons tie into one aspect of work: going to the office every day for a set time period. I hope the author realizes why it might be a good idea to have all your workers in the same place at the same time, especially in workplaces that require, you know, teamwork, or in workplaces that require tight deadlines, where the manager can’t afford to have work done late. The benefits of culture and a manager’s guiding hand goes out the window when there is no base of operations or set hours…

    ROWE also seems to ignore that people have wildly different tasks and workloads at different times. Maybe ROWE works when the person comes in and does the same, easily measured amount of work every day, which isn’t that often. And would it really make sense to pay, say, the checker at a McDonald’s based on how much he accomplished that day? No, because the work is task-based, not results-based. It also wouldn’t make sense to put a Human Resources department in a ROWE system: that wouldn’t make sense at all. Even in a manufacturing job, orders can be variable and workload can wildly shift depending on the time of year: I would suggest the author read The Slade Plating Department case, available through the Harvard Business School.

    The author just doesn’t seem to understand how normal businesses work and why they work the way they do. ROWE is not a new idea, or a more ‘grown-up’ way to work. I can think of many institutions where it doesn’t make sense to implement this kind of structure. Results-only Work Environments are just another cutesy solution from people who don’t understand the realities of business…

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      “The author” respectfully suggests that you peruse the extensive and comprehensive discussion that has taken place in the comments, as most of your arguments have already been brought up, and addressed, by other readers, myself, those who are currently participating in a ROWE, and even Cali Ressler herself.

      • http://twitter.com/caliressler Cali Ressler

        I second this respectful suggestion.

      • Matt

        To make a list of things I talked about in that first post that haven’t been addressed:

        - results based systems can have a negligible impact on worker motivation and can possibly make life more miserable
        - having the whole workgroup together in one place for a set time period has many positive benefits, such as making the team actually manageable and helping people work together
        - when work is focused on individual results and the workplace is decentralized, the benefits of group culture fade away
        - requirements and workload often rapidly change from day to day and it’s impossible to quantify and predict everything that will be needed
        - task-based jobs are both common and don’t fit into ROWE well
        - ROWE is advertised as a grown-up way to work but at the same time the article relies on assumptions and sweeping generalizations about how workplaces function, which implies a lack of understanding about how businesses work

        Some specific questions that are important to consider that also haven’t been addressed:
        What kind of research has been done on workers in ROWE-like systems? How much of an effect does it have on the bottom line?
        How much does it cost to transition to this kind of system? Do the gains generated outpace the losses?
        How does ROWE address environments that are heavily reliant on teamwork and easy access to expert opinions?
        Where is ROWE most effective, and where does it have the least impact?
        Why might some of those regulations and strict timekeeping policies exist in the first place?

        And most importantly,
        Don’t companies already focus on results and improving them?

        • http://www.tech-trip.com/ Jeff Thomas

          It all depends on the type of person and the way they think.

          It what keeps them focused is what usually matters.

    • http://twitter.com/pr0ductivitylab Theproductivitylab

      Matt I think you’re equating ROWE with a payment format rather than a mindset. ROWE is not about commissioned-based salary but a way of thinking that fits well in most types of business structures. I equate it to a school book report. The instructor gave you the parameters for the project (length, book selection, due date, etc.). It is then your job to present your report on the due date – it didn’t matter if you spent 2 hours each day over the two weeks working on it or you did it all the night before each student is judged (graded) on the same criteria of the finished report.

      HR in most cases works on some variant of the ROWE system with reviews. You and your boss discuss how well you completed the job requirements and may set up new goals for the next time period of review. So if you hit those benchmarks why does it matter if you were always 2 hours “late” — if everyone knows your particular work hours it doesn’t really matter. It just takes many “babysitting” tasks away from the boss. Instead of concentration on the minutia of how something gets done they are able to free up that time to concentrate on the big picture and growth building activities.

      Even the cashier at McDonalds is rated on results. Managers are not going to pay for dead weight. If your cashiering rate for the number of customers is low you are going to get fired. And once again, its not about payment but on the end result — does this employee help me sell more burgers or not?

      I agree that ROWE is not a completely new idea but I believe it shows an understanding of the most important business reality — the bottom line. Things that really don’t matter in the whole scheme of things are pushed aside in favor of getting the best out of people in the way they work best and maximizing profits.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/colinclemente Colin Clemente

    I think a couple folks below have alluded to this, but the main caveat I see is that this isn’t going to work for every industry/position (or, at least, it’s not going to look all that different than the “typical” work place). A large portion of my work is technical assistance to grantees, so I need to be available by phone during common business hours – but I still have flexibility to show up at 10am and return any calls I missed in those first two hours.

    An interesting read! Since starting a new job, I’ve been fascinated by the executive director’s management style – she doesn’t seem to track sick or vacation days, isn’t concerned with arrival or departure times or when we take lunch, and her first question in meetings is always, “what have you accomplished since our last meeting?” – so it’s neat to have a way to describe that. Now I’ll know what to say if future interviewers ask “what kind of work environment do you prefer?”

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