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Working with a ROWE Company Culture with Michael Reynolds of SpinWeb

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More and more successful companies are working with a Results Only Work Ethic (ROWE) and are seeing the benefits. In order for ROWE to work, you need a team of quality employees who you can trust.

Today, Michael Reynolds, CEO of SpinWeb, tells us how his agency recruits top professionals. He also shares how they have evolved the ROWE culture that makes them so successful.

Starting Small and Growing Slow 

SpinWeb is a full-service inbound marketing agency based in Indianapolis. SpinWeb started out as a two-man web development company when Reynolds was still studying at Ball State in 1996. The agency grew and evolved over the years. About six years ago SpinWeb jumped into inbound marketing and joined up with Hubspot.

SpinWeb has always had web development at its core. The differentiating point between SpinWeb and other inbound marketing agencies is its strong in-house development team.

Because SpinWeb has both front end and back end developers they are able to offer custom applications and custom integrations to their clients. This is especially important when working with enterprise companies who need specialized services.

How to Grow Your Team

SpinWeb currently consists of a team of ten people, but are on the cusp of a growth period and will be hiring again soon. The company grew, evolved and resized a few times before settling into the right mix of people.

Having the right people on board is important to SpinWeb. In the beginning, they hired people based on gut feel. This worked for a bit, but over time they have developed a system that works for them.  

The inbound approach is important in the hiring process. When they have an open position, they  set up a landing page on their website. The landing page includes the job description and technical requirements of the position. Then they will go through the applications and choose the best candidates to follow up with.

Step 1: Spot Call

The first part of the process is a spot call. The spot call idea comes from their sales coach, Lucian.  They call people up, catching them off guard, and ask them questions about themselves.

The surprise calls give them a good idea of how the candidate responds to being un-prepped. They can see how he or she thinks on their feet and get a good idea of their communication skills. During these calls they get background information on the candidate.

This method saves a lot of time. You can eliminate unsuitable candidates within a few minutes, without having to waste time meeting them all in person.

Step 2: Video Interview

If someone seems like a good fit they will get a video interview or an interview in person, if possible. The best four or five candidates will all get a paid test project to do for the company as part of the interview process.

Step 3: The Test Project

Michael is firm believer in paying for work, even in an interview. This sets up the basis of a respectful working relationship. The test project gives the company a chance to get to know them and how they work, and also give the candidate a chance to test drive the company. Because the work is paid candidates are more likely to give their best.

Whoever is the best fit will get the position.

The Company Culture

The company culture at SpinWeb has always made it easy to attract good people.

Your company culture refers to how your environment is set up. The culture of a company is what drives the motivation of the people who work there. It’s how you feel when you are at work and how you work together.

SpinWeb has a culture based on freedom. About eight years ago, Michael read an article by Jodie Thompson and Kallie Riddler, the founders of Best Buy Corporation. The article talked about how firms work in the modern age. This led Michael down the path of finding a better way to work. He started exploring ROWE: Results Only Work Environment.

The core idea behind ROWE is that employees work according to goals. They don’t have to be in the office at certain times. They don’t have to answer to anyone about where they are and how they do the work, as long as the goals are met.

A lot of companies claim to give this kind of freedom to their workers, but in reality there is still judgement about how people spend their time. They still have to get permissions and check in with someone every day.

SpinWeb works on a pure form of the ROWE system, resulting in well-motivated team members who take ownership of their work.

ROWE and Team Up Systems

Most companies who claim to be flexible do have some flexibility but the culture is still set from the top down. The expectation is that the team follows along. The Results Only Work Ethic believes in letting the team lead the processes.

To provide structure, leadership provides soft outcomes to the team. For example, the support team's outcome might be to make the clients ridiculously happy.

The team then has to create a plan to deliver that goal. They figure out their own schedule themselves. They come up with their own checklists, and they achieve the objectives.

The company provides an office with all the tools they need from screens and light boards to software. They provide a space to collaborate. The team then figures out when they need to collaborate. They use common sense and generally make great decisions. Having a team that you trust is the foundation of the entire system. If you don’t trust someone on your team they shouldn’t be on your team.

One of the things that makes this system so successful is that the team comes up with their own processes and are fully committed to making them work. They might even up with the same check lists and processes that management would have implemented anyway. The difference is that when a team is involved in fleshing out the process themselves they buy into the project.

How to Define the Results of Your ROWE Team

You know someone is worthwhile by the work they produce and the goals they meet.

SpinWeb’s support team has set up surveys to measure client feedback on Zendesk. If they’re meeting soft goals and clients are happy, that is a good sign that your team is doing well.

The same thing goes for the inbound marketing team. Instead of answering to prescribed metrics and hitting a certain number of leads, they make sure that the client is happy. They center their strategy around reaching business objectives. The team themselves figures out how to target traffic and conversion rates to hit those goals. 

It’s different for every department but the ethos remains the same. Everyone has the freedom to figure out how to achieve their goals. Teams feel like they have the power and authority to make sure that they produce a quality product, and then they do.

Maintain Quality While You Grow

Building human relations and treating the team well are their core principles. As Richard Branson says “A lot of organizations say that the customer comes first, but that is backwards.” You have to put your employees first and they will take care of your customers.”

Some organizations approach their company as a machine. Employees are like components plugged in or unplugged. You can be successful like this, but it’s not how Michael chooses to run his business.

He likes a different approach to things.

He believes in treating the team with respect. They share a common desire to treat the world with quality and kindness and that is what drives them.

The Best Way to Grow Your Team

According to Michael, who assures us he is no expert, slow is the best way to scale up. He believes in the old fashioned principles of reinvesting in your business to grow it.

Create enough profit and cash to take risks and take on new employees. He doesn’t believe in debt and credit lines.

This means that you will move slow and you will go through times where everyone is busy before you hire.

But there are advantages to a slow, growing business. In the long run, it’s safer. It is healthier for the agency to build a solid foundation. With rapid growth cans rapid change. In the act of growing, you can kill the thing that was successful.


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