No Schedules, No Meetings–Enter Best Buy's ROWE – Part 1

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(Photo: yum9me)

Managers often ask me how to use 4HWW within corporate environments.

I now have a new recommendation to add to the previous list: read the new in-depth description of Best Buy’s Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

How did a Fortune 100 company increase productivity at headquarters 41% while decreasing voluntary turnover (corporate speak for quitting) as much as 90%?

I’ve been fascinated by this unusual experiment since reading about it in 2005. The best part? It began with a 24-year old new hire named Cali Ressler, not a top-down decision from the CEO.

Cali is now co-author of a new book with ROWE co-developer Jody Thompson, which details how it all happened — and how others can replicate (or at least emulate) its success. Here is an excerpt, followed by a exclusive first blog interview:

Our favorite meeting story comes from Phil, the hardcore Six Sigma black belt. He is all business.

One day, before ROWE, Phil was unable to come into work because of a snowstorm, which in Minnesota is perhaps the ultimate in socially acceptable excuses. Phil had six meetings scheduled for that day that were canceled because everyone was having trouble getting to the office. When he returned the next day, four of those meetings were never rescheduled. One was resolved with an e-mail, another with a phone call.

He had spent much of his “snow day” worrying about those six meetings. He was ready to drive in and brave the weather in order to have them. Now that he’s in a ROWE he thinks about that snow day a lot. When an invitation to a meeting comes up or when he’s thinking about scheduling a meeting, he puts on his “blizzard goggles.” Is this meeting really necessary? If there were a snowstorm today, would that meeting fade away, or could it be taken care of with an e-mail, or, would it in fact prove to have genuine value?

-From “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It”

Here is the first half of an exclusive blog interview with Cali and Jody about some of the core concepts of ROWE:

Can you give a quick definition of ROWE?

ROWE stands for Results-Only Work Environment. In a ROWE, each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. Currently, there are two authentic ROWEs—Fortune 100 retailer Best Buy Co, Inc. and J. A. Counter & Associates, a small brokerage firm in New Richmond, WI. At both organizations, the old rules that govern a traditional work environment—core hours, “face time,” pointless meetings, etc.—have been replaced by one rule: focus only on results.

In the 4-Hour Workweek, you helped people understand that because of technology, people don’t have to defer living until retirement. They can design their own lifestyle. Now imagine what would happen if the entire culture of a workplace went through the same transformation. That’s what a ROWE is. A ROWE is a work culture that gives people the power to take control of their lives. As long as they get their job done, they’re free.

Can you elaborate a bit on: “every person can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done”?

One of the misconceptions about ROWE is that it’s a work-from-home program. It’s not. If you want to work in a cube, that’s great. If you want to work from a coffee shop, then that’s great, too. The question in a ROWE is not “where is everybody?” but “is the work getting done?”

Can you describe what happened at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters when they went ROWE? What were the results?

Best Buy began its journey to a ROWE almost 6 years ago. The business results have been amazing. For one, people don’t want to leave. On some teams, voluntary turnover rates (i.e. people quitting) have dropped as much as 90%, and they’re experiencing all the cost benefits you get from that kind of retention.

[Note from Tim: It has been noted, however, that firings, or “involuntary turnover,” will often increase during the transition to ROWE. People can no longer disguise paper shuffling and excessive motion for delivering results.]

Meanwhile, productivity has gone through the roof. Six months after teams go live, they are asked how much more productive they perceive they are on a scale of 0-100%. Then managers are asked how much more productive the team is according to actual business results. If perception and reality match, that’s a winner. Under this model, ROWE teams show an average increase in productivity of 41%. It makes sense.

On the personal side, ROWE has transformed people’s lives. We’ve heard stories about ROWE saving marriages, allowing people to be better parents (and opened the door for some to actually be parents), get in shape and give back to their community.

We’d like to see people talk about work in way that doesn’t pit employee versus management. If you focus on results instead of time, both sides win.

[Continued in Part 2]

###

Odds and Ends: 4HWW Editing Contest Winner

First, just because I’m planning some experiments of my own: Follow Tim on Twitter?

Second, and more important, the winner of the 4HWW wiki-based editing competition is… drum roll, please… Tina PC! Tina, start looking at roundtrip flights anywhere in the world per the competition guidelines :) Look for an e-mail in your inbox from one of my assistants and congratulations!

Posted on: May 21, 2008.

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116 comments on “No Schedules, No Meetings–Enter Best Buy's ROWE – Part 1

  1. Absolutely true.

    Keeping it short and simple:
    Its high time companies have clear goals laid out and have managers/people achieve them at any cost (ethically).

    @ Tim
    There is a book called “Maverick” by Ricardo Semler, whose by-line is “The World’s Most Unusual Workplace”.

    Its absolutely amazing how he has automated his entire business. Thought you might find it interesting. Below is link for your reference…

    Take care

    Like

  2. As a manager who is implementing as quickly as I can these sorts of principals, I look forward to reading the book when it is released.

