, , ,

Future of Work for Millennials Will Be Results-Only (ROWE)

In the virtual workplace of the future many high-performing millennials will be empowered by employers to decide when, where and how they work.

These employees will be responsible for setting their own hours, as well as deciding if and when to physically commute to a traditional brick-and-mortar office. That is, assuming one still exists in the decades ahead due to new and evolving technology.

Getting to know ROWE

This modern-day management model is called a “Results-Only Work Environment” or ROWE. Employers that have experimented with ROWE include retail giants Best Buy and The GAP, as well as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Some leading government workplace experts believe that ROWE will be an essential component in competing with the private sector to attract young people to public service.

Mika Cross, an award-winning workplace transformation strategist and work/life thought leader, says:

  • “ROWE can position the government to attract and retain the next generation of federal workers who represent the diversity of America and who feel empowered to deliver the results needed to accomplish the mission.”
  • “Because they are able to balance the personal demands and priorities that are important to them outside of work, they will be able to bring more focus, discipline and energy to their work.”

In short, ROWE has the potential to be a game changer for the public sector workforce.

Cross, who is also a Presidential Management Council Interagency Fellow, adds:

  • “When implemented successfully, ROWE moves beyond simply allowing for telework or a flexible work schedule. Rather, it is all about fostering a performance based work culture that is laser focused on results, productivity and efficiency.”

Performance, Not Presence

ROWE is the brainchild of two smart and savvy private sector consultants: Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. They describe ROWE as follows:

  • “A management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence.”
  • “In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results – increasing the organization’s performance while cultivating the right environment for people to manage all the demands in their lives…including work.”

Unfortunately, many of today’s “old-school” government managers may perceive ROWE as a radical departure from traditional work methods. But so were new ways of working at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

Ultimately, government leaders will face a stark choice: either adopt ROWE to some extent or be left behind playing catch up to the private sector (which is already too common government-wide).

  • While ROWE appears promising in theory, will it prove successful in practice?

This is the key question which should be further examined via new pilots at public sector agencies. Like telework, not all employees will be eligible for ROWE. But many others will.

Case Studies

As noted, large employers in both the private and public sectors have already piloted ROWE, albeit on a limited basis. Case studies include retail giants Best Buy and The Gap as well as OPM.

  • So why aren’t more government agencies rolling out ROWE pilots?

One key factor hindering progress is the fear of change by intransigent status quo managers. This is already evident with telework and flexible work arrangements at some agencies.

However, what’s indisputable is that revolutionary change is coming to the 21st century workplace whether today’s “old school” government managers like it or not.

Therefore, public sector leaders cannot afford to reject positive change and innovation, such as ROWE, at the expense of meaningful progress. To the contrary, government must embrace the high-tech information revolution to attract a new generation of talent and better serve the public.

Anything less is simply unacceptable and counterproductive.



  • What are your views on ROWE?
  • Do you think ROWE would be effective in your workplace?
  • Would you be willing to participate in a ROWE pilot if offered by your agency?
  • Do you think “business as usual” is possible in the virtual workplace?
  • What jobs do you think are best and worst suited for ROWE?

Also check out:

* All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector or private sector employer, organization or related entity.

David Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Donna Dyer

Very interesting! In higher education, for many staff the expectation is that as long as you get your job done, the number of hours you work is not so important. However, in today’s world, most people have more work to do than hours to do it. Creating a results-driven work plan with accountability metrics and performance targets is not as easy when sales or earnings are the organizational motives, contributing to the difficulty in creating reasonable time lines and targets. I remember in graduate school trying to differentiate among processes, outputs and outcomes to evaluate success. ROWE is a great idea, but it would take a lot of hard thinking in the non-business world–how would we define success in public service positions? Great post.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Totally agree, but first we need better systems for tracking results. Right now, it’s mostly rhetorical. Accomplishment tracking, as well as continuous feedback, are essential components of modern performance management systems.

Henry Brown

Lots of luck!

IMO going to require a massive shift in thinking in whatever workplace we are talking about….

I personally knew several of the participants in the 2 year pilot in OPM, and communicated on a regular basis with several of the ROWE workers at Best Buy….

Yes better result identification/management would/will make it a better process but IMO you cannot have an EFFECTIVE ROWE program until there is at least some level of Trust. And this trust has to work both ways!

It is my understanding that Best Buy management “decided” that ROWE was the cause of several quarters of losses and abandoned the ROWE program, at least for all practical purposes well over two years ago….

The pilot program in OPM was a total failure for at least 3 reasons, and there are probably more!. A. Very little effort was made to expand result tracking beyond the badly broken evaluation system and B. The perception was the only people who were allowed to participate in the pilot were “friends” of the supervisors. C. The participants (at the worker level) were required to explain when and why they weren’t on the job regardless of how well they were providing results.

Geoffrey McLennan

Mika is correct that ROWE will allow performance to be unleashed. Many public and nonprofit organizations lag at this workforce evolution because as noted in these comments, a lagging trust, informal telework, and the lack of a model or virtual work structure for the manager to use. Most managers want staff to excel but are unaware of younger worker’s tech savy lifestyle that befits mobility. Would you expect a paper version of Super Mario Brothers to be in a cubicle? Ding, no! Finally, managers must maintain teamwork that requires more effort by the manager to link mobile workers. Highly encouraged meetings for team check are ok but not in conflict with production. The manager and staff must together embrace change.

