No Schedules, No Meetings—Enter Best Buy’s ROWE – Part 2 77 Comments
This is continued from Part 1 of my exclusive first blog interview with the co-developers of Best Buy’s results-only work environment, which has increased output at headquarters 41% and decreased quitting up to 90% in some divisions.
When you take care of your life, do you develop overcomplicated processes for getting things done? Do you spend your free time coming up with systems and programs for buying birthday presents or making dinner or feeding the dog? Do you have regular family meetings to discuss whether or not people are doing heir chores, what the status of those chores is, and what kind of outcomes those chores are expected to achieve?
Why do we spend so much of our business life talking about the business we need to take care of rather than simply taking care of it?
-From “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It”
Some converts argue ROWE is a “simple change”. What’s simple about it?
The change isn’t easy, but the change is simple because it’s based on common sense. To show you what we’re talking about, here are some ROWE conversation starters:
Isn’t it funny that we rush to work everyday and then spend the first hour at our desk reading the paper and drinking coffee?
Isn’t it funny that if you’re done with your work for the day at four, you can’t just leave? Why do you have to stay that extra hour and pretend to be busy?
Why do we assume that time = productivity instead of talking about the kind of results the person is actually getting?
Why do we talk about people being “out of the office” when everyone is reachable by cell phone or e-mail?
Once people start to challenge the absurdities of the workplace, they start to realize that there is no reason why they can’t deliver results on their own terms. The ripple effect a ROWE creates in a team, department or organization is huge, but the core idea is very simple.
Can you define what you call “sludge” and how it affects a workplace?
“Sludge” is the toxic language that judges people for how they spend their time. It’s based on old beliefs about how work should happen.
Sludge is when someone says, “10:00 a.m. and you’re just getting in? I wish I could come in late every day.” The belief being expressed here is that work happens between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The person who isn’t in the building at 8:00 a.m. is therefore not working.
Of course, to a certain extent, we’re all knowledge workers now. The person could have been at home coming up with the next great idea. Yet they’re being slammed based not on what they produced, but where their body was at 8:05 a.m. It’s ridiculous.
In a traditional work environment, sludge is a huge weight on everyone’s shoulders. Sludge makes people feel guilty, angry, frustrated, and disrespected. It makes them feel like children instead of like adults.
Getting rid of sludge is the key to creating a Results-Only Work Environment. When we migrated teams at Best Buy and J. A. Counter, we used a Sludge Eradication method that we have perfected over the years. Here are three simple things you can do to get started.
1. Become aware of sludge. Listen for those negative, judgmental statements that have nothing to do with getting the work done. Let’s say you’re the last person to arrive at a meeting and someone says, “Nice of you to join us.” That’s Sludge. That statement has nothing to do with results. Even if it’s a joke, that kind of talk only serves to put you in your place. Now you feel guilty, unmotivated and nervous about the security of your job. And for what?
2. Focus on the work. Let’s say you’re frustrated that you need something from Bob that you’re not getting from him. You could say, “Bob, I saw you took a long lunch yesterday. We’re really busy right now and I need you to show more dedication.” That’s sludge. You’re focusing on the how Bob is using his time, instead of talking about what you need. Better to say, “Bob, I need XYZ from you. Let’s figure out a way to make our deliverables so everything can run smoothly.”
3. Stop justifying your time. Let’s say you walk in five minutes “late” one day. Instead of explaining that traffic was a nightmare or your kids made you late, just go to work. And if someone sludges you (“Oh, look who decided to show up today”) then focus on the work. A simple “what do you need” or “what can I help you with” does a great job of eliminating it. People can’t slam you about your time if you focus on the work.
Sludge eradication doesn’t happen overnight. Just like in any social change, it takes groups of “smart mobs” working on the change together. But once a people gain a little momentum with this new approach, the results are powerful.
What advice do you offer for the millions of people who would love to work in a ROWE but assume their boss would never agree to it?
What your boss doesn’t realize is that a ROWE is his or her best friend. Remember that statistic about productivity being up an average of 41% on ROWE teams? Those are sustainable numbers. Every team, department or organization has all kinds of locked up potential. Yes, a ROWE gives people freedom and control, but it’s also great for the bottom line. So when you’re talking to your boss about this, present it as a business benefit and opportunity [Tim: consider proposing it as a trial or test versus presenting it as a permanent change].
You can also help foster a ROWE mindset in your workplace by modeling certain behaviors:
Stop praising/admiring/envying people for their “dedication” and start praising people for what they accomplish.
In a traditional work environment, the coworker who gets in early and leaves late looks like they’re a superstar. In a ROWE, they’re just making a choice about when and where they work. Praise the outcomes, not the behavior, and you’ll move closer to a ROWE.
Stop thinking that leaving “early” is a treat and start thinking about what it would be like to have total control over your time.
At 4:00 p.m. on a sunny Friday, your boss lets you leave early. Goody, right? Wrong. This is a school kid’s view of time, not an adult’s. If you’re getting your work done, then why should someone have the right to tell you where to be?
Stop “drive bys” and “managing by walking around” and start planning.
You’re a manager and you want to show your support by stopping by your employee’s cube. Or, you have “just one quick question” for your coworker and you decide to pop by their cube. Resist the urge. Impromptu meetings interrupt people’s work flow and make them feel like they have no control. If you find yourself needing things at the last minute, try a little more foresight.
Stop accepting fluffy goals and expectations that are set for you.
There’s no time like the present to get really clear on why you exist at the company you work for. When you talk with your manager about your goals and expectations, don’t accept any fluffy responses from him/her. Push for clarity on timelines and measurable outcomes.
If you can’t measure or evaluate the work in some way, you shouldn’t be doing it.
Posted on May 22nd, 2008