Five ROWE Myths

Jun 22, 2022
Kate Walton

Hello from Steyer!

My piece about ROWE kicked up a lot of dust. Some of you said you loved the idea of a “Results-Only Work Environment”—that autonomy plus accountability is your jam. Others, mainly managers, were more skeptical: how do you build a strong team when everyone’s off doing their own thing? And what about newbies? How can they learn if no one’s around?

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Well, from what I’ve seen so far, you’re ALL right: ROWE delivers distinct benefits AND it’s complicated. But interestingly the complications come, I think, not from built-in downsides, which is what the most rabid naysayers would have you believe. No, most of the complications come from common misunderstandings of ROWE—myths that have to be systematically exploded before a deeper understanding can settle on a team and the experiment can be given a proper chance.

Here, ripped straight from a slide I wrote for our team, are five myths that I observed swirling around in the early days and weeks of our ROWE experience:

My sense so far is that the better ROWE is understood, the warmer the embrace. The other thing I’ve noticed is that ROWE forces most managers, including me, to level up: it’s difficult to clearly define exactly what success in a given role looks like, and in gauging performance, it’s challenging to lose traditional proxies like presence, attitude, and even work ethic.

But moving to a results-only framework is, I believe, an excellent discipline: not only does it require managers to sharpen the focus of their expectations; it also moves workplaces farther away from the despotic fiefdoms they can be and closer to the ideals of what John Mackey and Raj Sisodia coined “conscious capitalism”—a vision of “voluntary exchange for mutual benefit” that just lights me up in way that what they aptly describe as “crony capitalism” does not. (Thanks, Brad Omland, for reminding me of that book!)

Lastly, I was going to write more about Elon Musk and his take on remote employees. I was going to acknowledge that I’ve never built a rocket or a car and that he may be 100% right that remote doesn’t really work for his companies. But sheesh I wish he spoke to his employees more respectfully and treated other people better! So here instead is an interview I did long ago with a different Musk, Justine. She’s (as she jokes on Twitter) his “first ex-wife” but, more importantly, she’s a creative powerhouse in her own right. She’s also really, really nice.

Thanks for reading,

Image credits:
Ungainly slide by Kate Walton
Fetching photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash