August 1, 2014

ROWE – Give them what they want – for a while

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Last week, a bit of a discussion occurred on the blog, in response to my post, “Raising Awareness of ROWE and Lean”

I was happy to see all of the comments, and especially enjoyed the points of view from some those whose primary background is in Lean.  While I still think there’s a significant place within Lean for ROWE-based management styles, I also found the challenges to some of my assumptions to be quite thought-provoking.  Clearly, this is not an idea that has reached its full maturity.

While I was a bit disappointed at the relatively fewer responses from people with ROWE-specific or, perhaps, HR and Organizational Development backgrounds, I suppose some of that is to be expected.  After all, not only is Lean a much older  concept that is practices around the work, it also has an army of people with first-hand exposure to its teachings.  Also, there are plenty of people who are working as consultants, facilitating the Lean journey for others.  Rowe, having existed for only about a decade, has a long way to go to achieve the sheer volume of experience that Lean has, much less its depth.

That, being said, two things are currently standing out in my mind:

  1. ROWE represents the best in how people want to be treated while at work.  This does not, necessarily, indicate that the organization that provides it will be a raving marketplace success.  ROWE, in its current state, tends to focus much more heavily on the individual’s results, and not necessarily those of the organization as a whole.
  2. Lean represents the best in operational practices for achieving sustainable high performance and continuous improvement.  This does not indicate, however, that every day for employees is like wine & roses, either.  Lean looks for process excellence to drive results, not just the results without regard for the process that creates them.

This poses an interesting management dilemma – do you “Go ROWE” in order to improve employee morale and gain some short-term (granted, short term could mean a decade) improvements, or do you focus on long-term benefits to the enterprises, which becomes very employee-focused at some point in the future?  Or, do you suppose ROWE can yield sustained, long-term benefits without the over-arching system of continuous improvement and operational excellence offered by Lean and other process-based schools of thought?


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