Exploring the Value Of ROWE Based Leadership

Business, ROWE, leadership and Stephen AbbottThis is guest post is by Stephen Abbott is a brand strategist who is based in Vancouver, Canada, who helps organizations tell a story that is authentic, compelling and a competitive advantage . Stephen has worked on diverse brands—from grass roots organizations to Royal charities—giving him a healthy perspective on what is known as the soft side of business. Please join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz, this Friday, November 9th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT as we focus on how Results Only Work Environment and Leadership.

For generations, “work” meant showing up and being in place; doing your job in a space determined by the organization and comfortably similar to everyone else’s. It’s still so ingrained that some managers still believe the traditional work environment is actually important to the work. Forgetting the limits that demanded those traditional work spaces—communication, filing systems, meeting rooms, industrial economy—they seem to ignore how technology has removed those barriers and offers new possibilities.

What is ROWE?

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) is one of the first team leadership styles to disrupt decades of one of the most familiar practices in management; face time.  Officially, ROWE is a human resources management strategy developed by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, who have since formed a consultancy, CultureRx, focused on implementing ROWE at corporations. Like many other strategic or management theories explored over the past few decades (360 Management, Six Sigma, Blue Ocean Strategy, Lean), many leaders are unofficially adopting the underlying theory—or some version of it—to their own workplace.

Rooted in trust

As a concept, it’s a distinctly hands-off approach to management—a style rooted in trust and respect of skilled teams and clear objectives. This is in contrast to the discipline and control—however well intentioned—of the more familiar ‘assign-report-analyze-influence-adjust’ methods found in other styles of management.

Proponents and advocates

Proponents of ROWE are quick to point out the implied benefit. More flexibility + less distractions + work excellence = a happy team achieving desired results. What could be better than more productive employees meeting required targets?

Those who question ROWE are just as quick. There’s a lack of direct accountability and a lack of opportunities to collaborate if people are free to “do as they please”. If team members behave in unpredictable patterns, it’s difficult to coordinate efforts and leverage the full skill of the team efficiently. What could be worse than not being able to manage results without responsible oversight?

Both sides have valid points, and yet both sides make silly claims, too.

Advocates of ROWE imply that traditional managers are out-of-touch, stuffy old clock-watchers and everyone works in cubicle hell. It defines “working-for-the-man”. The other side believes that ROWE workers spend all day in their pajamas, ignoring phone calls and spending billable hours running personal errands with no regard for the demands of their colleagues. It’s ‘free-love’ with a paycheque.

The reality lies somewhere in between, and is as much as reflection of your organization’s culture and processes as it is about value and competence. It’s important to define what results (R) mean to you and your organization. Think beyond the bottom line. ‘Results’ may very well include time in team settings merely for the collaborative value of working together. ‘Results’ doesn’t only imply the end product, but must include important milestones along the way—logical points to share and contribute.

Sitting at the heart of leadership

I will be honest—I am an advocate of this style of management whether its officially declared or simply honoured by leadership. For me, it is the one style of management that sits at the heart of leadership, encouraging individual excellence while focused on shared goals. It demands a level of professional respect and true collaboration that is refreshing, especially in my world of strategic creativity. That being said, I recognize it’s not for everyone.

ROWE shattered the traditional expectations of some work environments and productivity, and the results have shown both success and failure. Is ROWE a viable management theory, or simply a passing fad?

 Q1 Does ROWE style leadership contradict the concept of clear organizational teams and shared goals?

Q2 As an employee or a leader, why do you prefer ROWE style leadership or more traditional management approach?

Q3 Do you think it’s possible for one organization to have similar teams mixed with ROWE style and more traditional style practices?

Q4 What are your concerns with ROWE style leadership style in your organization?

Q5 Which industries or professions better suited to ROWE style leadership?

About the author: Stephen Abbott is a brand strategist based in Vancouver, Canada,  helping organizations tell a story that is authentic, compelling and a competitive advantage. To do this, he focuses on the four critical functions of brand strategy; leadership & culture, communications, brand experience, and operations. Stephen has worked on diverse brands—from grass roots organizations to Royal charities—experiencing a variety of industries and organizational styles first-hand. This exposure has given him a healthy perspective on what is known as the soft side of business; capturing the excitement of visionary leadership while remaining grounded in realistic goals and being accountable to bottom line success.

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