    As an example today I told one of my staff they didn’t need to ask me permission to work from home (or in this case from Beijing because his wife was there on business and he needed to baby sit his daughter while they traveled) because location is not important to me, output is.

    As long as they turn up for the team meeting once a month, and the face to face career development talks, I can see no benefit in forcing non-productive behavior like being in the office between 9 and 5.

    Like

  3. Hola Tim, me parece muy interesante tu blog y te felicito, pero una propuesta para tu web, seria que nos hicieras a los Españoles, una versión en castellano, :) seria de gran ayuda.
    Personalmente tengo un diseño de vida muy bueno, en estos momentos lo unico que me falta es un empuje economico, yo tengo una propuesta interesante para un negocio, que es lo que puede completar mi diseño de vida,( viajes, teatro, escritura y poder tener mucho tiempo para mi, esto ya lo estoy realizando pero deseo aumentar mis ingresos con este nuevo negocio para poder realizar mas cosas) pero no acabo de concretar por falta de inversor, :(
    algun consejo? :)

    Like

  4. So…very…jealous! :)
    If only there was a way to develop ROWE situations for government contractors. Working in a top secret environment is very demanding of actual physical presence.

    Like

  5. Wow! I am excited, astounded, flattered, ecstatic, honored, and downright giddy about being named the winner of the 4HWW wiki-based editing competition.

    Can I say “Wow” again?

    Wow. Thank you.
    Tina PC

    Like

  6. If results are the focus of any business, then anything that drives towards that is what counts. Not what time you start, when you finish, how many hours you put it. Deliver. Thats all that counts at the end of the financial period. It’s just common sense.

    I sometimes get the feeling work in many company’s is just show up, shuffle papers, have lunch, gossip, shuffle papers, go home and complain how nothing got done today.

    As long as the measurement of results are done in frequent intervals, companies have no need to fear of not delivering. Anyone who doesn’t in that period gets replaced. Employees who remain will be motivated to deliver and not just wait for their paycheck.

    It boggles me that companies haven’t actually adopted this approach!

    Like

  7. 60 Minutes did a great piece on a study very similar to this about a year or two ago that was really interesting. It is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it. I really wish there were a greater push for this type of thinking throughout corporate America. The idea that people must be at the office to be productive is illogical and outdated. Imagine how much gasoline consumption would fall off if millions of people were able to cut even a couple of days a week out of their commute. In all reality many people could perform their jobs just as well, if not better from home. But instead we will focus on suspending the gas tax over the Summer because obviously that’s the real problem here.

    Like

  8. Tim-Love the post and blog. Especially since I think meetings are the bane of the corporate world! Ok, bane is a bit strong. The are my biggest time waster and I do everything I can to eliminate them.

    Keep up the great work. Your book is an inspiration to us all. While I haven’t quite made the jump, I have cut back at work about 20 hours a week. I couldn’t do it until I figured out what to do with the spare time-work on my side business and prepare to compete in nationals (racquetball). On that note I’ll sign off. I have to leave for my first match in a few minutes!

    Like

  9. awesome post. I plan on starting my first business within a few weeks and this is going to come in handy in the future.

    Thanks Tim

    Like

  10. Interesting Post,

    I was just reading how it was being implemented in fortune 500 companies. Hopefully, more companies will follow this notion. I think Google may be the real first company to have done this. They have been doing it their own way from the get go.

    Cheers

    Jose

    Like

  11. How are you feeling after that Kettlebell workout?

    Can we expect a future post about your kettlebell routine?

    Keep on swinging

    Like

  12. I have read some articles on this concept and it truly works. I am most shock that a big company was able to bring this change about… usually it’s the small guys that do.

    I still need to wrap my head around the compensation model for employees. Once I do…. it’s go time for my company.

    Like

  13. I read about the Best Buy experiment back around 2005 and I think that its an amazing idea. Unfortunately there are still people who are locking in the old way of thinking. Most of the time I can be more productive if I can set my own schedule and adjust to my peak times rather than the forced structure of 9-5. It would be great to hear about more companies taking the plunge and how it works for them.

    Like

  14. Hey there – I have an idea for an online business and I think it could be good. What I need to know is, what are the steps? Do I find a lawyer first? Or a wholesaler? Get the website going or put the word out first? Any help would be much appreciated!

    Thanks!

    Like

  15. There are so many great ideas like this but it seems that most companies are scared to let control loose. I think they look at internet start ups as the poster boy for failure when there isn’t enough control.

    I wonder how long it will take the average corporation to follow this model or other companies like google and Zappos (who actually bribe new employees with $1000 to quit.)

    Like

  16. I am interested to know if you asked them anything about the plans to implement this concept in their retail stores? it seems impossible to do this in a retail setting, but rumor has it, it is already taking place in some areas.

    perhaps you have some ideas of how to implement a retail 4HWW.

    Like