Attention: BestBuy and Yahoo. It’s easier to give than it is to takeaway.


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Throwing in the towel

Over the last fortnight, flexible working has taken a couple hard body shots. Marissa Mayer’s ban of telecommuting at Yahoo and the overturning of Best Buy’s “Results Only Work Environment” with ROWE v. Joly (legal pun intended). Even though it realized less media attention, Hubert Joly’s handywork on the abolishment of ROWE is a far more crushing blow.

Now – let’s bow our heads in a moment of silence and pay our respects. R.I.P 3/4/13:

best buy rowe green goldfish rip

For those of you not familiar with ROWE, here’s the background on the program:

At most companies, going AWOL during daylight hours would be grounds for a pink slip. Not at Best Buy (#13). The nation’s leading electronics retailer embarked on a radical –if risky–experiment in 2005 to transform a culture once known for killer hours and hard-riding bosses. The endeavor pioneered by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, called ROWE sought to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours. According to Business Week, the program aims to weed out “presenteeism”: the problem of employees warming their chairs all day but not getting much done. There are no schedules. Hence, workers pulling into the company’s amenity-packed headquarters at 2 p.m. aren’t considered late. Nor are those pulling out at 2 p.m. seen as leaving early. No mandatory meetings. No impression-management hustles. Work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. According a study of workers by the University of Minnesota, it was a win-win proposition. Productivity and job satisfaction both increased by over 30%.

The writing had been on the wall at Best Buy. CEO Hubert Joly had indicated that he felt that turning around the company required staff working in the office. In mid-February, he called ROWE “fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint.” Turning around Best Buy — an effort dubbed “Renew Blue” — requires everyone “mobilized as a team,” Joly said, according to the Star-Tribune. These moves to abolish flexible work environments by Joly and Mayer are all about “command and control” leadership.

Why be flexible?

The bottom line benefit for companies is increased retention, productivity and job satisfaction.

According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett,

“Companies that treat time as currency — through remote work options, staggered hours, and reduced-hour arrangements — are also more likely to attract and retain high-caliber employees. Work/life balance has always been prized by working women juggling the demands of family and high-powered jobs, and now these moms are being seconded by incoming Millennials, who consider it a basic entitlement to play as hard as they work.”

Flexibility is about control and everyone wants flex. According to the Center for Talent Innovation’s (CTI) research, if there’s one work perk that rises above the rest, it’s flexible work arrangements. The CTI study showed that 87% of Boomers, 79% of Gen X’ers and 89% of Millennials cite flex as important.

Throwing in the towels at Microsoft

Here is a cautionary tale for Best Buy and Yahoo!

Nearly a decade ago, as part of a broad series of cutbacks, Microsoft eliminated their laundered towel service. The towels were available for employees who showered after biking to work or playing sports on the company’s Redmond campus. That and the other changes, especially to the employee stock purchase program, caused a groundswell of opposition from Microsoft employees, folks commonly referred to as softies. The towels became a rallying point of discontent.

microsoft throws in the towels

According to the blog mini Microsoft,

It’s not like we’re sweaty work-out animals always in need of a shower and fresh towel. No. What riled us was the bone-headed way the towel cut-back was handled, explained, and justified. It truly made us wonder just who are these people in charge and just who do they think they are leading? The towels became the symbol of poor leadership.”

Rancor continued and some prominent departures from Microsoft ensued. Business Week reported about troubling exits, “Just whisper the word ‘towels’ to any Microsoft employee, and eyes roll. Employees who helped the company build its huge cash stockpile were furious.”

Less than two years later in 2006 the towels were back. Microsoft reinstated the laundered towel service and added additional extras in an effort to stem the tide of exits and increase morale.

TAKEAWAY: It’s a Commitment, Not a Campaign – A green goldfish “employee extra” is different than a one off or limited offer. Add one or a school of green goldfish at your convenience, remove them at your peril [did someone just say TOWELS?].

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Apollo’s Creed: Sometimes you have to throw in the towel. It could save a life or a company.

All of the examples in this post were taken from the Green Goldfish Project. The Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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