ROWE and row your boat

Remember the idyllic days of kindergarten filled with catchy songs and rhymes? The innocence of it all! One song I remember is the ditty:

“Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”

I was reminded of this song in relation to an organization’s culture. Culture in a simple form describes “the way we do things around here.” If everyone is not rowing in the same direction, it can make or break an organization’s ability to thrive or become dysfunctional. The organization’s culture creates an identity that tells employees and the public what treatment to expect from the organization. The culture can be influenced by the industry that the organization belongs to, the employee demographic or the history of the organization. Scholars have defined organizational culture as shared beliefs, norms, assumptions, and core values of the individuals within an organization. Regardless of the influential factors, the leader has the responsibility to create the desired culture which will support the identity he/she wants the organization to have.

The current business climate has forced organizations to re-think their human resources practices, change aspects of their culture and improve employee engagement. One system that has appealed to some organizations is the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) system. It is an outcome of a certain type of corporate culture, for example a flexible, democratic environment. As described by MindTools, it places the emphasis on the deliverables from employees rather than a specified work schedule. Employees have the flexibility to govern themselves with support from their managers. The deliverable must meet a pre-determined timeline and be quality work. The length of time it takes to work on the project or the amount of time spent in the office are irrelevant.

The ROWE system may not be suitable for all environments because it requires a strong organizational culture to maintain its success. It is also not suitable for some working environments with roles that require stability, and structure, especially when interacting with the public. An organization’s culture under the ROWE system must be healthy and strong with effective leadership. In healthy cultures employees feel valued and will reciprocate the perceived support through high performance and high engagement.

A strong culture has cohesiveness among its members in terms of expected behaviour and values. A suitable leadership style under the ROWE system would be situational leadership where leaders encourage their employees through motivation and goal-setting. The ROWE system, due to its emphasis on autonomy, would require an environment built on trust, support, accountability and clear communication.

Culture is the blueprint for an organization’s health and success. It determines how the organization functions, the behaviour of its members and the things it values. The culture promotes shared values and serves as a beacon for employees on how to problem solve and conduct themselves. An organization is successful when it consistently meets its goals through high performance. Goals cannot be met without input and output from employees and employees will not be motivated to do the work without a positive environment. The culture is the grounding for individuals and the organization on a whole. A negative culture derails the growth and strength of the organization. A negative culture can form when there is misalignment between touted beliefs and actions. In other words, everyone and everything must row in the same direction.

The building blocks – mission, vision, values and strategy must align with the culture to ensure a consistent identity and avoid confusion. The consistent messaging will reinforce the culture and promote unity both inside and outside the organization.

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