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Best Buy's Revolutionary ROWE: Results-Only Work Environment

BestbuyBest Buy, the nation's leading electronics retailer, used to be known for its killer hours, herd-riding bosses, and high turnover. Now it is home to a workplace revolution called ROWE, for "results-only work environment," that seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. According to a recent article on ROWE in Business Week ("Smashing the Clock"), the goal of the program is to judge performance on output instead of hours spent at the office or in meetings.

In practical terms, ROWE lets Best Buy employees get up and leave in the middle of the workday to attend a matinee or Little League game. Workers pulling into the company's headquarters at 2 p.m. aren't considered late. Nor are those pulling out at 2 p.m. seen as leaving early. There are no schedules. No mandatory meetings. In short, work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. As long as the work gets done and get's done well, it's okay to take conference calls while you hunt, collaborate from your lakeside cabin, or log on after dinner so you can spend the afternoon with your kid.

The crazy thing is that ROWE wasn't authorized by the CEO, Brad Anderson, but began as a "guerilla" initiative nurtured by innovative employees that eventually transformed the company (to be sure, Anderson encourages such bottom-up, stealth innovation).

The results of ROWE speak for themselves: since the program's implementation, average voluntary turnover has fallen drastically, while productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE. Overall employee satisfaction is up too, according to the Gallup Organization, which audits corporate cultures.

Can ROWE work at law firms? Since law firms are professional service providers with demanding clients, and not retailers, tweaks would surely have to be made. But a big part of ROWE involves innovative use of technology, which is something law firms need to catch up on. For firms that are interested, Best Buy recently launched a subsidiary called Culture Rx to teach its concepts to other businesses - see the site here.

Click here to access the full Business Week article discussing the origin of ROWE, its implementation, and additional planned workplace innovations.

There was also an article on ROWE in Time last year.

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So when do you people at corporate start treating your store employees like humans, too? I'm so glad my husband got out of retail management. We never saw him when he worked for Best Buy because he was constantly at the store slowly but surely being drained of his soul and sanity. Seventy plus hours a week isn't normal or healthy for any human being.

I understand ROWE wouldn't work in every aspect of business, but I really hope someone at corporate has the chutzpah to take a good look at how ragged the company runs store management.

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