ROWE Is Adaptive Change

Ronald Heifetz identifies two types of challenges in change:  adaptive and technical. The technical is defined as those that can be solved by the knowledge of experts, whereas adaptive requires new learning. When the problem definition, solution, and implementation is clear, Heifetz calls this technical change. For the adaptive, change must come from the collective intelligence of the employees at all levels. So, together they learn their way toward solutions.

Heifetz also refers to ROWE as “pure management innovation.” Though we’ve helped many businesses and organizations go through the process of `changing long-held beliefs and presumptions about how work should get done, a lot of misconceptions have sprouted up. We want to take a moment to set the record straight.

1. ROWE is telework, flextime, and work from home program.

Absolutely not! There’s a great tendency to focus on time and place when it comes to work. When people hear that ROWE employees can work anywhere, anytime, as long as the work gets done, they leap to the conclusion that ROWE is about working from home. It isn’t. ROWE is about meeting results. We recognize some roles are location specific, but in a ROWE, every employee has 100% autonomy, so rather than using a schedule, employees need to understand the work and how to ensure coverage to deliver results.

2. If people get their work done in less than 40 hours, then they need more work. The reward for work done well… should not be MORE work (usually somebody else’s, who has fallen behind in their work). Rewarding your high performers by commanding them to do the additional work of your slackers is not a reward at all. That is punishment.

3. Not every business can be a ROWE. We’ve already established that ROWE is not about telework. Of course, ‘working remotely’ doesn’t work for all job tasks. But focusing on results does work for all jobs. To hear people say that ROWE doesn’t work for some jobs is simply saying that not everyone should focus on results. And that’s just silly.

4. Not every employee can be trusted. It’s amazing what businesses are doing because of the obsession with tracking time. Are people really so untrustworthy? Do employees deserve to be treated like adults? There’s a good reason why people play hooky from work, and it’s because they’re being treated like children.

5. In a ROWE, people will take advantage and slack off. Quite the opposite. In fact, most companies that go ROWE see tremendous increases in productivity and efficiency. Why? Because clear communication, meaningful collaboration, and an objective focus on achieving results becomes the norm.

6. Managers need to be in the office for their people.

Like this one, most of the myths we've heard have something to do with not knowing how to manage people you may not see every day. How do you know they're working? What will my role as a manager be if I don't have to keep track of schedules? As a manager or people leader, you can also read more about this shift in Why Managing Sucks and How To Fix It.

Ask your questions and share your perspectives in the comment section.