Management Trends: Use ROWE, Stay Afloat


What is the measure of a man? This question has sparked rhetorical debate among philosophers and poets for ages, but in the contemporary world of organizational development, proponents of a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) would say it’s a no-brainer.

When it comes to measuring employee productivity, the only measure that matters is results – not time expenditure.

Within a ROWE, “each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done,” according to Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, who champion the approach in Why Work Sucks and How To Fix It. The authors insist that ROWE brings about “staggering increases in efficiency and productivity.”

Ressler and Thompson cite at least one corporate case study to back up their assertion: Best Buy has implemented ROWE to pleasing results. Aside from heightened efficiency, employee turnover at Best Buy has decreased 35% in departments that have implemented ROWE.

This heightened employee satisfaction comes as little surprise: instead of upper management dictating the time expenditure and mandating specific methodology for completing tasks, employees enjoy the freedom to work at a pace, and in a style, that works for them.

ROWE also elicits better time management, and increased creative collaboration. Though it seems paradoxical, when motivated by a goal (as opposed to a deadline), employees are actually more likely to budget their own time better – and to coordinate their calendars with their colleagues – in order to get the job done. This also means greater access to other departments, and challenges employees to think differently.

Does it all sound a bit too Utopian? For one, it seems to lack to a quality-control element to ensure that the projects are completed satisfactorily. Like the kid who creates the appearance of having cleaned his room by throwing his toys under his bed, just because a task is purportedly “done” certainly doesn’t ensure that it is done correctly.

Also, some of the ROWE principles, such as making meetings optional, seem a bit too laissez faire. Don’t get us wrong – we’ve suffered through some seemingly interminable meetings, but there is no substitute for some old-fashioned face time to make sure everyone’s on the same page – in moderation, of course.

We’re not tossing out our timesheets and work planning tools just yet, but giving employees objectives rather than instructions seems to us like a great way not only to empower, but to inspire a workforce.

Now It’s Your Turn
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  • C. Nick
    Oct 28, 2008

    Sounds interesting – if you’ve hired the right people. Puts more of an onus on recruiters to attract talent that doesn’t need to be told exactly how to do their jobs. Or maybe I’m just a pessimist, and everyone has some capacity to get the job done if you challenge them…

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