book.gifOne of my favorite reads this summer is business book with a salty title: Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. The book is a manifesto and road map for what the authors call a Results-Only Work Environment, in which people show up to the office when they want, meetings are optional, and nobody’s watching the clock.

I was so intrigued by the book that I asked Ressler and Thompson if I could interview them for this blog. Against their better judgment, they agreed.

What follows is the first half of our e-interview:

PINK: I love this book because it’s so radical. Tell us — in your own words — exactly what Result-Only Work Environment is.

RESSLER & THOMPSON: In a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE, each person in an office environment is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. Here’s what it’s like:

Every meeting is optional. In a ROWE, you have the power to ask what the outcome of a meeting is, and what your role is, before attending so you can decide if it’s a good use of time.

Every day feels like Saturday. You have control of every single day. No more waiting for the weekend to do your errands, your fun, your spontaneous activities.

There’s no judgment about how you spend your time. No more comments like “10:00 and you’re just getting in? Wish I had your job!”, “Did you see Jill leave at 3:00 again to get her kid from daycare? Wish I had a kid.”

You never need to ask permission for how, when, or where you want to work. Period. You do what you want, when you want, where you want, and if your work gets done, no one cares.

There are no work schedules. None.

PINK: One of the things that struck me is that it makes other so-called “flexible” work arrangements seem pretty anemic.

RESSLER & THOMPSON: Right. A ROWE is not flextime, telecommuting, or a 4-day workweek. Many companies say their people can telecommute or work a flexible schedule. But these arrangements often still include core hours, or can be dissolved should business needs change, or are doled out stingily as a perk for the privileged few. In a ROWE, every single person has the same advantage about deciding how to spend their time. It’s a complete reshaping of the culture of work…bringing office employees out of the Industrial Age and into today.

PINK: So how does this get proposed in an organization — and how do managers typically react? My guess that individual workers would groove on this and that bosses would be terrified.

RESSLER & THOMPSON: You got it. It’s best to find one leader that will understand how ROWE will increase productivity and improve your ability to attract and retain talent. Use the ROWE Business Case at www.culturerx.com to have your discussion. That one leader can approve a ROWE pilot for one team, and things will spread from there. Managers typically react with several “Yeah, Buts”, including:“Don’t new employees or kids just out of college need to be in the office to learn the ropes?”“People will take advantage and slack off.”“How can you ever reach anybody if they’re not in the office?”“How will we know if work is getting done if we can’t see people”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview in the next few days.

12 Responses to “ROWE, ROWE, ROWE your company — Part 1”

  1. Julie Surycz says:

    It sounds like an interesting concept and I am definitely going to buy the book.

    But, ROWE assumes that management is organised enough to know what needs to be done.

    In my experience, many people waste time at work because management do not know what the results should be and cannot articulate exactly what they want done. So, people waste time in pointless meetings, reading waffley emails and looking busy. The current corporate culture hides poor managers who don’t really know what they are doing and what their subordinates should be doing.

    ROWE would reveal weaknesses in management’s vision, objectives and capabilities. It could highlight that the management Emperor has no clothes on!

    What about different personality types? Some people do their best work in a structured environment. How does ROWE cater for these people?

    How does ROWE encourage experimentation, innovation and trial and error behaviour? What is the incentive for people to be proactive and achieve beyond what is expected of them?

  2. Helen says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share your interview with the authors. This is the part of the internet that I love – your blog compelled you to follow up with authors about a cool book, you get to meet them and learn more, they get more coverage and the readers are in on the game too. I’ve seen this book in the stores but haven’t even wanted to pick it up. Now I’m intrigued enough to go get it!

  3. Adriano Sousa says:

    I remembered this post when I saw this. Probably you follow it too, but I’ll send it anyway just in case. (http://tinyurl.com/5cwc5s).

  4. Cali & Jody says:

    Great comments!

    @Julie – you hit the nail on the head. In a ROWE, clear expecations are a must. In fact, the manager-employee relationship changes quite a bit. Managers stop being hall monitors and start being mentors and coaches that work proactively with their employees to set goals. ROWE does indeed expose those managers that shouldn’t be managers, and those employees that are just taking up space and putting in time.

    ROWE is perfect for different personality types and different working styles. As long as the work gets done, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want. If that means working in an office building from 8:00 to 5:00, perfect. The only caveat: you can’t judge anyone for not working the same way you do. That’s called Sludge and you’ll read more about it in the second half of our e-interview with Dan…

    How does ROWE encourage innovation and entice people to go beyond what’s expected of them? In a ROWE, every employee has a CEO mindset – every employee feels like they own the company. They have newfound interest in how the company performs because that’s what ROWE is all about – so their creativity is unleashed in a way it’s never been before.

    @Helen – hope you enjoy the book! The internet is indeed lovable.

    @Adriano – excellent articulation of ROWE! When that strip ran the other day, we had numerous people sending it to us…everyone knows how absurd it is to focus on time. Now let’s do something about it!

  5. Jon Gallagher says:

    This is exactly how I have run my IT and network operations teams. Each person understands their responsibilities and their priorities, most of which come from me but are also self-generated or come from users. Where there is conflict in priorities or resources or they need help, it’s my job to straighten it out. It’s their job to get it done.

