The Reason for ROWE Failure

The US government took on a pilot project in late 2010 Hired several consultants to not only guide the project but to evaluate the results.

During the project pilot heard little from management about the progress and or issues. Heard even less after the pilot project was completed. Some 3 months after the pilot was over a brief announcement was made that “we” would go no further with ROWE.

I will always wonder why it failed in the Federal work place, at least this time.

I read this blog from the gorowe blog: and am still wondering why it failed at OPM.

Most people we talk to hear the idea of ROWE and instantly love it. We see positive results with the organizations that implement a true Results-Only Work Environment, like increased productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee happiness. Yet, we get a lot of push-back from managers and organizations that aren’t ready to change their culture. They’re not ready to focus solely on results, and give their employees freedom. Why?! We ask this all the time. Our friend, Michael McIntyre (the Director of the Professional MBA Program at the University of Tennessee), offers some insight into why we reject modernizing our working environment and changing the traditional paradigm of how work gets done

I think the biggest challenge to traditional working environments, and what prevents widespread adoption of Results-Only Work Environment, is the fact that ROWE emphasizes personal responsibility. Let’s face it; we live in a society that’s not particularly big on personal responsibility.

Let’s examine what is expected of the individual, managers, and the organization in a Results-Only Work Environment.

What does ROWE expect of the individual?

  • Take care of your business–wherever, however, and whenever you need to.
  • You won’t be rewarded for putting in time.
  • No one is impressed with or sympathetic to the amount of time you work.
  • The only thing you’re measured on is your results.

This is the opposite of how a traditional work environment treats its employees. ROWE puts a lot of pressure and personal responsibility on each worker. Most people want credit for effort — “Look how many hours I worked; I worked on this project all weekend!” Yet, if the project isn’t finished by deadline, if you do not meet your results, the amount of effort really doesn’t matter. It’s as if the workforce is still expecting “Participation Awards” that they hand out in elementary school.

The wonderful thing about focusing on results is that you no longer have these kinds of ridiculous conversations: “I see you’re 10 minutes late… I see you’ve taken a lot of time-off in the month of June… Why are you leaving at 4:30 today?… No, you can’t work from home two days a week to save on gas.” You can’t be taken to task for anything but the work.

What does ROWE expect from managers?

  • Clear expectations for everyone on the team.
  • Real discussion about performance issues (not just “You need to work harder”)

Many managers don’t want to have those conversations. Many managers can’t clarify expectations for their team members. Traditional workplace rules have taught managers how to manage people, but not how to manage the work.

What does ROWE expect of an organization?

  • Meritocracy, not bureaucracy.
  • Transparency and accountability.

This is very healthy for companies. But transparency and accountability also makes many people (employees and managers) uncomfortable.

ROWE will inevitably highlight the differences between individuals’ ability. Some people will produce results more quickly than others. Consequently, the others will claim that ROWE isn’t fair, and conflict-avoiding managers will take their side.

What are we to do?

My fear is that we will do what we so often do in our society, which is avoid short-term discomfort and subsequently erode our long-term health.

My hope is that we will break this destructive cycle. We need to embrace focusing on RESULTS and personal responsibility if we’re going to remain competitive as individuals, as organizations, and as a nation.

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