From the Archives: In support of Marissa Mayer and Jackie Reses

This was the most popular of my blog posts so far in 2013. I was one of few bloggers in the HR space supporting Marissa Mayer and Jackie Reses when they eliminated telecommuting at Yahoo! Well, it’s 7 months later and guess what? Yahoo! is performing better on a whole host of KPIs. The Workflex movement is still alive and Mayer was just named #1 on FORTUNE’s 40 Under 40 list. Hmmm…

 

Freud with cigarSometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a policy change is just a policy change.  And to attribute larger societal meaning is misguided and, well, you know, not smart.

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo! isn’t a new skirmish in the “mommy war” as USA Today proclaims.

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo! isn’t a frontal attack on GenX and GenY as countless bloggers are screaming.

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo! isn’t a stake in the heart of workplace flexibility as SHRM believes.

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo! is a bold decision by a bold CEO trying to turn her business around.

I’m a business leader.  I get it.

I get it that when you’re turning around a business you frequently have to make decisions that are unpopular.

I get it that when you make decisions to support your strategic plan others will assign meaning that was never intended.

I get it that you may have to make decisions that will change the culture in big ways.Yahoo!

I get the panic stress you feel when you decide to that cultural change is required and that decision will potentially put good people at risk.

I’m a business leader. I get it.

Turning around a business isn’t for sissies of either sex.  Ask Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd and Meg Whitman.

The current brouhaha over Yahoo!’s decision to bring the field back home and end telecommuting is out of control.  The HR community, in particular, is totally wound around the crankshaft over this decision.  The cries of “foul!” are everywhere in the Twitterverse, the Blogosphere, old media and new media, radio and television.

And I understand the concern, although some of the hysteria is a little hard to take.  Workflex, as SHRM and the Families and Work Institute call it, is a boon for working mothers and fathers, a requirement – we’re told – for hiring and retaining GenX and GenY, and a central plank in improving engagement.  Their data is solid.  I get it.

Except when it isn’t working.  Except when management has lost line of sight into employee productivity.  Except when the culture of work and communication has gotten inefficient and lost its discipline and rigor. Except when out of sight truly is out of mind.

Marissa MayerI give Mayer and Reses big time credit for stepping up to the plate and swinging for the fences.  I saw the memo.  It said that the time for focusing on speed, communication, collaboration and quality is at hand. And in the CEO’s judgment, that means being physically together in hallways, work spaces and cafeterias.

They’re turning a business around, people!  And that’s intense work.  It requires all hands on deck.  I think Mayer and Reses Jackie Reseswant – and need – to harness the talent in Yahoo! in ways that keep the focus and intensity high.  In an environment where leaders can be hands-on and where communication isn’t delayed one second by distance and physical separation.

Say what you will about the value of engaging your workforce by allowing flexible work arrangements:  doing things the way you’ve always done them and expecting a different outcome is, well, you know, not smart.  And no one ever called Mayer that.

Saving a business isn’t about comfort and preferences. It’s about rolling up sleeves and doing whatever it takes to emerge triumphant.  And if that means some long-term, previously engaged colleagues decide that the new requirements don’t fit their lifestyle, then they’ll make other plans.  That’s tough, for sure.  But it’s how things work sometimes.  Everyone has choices to make and consequences to manage. I think Mayer is making tough choices and I think she’s prepared for the consequences.

Is this a referendum on workflex? No

Is this an assault on working parents? No

Is Mayer betraying her gender and her generation? No

Will this change the talent management landscape overnight and around the world? No

Is this one CEO and CHRO working together to change a culture’s priorities and save a business?  Yes

I get it.  So should you.

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52 Comments

Filed under China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Families and Work Institute, FORTUNE Magazine, Jackie Reses, Marissa Mayer, SHRM, Telecommuting, Yahoo!

52 responses to “From the Archives: In support of Marissa Mayer and Jackie Reses

  1. Pingback: Laws Require WorkFlex – Really? |

  2. Pingback: From the Archives: Memo to HR |

  3. This is a great perspective that hasn’t been shared, and moves beyond the pros-cons debate of WFH to the deeper, more company-specific, strategic issue at hand.

    Our company also wrote up a company-specific WFH post: http://inflection.com/slope/culture-why-working-from-home-works-for-us.html

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  7. Keith Robinson

    Hi China,

    Great post and agree, in Europe we are seeing some trends towards telecommuniting but for me that is not the issue.

    Mayer was given a job to do and a tough one at that, she has made a decission and in reality not a big or tough one (get over it) she has made it and good for her and she will be judged on it.

    But boy do we love to hang em before we even see if it was the right move.

    As we say in the UK we all becoming “Red Top” journalists.. just seeking a great story to hang a headline on.

    If she turns Yahoo around will we see a lot of aplogies from those jumping on the “negative band wagon”.

