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ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) and the Holy Grail of Discretionary Effort...

My friend Tim Sackett has a nice post up at Fistful of Talent regarding ROWE - the Results Only Work Environment - if you're  not yet familiar with the ROWE concept – check it out here (www.gorowe.com).  The simple explanation is that ROWE workplaces don't do office hours or have any expectation on where you are - they simply care that you get results.  

Go check out Tim's post, as he's interviewing the experts - the comments are as informative as the post. Results-e1332168642319

I love the concept, but like a lot of people, see challenges from a traditional talent perspective.  But my big challenge isn't with the fact that no office hours won't work for some roles and companies, it's the concept of discretionary effort.

How do you get discretionary effort and performance that exceeds the expectation of the company from the highest percentage possible of your employees?  

It's a question as old as time.   I have a hard time opening up the entire organization to ROWE.  My experience tells me there's just too many people that due to a variety of factors, will do the minimum or be happy with average.  

But - I love the concept of giving everyone who performs at high level a ROWE experience via a 6-month pass.  Why not give everyone who's a great performer the freedom?  Would it cause others on the fence related to discretionary effort to give more - to get to the freedom and the 6-month ROWE pass (if they maintain, they keep it)?

Coffee's for closers.  Give your stars ROWE, challenge the ditch diggers to raise their game.  

Of course, to do that you have to have your stuff together from a performance calibration perspective.  

Good luck.  You're going to need it if you experiment with ROWE.  But it's a worthy cause....



It's the whole concept of defining expectations and the resulting intrinsic/extrinsic rewards beforehand. It's like, "Hey Josh, by the end of the 1st quarter I need you to:

- Develop and gain buy-in on a new talent management process. Work with IT and HRIS to get the system implemented. Roll it out and train leadership. We go live on 4/16."

On top of my day to day recruiting, labor relations, employee relations, etc..., I know what's expected of me for the next couple of months. If I complete the talent management process in 6 weeks, I can potentially check e-mails and take calls from home and be in the office on an as needed basis. Working from home for 2 weeks is a major motivating factor.

Candy Gray

Another one of those discussions where I vehemently agree with both sides! When the Netflix preso made the rounds, every CEO in the Bay Area (including my own) said "why aren't we doing that?" Of course my CEO followed that sentence by yelling out the door to his EA "where's so&so, why can't I ever find him when I need him, get him in here!" It all sounds good - until we find out "you can't handle the truth!"


Conceptually, I like the idea of ROWE. In practice, I think there are too many unique characteristics about most of our organizations that make it nearly impossible to effectively implement it. Real or perceived, I think most organizations have too many "hurdles" to overcome to bring it to life.

Now earning the right to a ROWE? That is an interesting concept, but to your point Kris, you'd have to have a solid grip on employee performance and the stomach to deal with the whining that is sure to happen when employees have not earned the right to ROWE.

Another interesting thought is rotational ROWE. Consider the 9/80 work schedule. Employee works nine days and gets one day off. What if you rotated a ROWE? A quarter on, quarter off, quarter on, quarter off...across the entire employee population. I can poke holes in this arrangement as well...just a thought.


I agree it's difficult for companies to grasp the value. Similar to Candy's point, I worked for a company that lost 9/80s because the EVP called for someone and they were on their Friday off. Like I said it's about defining expectations and rewards beforehand. Most companies can't do this because they don't know what they want from employees. But if they need something and you were unavailable to deliver, now it's a performance problem.

This concept forces proactiveness and intense planning. You can't expect this to work if you expect your employees to be admin assistants that know what you think and pick up your pen when you drop it.

Unfortunately I think most leaders still view their employees as property who are available when they have needs, as opposed to beings who want to deliver results, have purpose and be tied to the overall goals of the organization. They want someone to tend to them vs. deliver results.

Shelly Drymon

If you think some of your staff are just average employees and ROWE exposes them, why would you even want to keep them. Does the mandatory clock-watching, I'm at my desk, make them above average? No, regardless of the way of work of the office, they are still happy with average or doing the minimum.

It requires a change in mindset of everyone including management. They have to learn a different way of work and stop expecting staff to be at their beck and call. I have had that experience because my supervisor could not get her act together.

I agree with HRAthletics, that employeers see employees as property. I have quit my full time office job and I have gone ROWE and I can't imagine ever going back!


Just because someone's a poor performer in a traditional environment doesn't mean they'll be a poor performer in a ROWE. In fact, it may be the opposite!

ROWE is about treating everyone like adults. You set the expectations (as high as reasonable) and they're expected to follow through. If they can't, do they really deserve to work there, traditional workplace or not?

Everyone deserves to be treated like adult. Loosen your grip and they might surprise you.


ROWE is an inevitable reality for Gen X & Yers. Millenials saw their parents and grand parents forego family for a nice car and a house they can't afford. The new generation does not want to rot away on the vine (or in the cubicle).

Companies must find a new way to motivate talent. Money is not enough. Especially when so many realize they don't need nearly as much material wealth. The financial crisis has shifted America's value system. Keep your shiny car, overpriced sneakers, cheap housing. I'd rather spend time with my family, reading by the lake or cooking for my family.

Time is the new money in the 21st century

Wim Van Nieuwenhoven

The idea of 'giving' ROWE to your stars immediately reminded me of the 'Free electrons' chapter in the Peopleware book (Demarco & Lister). If you haven't read it yet, find yourself a copy. I think alot of 'modern' ideas about management are already mentioned in there.

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