Recently, fellow-blogger David Kasprzak, introduced me to the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) strategy. ROWE, created at Best Buy’s Minneapolis headquarters, espouses a philosophy under which employees can work where they want, when they want, and how they want—as long as the work gets done.
I love meritocratic thinking!
Of course, there’s nothing like a brand-new philosophy or system to challenge and sharpen one’s personal belief systems. You can’t defend that which you don’t understand.
Admittedly, I am more than a bit fuzzy about ROWE. I’ve done some reading on the Internet, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m considering buying the seminal book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson (Portfolio Trade, 2010), but haven’t pulled the trigger.
In any event, here’s my two cents on what I think I know about ROWE. I could break into the Donald Rumsfeld spiel about known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns… you get the point. So, in the end, what I have to say is worth just about $0.02. Definitely, nothing more.
As you read this, or perhaps more appropriately, after you read this, check out “Shingo and ROWE,” which is Kasprzak’s latest post on ROWE, and it’s a guest post on Tim McMahon’s A Lean Journey blog. Consider this a type of good-natured point/counterpoint between the two of us.
Here it goes.
ROWE ostensibly engages and empowers the workforce. It strips away some of the organizationally and self-imposed muda of rigidity and silly limitations and focuses on accountability and results. It’s tough to argue with that.
Of course, this almost seems too easy. The “Free Love” days of the 1960s sounded great, but were not necessarily the best thing from a socio-ethics perspective.
Stupid analogy? Maybe.
Part of my concern has to do with interdependence. In an enterprise, we can’t all be free actors all of the time—whether we are part of a natural work team or are individual contributors.
Virtually no one in an organization is self-directed (even the C-level executives, just ask them!). What we can be is self-managed within the aligning context of deployed breakthrough objectives (think strategy or policy deployment), key performance indicators, value stream focus, standard work, problem solving, etc.
So, one burning question I have is where and how does “do[ing] whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as you get your work done” intersect with this notion of interdependency and self-management? And with that, how does it square with the Shingo Model principles?
I bring up the Shingo Model because Kasprzak did first… and because it’s a great place to start.
Here’s a quick list of some of the Shingo Principles of Operational Excellence, from bottom to top, and my ROWE-relevant questions and comments.
Respect for every individual. Freedom without accountability is license (not good). Accountability without freedom is repressive (also not good). ROWE seems to get that. But back to the interdependence—can my focus on getting my work done trump the value-stream performance or that of my natural work team members?
Lead with humility. Certainly leaders must have a certain deference to workers in ROWE.
Seek perfection. I hope that folks seek to make things easier, better, faster, and cheaper—not at a suboptimal level, but for the broader business. There is no kaizen without standard work. So, one question is whether or not ROWE facilitates standard work, its development, and adherence to and constant adjustment (improvement) of standard work. I hope that ROWE fosters team-based problem solving and alignment of that problem solving.
Assure quality at the source. Cool, as long as “getting your work done” ensures that it meets customer requirements and that jidoka is regularly applied.
Flow and pull value. My biggest concern (and it’s not trivial) with ROWE is whether or not it promotes continuous flow or if it is subordinated to “nonlevelized” schedules of empowered workers. Also, if it does not promote adherence to standard work, how do you ensure that the system performs as designed relative to timing, output, etc? Human systems are fragile. That’s why we apply lean management systems.
Embrace scientific thinking. Good process = good output. Same goes for the rigorous application of plan-do-check-act (PDCA) and standardize-do-check-adjust (SDCA). Hopefully “getting your work done” includes embracing and following the pragmatic rigor of PDCA and SDCA.
Focus on process. See above for my points on interdependency, alignment, and improvement (constant adjustment).
Think systemically. Ditto. I hope that ROWE promotes long-term focus as well as short-term. This means that “getting my work done” is for now and the future. Also, if we recall Masaaki Imai’s kaizen diagram, everyone’s job (“work”) includes maintenance and improvement.
Create constancy of purpose. Ditto.
Create value for the customer. Hopefully, ROWE promotes and facilitates the necessary “line of sight” and mechanisms for the employees so that they understand stakeholder value objectives and effectively work to satisfy them. This is achieved well only if we live all of the principles identified above.
OK, that’s my $0.02. Please keep the change.
I’d love to learn more about ROWE and explore how it can enhance the lean business system and vice versa. If you can, please help with my ROWE education. No, I’m not looking for tuition assistance; just share your experience and insight.