ROWE and Inc. Magazine

This week, Inc. Magazine published an article about starting and running a business in Atlanta. In it, I'm quoted talking about how Ripple is a results-only work environment, or a ROWE. Today I've had a number of people ask me what that means. I thought maybe the best thing to do would be repost my previous post about Ripple and ROWE. Here you go:


WHY ROWE Works

I finished Dan Pink's book, Drive, today. In it, Dan basically unveils the science behind why freedom in the workplace is going to be this generation's most important business revolution. Here is Dan's TED Talk, which is a good primer for the book.

If you are familiar with a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), think of Drive as reverse engineering why ROWEs work. If you're not familiar with ROWE, here's a good story from Business Week

ROWE is basically the tactical implementation of the belief that people with freedom, trust, clear goals, and autonomy work better. I wrote a short essay in the Atlanta Business Chronicleabout Ripple's experience with ROWE last year:

Here's the unedited essay (proving that there is a good reason to have editors…):

Ripple was never the kind of place to track every minute of people's time, to watch over their shoulders. In 2002 there just 5 of us, things were pretty loose, and that's how we liked it.  But by 2007 we had 23 people, and little things started to get in the way: John sees the doctor a lot. Judy always seems to be a little late. Sometimes Angie “gets” to work from home. Bob shows up, but never seems to get much done. So to resolve the tensions, the management team started making more rules, hashing out policies. Taking control. That seemed to be the thing to do, right? Set more rules, do more policing. You know what? More policing sucks. It takes one chunk of the smart people and turns them into cops. And it takes the remaining smart people and turns them into children. One group gets control, the other loses control. Less real work gets done. Control, it turns out, is not the answer. Freedom is.  

Finding Freedom   I first read about a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) years ago, when Best Buy was pioneering it. It sounded awesome: People work where they want, when they want, so long as the work gets done. Work Utopia! But, like many Work Utopia readings, it lost my attention. Best Buy is a big, big company. Ripple is a small one. So it was hard to figure out how such a system might translate to me.  Hard to figure out how until last year when I was speaking with my friend Craig, whom I know through Entrepreneur's Organization (EO). He said that his company, Matchstic, was a ROWE. His 10-person company was a ROWE, and it was working. I had to dig deeper, so I talked to Craig for hours. I had him come in and talk to my team, and we all read the book, Why Work Sucks. Three months later, Ripple was a ROWE.  

The Freedom of Freedom   What does it mean to be a ROWE? Well, in a ROWE, people are responsible for themselves, their teams, and their results. Goals are set together, but tactics are largely left to individuals and teams. There is no babysitting. People and teams are judged by their outcomes (this is both easier and harder than I thought it would be). At Ripple results are things like how many service cases get closed. How happy clients report that they are. Sales numbers. Results Only. Pretty much the way you want to be judged, right? Well, there's a good reason for that: It's how everyone wants to be judged.  

The Hard Part   Here is the hardest part about a ROWE: Figuring out what constitutes acceptable results. But we should have been doing that anyways. In a traditional work environment things like working long hours, being at your desk, and watching your time are proxies for results. Terrible proxies. Plenty of people can show up everyday and turn in lousy results. Ripple was using those proxies because we didn't have the discipline – or the courage – to let results speak for themselves.  

The Best Part  

We are very new to ROWE, but the resulting freedoms – for people, innovations, and management – have already buried themselves in the culture. Management policing is nearly gone for the simple fact that no one at Ripple is going to let a poor performer screw-up a marvelously free work environment. Here's a result that makes it all worthwhile: I spend 50% less time managing people and enforcing rules, leaving me me free to think about other things. Like how to grow my businesses.

This One Time, At Brand Camp….


BrandCampers
 

Last week, I went to Matchstic’s Brand Camp. It was awesome.

Brand Camp is a two – day offsite immersion workshop digging into your brand, what makes it special, and what makes it different.

What makes Brand Camp any different than reading Positioning or Zag? In theory, not much – the principles are the same (in fact, they would both make for perfect homework for Brand Camp). The difference is that you actually do the stuff. You leave with a brand brief. In your hands! All in two days with fantastic tutoring, mentoring, and perspective. 