David B. Grinberg

Donna, Henry, Terry and Geoffrey:

First, thanks so much for sharing your valuable views and important insights — which is very much appreciated. A few thoughts:

1) As noted, the world is changing due to rapid advancements in technology. Thus the government either gets with the program, so to speak, or sinks even further.

2) There is adequate expertise at the SES level to come up with a viable plan to make ROWE successful in government. If not, then private sector consultants should be hired to do it.

3) If ROWE can increase employee productivity and efficiency it must be further examined within government. That means more pilot programs for starters. Plus, if ROWE can save money for taxpayers by getting more “bang for the buck” and enhance customer service as well, then this seems like a wise move.

Ryan Arba

Hey David – great post as usual! I’m a big ROWE-ian, so I have more to add then I could probably fit in the comment box. That said, I wanted to point out my perspective on ROWE that I think only comes after studying the concept, being shot down (some people even questioned my character) in my former department for proposing it, and connecting with a few of the folks in Hennepin County, MN, that have successfully implemented ROWE and continue to operate today.

Like many others, I came aware of ROWE as I was searching for a way to increase telework adoption. However, over time I’ve found that ROWE is first and foremost a performance management program. It starts with being crystal clear about your results. Then, employees are empowered to work with their teams to find and implement the best way to achieve those results.

The aftermath usually is that the traditional management structure (8-5, M-F, butts in seats, etc) adds little value to the knowledge worker when you include all of the additional baggage that comes with it. The baggage often includes commuting, noisy cube farms, impromptu meetings, and most especially, a culture that rewards being present (known as presentee-ism) over achieving results. Given the maturity of information communication technologies (instant messaging, video conferencing, etc), many folks find that they can collaborate just as effectively remotely as they can sitting down the hall from each other.

As Henry commented on this post, full ROWE adoption will require “unlearning” the values that developed as a result of our industrial age management systems. This is very difficult to do in a system where many (if not most) of the workforce has spent their career being unaccountable for results and un-empowered to do anything about it.

Of course, anything worth doing tends to be difficult. Adopting a ROWE system can yield fantastic outcomes for the beneficiaries of our services, while at the same time tapping into the psychological triggers that increase employee performance. We would all be better for it!

Geoffrey McLennan

Hi everyone,

As a state employee way out West, I am hoping the Federal government sets the pace by demonstrating ROWE and other telework programs. The feds can also help with shared software and other resources such as training. Many states excel in innovative workforce changes, but many do not. The conundrum of lagging ROWE is not exclusively a government problem as we have seen with recent reversals in the Silicon Valley. However, since many federal programs collaborate with state programs, there is hope that federal workforce changes will influence the states. This was apparent in past intergovernmental efforts begun by the Feds including highways, defense/aerospace spinoffs, and now medical care.

Henry Brown

@David: Don’t believe the issue with implementation of ROWE is with Senior Management but the lower levels of management, and until that the majority of all management is replaced with Millennials I perceive that this thinking outside of the box will have a rough road to hoe <GRIN>

David B. Grinberg

Thanks for the follow up comments, Henry. A few thoughts:

1) Yes, implementation of ROWE in the public sector will be challenging and difficult, to say the least, but so was NASA putting sending the first man to the moon. Again, gov must change with the times or be further left behind the private sector and global employers. Gov needs to fully embrace today’s high-tech innovative work methods rather than run and hide from them.

2) Again, ROWE should be broadly piloted this time at numerous agencies for numerous job classifications. Then let’s review the results and reassess.

3) Gov needs to focus on 21st solutions to better serve the public and save taxpayers money. That’s the only way to really rebuild public trust. Thus rather than being deterred or defeatist at the outset by how to implement innovative solutions, today’s gov leaders need to focus on the end result — which is ironically the purpose or ROWE — performance, not presence.

4) Whether problems crop up with middle management, first-line supervisors, or whomever, those problems can be overcome with leadership from the top down. Perhaps implemented ROWE will not be possible until Millennials assume SES jobs in gov. But it will happen eventually.

5) I also refer you to Ryan’s exemplary comments.

Thanks again, Henry, for sharing your important insights on this topic.

Mark Hammer

My sense is that some work lends itself particularly well to ROWE, and other work doesn’t, simply because the “results” are rather hard to peg down, or because the various players need to be in lock-step for whatever reason.

So I don’t think this is a generational thing, or a government/private-sector thing. I think it is largely a matter of getting better at matching the performance-management strategy to the work.

David B. Grinberg

Thanks for the feedback, Mark. I think this may be the shortest comment I’ve ever seen you make — not that one can’t get a good point across via brevity.

My sense is the Millennials, followed by Gen Z, consider high-tech devices an appendages attached at the hip. And, as we know, the workplace represents a microcosm of society. Thus, I think their expectations of how to work will be very different than prior generations, especially with increasingly smart technology continuing to proliferate.

Thus, at the risk of being wrong, I must respectfully disagree with your assessment that this is not a generational issue. However, I do agree with you that ROWE is not be for everybody and results may be “hard to peg down” for some jobs.

Moreover, I think new ways of managing a new generation of workers will lend itself to evolving changes like ROWE and beyond. Folks need to recall that Rome was not built in a day, as they say. Thus new ways of working with new high-tech tools will likewise evolve and advance over time.

Thus by the time Gen Y assume leadership of the public and private sectors — and we Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are kicking back in retirement — the world will indeed be a different place in terms of advanced technologies becoming commonplace.

I suppose time will tell. Thanks, as always, Mark for sharing your important insights. It’s always great to hear from our friends north of the border.