Authors Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler of " Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It"

Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

Leading a cultural revolution

  • Article by: TODD NELSON
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • June 7, 2009 - 11:19 PM

When Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson set out to change corporate culture, it was an inside job.

Thompson and Ressler, you may recall, were working at Best Buy a few years ago when they famously sparked a revolution that transformed office life for many at headquarters.

Their creation -- dubbed a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE -- does away with fixed schedules and mandatory meetings. Output, not hours, is the yardstick by which ROWE companies measure performance.

As a result, those companies can see greater productivity, higher morale and lower turnover among employees who are "free to do whatever they want whenever they want as long as the work gets done," Ressler said.

And that's exactly how these two workplace radicals are doing business as entrepreneurs building their ROWE consulting company, CultureRx.

"We don't have offices," Thompson said of CultureRx, begun as a Best Buy subsidiary in 2005 and then spun off at the end of 2007. "We work wherever there's a wireless connection. We always say ROWE is like Tivo for your work."

"We're wherever we want to be," Ressler added. "No, no, no -- no cubes for us. We're completely ROWE."

Through CultureRx, Thompson and Ressler consult with companies adopting or considering a ROWE, and they speak, write, blog and otherwise promote their creation. Best Buy paid the startup costs, but once they left, Thompson used a home-equity line of credit to help them through the early months.

"We had several points where we were worried about our mortgages and how we were going to take care of our families," said Ressler, noting that both she and Thompson are the primary breadwinners.

"We thought we had a good plan, and we knew that the idea was gaining momentum, so we both felt it was worth the investment," Thompson said. "Now we're doing well cash flow-wise, so we're paying down that debt."

Sales in 2008, the first full year CultureRx operated independently, were $425,000.

Besides themselves, Ressler and Thompson have only a San Francisco-based contractor working for them. In true ROWE fashion, they rarely know exactly where she is, but they know she's working.

"With ROWE, because you don't do anything that wastes time, because you're not 'putting in time;' the three of us are like 10 people," Thompson said.

They may invest in a brand overhaul, partly to integrate their CultureRx identity with their blogging brand. They're also weighing growth options. With ROWE fans often asking to work for them, they've discussed franchising, licensing and training other facilitators. But no decisions have been made.

CultureRx expects 2009 to be a big year despite the continuing economic gloom -- or perhaps because of it. Ressler projected that revenue this year would at least triple, to $1.2 million to $1.5 million.

"It's amazing, because the economic landscape is actually creating more interest in this," Ressler said. "We're getting a lot more inquiries from companies."

If companies were doing swell, she figures, "Why would they want to shake things up like this? Now they're thinking, 'In order to stay alive, we have to do something radical.'''

In early April, Fairview Health Services established a ROWE in its IT department, which had lost some positions, said Terry Carroll, senior vice president of transformation and chief information officer. The challenge, Carroll said, is to increase productivity by as much as 50 percent and to create a positive environment.

In the few weeks the ROWE has been in place, productivity already is up 20 to 25 percent, Carroll said. Employees are happy, too, with fears about getting work done and communicating in the new environment subsiding.

CultureRx also is working with two major corporations locally and with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The agency, using state and federal money, wants to persuade companies to change work schedules in the hopes of reducing traffic snarls.

For companies of up to 250 employees -- or, in their words, renegade departments in big companies -- they've created the ROWE Launch Kit: Office Edition. Listed at $899 on the CultureRx website, it includes a guide to establishing a ROWE, presentation slides and DVDs to inspire both facilitators and employees.

It also includes a copy of their book, "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It," the ROWE manifesto published a year ago. That book approached the subject from an employee point of view. The next one, will focus on helping managers adopt the ROWE mindset.

"It's huge," Ressler said, "because people view it as their own business now. By implementing a ROWE, you're creating a population of CEOs. They think like you. They care about the business as much as you do."

The expert says: Lorman Lundsten, chair of the marketing department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, said Ressler and Thompson would do well to follow through on their idea of a brand overhaul.

"A brand is the label, the name of the product, so the brand in and of itself doesn't have any value at all unless it captures something about the product and crystalizes what people think about it," Lundsten said. "A classic example is Sears Diehard, which captures so much of what that battery does to make your car start."

That's the kind of value Thompson and Ressler need to aim for with their brand, and the challenge will be achieving that with CultureRx and the ROWE acronym, Lundsten said.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is

© 2018 Star Tribune