March 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm #156046
I was very disappointed to learn that OPM has ended their Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) pilot (http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20120313/PERSONNEL01/203130304/1001). I had hope that his experiment would someday become a new way of managing work in the Federal government. I guess we are just not ready for this new way of managing work.
What will it take to make ROWE work? Has anyone else in the government experimented with ROWE?
March 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm #156098
There are many government examples where ROWE is successful and is working. One example is the Human Services Public Health Department in Hennepin County in Minnesota. They started their ROWE journey 3 years ago and have approximately 2,700 employees working in a ROWE. There are other county, city, and state government offices that have implemented ROWE successfully as well. I do believe that ROWE will be the future of work for all of government. We appreciate your insight and understanding to the benefits of ROWE. That thinking will bring ROWE forward to government organizations!
March 15, 2012 at 1:14 pm #156096
Jon P. BirdParticipant
I guess it was hard for OPM to WADE into this ROWE concept.
March 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm #156094
Karen L. JonesParticipant
I thought it interesting that they identified what was hindering effective implementation, but instead of fixing it, they dumped the whole program!
March 15, 2012 at 1:34 pm #156092
Numerous indicators suggest that organizations will need to master some of the basic tenets of Results Only Work Environments if they bear any chance of attracting and retaining high quality talent. Perhaps most importantly, there simply aren’t enough Gen Y workers with the skills that organizations – including government agencies – will need to flourish and succeed in accomplishing their goals.
Though I’m a Gen Xer, I identify with many of the younger employees and friends I interact with. As a leader, I cringe when I hear about their experiences clashing with old-fashioned management practices that rely on the influence of position over other, more effective tools. Thanks to some great mentors and my own experience leading my team in a flexible environment, I know first-hand that delivering a flexible work/life experience is something leaders can accomplish if they’re willing. The best part is that it’s truly a win/win when everything comes together.
Berry was pretty up-front about some of the factors that led to the ROWE pilot’s failure at OPM. Not setting clear goals or metrics perplexes me a bit, though. My experience is that frequent and straightforward feedback between myself and my staff on even the “squishiest” of deliverables (they sometimes seem to shift on a daily basis!) creates a clear playing field. That said, Berry’s comment that OPM failed to address the lack of effective communication between employees and managers points to the clear death knell of the pilot.
The founders of ROWE spell out the importance of communication and consistency in their great (and highly readable) book, “Why Work Sucks (and how to fix it)”. I see the failure of the OPM pilot as egg on the agency’s face, not the ROWE model. I’m thrilled by Stacy’s comment that the system works well in her organization, and share her belief that it can work elsewhere. Here’s hoping influential leaders throughout government don’t let OPM’s hiccup slow down the progress they’re striving toward, or their adoption of great models like ROWE.
March 15, 2012 at 1:40 pm #156090
Like any change in the government, ROWE is going to take time. Management will need to change its beliefs about how the office should look and how the work should get done. Some agencies here are still trying to convince their management that telework is a good idea. ROWE is very new.
One way is for innovative managers to share their stories in their meetings with other managers. Share the pros and cons of ROWE in their offices. Staff members should also share the pros and cons with their collegues within the agency. Sometimes the biggest resistence is lack of knowledge. This is how my agency expanded telework. It took a few brave and innovative managers and staffs willing to go the extra mile to prove the program works and now most of the agency teleworks. The same can be done for ROWE but it will take time.
March 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm #156088
Good points Jaqi! I’m especially disappointed because now that this failure is documented by the government’s leading HR organization, other agencies will use this as a justification for not even attempting to implement the precepts of ROWE. Instead, we have a series of inflexible “flexibilities” like telework and alternate work schedules.
March 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm #156086
Well played Jon…
March 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm #156084
Clearly there were some initial problems with training and emphasizing the slightly different management style that would be needed to make ROWE work well, but am I crazy to think that some employees just may not produce as much without the normal office pressures/incentives?A Results-Only Work Environment could fail in part because it did not lead to adequate work results. In an environment in which managers often avoid criticizing or dealing with poor performance, I am not surprised that shifting work structures so that timely feedback and accountability is necessary would make folks uncomfortable. If staff were not living up to their performance expectations and managers were unwilling to engage them in correcting the situation, I can see why the pilot would fail.
March 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm #156082
I currently work in the Human Services and Public Health Department at Hennepin County in MN. I love ROWE! It is about results and getting the work done. Meetings are held whether people are onsite or off. In most meetings I facilitate, which tends to be a good number since I work as a Project Manager, I have the option for people to call in. We have conference phones that we check out for meetings that are easier for the person offsite to hear. We also have virtual conference rooms, which are meeting lines where up to 13 people can call into the meeting. One negative of calling into a meeting is that side conversations in the meeting room need to be keep at a minimum so the people on the phone can hear what is being discussed. This can also be viewed as a positive too, since the meeting will stay on track better without the side conversations.
