Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Should Success Be Based On Results or Politics?

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 11

It really isn’t the same everywhere.
For example, some company cultures tend to drive people towards unethical decisions[i] (More here).  In an analogous way, some company cultures drive people more towards corporate idolatry. Employees are expected to “do what it takes” to meet deadlines, and to sacrifice their personal time if the boss asks. I believe that a company with a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) has a lower risk for corporate idolatry.

The philosophy behind ROWE is simple. Employees are responsible for results. How they get there is up to them, completely.  Employees are given the freedom to decide when to come into the office, and how best to meet their objectives.  Daniel Pink argues that ROWE is effective because it provides employees autonomy, i.e. control over their environment, which is intrinsically motivating.[ii] This testimonial from an employee at the GAP, a ROWE company, seems to support that notion.

ROWE has been such a huge support and peace of mind. It allows me to not feel guilty when I need to take care of personal issues. I always meet my deadlines and find alternate time to complete my work.”[iii]

ROWE was developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson when they were in the HR department at Best Buy.  Now, they are consultants and speakers, helping to bring change to hundreds of companies.  I am skeptical about an individual’s ability to change a company culture.  But Ressler and Thompson present a way to make it possible, with a website filled with business cases and slide decks to help you justify a radical change to the way your company operates.


In one example, Suntell, a company that sells loan risk management software adopted a ROWE strategy.  They implemented a VOIP system that allows employees to work from anywhere, which saved the company 7% in phone expenses.  Many employees decided to work from home, which allowed the company to save 30% on rent by moving a smaller office .[iv]

ROWE is generally structured for departments or companies to adopt, but there are principles that can help individuals regain control of their time as well.

[i] Bad Apples, Bad Cases, and Bad Barrels: Meta-Analytic Evidence About Sources of Unethical Decisions at Work.  Kish-Gephart JJ, Harrison DA, Treviño LK. . J Appl Psychol. 2010 Jan;95(1):21

[ii] Drive by Daniel Pink.  Riverhead Book (2009) P 84-85.

[iii] Results Only Work Environment Case Study: GAP

[iv] Results Only Work Environment Case Study: Suntell


  1. One of the main problems with ROWE taken to the extent of working-time-freedom for staff is that everything needs to be quantified. All activities everywhere by everyone have to be defined in terms of measurable deliverables and set deadlines. (This is because otherwise it is only rational for less supervised /supervisable people to do less and less work and allow general expectations of productivity to slow and slow forever.) Having every deliverable and deadline defined ahead of time may sound like a good idea but it is a nightmare to implement in practice, and creates a whole additional overhead of having to think up and discuss/agree/document the deliverables and time goals ahead of actually working on stuff, and then a whole second overhead of having to track/manage/supervise the on time delivery…. of goals which were probably impossible to set accurately in advance unless your work is highly predictable and routine (unlikely nowadays). The result actually tends towards a more stifling and pressured working environment. The “traditional” alternative of having everyone work fixed office hours, stay busy that whole time, and deliver stuff as fast as they can dependent on a flexible set of pressures (intrinsic and extrinsic)… without occupying time defining everything and supervising it to death… actually turns out to be more efficient even if it is not such a trendy thing to want for a workplace!

    • Greg Marcus says

      Hi George,

      Thanks for your comment. I hear what you are saying about the additional up front work in planning ahead, but I guess I would point to the case studies that show increased business returns by companies that have implemented ROWE. Like any business strategy, the devil is in the details.

      ROWE supporters argue a competitive advantage in the marketplace. If this is true, than we will see more ROWE in the future. If not, than companies that ROWE will not survive.

    • Ronnie says

      Hi George!
      ROWE can certainly be a very frightening concept. I mean, if you cannot “see” your employees, how will you ever know if they are working or not? If they are not sitting RIGHT THERE during the assigned hours, how could you possibly justify their necessity or quantify their value? It’s mind boggling and defies common sense, right? My organization migrated to ROWE 2 years ago. We do NOT spend our time hashing out every nth detail or even supervising those details – if the time was spent on those benign activities, when would any results actually be met? What do those activities have to do with delighting the customer? We give our employees complete freedom to meet a set of well-defined desired results – all of which come back to DELIGHT the CUSTOMER.

      There are some employees which I personally HAVE NOT SEEN since we migrated to ROWE. Do they meet results? Absolutely – actually even more so than when I beat them into submission and chained them to their desks in our old traditional (archaic) work environment! Here are a few hard and fast facts about our organization since we migrated to ROWE 2 years ago:

      EBITDA – Up 19%
      Net Income – Up 185% – that’s right – 185%
      Sales – Up 5.5%
      Expenses – Down 12%
      # FTE – Down 20% – what? Are we really doing MORE with LESS? YES!!! We ARE
      Total Customers – Up 20%
      National Penetration – 45% improvement
      Customer Loyalty – Up 40%
      # Customers Lost Annually – DOWN 70%

      So if you’re not interested in results or delighting your customers or stakeholders, I would certainly agree that you should continue to keep your employees under your patriarchal thumb and make damned certain you can see them at all times – that way you will feel comfortable and secure in knowing results being met. (Plus, it justifies your position – after all, someone has to mind the children during the day).

      • Greg Marcus says

        Thank you Ronnie for sharing your success story. Ronnie is the President/COO at Suntell. 185% increase in revenue sounds good to me!

  2. Cool internet site you possess there.


  1. […] we saw in the last post about ROWE, revenue at Suntell went up 185% in the two years after employees were given the freedom to decide […]

  2. […] ROWE has a very good track record of business returns, at the end of the day it is only a strategy. And ROWE is not the only good strategy for making […]