So it’s been a few weeks since we had the THRIVEal “Deeper Weekend” learning gathering. I wanted it to be called “THRIVErdome, Battle Royale of Best Practices: That which does not kill you makes you less stupid.” But that got shot down (Jody Padar said it didn’t sound aggressive enough*).
We spent all day Thursday (which is apparently considered part of “the weekend” to Jason Blumer) with Jody Thompson, co-author of the book Why Work Sucks and How To Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution. She guided us through the concept of a results- only work environment, or “ROWE,” and everybody came away from our time with her with a raging ROWEner.
A ROWE can be explained in one sentence: Everybody can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. This sounds like the promised land for knowledge workers like us, so we all held hands and did spins in a flowery meadow while unicorns pranced and farted Skittles.
In a ROWE, It doesn’t matter where you do your work (ROWE guidepost** #5), and you have the freedom to work any way you want (ROWE guidepost #2). In a ROWE I can finally fulfill my dream of paying $7.99 to work remotely from Golden Corral for the whole day – from the omelet bar in the morning till the chocolate fountain breaks that night.
But now that we’ve distanced ourselves from the glory of Greenville, I feel like it’s necessary to slap you in the face with a dose of perspective on ROWE.
MIGRATING TO A ROWE IS HARD. And the more people you have, the harder it gets. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Working in a ROWE is a lot like being in college. Someone tells you what’s expected to succeed, and you have to work your butt off to meet those expectations, but no one cares when you do your work or how long it takes. The main differences are that in a ROWE, you don’t get an F, you get unemployment, and (hopefully) there are no drum circles.
In college, it is inevitable that students and teachers will disagree from time to time about what is an essential part of the learning experience and what is busywork. Similarly, employees are going to disagree with managers (and each other) about which activities and meetings are necessary and which are not. Are you willing to take the time to hammer it out? If not, you’re not ready to implement a ROWE.
Guidepost #8 says, “Every meeting is optional.” Problem is, I have a boss who LOVES meetings. He actually said to me recently, “I’m tired of not having an audience when I talk.” Now, I don’t officially work in a ROWE (I’m guerrilla ROWE), but I realize that if we were to implement one, it may well be codified in my job description that I am expected to be available to my boss so that he can talk through his work issues. He’s an external processor; he gains clarity for himself by talking through things with others. Therefore, it is not beyond reason to believe that part of my “work getting done” is for me to be in meetings with my boss. As a professional sounding board, a no-meetings Nirvana may never become part of my reality, even in a ROWE.
Management must clearly define the results expected from every worker. This is a fabulous outcome and a required component of a ROWE. It’s hard work, but it’s something you know you should have done, ROWE or not. But a ROWE will force you to get it done or else the system falls apart.
Procrastination is part of the human condition. As a result, managers in a ROWE have to develop authentic, meaningful milestones in major projects – milestones that employees recognize as significant. Every manager – ROWE or not – should do this for every project. In a traditional work environment, you can fake it. A ROWE forces you to do it right.
The ROWE philosophy is built upon the assumption that your people are working with their strengths and are passionate about what they do. It assumes that you have the right people on the bus, and it forces you to get the wrong people off the bus. But if you’re booting people off the bus, you have to do the hard work of finding enough of the right people to fill a bus. Are you ready to fire a lot of people and search for better ones?
If you suck you suck at everything. ROWE forces you to not suck. Do you really have the drive, passion, and cajones to not suck? If you’re not really willing to go balls-out with this stuff, a ROWE can be like the stunts in Jackass: it looks cool, but everybody will end up getting racked in the nuts and have puke in their hair. Not literally. It’s a metaphor, nerd. You’ll get racked in your proverbial nuts and get metaphorical puke in your analogy-hairs.
*Jody Padar got in a fist fight with Jody Thompson on Thursday over what constitutes common courtesy in a ROWE. Two Jodys enter; one Jody leaves.
**ROWE has 13 Guideposts, a set of guiding principles for what life is like in a ROWE. There’s one more guidepost in ROWE than there are steps in Alcoholics Anonymous because it’s easier to get sober than it is to convince your boss that his meetings are stupid.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.
Editor’s Note: Hear more about ROWE from Jody Thompson on the October, 2011 episode of the THRIVEcast.