I think two things separate it from anything Ripple has done in the past:

  1. Matchstic sends their founding partners to guide you through the process. That’s pretty helpful since these guys do nothing but brand strategy all day. They are smart, passionate about brands, and committed to keeping things on track. They are great for brainstorming and advice of course, but also for a swift kick in the behind when needed. That was frequently needed.
  2. There are four other companies camping as well. Which is pretty cool because everyone is working together. It really keeps the process from getting into ruts. The creative juices are always flowing, and there is always a “civilian” from one of the other companies to say “I don’t really get what your saying.” That is something you never really get when your working with just marketing people + your own people. Both can fall victim to the Curse of Knowledge - but there is no such curse when four unrelated companies are in the room.

Bonus: You’re in the woods, getting to know other people with similar challenges, and eating grilled meats. Sitting around a conference table pales in comparison.

The combination of marketing geniuses, regular folks, and beer makes the process a special one. It’s an experience I would highly recommend.

Props to my advertising friend John Reid

SHACKCNBC
 

My friend John Reid is in advertising. He took a whole Internets worth of heat when his agency took over the Radio Shack account. They crafted a campaign to help make Radio Shack relevant again, culling its focus, branding it The Shack, etc. It wasn't very popular with the blogosphere, and probably not very popular with hip ad types in general. I certainly had my doubts.

Well, I figured it was time to give John Reid his due advertising praise. The Shack is working, Radio Shack is becoming relevant again, they are selling iPhones, and companies want to buy it.

Well done John Reid.

MLK Encore

Every time I watch this speech I get goosebumps.

I often forget that the namesake section, the "I Have a Dream" section –  of this speech was ad-libbed. It's kind of cool though, you can see it when you watch it. He reads faithfully from his notes for most of it, and at about the 12:00 mark starts to ad lib and search his head for the right words (at times looking quite terrified that he might go blank!). Then he goes back to his prepared text at about 14:45. And so, we get possibly the most iconic 3 minutes of public speech since the Gettysburg Address – from pure emotion.

Mike Landman’s 7 Rules for Job Seekers

You are a product. Your resume and interview are your marketing. And a product has to differentiate itself  to have a chance of being noticed and valued. It astonishes me to continually get the same generic resumes, the same attempt to prove diverse skills, and the same generic answers – that I must conclude are coming from the world of resume/interview advice. The prevailing theory seems to be "offend no one, never take your self out of contention." Imagine that process recruiting for a sports team or a movie cast. Terrible. So I have my rules.

No one else will have my same rules, which leads us to Rule #1.

  1. There is no such thing as the right resume, no right interview.
    Remember, this is not much more than a professional date. There are certainly a few things to do every time (no burping, no shorts), but every employer is different in nearly every other way. It's easier to be yourself than to try to figure me out.
  2. You can't fake who are without being no one.
    When you try to be the person you think I like, I don't like you. Because you seem insincere and full of…something. There is no need to fake who you are, or what your background is. You don't know what I want.
  3. This is a 2-way street.
    You'd better be interviewing me too. We're in this together, so there is not a lot to be gained by being a sycophant in the interview. Make sure you want the job. More importantly, make sure you want the company. I should be selling my company to you too.
  4. Well-rounded is safe. And safe is dangerous.
    Name one well-rounded famous athlete. OK, there are two. Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. And neither could play hockey. But basically, no others. Even MJ couldn't do it. Well-rounded means you are not awesome at anything. And I'm looking for awesome. At something.
  5. You are weak. At something, probably many things. So "struggling" to find a weakness is lame. A weakness of being "too organized" is lame. When I see that pained expression where you try to find weaknesses but "can't think of any," I think: "weak." Trot out your real weaknesses, they accentuate your strengths .
  6. Leave me with a story to tell.
    I am going to leave our meeting with an impression of you. And, if you have done well, a story to tell others about why you're the person for the job. So find a pointed, true narrative to weave in about yourself that touches the every part of the interview from beginning to end. No story = lost in the shuffle.
  7. Thank me. Twice.
    The moment you get home, do 2 things. Send me an email thanks, and drop a real ( handwritten!) thank you note in the mail. Even if you bombed #1-6, a handwritten note will put you back in contention. Class stands out.

Extra Bonus for Entry-Level Job Seekers: 

  • If you are entry-level, I am looking for a bargain.
    The very nature of entry-level is: “I'm cheap, and I'm willing to prove
    myself.” You can't be bringing experience, which means you need to
    bring something else. Ambition, a record of achievement, raw talent,
    personality, something. Something that makes me think you're a bargain.
    Because cheap labor, absent some returned value, is not a bargain. Figure out what your something is.

