The Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

roweI’m enthralled with ROWE –  the Results Only Work Environment.   The concept of ROWE is that as a manager, you focus only on results, and not managing activity, or worse – the appearance of activity.   Best Buy has adopted this approach to work, and preliminary results are intriguing.   As Ashley Acker puts it, time does not equal productivity:

“Arriving at the workplace at 2:00 p.m. is not considered coming in late.  Leaving the workplace at 2:00 p.m. is not considered leaving early.”

As an employee, this sounds great right?  Yet, not all employee feedback is positive.  As a manager, of course, it can appear to be a free-for-all, but the same complaints are leveled against telework.  So what are the other problems with ROWE?  Matt Cholerton observes, the concerns are mainly because HR practices cannot support it in most companies:

“ROWE doesn’t quite work, and we don’t have confidence it can work for us, because we aren’t doing HR and business well enough. Some low-hanging-fruit examples are that we don’t have good job descriptions, we don’t always understand what outcome we want, we don’t measure/or know how to measure success, there are no consequences (or follow up), and we don’t communicate.”

Frankly, I’m surprised that more companies have not moved to improve their performance management systems already.   (See my earlier post “HR, Don’t Let the Crisis Go to Waste“).  ROWE requires many of the same underpinnings as a decent performance management, telework, or offsite disaster planning policy.   Yet, I find that most firms still lack the ability to really manage performance well in their current 9-5 face-to-face, in-the-office setting.

Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that the simple act of working from home one day a week would make a profound difference for the environment, for work / life balance, for morale, and for productivity.

“During this time of economic crisis and reinvention of global capitalism, one of the things crying out for reinvention is the rigid workplace of the last century. It is amazing in the digital age that most work is still associated with industrial age work rhythms and the symbolic chains that tie workers, knowledge and otherwise, to fixed locations. Flexible workplaces with flexible hours and days are long in coming.”

Amen to that.

6 Responses to The Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

  1. Wally Bock says:

    There are government agencies where the majority work from home at least some of the time. Some of the people work from outside the office (including from home) almost all the time. Those agencies are learning what it means to manage a group of people that you can’t see. It’s interesting.

  2. Bob Corlett says:

    Great observation Wally. Will government lead private industry in learning how to manage knowledge workers?

  3. Wally Bock says:

    I think they already are, Bob, at least at the Federal level.

  4. […] works well with a car pool or specific day care schedule?  Or is it totally flexible – a Results Only Work Environment – come in on your own schedule, crank out the results we expect, work from home sometimes, […]

  5. […] Gap Creates a Results Only Work Environment Businessweek reports that Gap headquarters followed the lead of Best Buy and went to a results only work environment, where you can work whenever, wherever you want – it’s only the results that count.   You can read more about ROWE here. […]

  6. […] instead of the inputs (activity) – that sounds like a Results-Only-Work Environment (ROWE) to me.  Are we finally moving from industrial age, activity-based time and motion studies and […]

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