    Keith

  8. Pretty much my take on the situation: I call the reaction “Social Network Fun” -that game needs only one isolated decision/action by someone in a “C” position to become public, in isolation” to get started. Add in a healthy dose of black and white thinking and the person who posts the most dramatic opinion wins.

    I agree with much of what you note above China, said it in short form in the LinkedIn SMinOrgs Group yesterday.

    Perhaps, if it is true that the memo went out as a ‘surprise’ then the CHRO may have a ‘pedigree of note’ -but even skilled CHRO’s can come at a controversial decision from the wrong end of the communication stick. I can only guess that happened at Yahoo and if that guess is close to accurate the CHRO has an opportunity to mea culpa and restart the conversation.

    The the Social Network Fun Game currently in play gives any number of people an opportunity to engage in drama.

  9. Hey China, I’m with you. When I started at Gartner, we often met in Stamford, but that gradually shifted to almost all remote work. Some of the breakthroughs that could have happened didn’t.

    All the Product Teams I have managed at the firms I’ve been at thrived when we were together.

    One has to wonder if the problem at Yahoo isn’t far worse than we know. If so, this is a calculated move, designed to give a nudge to people that might otherwise stay.

    I’m sure they will relax the policy down the road, after Yahoo is back on track.

    Jim Lundy
    PS Check out my Post on the Yahoo situation here: http://aragonresearch.com/yahoo-innovatio-and-high-performance-teams/

  10. gallch

    Hi again China, to be honest, what’s puzzling me now is why you are so resistant to the idea that Mayer might have made a mistake. I know we don’t know all the facts, what else she did, whose counsel she sought, how much of the media storm she expected. But the whole situation at Yahoo is outside of her career experience. Business history is littered with the bodies of CEO’s who, despite their intelligence, integrity and track record, have made terrible blunders. Why so sure that this isn’t just the latest example?

  11. Janet Swaysland

    Yes, there are huge and real business issues leading to this decision by Yahoo and that Marisa and her new team are the hook to fix, and fast. So, they are taking action. Good. The problem is they are using a very blunt instrument in this case and ignoring some important realities.

    1. It’s a big world. In a global company some people work more closely with people in other geographies than they do with people down the hall. Should they relocate everyone to one campus to truly foster communication and collaboration and so everyone is in the same time zone? Do people in New York need to be in the office when having regular conference calls with people in India or Europe, when it’s almost always dinner time or bedtime for someone? What else goes with this office-centric policy to help people work more collaboratively and communicate better across borders?
    2. Not every job is the same. Some work benefits from quiet focus that’s virtually impossible in a noisy, busy office setting. Why force people to be together all the time? (Yes, there are conference rooms and quiet places, and in my experience most people spend more time finding and scheduling that space than using it.)
    3. Why every single day? I couldn’t agree more that some regular face time and community time is vital. But why is every single day so vital, given the advantages of some quieter time and less time spent simply getting to the office?
    4. Productivity vs quality vs innovation… Data data everywhere… Most of what I’ve seen says people are more productive working at home, not less productive. I also believe the best ideas come when you least expect them sometimes, and changes of scenery and people (e.g., out of the office) foster new ideas.
    5. When does the office day end? When you leave the building, I guess. Much commentary I’ve seen raises the excellent point that perhaps in exchange for the burden of long commutes to the office and wasted time navigating campuses and being in noisy cube farms people will be able to completely shut down all their devices when the office day is done. Yahoo execs didn’t mention this part of the deal.
    6. Are these employees adults or children? What about trust? What about innovation? What about setting goals and inspiring people to help solve them, in innovative ways rather than by rigid universal policies like this one?
    7. An unimpressive leadership communication moment, both inside and out. Yahoo had to know this would get big press. Why not devise a smarter strategy for communicating it, knowing the internal memo will be out in a nanosecond? Add more context. Do it via a video message. Attempt to inspire as well as set new standards. Position it as an experiment in one office for starters. Learn from it, then scale it.
    8. Executive privilege — some execs forget what it’s like to be a rank and file employee, even an incredibly motivated, productive and innovative employee. Execs have perks and money that help them compensate for not having time to take care of things at home. They just outsource it. Or have the advantage of a nursery room right next to their office. Dry cleaning services, concierge services etc. can only part way. Yahoo needs to do more than Google-ize itself.

    A better solution would have been to state the business objective and create new guidelines or maybe even an application process for a limited range of new options for people to address those objectives. This would imply that management actually understands reality (see above) and gives a hoot about the people there now, many of whom they presumably want to retain while more than willing to shed others. This would also accommodate the range of work and true collaboration people need to do, across borders and time zones versus putting a simplistic premium on simply showing up at an office.

