I had never heard of ROWE until 2011, when I was exposed to the concept by David Cummings, founder of Pardot. Pardot is known for its exceptional work culture, and David also introduced me to the Entrepreneurs Organization, a collection of business owners which, coincidently, had also implemented ROWE. The culture at many of these small companies seemed to be thriving, and I was always looking to improve our own. I started to do some research.
My Roots are ROWE
I started my career in 1999, working as a salesman for a technology outfit. Though I didn’t think of it that way at the time, I was working for results then, too: if I sold stuff, I got paid. They never called it ROWE, but that is exactly how the sales organization was structured. I liked the freedom and autonomy it gave me to figure out new ways to sell, help customers, and solve problems. Results always made sense to me: you don’t get paid to surf the net, check Facebook, or play Tetris. You get paid to sell—and sell I did.
This brings me to one of Reliant’s foundational elements and core values: have fun & and get it done. The whole team functions much better if we work to bring about specific results, maintaining a cheerful outlook along the way. Our customers deserve results for placing their trust in us; and better results, in turn, bring about greater trust.
At Reliant, Before ROWE
When I started Reliant, I knew absolutely nothing about management. I had always managed myself, and I wanted to find others who could do the same. I was looking for responsible people who got stuff done: stuff that mattered, that would help us grow our company and capabilities.
When I discovered ROWE, I came to believe that it would allow our work culture to thrive, giving us a climate of freedom, autonomy, and purpose. I wanted people to enjoy coming to work, and ROWE represented part of the solution. In the beginning, I screwed it up royally, because we (I) had never created clearly-defined roles and expectations. At times, this caused confusion, but our responsible team continued to succeed in spite of my first efforts.
With ROWE, if we all achieve our desired results, we can work whenever, wherever, and however we want. Freedom, fun, and sense of accomplishment all define Reliant’s mission of empowering people to make a difference. At Reliant, we:
• Have no dress code
• Play music over a Sonos sound system
• Work together in teams
• Have parties
• Measure lots of things
• Have no vacation policy
• Often exceed our goals
In addition, our customers seem to like us; and we like them in return.
The Implementation of ROWE
Despite these freedoms, many employees still have reservations about ROWE:
• Responsible people
• Irresponsible or unqualified people (who focus on activity instead of results)
Responsible people (including myself, in the beginning) can often feel that everything will spiral out of control if you give everyone total freedom. This can be the case—if you have a team of irresponsible people. I have also learned that many responsible people have had bad measurements and activities forced upon them in the past. Misguided systems of measurement (call tracking, number of cases, etc.) often focus on things that actually require contextual information for proper interpretation. This often leaves responsible people feeling bitter about the “results.”
Irresponsible or unqualified people don’t like ROWE because it tends to shed light on results that are not being achieved, suggesting that those responsible for missing the mark need to improve or move on. This level of accountability can be somewhat scary. Over the years, I’ve overheard people (in dinner conversation or in other contexts) say things like, “I get paid really well—and I don’t really do anything.” Statements like these really sum it up. Reliant can’t afford to allow this kind of mentality to seep into our culture.
Here’s the thing. A lot of people have had bad experiences with metrics, and certain types of results can be tough to put a number on. Operations, finance, and logistics, for instance, are more challenging, but not impossible, to define.
Here’s an example:
One of our team members, Michael (who happens to be very responsible) was talking with me about his role as Storage Engineer. We decided that his ideal outcome/result would be to prevent problems, solve challenges, and answer questions—before, during and after the sale.
That was it.
So, if Michael leaves, goes on vacation, or attends an all-day Harley convention, how can we maintain those results in his absence?
• Notify a backup engineer to cover for him
• Tell the team in advance
• Have him answer calls on his cell (if option A is not in effect)
As far as management goes, do we really have to measure his results to the nth degree? It depends. Should we measure:
• The number of problems he prevents?
• His customer satisfaction score?
• How many calls he’s on?
• The satisfaction of sales reps with his performance?
• The number of sales related to his involvement?
All are possible, but for the time being, I simply asked him: “On a scale of 1-10, how well are you helping Kevin achieve this result?” He replied with an 8. I then asked him about another person, and he replied with a 0. These are subjective numbers, for sure, but numbers nonetheless; and now we could have a conversation about it. Since I trust him, the numbers made sense. If he breaks trust, we’ll have to dig deeper; but for now, that’s enough.
The point is, whether we evaluate ourselves according to ROWE or not, we have to define what each team member is responsible for. That is the responsibility of leadership. The employee is then free to figure out all the rest—how they do it, the challenges they encounter, and how they choose to overcome those challenges.
If Michael is getting results that fall outside the area of prevent problems, solve challenges, and answer questions before, during and after the sale, then we are probably missing the mark.
ROWE is Easy, Tough and Fun
ROWE is no cakewalk. Most people will have questions.
Here’s what’s easy about ROWE:
• No vacation policy—yeah!
• We can wear whatever we want, as long as it doesn’t offend anyone—yeah!
• We can go home (or to pick up our dog or visit our cousin, if we need to)—no problem
Here’s what’s tough about ROWE:
• Holding people accountable if they don’t hit results
• Making sure you hire great people who are all about getting results instead of merely completing activity
• Defining results accurately and clearly
Here’s what’s fun about ROWE:
• Coming up with clever ways to hit results more quickly and easily
• Lack of micromanagement
• Freedom to solve problems and do stuff independently
• Ownership of accomplishments, and putting your mark on something meaningful
With ROWE, the work is about results, and it’s up to the individual to go after them. If people don’t hit results, we then have conversations around why they aren’t attaining what they set out to do. If results go unmet for 1-3 months, depending upon the severity of the situation, it may be time for that person to find another role at the company, or even somewhere else if it’s not really a fit for either one of us. This is tough stuff, but allows freedom and accountability to work for everyone else.
Reliant strives to provide the best customer experience in the world for upgrade and support of storage infrastructure. It’s a fun ride, and we always need great people who can help us achieve the results we need to get there.
If you are thinking about “going ROWE,” I’d advise you to read these books. They have been extremely helpful.