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We wrote yesterday about a Business Week story focusing on how Best Buy corporate headquarters in Minneapolis has adopted a revolutionary approach to the workday: “The nation's leading electronics retailer has embarked on a radical--if risky—experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for ‘results-only work environment,’ seeks 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…The official policy for this post-face-time, location-agnostic way of working is that people are free to work wherever they want, whenever they want, as long as they get their work done.”

Our comment: It is hard to imagine how Best Buy will make this work in the stores, but we think that other retailers should be watching closely to see what the successes and failures are…especially if Best Buy becomes a preferred employer because of its approach to human capital.

And if at first you seem skeptical, remember what we told you earlier this year about “Fart’s Law,” which states that “the likelihood of an innovation succeeding increases exponentially with the number of old farts who refuse to endorse it.”

MNB user Chris McCollister noted that Business 2.0 also wrote about the Best Buy program:

What I find interesting about the Business 2.0 article is that Best Buy has spun off a consulting company, CultureRx, that is now selling ROWE to other Fortune 100 companies.

ROWE definitely does support "Farts Law" and I think demonstrates again why top down management isn't ideal all the time. Collaboration and input from the experts at the frontlines not at the top will create some very innovative solutions to the problems retailers are face. Two open and honest communication.

It will be interesting to see how it plays for Best Buy, what is considered "getting the job done" at corporate offices may be easier to quantify than getting the job done in a retail store. Do you leave it completely open, first come first paid scheduling, do you assign sales targets for each employee, etc. That being said anything that can be done to reduce turnover in the retail space is good step for any company. Plus I would (rather) speak with a "blue shirt" or any associate for that matter that truly wants to be there and is not just earning a pay check.

But MNB user David Livingston disagreed:

If employees at Best Buy are leaving at 2 pm because their work is done, well by golly they don't have enough work to do. How long will it be before the slow workers are laid off and the fast workers are given more responsibilities? The conventional way of doing things is that if you get your work done by 2 pm then you trade stocks or watch YouTube on the internet. No really knew if you were busy or not. Now Best Buy is going to know who is productive and who is not.

David, we appreciate your readership and ongoing contributions to the dialogue on MNB. But we have to say, sometimes it seems like we live on different planets.

We had an email yesterday from an MNB user recounting how her daughter found gender stereotyping at an engineering school where she was considering applying…an email we thought illustrated broader stereotyping that takes place in the marketplace and hurts both people and companies.

One MNB user, who describe herself as “an anonymous female graduate of a 7:1 male-female ratio engineering dominated university…who majored in business but would probably have made a great engineer if anyone had bothered to explain it to he,” wrote:

I think that both you and the reader who commented on the engineering program of a university are only seeing one side of the issue. As we all talk about advancing the cause of diversity and breaking glass ceilings for women, you are misunderstanding the university’s intention. Engineering is a totally male dominated field. Most major engineering schools are actively seeking women to enter their program…why, because the business world is demanding female engineers to help solve their diversity problems. Not to mention that sometimes, women actually make great engineers and problem solvers.

What you have are young women that have been steered away from math and science by an underlying bias in the public school system (take your daughter’s pajama party invite for example). So how do you get these young women interested in the possible career choice of engineering? By creating a recruiting program that shows them what engineering really is about…problem solving, team-work and creative thinking. They are trying to draw females who would otherwise dismiss engineering as a masculine pursuit.

Let’s make this more relevant to our usual discussions by applying some marketing 101…The target audience of the “girl” version is that group of high school graduate females who have yet to make a decision about their focus of study. The “guys” version is to compete for male candidates that have already made a career choice…the university wants the guys to think that their program is the most exciting and dynamic. The mistake that the university made is sending both marketing pieces to the same people without more clearly stating their message.

Instead of condemning the university, I would say that they have the right intent but a bad marketing team.

You make a legitimate point. All we know is that our daughter looked at the different offerings for boys and girls in the engineering school pitch, and thought that the guy offerings looked like a lot more fun.

Now, we have to admit to a bias here. Early in our relationship with Mrs. Content Guy, we ascertained that she was the kind of girl with whom we could go out and have a catch with…and quickly discovered that when tossing around the football, she throws a tighter spiral than we do. And knew right then that we were in love.

We also got a great email from MNB user Stuart Silverman:

I wanted to respond to a couple of threads that you've posted in the last few weeks.

One of which is about parental pride, or as our parents referred to in Yiddish as "nachas." And one is about girls in engineering schools.

My daughter went to school at MIT. I know that she's smart but deep down I always wondered if she benefited from a form of reverse discrimination where certain engineering schools gave preference to "minority" applicants (girls, and especially non Asian girls) to provide a more rounded community of students.

In addition to being bright, she is pretty obstinate and independent in her views. She followed an atypical path at school majoring in Environmental Engineering. She traveled to China during 2 summers; just by chance, one summer's activities introduced her to the challenges of sustainable development in a community that lacks adequate power, plumbing and running water and has serious issues with sewage and waste disposal impacting their locally grown food supply.

She did well at her studies. But because she didn't major in the typical engineering programs, and because it was a year before Al Gore's movie came out, companies were not banging on her door to hire her. She did get a job, a real world job in a consulting firm, but hated it and lasted for about 6 months. She had some problems with helping large polluting corporations meet the minimum requirements for fixing their past transgressions.

So, she knocked around for a year. Did some traveling. Held a series of inconsequential jobs. But also did some things that helped define where she wanted to go. Last fall she honed her story and applied to 3 top notch Masters and PhD programs and got into them all. With varying combinations of funding for tuition and living expenses. (This is the "nachas" part that I wanted to share with your parental pride, Kevin.)

The generational issues here have been very interesting. First, my father in law, a retired pediatrician, kept berating us for allowing our daughter to waste 2 years of her life. Secondly I had serious concerns about whether we had given our kids too much and weaned out the need to make the money to provide for themselves. Instead what I now see is a young lady who is eager to contribute to making this world a better place to live. And a young lady who sees that there is a way to make money to pay for a place to live and new boots (I still don't understand the new shoes gene) and a MacBook, while making a difference in a world that has become so much smaller than when we were idealistic young kids.

Are the kids any different today? I think so. We protested and exercised out rights and our voice for a couple of years while we were in college and then went off to work for the man and swallowed our pride - just like our fathers did. Our kids' enthusiasm and idealism is on one hand, infectious. On the other hand, our experience cautions us to wonder how long it will last. I expect that the biological imperatives that drive family and nesting will temper some of their drive. But I am hopeful that they have the fortitude (and the examples of their hard working mothers) to help clean up this planet and its resources that we have long taken for granted.

Final thought about our girls, our daughters. Sure they're different than our sons. But they are also so different from each other. Don't ever try to presuppose what they should do based on their sex. Because they are just going to continue to confound our expectations and blow us away.

Your daughter sounds wonderful, and your email makes us think about the short distance between idealism and reality, and how fast many of our young people seem to make that trip without realizing that they are losing something precious.

One of the most important things we can do as parents, we believe, is to lengthen that distance and help our kids realize that idealism is important. And that if they follow their hearts, and not just their heads and wallets, it will give us “nachas.”
KC's View: