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ROWEs Adaptability Questioned

October 7, 2006
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Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Featured Article
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Best Buy is so convinced of ROWE's merits that it has taken the unusual step of allowing Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, who developed the program as Best Buy employees, to spin off CultureRx as a separate consulting organization.

   CultureRx, a wholly owned subsidiary of Best Buy, has been in business since November, and while it hasn't yet taken on any outside clients, it is talking to some "very interesting" potential ones, according to public relations representative Rebecca Selby.

   But some are skeptical about ROWE's effectiveness elsewhere.

   "Best Buy's culture is very young," says Washington, D.C.-based flexibility consultant Paul Rupert of Rupert & Co., who has worked with clients ranging from Wal-Mart to Xerox. "They have a lot of significant managers who are still in their 30s. It's very appropriate for them, with the breezy style and the humor and the slogans. But the headquarters at a typical company is filled with managers in their 50s and 60s-a different generation."

   Some aspects of ROWE, he thinks, might clash too strongly with the core principles upon which some conservative companies have been built.

   "You can ridicule an obsession with face time, for example, but some companies have a strong belief that having people at the same place, in the same time, creates synergy that is valuable to the company," he says. "You're going to have a hard time changing that. But Ressler and Thompson are undeterred. Now that Best Buy's headquarters is well on its way to converting to ROWE, they're in the exploratory stages of what would be a vastly more ambitious project-a modified form of ROWE in one of the chain's 780 stores, which have about 125,000 total employees.

   "It's a well-known fact that it's difficult to keep people working in retail-not just at Best Buy-because of the hours and the stress," Thompson says. "We want to look at deeply held beliefs in the retail environment and whether they're actually in the way of both associates' and customers' needs.

   "For example, we might look at what we're really trying to accomplish with a scheduling system, and having rewards and consequences around it. If you get written up for being five minutes late for your shift, maybe that results in you being upset about it for the next several hours and not giving as good of service to customers as a result."

   Ressler and Thompson hope to identify some of the impediments to change, systematically remove them from a pilot store, then chart the effect on productivity, employee and customer satisfaction, and turnover.

   What would such a store environment look like? They're not yet sure.

   "Obviously, a retail environment is very different from a corporate headquarters," Thompson admits. "So trying to imagine exactly how this might work is pretty mind-boggling."

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