I work with some vendors who are in another state from us and do all communication via phone or email. The work gets done. Working with staff in the organization should be no different.
Obviously, if I am facilitating the meeting, I’m going to be onsite to set it up. If all parties are calling into the meeting, it doesn’t matter where you start the meeting, just so it’s started.
As far as getting work done, my laptop goes with me or I can remote my laptop via a Citrix solution. Either way, I’m getting my work done. It does come down to changing attitudes and changing how we view meetings and where people “need” to be when they work. When we first implemented ROWE, some units were not on it yet while others were. Some people had to ask to work offsite for an afternoon, while others just did what they needed to do to get the work done and deal with their life issues. Now our entire department is on ROWE. It depends our your job how much you can ROWE, due to staffing the public desks.
March 15, 2012 at 3:12 pm #156080
I’ve been to several meetings on the ROWE concept of work and I keep thinking about the long term effects (Or maybe an unintended consequence) of this trend. If my value to an organization is based on my skill sets or intellectual property, why would I diminish my “Dollars earning value” or potential by sharing them with anyone else?
I worry that the benefit of the “Team” mentality will go away because people will not want to contribute collectively if they think it will hurt their own marketability.
If my “Worth” is based on what I know and the results I can produce, I am not going to want to water that down by giving other people my knowledge or information.
I liken it to the rare coin world. If I only have one of a type of coin its value is much greater than if I have even two, much less if there are 100 of them.
I’ve posed this question on several occasions and have not received a very clear answer on how to address it.
Will ROWE work? Only time will tell but I think there are some potential issues that need to be addressed for certain circumstances.
March 15, 2012 at 3:29 pm #156078
Great point, Karen!
March 15, 2012 at 3:33 pm #156076
Anna- You are crazy to think that some employees may not produces as much without the normal office pressure. 🙂 In a ROWE, the focus is results, and if the office is the best place for someone to achieve their results, that’s where they will be. For organizations that implement ROWE, we see an average increase in productivity of 30%. And you are right, the key is accountability. If that isn’t there, it won’t work.
March 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm #156074
Mike- you raise an interesting point- but shouldn’t we have your concern today? If I am a financial analyst, for example, and my specific skill set is needed- aren’t there thousands of people out there with a similar skill set? And, doesn’t the organization need more than one?
And in a ROWE, the team does still work together. They are tied to that overall outcome and want the organization to succeed. It’s not about my personal agenda and what I can do to advance my priorities. It’s about the organization.
ROWE will work and ROWE does work. I hope this answer gives you the insight you were looking for! Stacey
March 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm #156072
My response, as a ROWE advocate, is to challenge your underlying assumptions that human nature favors hoarding information, and that employees will be more successful if they act independently and eschew teamwork and collaboration. In fact, I’d counter that employees are better equipped to succeed – in general – by sharing information and increasing transparency.
Employees who deliver big results for an organization often do so specifically because they work effectively with others, whether they’re organized together on a formal team or just through general collaboration and by being pleasant. (Being pleasant includes being willing to share information that can help others succeed at their goals).
Studies show that most people prefer to work with someone who’s pleasant to be around, even if he or she isn’t highly skilled, as opposed to a highly competent employee who’s unpleasant. Of course, a true ROWE eliminates incompetent employees, leaving behind folks who are able to accomplish results, whether they do so with a “honey” or “vinegar” approach.
It’s likely you haven’t received a satisfactory response to your concern because it’s not particularly valid, and not specific to ROWE, as Stacey Swanson points out. I encourage you to read more about ROWE (definitely check out the book, “Why Work Sucks (and how to fix it)” by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson) and to challenge some of your assumptions about the behaviors that can help employees truly excel.
March 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm #156070
In our organization the ROWE concept, which isn’t called that at all but evidently falls under it according to my research, works fairly well. Employees are expected to produce so many widgets per day and are held accountable (as much as any government employee is really) for that standard, as well as a quality standard on their product. Communication on how they are or are not meeting these standards is handled on a month-to-month basis, and our EOY performance notices are based upon these same criteria and our results towards them. The only part they haven’t implemented is the flexibility aspect of it. Any time we are not working, we take “non productive time” for, which basically means that when the system computes our production and quality for the month, it subtracts all the hours we weren’t working from those total hours available, so our production and quality is only based upon those hours we are actually in the office/doing the work. It has been more helpful with teleworkers, who have access to the goverment computer systems any time during the day, so if they start their day at 10 and end it at 2 (or 10pm) no one knows or cares, as long as they produced their widgets for the day. For those who work inside the building, the offices are only open for a set time period and you have to get that work done during those hours or be on leave. Now if only they’d open my job up to be a telework position, I’d have it made! 😉
March 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm #156068
If your value is based on your skills, and you are the best at what you do, won’t you command a higher price? Think about roofers. There are many companies out there and they charge different amounts for basically the same service. However, you will pay more for the service if you are going to get better service. So the company with the better skill sets will warrant a higher cost to the consumer, whether the skill set is real or just perceived.