    Now obviously IT in this environment is a challenge, but that’s where matching the personality type to the job is important. Someone who takes pride in delivering customer service should be out there making sure that PC’s are up, paper’s in the printer, and the network is shiny. This person is there @ 6 in the morning for the early crew, and I have to send this person home at night to make sure they sleep.

    The guy who likes pulling IP packets apart and wears corduroys everyone can read through is in the QA lab helping testers 8 hours a day, then on-line with India in the middle of the night while he feeds his new born.

    The IT director has never taken more than 5 minutes to get back to me on whether it’s a weekday, night, weekend or holiday.

    These folks are tearing it up because they know my job has been to point them in the direction, show them how if they need, then get the heck out of the way. I answer the questions that the outside world, and senior management, pose, while they get the job done.

    Unfortunately that last time I called the IT director was this weekend to tell him that I am resigning. It’s been made abundantly clear that I am under-performing in producing detailed schedules, memos, and budgets. Senior management is not comfortable with a group that though it has hit every deadline, does not have a detailed gantt chart updated daily, along with weekly schedule reviews.

    So I am definitely going to get a copy of this book. I will either use it to structure the next team I put together, or push it into the hands of anyone who brings me on board to run their IT or network shops.

  6. Steve T says:

    So has anyone looked at the life of a typical university faculty member lately? Most universities require detailed, highly structured annual reports of results (usually in teaching, scholarship, & service). When and how one accomplishes the results are up to the faculty member. And it usually works very well. More results earn promotion, tenure, more pay, and access to more resources. The challenges arise from trying to agree on what are quality results–not always an easy task.

    The system does address Julie’s concern above about incompetent management because individuals have authority and opportunity to discover and propose new work and projects on their own, to form alliances with other organizations, to seek their own funding, to create their own “products”, to seek out new “markets’ for their ideas, and to create operational guidelines that originate with faculty.

    It doesn’t function perfectly, of course, but it’s all very democratic.

  7. Cali & Jody says:

    @Jon – how incredibly unfortunate (okay, we have other words, but don’t think Dan would approve of them on his blog!) that your former powers-that-be didn’t recognize the stellar results your team was producing. And, equally unfortunate is the fact that this is happening all over the country right now. The way you were managing your team is not only the way of the future – it’s the way it needs to be *today*. And you saw the benefits you reaped from doing so. Glad to hear that even though your former employer didn’t reward your excellent ways that you will be taking them with you. Go forth!

    @Steve – agreed. When two Sociology professors from the University of MN began studying ROWE at Best Buy a few years ago, they said “This is how we’ve been working for years!” They made the same sorts of comments that you did in your post, and we’ve heard them from other university faculty members as well. Working in a democratic environment is a wonderful thing. You’ll get a kick out of this: During the ROWE migration days at Best Buy, one Sr. Vice President yelled (yes, yelled) “We’re not out to create a democracy here!” as ROWE was described for him and the rest of his department. Our response: “Yes, we are.”

  8. Gabe says:

    I love this book already simply from the description! I wonder if the authors have heard of Ricardo Semler and his company SEMCO? His books “Maverick” and “The Seven Day Weekend” are accounts of his very unusual workplace which embody the description in this post. He was changing his company way back in the 90s and in Brazil no less. Since reading his accounts, I’ve become an ardent advocate for just such a workplace, but it seems that America is only now even considering it. Pity.

    Semler and his books are my all time favorites.

  9. Cali & Jody says:

    @Gabe – we have indeed heard of Semler and what he’s done at Semco. His books are excellent. Semler’s work is another testament to the fact that work culture *can* change. America has no time to waste – let’s make ROWE the status quo!

  10. florencia says:

    Thank youo so much for sharing this interview with us. I’m posting some of this on my blog. Hope you don’t mind. I have just satarted my professional carrer and it is hard to wait for weekends to do things I like. Here’s the solution to being able to balancing your profesional and personal life. And if there are people who cannot manage ROWE they can say it, asign a manager to help them out.
    I’ve read the comments and there are two important points, communication must be networked and you MUST have a shared vision of your business.

  11. Scott P says:

    This is great stuff, indeed. I basically ran an engineering group within the company I work for this way also. It works best for exempt professionals who have a proven track record of being both capable and conscientious about their work. It really does separate those in the group who are confident and independent from those who are either looking to game the system to their advantage or who lack the skills to get things done on their own. Our business model for this particular engineering group was one based on a (mostly) centrally located staff that travelled frequently to support customers out in the field, so by its very nature you had to rely on the dependability of the staff to conduct themselves in such a way that things got done based on clear commitments made to customers. That’s a very strong motivating force. To be sure, there were many members of the company’s management that weren’t comfortable with such a “laissez faire” approach, which is probably why I am no longer managing the group, but the fact remains that except for an isolated case here or there, things got done. I will say that the example of the university faculty member is a good one — I am the son of a career college professor and that was what I was most familiar with growing up — no doubt a very formative impression was made.

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