WHY ROWE Works

I finished Dan Pink's book, Drive, today. In it, Dan basically unveils the science behind why freedom in the workplace is going to be this generation's most important business revolution. Here is Dan's TED Talk, which is a good primer for the book.

If you are familiar with a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), think of Drive as reverse engineering why ROWEs work. If you're not familiar with ROWE, here's a good story from Business Week.

ROWE is basically the tactical implementation of the belief that people with freedom, trust, clear goals, and autonomy work better. I wrote a short essay in the Atlanta Business Chronicle about Ripple's experience with ROWE last year:

Here's the unedited essay (proving that there is a good reason to have editors…):

Ripple was never the kind of place to track every
minute of people's time, to watch over their shoulders. In 2002 there just 5 of
us, things were pretty loose, and that's how we liked it.  But by 2007 we had 23 people, and
little things started to get in the way: John sees the doctor a lot. Judy
always seems to be a little late. Sometimes Angie “gets” to work from home. Bob
shows up, but never seems to get much done. So to resolve the tensions, the
management team started making more rules, hashing out policies. Taking
control. That seemed to be the thing to do, right? Set more rules, do more
policing. You know what? More policing sucks. It takes one chunk of the smart
people and turns them into cops. And it takes the remaining smart people and
turns them into children. One group gets control, the other loses control. Less
real work gets done. Control, it turns out, is not the answer. Freedom is.

 

Finding Freedom

 

I first read about a Results Only Work
Environment (ROWE) years ago, when Best Buy was pioneering it. It sounded
awesome: People work where they want, when they want, so long as the work
gets done. Work Utopia! But, like many Work Utopia readings, it lost my
attention. Best Buy is a big, big company. Ripple is a small one. So it was
hard to figure out how such a system might translate to me.

 

Hard to figure out how until last year when I was
speaking with my friend Craig, whom I know through Entrepreneur's Organization
(EO). He said that his company, Matchstic, was a ROWE. His 10-person company
was a ROWE, and it was working. I had to dig deeper, so I talked to Craig for
hours. I had him come in and talk to my team, and we all read the book, Why
Work Sucks. Three months later, Ripple was a ROWE.

 

The Freedom of Freedom

 

What does it mean to be a ROWE? Well, in a ROWE,
people are responsible for themselves, their teams, and their results. Goals
are set together, but tactics are largely left to individuals and teams. There
is no babysitting. People and teams are judged by their outcomes (this is both
easier and harder than I thought it would be). At Ripple results are things
like how many service cases get closed. How happy clients report that they are.
Sales numbers. Results Only. Pretty much the way you want to be judged,
right? Well, there's a good reason for that: It's how everyone wants to be
judged.

 

The Hard Part

 

Here is the hardest part about a ROWE: Figuring
out what constitutes acceptable results. But we should have been doing that
anyways. In a traditional work environment things like working long hours,
being at your desk, and watching your time are proxies for results. Terrible
proxies. Plenty of people can show up everyday and turn in lousy results. Ripple
was using those proxies because we didn't have the discipline – or the courage
– to let results speak for themselves.

 

The Best Part

 

We are very new to ROWE, but the resulting
freedoms – for people, innovations, and management – have already
buried themselves in the culture. Management policing is nearly gone for the
simple fact that no one at Ripple is going to let a poor performer screw-up a
marvelously free work environment. Here's a result that makes it all
worthwhile: I spend 50% less time managing people and enforcing rules, leaving
me me free to think about other things. Like how to grow my businesses.

Real Business Learning

Seth Godin ran an MBA program this year. Not a traditional one, but a valuable one no doubt. His post is long, but the real lesson is this:

"The educational lesson that I found the most striking is that the book knowledge was easy to transmit and not particularly essential. Once you get this far, it's sort of a given that you're good at school. We read more than a hundred books, and the book learning happened quickly . Our culture has done an amazingly good job at teaching talented people how to learn concepts from books.
I taught for five to twenty hours a week, and very little of it was about the books. So, if concepts from books are easy, what’s hard?


Doing it.


Picking up the phone, making the plan, signing the deal. Pushing ‘publish.’ Announcing. Shipping."