ROWE (results-only work environment)

This idea is being marketed by Cali & Jody (and a finer set of teeth you’re not likely to find!). Two ladies about to, if not already, very wealthy. They say about ROWE

Now Cali and Jody are leading a dramatic, global movement to change the activity formerly known as “work.” Their vision: to create a workplace where nothing matters except great results.

Their message: there is a better way. People across the planet want better lives; employers want better results; neither side has to compromise. Cali and Jody are leading the movement to make this dream a reality.

Clearly, this is one of the latest business/management crazes to come out of the USA and from what I see so far, aside from all the American hype, it has my complete approval. That’s not easily given as I’m not a businessman who’s bookshelves are full of the works of Tom Peters, Peter Drucker & Co, I don’t read about time management, searching for excellence, power or decision making. It all seems just like common sense with flashing neon lights around it, they might as well be saying “And don’t forget to breathe!”. Like all these things, I’m sure it will be in fashion for a while and then there will be reports about how it didn’t work too well at XYZ Corp and then a new craze will arrive and so ROWE will crawl off to that smoking room reserved for expired management tools to die quietly.

But I do like this idea, it certainly fits well with my own management philosophy, style if you like. The nine-to-five idea really is very old fashioned and utterly pointless in any business except those requiring you to be at a certain place during “opening hours”. Much of what I have to do can be done, and is done, at strange times – early mornings, late evenings, weekends, whatever fits with the rest of my life and does not impact client service – and I think being given the ability to do this does move a step closer to a more humane work-life balance.

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I’ve worked very much in this way years ago back in the UK when I was living there but responsible for loads of places around Europe/Middle East. Which office I was in, or even if I was in an office at all, was irrelevant and so my home became the office. I found this worked well, especially when dealing with all the time zones meant my ‘clients’ business days spanned almost the entire 24hrs of my day! Everything got done as well, if not better, than it would if I had slogged my way from Guildford to Uxbridge every day. However, where this method falls down is with the lack of “face-time” with colleagues and particularly with superiors. Sadly, many superiors have a tendency to believe that if they don’t see you around then you’re obviously not working hard enough, despite what results may be being delivered. The results are obviously a happy accident, not the fruit of any hard work on your part.

My time at Marks & Spencer was what truly brought this home to me. I was there for four years. The first couple of years I concentrated on trying to get the job done and was spending most of my time “at the coal face”. This was wholeheartedly not appreciated, to the point that my annual review was not altogether complimentary, especially as regards my apparent desire to put service ahead of process. I changed my tack midway in my career there and decided to try doing all the things everyone else was doing. This involved four very important points;

  1. Get into Baker Street office at about 07:00 and sit around having coffee with people.
  2. Play golf
  3. Join the Masons
  4. Spend most of my time doing paperwork

For a laugh I did all four. The golf was actually a great idea and I thank them for that. The Masons lasted a year or so until I found I just couldn’t roll up my trouser leg any more without laughing my head off. I’m still waiting for my tongue to be cut out and left on a beach at low tide, or whatever the punishment is supposed to be for leaving! The 07:00 start was tough, especially as I lived in St Albans at the time, but I managed it and the paperwork was dull, dull, dull. But guess what? My next review was glowing, I had transformed myself from zero to hero in just 12 months. Now all I had to do was wait for an entire management structure to get old and die and perhaps there might be a promotion in it!

M&S was extreme, but this attitude of doing the right things as opposed to doing the job well is still there today and that is why I would welcome a global outbreak of ROWE fever. Focus on results, not on what time people get into or leave the office. We all know the games that are played. Get in the office on time, be seen, then go out for a coffee with your mates, bugger around on the internet, long lunch, dentist appointment and before you know it you’ve been seen as doing a good job but not actually done any productive work.

This Telegraph article pretty much hits the nail on the head for me.

“We’re still locked into a 1930s mind set,” says Ressler.

“In the US, we owe the 40-hour working week to the Fair Labor Standards [Act] of 1938. The idea was to make [working practices] uniform back when companies had too much control over workers’ lives. But somehow the 40-hour working week morphed into the gold standard for competency, efficiency and effectiveness.”

And if you think ROWE sounds New-Agey, think again.

“We’ve cleared out some teams completely,” says Ressler. “ROWE is performance orientated. Anyone not delivering is weeded out of the system.”

I’m not sure the break-loving, clock-watching Europeans will want to jump on this bandwagon. For some, showing up at work and looking at Facebook all day is a holiday. Why rock the boat?

I’ll just make one comment on that last quote there. Just because most Americans have chosen an obscene system of two weeks annual holiday and a high pressure work environment does not mean that we Europeans are lazy, break-loving, clock-watching SOBs. Many of us happen to be just as hard working and roughly twice as effective as our friends across the Atlantic. So, I like your idea but lets not start insulting each other, okay! :)

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6 thoughts on “ROWE (results-only work environment)

  1. Scatts – an interesting post but I question how ROWE could be applied in a call centre for example , take an insurance/assistance call centre, they need to have a quota of staff available to cover calls that they can not anticipate, even the best planning system is not able to determine when a Polish bus crash may happen in an international environment and 30 of those passengers have insurance with you and are in need of medical assistance approval (it happens) sure people can be on ‘call’ to fill the gap in such an eventuality but nevertheless phones still need to be staffed – I am all for results oriented work theory but I am a far bigger proponent of the Positive Business Psychology, Emotional Intelligence and Strengths based approach which has been expanded upon since Covey’s 7 habits – 8th habit and current Total Leadership of 4 ways wins (family, work, community, self). As you know I am in a comfortable life position with a balance of mind (reasonable IQ), health (PQ), Emotional Intelligence (IQ) and Spiritual (SQ) through the charity foundation. Nevertheless I still do coaching work for a select number of organisations and I am convinced that this approach works, staff are happier and more productive, results are up in companies I work with who put people and ethics before profit in fact I would be bold enough to say that the overall physical health of the organisation improves through what I call simply Execution.

    Colin (ww.lewisfields.com)

  2. So, ROWE is ‘results-only work environment’. What ‘results’? The topmost result of work is payment — so whenever ‘work’ reads MORE, money-oriented routine enslavement, ROWE [or compatible] may be just Britannica Standard.

    To those who need to follow the “is my payroll 30% of the Western Pay Median yet?” Polish way of work, not to those who follow American way of hype, or British way of golf.

    PS Scatts, you seen any 6-to-2 worker yet? :)

  3. Colin, Darth,

    Obviously it does have its limitations. I am perhaps more sensitive to this because my “natural state” is ROWE-like and I have therefore experienced first-hand the problems this can cause within old fashioned corporate businesses.

    ROWE is just something that came to my attention whilst browsing (and wondering what to post about!). I’m sure there are other systems that would work just as well, perhaps better. Such as the ones you mention, Colin.

    I’m absolutely certain that any system that addresses the people as opposed to the profit will, in the end, prove to be more profitable anyway.

    No, Darth, I have not encountered too many 6-2 workers and I have to assume from those hours that ROWE is not likely to be affecting such workers (you?) any time soon!

  4. As a committed lifestyle-over-workstyle business owner, I was really looking forward to the ROWE book. I hoped that it would help me to restructure my business as a Results-Only Work Environment for everyone that works at our office.

    In the end, I was hugely disappointed. “Cali and Jody” have put their consulting careers ahead of the ROWE idea itself, and have handicapped its development by publishing a 10-page memo in a 200-page form. The tagline for the book is ““No Schedules, No Meetings — No Joke”, but due to the complete lack of detail, the tag line should be: “No Tips, No Detail — No Help.”

    More of my thoughts on the ROWE book can be read here: http://www.whyrowesucks.com.

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