Now Reading: “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke–the Simple Change That Can Make Your Job Terrific” (Cali Ressler, Jody Thompson)

As a leader in an organization, imagine reading this description of an employee’s workday:

A typical day for me includes waking up when my room is too bright from the sun and I can no longer sleep. I check my e-mail to make sure there are no pressing issues and respond to anyone who needs my input. I will typically watch an episode of South Park on the Internet, then walk to my local grocery store and buy some breakfast, even though it’s closer to lunch at this point. After eating I will work in front of my television with ESPN on in the background. At this point I will choose to go into the office or continue to work from home, or maybe not even work at all and go for a bike ride or jog. If there is still work to do later that night, I’ll do it then and it’s no big deal.

I’ll admit it – it kind of made me gulp when I read it.

At the same time, though, I have been in a lot of conversations with a lot of personal and professional colleagues over the past 3-4 years or so, where the question we’re asking ourselves is, “Is this how work life is supposed to be?” Spoken or unspoken, the answer is “we don’t think so.” Various companies’ data also show a trend toward less vacancy in their physical locations.

In the middle of that self-discovery, I read about BestBuy, Inc., (see “Smashing the Clock“). This is the book about their journey.

It’s time to let go and see what our employees can really do – BestBuy Manager

A Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) is as it says – one where results are measured, not time spent. There are no timeclocks, no discussion of time, and no “Sludge” as the authors refer to it. “Sludge” are the comments people make to each other about time, whether it’s about being late to a meeting, or working late at night. Simply put, the authors state, an employer is trading work for money. Why not give them what they pay for?

Reading beyond the BusinessWeek article was very useful – this is not flextime, it’s not “working from home,” it’s a different philosophy altogether. That includes the vignette above. Totally allowed, if you have the results to show for it. The concept can appear challenging; however, it makes sense, in the context of strong leadership committed to respecting employees and customers. That’s where I found similarities to the work I have done.

About respect

When I first read about this work, I asked about how this was similar or different from the LEAN transformation I participated in, in the area of health information technology. Some of the things were consistent, some seemed less so, like having technology teams physically present alongside doctors and nurses, guiding care and feeding of an electronic health record system.

My reconciliation of all of this rests with not comparing individual tools/approaches between ROWE and LEAN. What they both have in common is respect for the customer and staff, and strong leaders. It’s impressive that at the heart of the ROWE movement was (at the time) a 24 year old employee of BestBuy (Cali Ressler), who was dissatisfied with the status quo. The authors also explicitly reject war analogies in business as I have. In my own situation, there was not just a desire to change the way we worked, it was clear that not changing would be unsafe. Healthcare organizations across the country are now learning this, thankfully, but it’s a slow transformation, and the transformations that are happening are nowhere near as radical as ROWE, which is why I am interested in the movement (not because I want to be radical, but because the threats to our patients and their families’ health are so significant).

Just because you can no longer be late doesn’t mean you can be lame

Preliminary data from the University of Minnesota’s Flexible Work and Well-Being Center are showing that voluntary terminations are down, involuntary terminations are up.

Mea culpa and, as usual, I see analogies to health care

I liked the concepts in the book a lot, and have done a self-inventory of my own sludge and the sludge that’s been directed my way. The kind of sludge I get nowadays is really from people who want to understand better how technology can be used to help patients stay healthy. I welcome it as an opportunity to teach and learn. As the authors discussed, people can learn to live sludge-free, and they really want to live sludge-free. It starts with us.

I could see myself promoting ROWE in health care settings, and I think physicians, primary care ones especially, would benefit. The work I do to change health care is completely connected to the idea that health is a means, not an end, and people who go into health care want to support our patients where support is needed, mostly where they live, work, and play. I don’t believe people in health care are any more attached to time than Cali and Jody’s (former?) colleagues at BestBuy are. When I read the stories of BestBuy employees before and after, I reflected on some of the conversations I have had with health professionals (at all levels) who have really been challenged to juggle their passion for helping people and their ability to provide for themselves and their families, physically and emotionally. What would it be like for a family medicine or internal medicine specialist to provide their cognitive services to patients and families using a combination of virtual tools and office (or even home presence) when the situation called for it? Look at what HelloHealth is doing. It’s possible.

A Results Only Patient Experience (ROPE)?

A came upon this table in the book, and curiously, I found it extensible to our health care system. I hope I won’t get in trouble for using it to think about what our health care system were like if our patients experienced it the way a BestBuy employee experienced their work life. The edits are mine.



p.s. I'll be especially curious to see how they manage the "involuntary termination" need. I've long been aligned with the thinking described in your post but I've also long seen people who don't seem the least bit interested in getting a job done. Maybe that evolves in the right climate.

A medical analog to the involuntary termination question is how you conduct billing in an environment like this.

Don't mind me – I've just gotten a little obsessed by the idea that things could actually work sensibly.

Hooray! I like nothing more than to see than 3 comments worth of enthusiasm. It's a Web2.0 technique that I may use from time to time,


Ted, this is a great post and as a sales and marketing professional, I am familiar and supportive of ROWE. The issue I have with it when taken out of the sales area is that the real burden is on management. In order to have a ROWE, you need to clearly spell out what is expected, what results do you want? You need to have metrics that are clearly linked to those results. Furthermore, you need to engage employees in the organization's mission (or else there will be more ESPN viewing than results achieving) and without a dedication to engagement, it will be rare for people to go beyond their metrics. I know, as a manager, its often very difficult to actually know in advance, what you want from your employees. Unless you know, there is no way that your employees can thrive in a ROWE.


I think that is well said, and what comes across in the story is the engagement of the leaders of ROWE in making it happen. I am sure it requires a lot of vigilance, which means to me that a ROWE in any other place would have to have good leaders and managers. I'm up for giving it a try wherever I manage next, I have to admit,



Thank you for your post. The one part that really upsets me is that I did not think to write this book myself! I am a firm believer in it is all about the results. Period. I get far more accomplished in my pajamas, on my couch at 8 p.m., laptop in lap and, dare I say, a glass of wine nearby. Does it really matter that I did not accomplish it at 9 a.m. in my office?

Ted Eytan, MD