With the nature of people being what it is, I think once someone realizes their value is based on what they know, they will become more guarded in sharing.
With all the websites that are now out there dedicated to the ROWE concept, and as this type of outsourcing continues, I think the Team concept will diminish in some situations.
I appreciate all the comments and I will definitely pursue more information where ROWE is actually in place.
March 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm #156066
As Stacey mentions, we are working with several government entities to bring them into a Results-Only Work Environment. ROWE is absolutely the future of how work will happen in government. In fact, ROWE was featured as an innovation in the public workforce a few weeks ago during this webinar hosted by Governing Magazine: http://bit.ly/z4USL2. One of the guests on the show was Deb Truesdell from the Human Services and Public Health Department at Hennepin County. You’ll hear Deb discuss the wins they’ve experienced in the areas of increased productivity, the ability to attract the best talent, and better service to customers. You’ll also hear some very real challenges that come along with shifting culture. It’s not easy, but government entities are succeeding. And they’re coming out the other side with amazing results and the hope that in time, this is how every government body will be operating.
March 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm #156064
Jon – just have to share this with you 🙂 Some organizations we work with have written this on whiteboards during ROWE training:
ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) vs. WADE (Working at Desk Endlessly)
Thought you’d appreciate this!
March 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm #156062
If an organization values its people because of what they KNOW, not what they can DO, then they have a very poor knowledge management environment. That means that they not only are not good candidates for ROWE, the organization also faces a high risk of 1) decreased performance whenever people leave the organization or take another assignment, which leads to 2) inability to rotate staff to gain experience beneficial to the organization, which leads to, 3) difficulty responding to environmental changes,. Sound like your organization?
Having performance tracked by results, rather than on some notion of what the person knows INCENTIVIZES team-centered behavior in my experience. The devil is in the details of how results are tracked. I beleive the problem you are getting at is how our underlying performance management systems don’t work well for many team goals.
People can usually parse out their contribution to a team. The problem is that those contributions can’t be determined in advance neccesarily, as they depend on group dynamics.
March 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm #156060
It seems strange to completely cut it, rather than make tweaks and try and improve. Maybe they could have phased the program down a little bit and worked with that smaller group of people teleworking to perfect it?
March 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm #156058
I love all of the great dialogue on this topic! For CultureRx, it comes down to results. ROWE is RESULTS-only Work Environment. When we hear organizations, like OPM, say ROWE is not for them- we hear that they can’t get to results. And, it’s a shame.
I strongly believe there is a future for ROWE and the federal government. Another agency will step up and take on the challenge to be crystal clear about results and holding people accountable. Through this culture transformation, there is great success to be realized. Over and over, we see ROWE organizations benefit from increased employee engagement, less turnover, and increased productivity. I cannot wait for the next federal agency to take on ROWE and share its success.
March 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm #156056
“If an organization values its people because of what they KNOW, not what they can DO, then they have a very poor knowledge management environment. That means that they not only are not good candidates for ROWE…”
Yeah, but isn’t that just the problem? Doesn’t that describe a lot of Federal Agencies?
March 22, 2012 at 10:00 pm #156054
Awesome comment, Francine! ROWE certainly has changed the way we do business in HSPHD! We are now utilizing all of our technology to do our work, and we’ve developed an environment where we are respectful of different work styles, preferences, skills and strengths and focus on how we can best work together as a team to get the job done. We understand, too, that ROWE isn’t about working from home or outside of the office, that it’s about doing the best work we can while also having the ability to manage our lives as well! HSPHD has expanded the tools and resources that we can access to help us make our results, measurements, and communication practices crystal clear to each team and individual contributor. We’ve come a long way since first implementing ROWE in 2009, and we certainly have something to teach other government agencies about improving the work we do, implementing innovative ideas, and increasing employee satisfaction and perception of health all at the same time!
As OPM seems to have experienced, the transformation to a ROWE was difficult as we changed our focus from performance evaluations that were based on the time you spent in the office to performance evaluations that evaluate performance….but we hung in there, worked through it, and now have the ability to say we are ages beyond our other government (and corporate!) friends and are attracting already trained, talented individuals who are taking a cut in pay to work where they are treated as adults and evaluated for their results.
March 23, 2012 at 3:17 am #156052
Carolyn-Thank you for your insight as to how ROWE is working for you in government.
March 23, 2012 at 3:40 am #156050
Carolyn – thanks for sharing how HSPHD is doing in a ROWE! How great is it to say you’re ages beyond other government and corporate friends? 🙂
April 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm #156048
Great new article on ROWE in the public sector. ROWE does work in government!
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