ROWE: Results Only Work Environment | Thoughts on Best Buy and Yahoo

It’s time I revisited my thoughts on ROWE. In the past six months, two high profile companies ended their versions of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). Both Yahoo and Best Buy (the originator of ROWE) took away what most saw as a privilege, both the ability to work remotely and the absence of work hours. In a ROWE, performance was measured by one metric only: results.

Results Only Work Environment - ROWE at Best Buy

Is ROWE right for your business? Maybe. Read more to find out. (Click to Tweet)

If you missed my series last year on ROWE, you can read all three posts here:

Leaders, Should you Go to a ROWE? (Part 1 of 3)

Three Common Mistakes in Implement a ROWE (Part 2 of 3)

The Four Things Leaders Must Do in a ROWE (Part 3 of 3)

In those posts, I share my experience with working in a ROWE and managing in a ROWE. I share the pluses and minuses along with some warnings for prospective ROWE companies.

What happened with Best Buy

In his announcement that Best Buy was ending ROWE at the Richfield, MN-based company, CEO Hubert Joly said that ROWE was “fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint.”

“This program was based on the premise that the right leadership style is always delegation,” wrote Joly in a column at the Star-Tribune. “It operated on the assumption that if an employee’s objectives were agreed to, the manager should always delegate to the employee how those objectives were met.”

Ultimately, their decision was based on what is best for their company. Company spokesman Matt Furman said just that:

“Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and  connect on ways to improve our business,”

My opinion on ROWE

Business owners often ask me if ROWE is right for their company. And my answer always has been and still is:

Maybe.

There is no perfect HR system or leadership system. ROWE is far from perfect. It has its merits and its inherent problems. Just like people.

Here is what I wrote last year. My position and advice remains the same:

I am neutral on ROWE in the same way I am neutral on Mac vs. PC. I have seen it done very well and very poorly. It is right for many companies and absolutely wrong for others. If you are considering it or your curiosity has been piqued by this series, here are some further resources I suggest.

  • The book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, two former Best Buy employees who implemented ROWE there.
  • The Go ROWE web site.
  • Google “Results Only Work Environment” and read 3-4 positive and negative articles. Decide for yourself.

One note I would add on the book…read it even if you have no interest in ROWE whatsoever. There are tons of practical and effective tips for every organization big and small.

Second, their follow-up book is even more outstanding. Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It. Dan Pink said it is one of the biggest ideas in talent in the last decade.” If you buy only one leadership book this year, make it that one.

Have you been a part of a ROWE? If so, what were the results? If not, is it something you would consider?

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  • I guess my fundamental problem with ROWE is the word “only”. Results are important, but they’re never the whole story. In any job I can think of, there’s more to it than just delivering “results”. There’s attitude, being accessible and available, gelling as a team, and lots of other squishy things that are much harder to quantify and put on a year-end review (shudder). I guess that’s why I’ve never really considered them.

    That and the fact that every contract I’ve been on for the past 15 years has been about billable hours, with results as a secondary deliverable. But that’s another story!

  • (BTW, your link reads “Why Managing Sucks Sucks…”). Commenting separately so you can delete this one if you wish. :-)

  • I think I lean in Bret’s direction. I like the idea. But I think in moderation. I’ve never been a part of one, but I think there needs to be some trust and some delegation in order to get the most productivity. On the other hand, there needs to be some conformity so people have an expectation when you can be reached, and what is going on.

    So I agree with Bret, it’s the word “only” that gives me pause…

    • I understand where you and @BretWortman:disqus are coming from.

      I think that accessibility/teamwork/etc. are often a part of results though. That is why the word “only” doesn’t scare me.

      If results are the goal as opposed to feel good, seeing everyone, making sure people look like they are working, then however the results are achieved is irrelevant.

      Ultimate I think ROWE fails because of bad leadership, just as any “program” will fail.

      • Fair point. It all rests on leadership. But I think “feeling good” is important too! Hahaha

  • I currently work in more of a flexible arrangement. Should I have to take a day off because I have a medical appointment 5 mins away from home? I just attend my appointment, drive home and plow away. Are there days when face-to-face is critical and remote communication will not work? I know I have to be in the office. I have the ability to stretch out my schedule where I do work on my way in, or leave early and finish up at home. In order for this type of arrangement to work, you need to have a solid culture, mature leadership and clear objectives and roles. I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. On our team, we WANT to come to work to collaborate and communicate in person, but we appreciate the ability to stretch our office outside of our cube walls. Location is just one aspect of it. Setting goals, checking progress, following up, coaching, training… there are many other elements that a team needs to be effective.

    • Sounds like a great place to work. ROWE or no ROWE, they are allowing grown-ups to be grown-ups.

  • Katherine Leicester

    Never having heard of ROWE before this, I’m both intrigued and horrified. I see so much already that raises my hackles I’m going to have to read the book just to give the idea a fair shake.

    The one thing that rubs me the wrongest: “management sucks.” First, they mean leadership not management. And if it sucks, don’t do it. Who wants to work for someone that thinks their primary responsibility sucks, and are looking for ways to get rid of the hassles of leading people?

    No more till I’ve learned more. Except to say boy oh boy do we need passionate, excellent leaders!

  • I worked at Best Buy before and during the first push towards ROWE. Looking back, there was an inherent disconnect between the corporate culture and the retail store culture; ROWE didn’t apply to EVERY employee, so there would be some built-in complaining about things not being “fair.”

    But Best Buy did some other cool things for regular retail folks too. At one point, every salaried employee (corporate or store) was provided the Strengthsfinder assessment, and store managers were encouraged to use the store’s discretionary budget to buy the book for promising team members.

    ROWE is a good example of what was great about Best Buy’s culture though: the ideas were encouraged to flow from the bottom up. Two corporate staffers came up with the idea and convinced the management team to try it. Two Geek Squad agents made a simple diagnostic program and were rewarded thousands of dollars for the labor cost savings the program provided. One enterprising individual made a suggestion that a certain Best Buy service should be priced at $99.99 instead of $99 and the company made $8.5 million.

    • That is awesome Jon. Great to hear from someone so close to the culture there.

      They do a lot of things right.

      And you remind me that ROWE isn’t a code word for “work from home.” In a retail store, part of the result is being there. It’s hard to serve a customer if you aren’t present.

      But in a ROWE, I’ve seen phone and online customer service teams thrive, because they determined the best times for each other to work. We went from having 10 people present from 8:30-5:30 every day to having 2 people working early in the morning and 2 or 3 in the evenings. We reduced missed calls and emails that took more than 15 hours to reply to by almost 80% as a result. That is a big RESULT.