Method ROWE (results-only work environment) is a human resource management strategy, that places emphasis on setting and meeting objectives. More than ten years after his creation, many entrepreneurs in the U.S are still using this paradigm to drive their business. But is it a total success ?
The Story of the Method ROWE
ROWE was developed by two Best Buy managers in Minneapolis, Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, in 2005. This kind of new management is very popular in many Startups. We have all in mind Google areas with games, toboggan and flexible hours. But what was the click ?
For the Co-author of « Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It », Jody Thompson « the workplace as a system was fundamentally broken and that flexible work practices, which had been around for decades, was not the answer ».
She adds with conviction that « what people really needed was complete control over their time. Flexible work practices are a program whereby managers manage flexibility, therefore, managing people, not the work ». To be clear the new employee agreement is no results ? No job.
ROWE has been implemented in hundreds of firms in the U.S, Canada, the UK like manufacturing, direct-care nursing, call center environments, in union shops, state and local government, education, and more.
How can we explain the success of ROWE ? The numbers speak for themselves. When a company uses it, we can observe a 41% of productivity gain for knowledge workers, a 24% decrease in stress levels, a reduction of 50% in paper usage and in overtime costs. And in many other levels.
Application of ROWE
Eric Severson, when he was working as the co-Chief HR Officer for Gap Inc was Seduced by this method and his results. In connection with this, he declares “ I consider my life’s purpose to be helping people reach their full potential at work.”
We know that we spend more waking hours at work than with our families and friends. So the ex teacher of writing to college students wants “to help people find joy, purpose, and meaning in that time at work.”
ROWE was one component of “Performance for Life”, Gap’s evidence-based approach to creating the “virtuous cycle.”
“Studies show that there exists a virtuous cycle, whereby employee wellbeing and sustainable business results are inextricably linked: in short, happy, healthy, engaged, intrinsically motivated employees statistically produce better results, innovate more, and collaborate better; when employees produce better results collectively, businesses thrive. It is a mutually reinforcing, synergistic cycle. The converse is also true”.
Eric Severson concludes with the tagline of the Performance for Life program : “Better You, Better Gap”.
Limits of ROWE
However, ROWE isn’t right for every organization. Workplaces can be difficult to manage communicate with remote employees who work varying schedules. ROWE opens up the possibility for unethical behavior, since value is only measured in results not how the results are reached.
Employees who find it hard to self-discipline or self-motivate may not succeed in ROWE workplaces. ROWE doesn’t work for everyone. It’s impossible for consumer-facing fields like customer service or retail, and difficult for highly collaborative companies to implement.
For Yves Morieux, Senior Partner and Managing Director at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), “entrepreneurs and managers don’t know how to address the problem of the happiness at work”.
“The solution is not to launch a Happiness Initiative. This only addresses the symptoms, the surface, they forgot the cooperation” underline the economist.
According to that, is it possible for a country more complex, more rigid like France to use that ?
For the creator of the Smart Simplicity, “France is the country where organizational complicatedness is the highest. France co-invented Scientific Management, the old approach that worked so well in the past and is now hurting performance and satisfaction at work”.
To illustrate the complexity of our organizations, Yves Morieux uses the example of the Place de l’Etoile in Paris.
“It is complex : twelve huge avenues converging on a jumbo round about, but it is not complicated: no markings on the ground, no road signs, no police… But it is safe compared to the traffic volume. Why ? Because the Place de l’Etoile illustrates many of the rules of smart simplicity, notably reciprocity.
They know that in case of a problem all will be responsible. Therefore people have to adjust to others, anticipate, compensate : they cooperate !”.
As a conclusion, Jody Thompson regrets that organizations today are attempting to adopt a ROWE all over the globe on their own. “However it’s not as easy as simply loosening the reigns for a few employees. Unfortunately a lot of what makes a ROWE successful is being missed”.
Interviews : Jody Thompson – Eric Severson – Yves Morieux