BSMAN3003 Report Case Study – Semester 2, 2015

Best Practices at Best Buy

Do traditional workplaces reward long hours instead of efficient hours? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a workplace in which “people can do whatever they want, whenever they want as long as the work gets done?” Well, that’s the approach that Best Buy is taking. And this radical workplace experiment, which obviously has many implications for employee motivation, has been an interesting and enlightening journey for the company.

In 2002, then CEO Brad Anderson (now the company’s vice chairman) introduced a carefully crafted program called ROWE – Results-Only Work Environment. ROWE was the inspiration of two HRM managers at Best Buy, Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, who had been given the task of taking a flexible work program that was in effect at corporate headquarters in Minnesota and developing it for everyone in the company. Ressler and Thompson said, “We realized that the flexible work program was successful as employee engagement was up, productivity was higher, but the problem was the participants were being viewed as ‘not working.’” And that was a common reaction from managers who didn’t really view flexible work employees as “really working because they aren’t in the office working traditional hours.” The two women set about to change that by creating a program in which “everyone would be evaluated solely on their results, not on how long they worked.”

The first thing to understand about ROWE is that it’s not about schedules. Instead, it’s about changing the work culture of an organization, which is infinitely more difficult than changing schedules. With Andersons’ blessing and support, they embarked on this journey to overhaul the company’s corporate workplace.

The first step in implementing ROWE was a culture audit at company headquarters, which helped them establish a baseline for how employees perceived their work environment. After four months, the audit was repeated. During this time, Best Buy executives were being educated about ROWE and what it was all about. Obviously, it was important to have their commitment to the program. The second phase involved explaining the ROWE philosophy to all the corporate employees and training managers on how to maintain control in a ROWE workplace. In the third phase, work unit teams were free to figure out how to implement the changes. Each team found a different way to keep the flexibility from spiralling into chaos. For instance, the public relations team got pagers to make sure someone was always available in an emergency. Some employees in the finance department used software that turns voice mail into e-mail files accessible from anywhere, making it easier for them to work at home. Four months after ROWE was implemented, Ressler and Thompson followed up with another culture check to see how everyone was doing.

So what’s the bottom line for Best Buy? Productivity jumped 41 percent and voluntary turnover fell to 8 percent from 12 percent. They also discovered that when employee’s engagement with their jobs increased, average annual sales increased 2 percent. And employees said that the freedom changed their lives. “They don’t know if they work fewer hours – they’ve stopped counting – but they are more productive.” As Ressler and Thompson stated, “Work isn’t a place you go – it something you do.”

Source: Robbins, S.P., and Coulter, M. (2012). Management (11th Ed.). New Jersey, U.S.A.: Pearson Education.


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