It has been some time since I’ve written about ROWE and Lean, thanks to some personal ups and downs and the need to sit back and reflect a little on what I learned after bringing the ROWE and Lean communities together. So, I thought it time to re-visit the situation and report on what I’ve learned so far.
ROWE has shortcomings. They are well explained here, via a blog by Scott Rutherford. ROWE, if left alone and perceived as the end goal, leads only to suboptimization. The approach is incomplete. It might help get Lean off the ground, but that realization only solidifes ROWE’s role as a launchpad, not as an overall management philosophy, which Lean is.
In his comments on a recent post to his site, Dan Markovitz stated “Respect without tools leads to feel-good mediocrity.” Which serves as a warning that ROWE, without an overarching framework for continuous improvement, does not have the ooomph! to prevent or rescue failing organiztions. ROWE is incomplete.
That’s not to say it is without its merits. ROWE can create engagement, but there’s a lot of care needed to make sure that engagement is for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Taking the day off due to burnout is good. Taking the day off because I’m sick and tired of dealing with bullshit is not. Fixing the problem, or learning how to influence the problem, or experimenting with methods for identifying problems, is a much better result for everyone than disappearing for the afternoon because there’s “nothing to do.”
Where ROWE is cool, and I mean really, really cool – is when it acknowledges the people side of things – that there are concerns outside of work that might keep me from being in the office, and if you let me take care of those things when I need to, I will pay you back with interest. THAT is a good thing. But when the people that do the work are left entirely on their own to organize themselves, without anyone to oversee the process, that is not good management – that is the acceptance of bad management as some kind of innate, inevitable truth. Yes, we need to be much more centered on allowing people the freedom to perform without paternalistic, demeaning oversight. Even the best of flocks need shepherds to guide and direct the herd, though. When the humanistic approach gets elevated, everyone wins. When it gets glorified, everyone loses.
Look at this post called Go the F**k home, courtesy of Tim McMahon’s blog. I don’t want people who get fed up and go home. I want people who are so fed up they begin to investigate the means of identifying mura and muri, and the countermeasures for reducing and eliminating waste, to the point that no one ever is so overburdened that they NEED to work late, or want to just to keep up appearances.
Yes, everyone would like to work where they want, when they want, to be known as a responsible agent capable of determining their own impact on the organization and entrusted with the responsibility for doing what is right or needs to be done. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-well-known reality of problem solving that a person has to exist outside of the process that created the problem in order to truly see where the errors occur. That means a wizened and experienced group of people have to be monitoring that process and the system within which those processes occur. This means LEADERSHIP. The real problem we seen in so many organizations, however, is that leadership is absent or weak, and defines itself as the ability to push people around rather than push obstacles out of people’s way. We are left, instead, with a caste of managers whose greatest wish is to never have to deal with their staff on a personal level or report a problem upwards…which is the antithesis of leadership.
With good leadership, any approach can be successful. Without it, any approach is doomed. The question, then, is which is likely to produce good leaders – ROWE or Lean? If the situations at Best Buy and Toyota are taken as examples, the answer to that question is obvious.
ROWE is enticing, as are any other arrangements that promise more freedom, respect, responsibility and control. Unfortunately, too many of those things leads only to under-performance and, at the extremes…chaos or stagnation. Direction and organization are mandatory, too, and they often can’t take place without a good, swift kick in the butt taking place.
ROWE, at its best, might be able to point out Fake Lean and help Lean initiatives get off the ground, but that only highlights that embarking upon a Lean journey ought to focus on True Lean from the outset. Doing so would invoke the same concern for individuals, in all respects, that ROWE focuses on anyway.
In the end, my conclusion is this – ROWE is, clearly, the way people want to work. Lean is, equally clearly, the way that they should.