In October, 2012, iHire transitioned its culture to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), which is a management philosophy in which the focus comes off where, when and how long employees are working to the results that they are achieving.
iHire is a job board with the mission of helping both employers and job seekers fulfill their employment dreams. iHire is headquartered in Frederick, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC and employs 50 employees. 15 of the 50 employees are located in a satellite office in Angola, Indiana. The company was founded in 1999 and has been steadily growing since its inception.
iHire exists in an extremely competitive space – employment/job board/e-commerce. There are a lot of competitors and our success is going to depend upon our ability to innovate. Our desire to attract A-players also contributed – the DC metropolitan area did not experience much of a recession with respect to technical people. Finally, we are big proponents of Dan Pink and his theories on engagement – ROWE is the ultimate in providing employee autonomy.
Prior to the transition to ROWE, in September, 2012, we brought in CultureRx, the founders of ROWE, to provide organizational training, which focused upon learning what ROWE was and how it worked; and gaining knowledge necessary to begin experimenting with new ways approaching work. Immediately following the training, iHire went ROWE.
At the time, we did not have cascading objective alignment across the organization – goals/objectives were primarily developmental in nature and didn’t serve the organization’s goals. The transition to ROWE compelled our company and every employee to put objectives/outcomes in place.
Many managers at iHire were also a bit less experienced and ROWE is perhaps the most challenging for managers who need to be very clear with their expectations. Manager training was provided in Manager as a coach and the once-annual performance appraisal was eliminated in favor of bi-weekly coaching discussions to ensure continuous performance feedback to employees.
The shift to ROWE shifted the responsibility from managers to employees to manage their schedules – especially with our call center/customer facing employees – instead of going to their manager for permission to modify schedules, employees work with their teams, to ensure that the customer is always covered. All of these things happened very quickly and immediately upon “going ROWE.”
There were several challenges with which we wrestled. First of all, the change in mentality was a tough one, when we have been conditioned to work a certain way for so long (going back to the industrial age!). After time, employees became used to this new way of working.
Another challenge is that our developers (we have a lot of them, as we are an e-commerce company) work in an Agile environment, which is a time-based methodology. Development time and sprints are dictated by time estimates, which is counter to ROWE, in which the focus is not on time. There continues to be discussion on this; however, the important point to remember is that the results are identified and the estimates are just that – estimates. The team is building in a bit of time for innovation and of course, given that the time is an estimate, perhaps they finish with development work earlier than anticipated. And, even if not, those employees who really want to, will find time for innovation, regardless of Agile.
Because it’s such a different way of working, we had some managers that wanted “face time” even when there wasn’t a good articulated reason for their employees to have to be working in the office. Consequently, collaboration became an important topic at iHire. We introduced a Lunch-n-Learn series entitled Collaboration Corner, designed to promote and enhance the way that we collaborate with one another in our ROWE environment. These workshops introduced technology and tools that all could use to enhance our interactions with one another.
Another challenge to “going ROWE” was the need to clearly convey that ROWE is not a “work from home policy.” All of our developers and technical employees had laptop computers, so more easily had the ability to work from home; however, we had a number of customer-facing employees that didn’t have that ability. So, some looked at it as an issue of fairness, even though it was made clear that “there are different options for different jobs.” We also shared our plan to replace aged PCs with laptop computers, affording employees in all types of jobs to work anytime and anywhere. At this point in time, all of our employees have laptop computers and the ability to work wherever they would like.
Our involuntary attrition increased to 10% at that point in time, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but a sensitive topic and employee communication is very important. ROWE was an opportunity to level set expectations at iHire and enable to shift to a high performance culture and let employees know that standards were higher than they were in the past. When we went ROWE and put measurable objectives in place, the employees who were not performing quickly surfaced. These employees were given sufficient time and opportunity to improve and when they didn’t, they were performance managed out of the organization.
Our voluntary attrition has always been low; however, once we went ROWE, it has remained very low at 2%.
Several innovations have made it onto the development roadmap and been implemented.
Increased customer satisfaction – The Customer Service team decided that it is a better customer experience if they take care of customer requests over the weekend. Monday’s are by far the busiest day -- we have more feedback, calls, refunds and call backs to handle on Monday. The team has decided to complete work over the weekend to ensure a quicker resolution turnaround time to our customer inquiries.
Trust is a key component for any company transitioning to ROWE. When employers can’t “see” their employees, they have to trust that the work is getting accomplished and have objectives measures to support it. If employers don’t inherently believe that employees want to do good work and take care of their customers, I don’t think ROWE could be successful.
Collaboration is very important and it’s important to provide opportunities for employees to physically get together to brainstorm and bounce ideas off of one another.
iHire's Leadership Team