The term ROWE – meaning Results Only Working Environment – seems to be pretty popular at the moment.
The idea, in case you haven’t come across, it is that employees are paid for results rather than the number of hours worked.
NixonMcInnes, a local company I work with, following in the footsteps of Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, implemented the idea of what they call “flexible working” many years ago.
Chouinard’s autobiography was entitled “Let My People Go Surfing” – that title should help you understand the philosophy.
Presenteeism: out, out, out.
What I like about ROWE is that it has been linked to employee engagement – employees who work this way seem to want to stay longer and they enjoy their work more.
And if you measure productivity – numbers of orders processed, for example, or even hours paid for by a client (billable hours) – rather than hours in the office you’ll see better results.
But I wonder if there is something better? I am sure the ROWE experts are on top of this, but this is it in my own words:
The number one principle of ROWE is that “people at all levels stop doing any activity that is a waste of their time, the customer’s time, or the company’s money.”
But my question is: how do people know?
How do they know whether what they are doing is a waste of their time, the customer’s time or the company’s time?
In many large organisations when you join you inherit a whole load of ways of doing things (processes). These are based on an even bigger load of assumptions – visible and invisible – about what is important. Many of these assumptions were made in a time where things were different – they come from the past.
So it seems to me it is perfectly possibly that people in a results only work environment will continue to produce results – that is, be more ‘productive’ – but maybe they’ll be producing the wrong results? Results that don’t actually help the company fulfil its ‘Mission’. Results that don’t actually help anyone.
So here’s a simple alternative: VOWE – the value only work environment. The idea is to do only activities that add value to customers, colleagues, or other stakeholders.
This, of course, requires a clear understanding of what value is. That may seem difficult and off-putting.
But I think most people know what value is. They know what they value.
I value peace and quiet. I value the smile on my child’s face, showing me he is happy. I value a clean floor. I value a beautiful object. Or a bit of software that actually works and makes my life easy.
HR and OD people (and some CEOs) sometimes talk about ‘values’ as if they were something special, something that only the enlightened can hold on to.
But to me a ‘value’ is just what I value. I value honesty and openness. Those are my values.
So actually understanding value is easy for each of us – we know what we value. We know it when we see it, when we touch it, when we feel it.
We need to understand that others value things too – and that what you value may be different from what I value. Value is a perception – ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.
So in a Value Only Work Environment people understand this. And they dedicate their time not just to producing ‘results’ – but to making sure that everything they do gives value to others. Or to themselves.
Apparently when ROWE was introduced into Best Buy some resisters thought it was a wacky new age idea.
So in case anyone thinks VOWE is the same let me cut to the chase: how might you measure success in a business run on VOWE principles?
Simple: you measure profit. But you do need a new definition of profit.
Profit, by my own personal definition, is a measure of the value that your company gives to other people.
Give lots of value to people; and let them reward you with money (yes, money), loyalty and friendship.
Create a culture where employees gain lots of value and let them reward you with loyalty, ideas, and friendship.
I am perhaps being just a little provocative above. But I’d love to know what others think – and in particular, other ideas on what value really is, what profit really is, and whether it is better to work in a ROW, or a VOW environment?