Lately we have been hearing quite a bit about the “Results-Only Work Environment,” or ROWE as it is acronymized. The idea of the Results-Only Work Environment is that employees are judged only by the results of their labors. Instead of telling employees that they need to be here doing that at this time, managers tell them that this result is needed, and if the thing is done on time they ask no questions about how the result was attained.

This sounds obviously correct. It is, in fact, what you do when you want anything that is really important to you. Suppose you decide to order a meal from the Nepalese place down the street. Do you go into the kitchen and tell the cooks what to do with their knives, how hot the burners should be, how much of each ingredient should go into each dish? No; you simply demand this kind of momo, and expect that you will get the result you desire from people who know how to make momo without your instructions.

Then why are all work environments not Results-Only Work Environments? There are doubtless many reasons, but the foremost is that the Results-Only Work Environment works only when there are results to be expected. At any given moment during the work week, six out of ten office teams are performing a buzzword. If you asked any of them to define what the result of the performance would be, they could only give you another buzzword. What are you doing? “Leveraging our core agilities!” What will you achieve? “Synergy!” Fine. I expect sixteen pounds of synergy on this table by Friday afternoon, but I don’t care how you get it there.

There is, however, a secondary reason, and for this reason Dr. Boli expects that the reign of ROWE as a management buzzword will be short. It is perfectly obvious that, if employees are capable of making results happen without the constant supervision of managers, then there are far too many managers in the world. It does not matter, therefore, if the company prospers under the ROWE regime. It does not matter if the stacks and stacks of glossy blue synergy pile up faster than ever before. Sooner or later the shareholders are going to start to ask why there are so many managers standing around doing nothing and getting paid for it.

Then the managers will have to justify their existence, and they can do that only by proving that they have to manage. And then the results will cease to matter, because they will have run up against a force far more powerful in business than mere prosperity. They will have run up against religion. It is desirable, all other things being equal, that the company should make a profit; but it is religious dogma that business-school graduates must prosper and be respected and beget more business-school graduates. You cannot ask why it is so, any more than you can ask why Huitzilopochtli demands human sacrifices. It is the order of the cosmos.

So enjoy the Results Only Work Environment while it is still a brief fad. If you work in such an office, make the most of your worker autonomy in these last few sunny days of ROWE. Pile up heaps of results to draw on during the long, cold winter when the business-school graduates are having their revenge.


  1. I always thought “I want this result and I don’t care how you do it” was management code-speak for “I want you to get this result even and especially if you have to do something unethical, illegal, or cruel and inhuman to do so, but I can’t say that out loud or it might be me on the hook for the backlash rather than you. If you get the results without such a backlash, promotions will be in store for both of us. If there is a price to be paid, it won’t be by me or my shareholders.”

    But then I realized that’s pretty much what all management buzz-speak boiled down to in the end.

  2. von Hindenburg says:

    Even in this environment, it is the job of a manager to allocate resources, balance priorities, determine who might be best for a job, and design the goal and metrics that they need to achieve. In such an environment, they are needed more than ever in a coaching role to help new employees or employees new to a responsibility learn what resources they have at their disposal to accomplish the goal and how best to avail themselves of it. Honestly, a role like this requires not only employees who are engaged and motivated, but managers who are capable of more than simply checking off boxes.

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