An Intro to the Results-Only Work Environment

What does a dream work environment look like for you? As with most of my generation, I want more out of my employer than any other generation has asked for before. Dan Schawbel recently blogged about how Millennials will shape the future of work, and he certainly described my feelings to a T. One of the things he mentions is that Millennials are extremely aware that "(t)he traditional 9 to 5 workday isn’t relevant in a 24/7 technology driven world, where we’re always 'on call'. Where and when work should get done is irrelevant. All that matters is business results!" That's essentially the entire point of ROWE: results-only work environment, a newer model of management and workplace culture. If you're not familiar with ROWE, take a moment to check out In short,

"Results-Only Work Environment goes beyond telework. It’s a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence. In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results – increasing the organization’s performance while cultivating the right environment for people to manage all the demands in their lives...including work."

I became familiar with ROWE a few years ago during the early stages of what has turned into a long-term professional crush on SpinWeb. SpinWeb is an Indianapolis-based digital agency. I like to tell people they specialize in amazing websites and happy employees. When I was finishing up my public relations degree, I interviewed for a marketing position with SpinWeb. I didn't get hired (which is awesome for me, because I have my dream job right now!), but I did become obsessed with the company. Their founder and CEO, Michael Reynolds, is an early adapter of ROWE, and I recently asked him to tell me more about this management model.

Michael Reynolds, President/CEO of SpinWeb

KB: Why do you think ROWE works? MR: ROWE works because it means treating people like adults and making the "work" the priority. ROWE means focusing on what needs to get done, rather than who is filling a chair at what time. Once you think of it like that, it's hard to imagine how ROWE would *not* work. KB: What do you think most people don't understand about ROWE? MR: Oh boy… where do I start! I think the number one myth about ROWE is that it's telework. It's not telework. ROWE is not a "work from home" program or a telecommuting program. ROWE is an organizational culture that puts employees in control of their time and their lives so they can decide how best to achieve their results.

This infographic has a good comparison:

KB: How have you seen ROWE benefit SpinWeb? MR: Well, for one thing we always have a long line of people who want to work for us. :) Additionally, it has helped us stop worrying about all the dumb "office rules" that most companies deal with. That helps us keep our creative brains free to innovate and get work done without all the baggage that comes with "office hours" and "work schedules" and "sick days". It cuts out a lot of HR red tape that slows other companies down and hurts culture.

KB: Can a manager maintain the same basic style or does everything change with ROWE? MR: That depends on the manager's style. If the manager trusts his/her people and treats them like adults then not much changes. Micro-managers, however, do not flourish in a ROWE. They would need to adapt to stay relevant.

This infographic has some good insight:

KB: What do you want future private sector managers to understand about ROWE? MR: I would love for them to stop over-analyzing it and just do it! So many companies get bogged down in the questions of "what if…" and "how do I…" and "where will all my people go!" and they lose sight of the simplicity of ROWE. ROWE does not cause you to lose control as a manager… you retain control of the work. You simple unlock the potential in your people so that it gets done faster, better, and more efficiently.

Oh and ROWE works. Here are some case studies to prove it:

KB: I try to focus on nonprofits in this blog. Do you have any advice for how a nonprofit manager could make a case for the move to ROWE to a board of directors? MR: Great question! Most non-profits I talk to are terrified of ROWE because non-profits are very risk-averse. They are under such an intense microscope to prove that they are being responsible that they shy away from "radical" changes that might cause them to look bad.

That's a shame because non-profits can *really* flourish with ROWE. The people who work in non-profits are some of the best, most talented, most innovative and passionate people I've ever met and if they had the ability to take control of their lives and really innovate on their terms, you would see amazing results.

I've seen stories of non-profits who have gone ROWE and then end up serving their constituents even better than before. One organization went from a backlog of 1500 aid applications to less than 50 after going ROWE because their team became empowered to solve problems together. Before, they were "punching in" and "punching out". Now, they are owning their mission and achieving amazing results.

KB's note: To learn more about how risk-averse nonprofits are, read my last post about The Nonprofit Problem.

KB: Do you see a future where the majority of businesses are ROWE? What would that world look like? MR: That would be an awesome future! It would truly give us a 24/7 economy and a happier workforce. It would reduce carbon emissions and eliminate rush hour. It would save money and improve family life. It would be a better world.

I think ROWE can work in any company, as long as management is on board and fully invested. I love that this model respects an employee's time management skills and ability to produce a quality result. Michael's response to my question about nonprofits adapting ROWE encourages me. As someone who would like to be in a position someday to make the case to a board of directors, I like knowing there are success stories in place already. It makes sense! Nonprofit staff are generally motivated by and invested in the mission of the organization, so empowering them to focus on results ONLY would naturally yield even better results.

What do you think about ROWE? Would you thrive or flounder in this type of work environment?