The startup world is more intense than ever and good employees are becoming hard to come by. With so much competition, how can you ensure your company attracts and retains the best of the best? I’d argue that implementing a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), as initially coined by Cali Ressler & Jody Thompson, is the most effective way to accomplish this goal.
The ROWE philosophy focuses purely on results, which frees organizations from having to waste time and effort monitoring the minor details of employees’ routines and frees employees from worrying about prescribed ways of doing things or bureaucratic hoops to jump through. Instead, management and employees alike can focus solely on results -- and that’s what matters most, regardless of how they are achieved.
The ROWE system and its freedom of process align perfectly with what motivates startup employees: Finding solutions to challenges and problems in the best way they see fit without being bogged down by processes and protocols. Not only can this lead to higher job satisfaction, but it fosters creativity and critical thinking – two of the most important characteristics for a startup employee.
Freedom in work style is not the only benefit of the ROWE philosophy that employees and candidates find attractive. Workplaces that adopt the ROWE philosophy typically also offer unique benefits and management styles that align with the overall “freedom” principle.
For example, consider the following ROWE practices to boost employee attraction and retention, while achieving results that drive the business forward:
Allow employees to work remotely.
While there are definitely advantages to working in the office, such as ease of collaboration, today’s technology makes it easy for remote workers to plug in and connect with colleagues. The freedom to work from home when needed, especially for personal (e.g., doctor’s appointment, childcare, etc.), weather or traffic-related reasons can be a huge benefit -- and relief -- to employees, even when it only happens occasionally.
Implement an unlimited vacation policy.
The problem with giving employees a set number of vacation days per year is that, without fail, you’ll end up with a bottleneck at the end of the year: use it or lose it! Consider instituting an unlimited vacation policy. Rather than strictly tracking vacation time, develop a few simple stipulations that employees must follow (e.g., take no more than two consecutive weeks off, coordinate with colleagues to make sure the whole team isn’t off at the same time, etc.). Making sure the results (the R in ROWE) are still happening is all most organizations will really need from their employees in exchange for unlimited vacation time.
Ensure employees never think about salary.
Salary can often serve as a major distraction for employees, detracting focus from achieving results. Employees should never have to worry about fair wages. The best way to ensure this is to make sure employee salaries can successfully go through the “copy machine test.” If an employee came upon a list of salaries, accidentally left in the copy machine, would he be disappointed or would he feel fairly compensated? A perceived lack of fairness among employee salaries can create friction among team members, and if the pay is significantly lower than what other companies are paying, it will be a topic of discussion and a major morale drain. Keep salaries close to market value, and if possible, compensate team “superstars” a little more -- about 10 to 20 percent above market value.
Follow an inverted management pyramid.
A typical organizational chart is a pyramid with the CEO on top and entry-level employees on the bottom. But to motivate employees, consider an inverted pyramid management style where employees doing the actual day-to-day work of the company are on top and the CEO and executive team are at the bottom. After all, the responsibility of the executive team is to make sure everyone else can work efficiently; they build a solid foundation wherein everyone above has everything they need to be effective.
Similarly, following a rigid hierarchy when forming teams isn’t always the best approach either. When a manager or executive assigns set roles to individual members of the team, odds are good that not every employee will be placed in a position where they’ll be most effective. Rather than assigning leadership positions, consider letting leaders emerge organically. Give the whole team the lowdown on what needs to get done and let them tackle it undivided. With only gentle oversight and mentoring from management, different individuals and personalities will gravitate toward the role that best fits them, and a leader will emerge organically. By finding their own place in the team, each employee will feel more responsible for their eventual role and will focus on the things they like the most, making them both more satisfied and more productive.
ROWE: less carrot, less stick and more results
ROWE flies in the face of the common “carrot-and-stick” motivational tactics, where salary and bonuses are the carrot to be meted out by a carefully-monitoring manager, and poor performance gets the stick (which is to say, no bonus, minimal raise, etc.). Managers shouldn’t need to waste time and resources micro-managing their employees, and employees shouldn’t waste time and focus worrying about whether or not they’re going about a project in the right way. If the results are there, the how is secondary, but worth looking into to see what was working and how it can be leveraged in other areas.
They dynamic combination of freedom in work and management styles and freedom in benefits enables startups to attract qualified candidates, boost employee loyalty, and keep staff happy and productive. And this is powerful competitive differentiator in today’s heated startup battlefield.