No Schedules, No Meetings–Enter Best Buy’s ROWE – Part 1 116 Comments
Managers often ask me how to use 4HWW within corporate environments.
I now have a new recommendation to add to the previous list: read the new in-depth description of Best Buy’s Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).
How did a Fortune 100 company increase productivity at headquarters 41% while decreasing voluntary turnover (corporate speak for quitting) as much as 90%?
I’ve been fascinated by this unusual experiment since reading about it in 2005. The best part? It began with a 24-year old new hire named Cali Ressler, not a top-down decision from the CEO.
Cali is now co-author of a new book with ROWE co-developer Jody Thompson, which details how it all happened — and how others can replicate (or at least emulate) its success. Here is an excerpt, followed by a exclusive first blog interview:
Our favorite meeting story comes from Phil, the hardcore Six Sigma black belt. He is all business.
One day, before ROWE, Phil was unable to come into work because of a snowstorm, which in Minnesota is perhaps the ultimate in socially acceptable excuses. Phil had six meetings scheduled for that day that were canceled because everyone was having trouble getting to the office. When he returned the next day, four of those meetings were never rescheduled. One was resolved with an e-mail, another with a phone call.
He had spent much of his “snow day” worrying about those six meetings. He was ready to drive in and brave the weather in order to have them. Now that he’s in a ROWE he thinks about that snow day a lot. When an invitation to a meeting comes up or when he’s thinking about scheduling a meeting, he puts on his “blizzard goggles.” Is this meeting really necessary? If there were a snowstorm today, would that meeting fade away, or could it be taken care of with an e-mail, or, would it in fact prove to have genuine value?
Here is the first half of an exclusive blog interview with Cali and Jody about some of the core concepts of ROWE:
Can you give a quick definition of ROWE?
ROWE stands for Results-Only Work Environment. In a ROWE, each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. Currently, there are two authentic ROWEs—Fortune 100 retailer Best Buy Co, Inc. and J. A. Counter & Associates, a small brokerage firm in New Richmond, WI. At both organizations, the old rules that govern a traditional work environment—core hours, “face time,” pointless meetings, etc.—have been replaced by one rule: focus only on results.
In the 4-Hour Workweek, you helped people understand that because of technology, people don’t have to defer living until retirement. They can design their own lifestyle. Now imagine what would happen if the entire culture of a workplace went through the same transformation. That’s what a ROWE is. A ROWE is a work culture that gives people the power to take control of their lives. As long as they get their job done, they’re free.
Can you elaborate a bit on: “every person can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done”?
One of the misconceptions about ROWE is that it’s a work-from-home program. It’s not. If you want to work in a cube, that’s great. If you want to work from a coffee shop, then that’s great, too. The question in a ROWE is not “where is everybody?” but “is the work getting done?”
Can you describe what happened at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters when they went ROWE? What were the results?
Best Buy began its journey to a ROWE almost 6 years ago. The business results have been amazing. For one, people don’t want to leave. On some teams, voluntary turnover rates (i.e. people quitting) have dropped as much as 90%, and they’re experiencing all the cost benefits you get from that kind of retention.
[Note from Tim: It has been noted, however, that firings, or "involuntary turnover," will often increase during the transition to ROWE. People can no longer disguise paper shuffling and excessive motion for delivering results.]
Meanwhile, productivity has gone through the roof. Six months after teams go live, they are asked how much more productive they perceive they are on a scale of 0-100%. Then managers are asked how much more productive the team is according to actual business results. If perception and reality match, that’s a winner. Under this model, ROWE teams show an average increase in productivity of 41%. It makes sense.
On the personal side, ROWE has transformed people’s lives. We’ve heard stories about ROWE saving marriages, allowing people to be better parents (and opened the door for some to actually be parents), get in shape and give back to their community.
We’d like to see people talk about work in way that doesn’t pit employee versus management. If you focus on results instead of time, both sides win.
[Continued in Part 2]
Odds and Ends: 4HWW Editing Contest Winner
First, just because I’m planning some experiments of my own: Follow Tim on Twitter?
Second, and more important, the winner of the 4HWW wiki-based editing competition is… drum roll, please… Tina PC! Tina, start looking at roundtrip flights anywhere in the world per the competition guidelines Look for an e-mail in your inbox from one of my assistants and congratulations!
Posted on May 21st, 2008