    I think this is why Yahoo’s move is getting people revved up. 🙂

    • Hi Janet! How the heck are you? I miss bumping in to you at industry events. Hope all is well with you. 🙂 And you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought. So here’s my deal: I have no inside info on Mayer and Yahoo. I’m just giving her the benefit of the doubt instead of the other way around. I’m pretty sure you don’t get to be CEO of a $4B company and not take all of your issues into account. She’s been CEO for 7 months which is long enough to get a real feel for the culture, the challenges, the strengths and weaknesses of the management team and to devise strategies and tactics to pull the cart out of the ditch. My point is that this is ONE tactic. I can’t believe it’s the only tactic. And to fault her with re-starting the Mommy Wars is ludicrous. But I’ll give you point #7. I agree that this was handled poorly from a communications perspective. I know it would have been handled better if you ran corporate communications there. 🙂 Let’s catch up soon.

  12. Nancy

    Given the previous push to save real estate costs, it’s likely that there are not enough workseats for everyone if they show up at the office. Could be chaos. I wonder if this was considered when she wrote this memo?

    I also wonder if the attrition that this will generate is actually planned, and if so, the disgruntile group should crowdsource a class action and make sure the company does not benefit from a back handed forced attrition attack.

    • I’m pretty sure the CEO and CHRO of a multi billion $ company considered whether or not their real estate could hold additional workers. As for planned attrition, wouldn’t it have been easier to do a layoff if that was the intent?

  13. China, I do get it. She has a tough job ahead of her. But being an employee means you have a relationship with the company you work for. For me that relationship once included having a position where I made it clear before they hired me that flex was part of the package. They accepted, I got my work done, well and on-time and still after 3 years they pulled flex from me. To say I felt punched in the gut by a company I had come in on days off for, had stayed lated and missed dinner with my family for, had taken phone calls at all hours for would be an understatement. I also left that company 3 months later and have not been shy about telling anyone who will ask why.

    I have no problem with what Mayer did. But I’m guessing plenty of good, productive workers who currently work there, and those their recruiters were looking to hire do. And there in lies the rub. It’s hard to turn a company around if talented people no longer want to work for you because of a stifling corporate culture.

    • I totally understand. The “deal” is changing for many Yahoo! employees and that may motivate them to leave. I’m pretty sure Mayer gets that, too. Her CHRO has a pretty terrific pedigree and I’m betting they talked through the ROI of this decision for a long time before they made it. It’s not like this is the only decision she’s making. It’s one of a great many. Change is so hard and disrupts everything. Even employment deals. Saving a company is even harder. Better to change some “deals” than impose across the board layoffs. Which still may happen, by the way. In many ways layoffs would have been easier because they’re what everyone does and what everyone expects. Perhaps this is so noteworthy because it’s unexpected… And by the way, those really great employees who might not have been laid-off would still be easy pickings for recruiters following a layoff, right?

  14. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you China, for articulating what I’ve been arguing for the last couple of days. And I do mean arguing- people evidently feel very stringly about this issue. I for one have been disconcerted that the assumption that seems to underpin a great deal of the negative reactions is that Marissa Mayer is an idiot. Half of the blog posts I’ve read seem to honestly think that Ms Mayer is going to be just STUNNED to learn that people like working from home (silly Marissa!). Without first-hand knowledge of Ms Mayer, or the inner workings of Yahoo!, why do so many jump to assume that she’s made a capricious and ignorant decision, and will be surprised when employees leave? I think it far, far more likely that this was an informed decision that may or may not produce the intended outcome that Ms Mayer and her leadership team hope for. Is teleworking good? Sure, if it allows your business to be successful. Is teleworking good for Yahoo! ? We all get to have an opinion on that, but given that it’s part of Ms Mayer’s job to answer it, let’s stop assuming that she took this action because she’s an out-of-touch moron…

  15. Hi Chris. She’s a pretty savvy gal. I’m sure she anticipated public scrutiny on this. (Although who in their right mind would have anticipated the nuttiness that this has become?) The public got a copy of one memo. I’m quite sure that’s not the only communication that happened. And I’m pretty sure that she and her CHRO have this covered. I truly don’t get all the “judgement” going on here. She works for the board and the shareholders not the media. At least I think that’s true…

    • Christopher Gallop

      Hi again China, to be honest, what’s puzzling me now is why you are so resistant to the idea that Mayer might have made a mistake. I know we don’t know all the facts, what else she did, whose counsel she sought, how much of the media storm she expected. But the whole situation at Yahoo is outside of her career experience. Business history is littered with the bodies of CEO’s who, despite their intelligence, integrity and track record, have made terrible blunders. Why so sure that this isn’t just the latest example?

      • Because there’s no evidence to support it being a mistake — other than the media’s hysterical rants. it’s a business in trouble. It’s had what, 5 or 6 CEOs in 6 years? Obviously some drastic actions are going to be required. Why is it so hard to believe that this one decision — ONE decision — might be just what the doctor ordered for Yahoo!? The media — and I include the HR blogosphere here — are so gleefully pouncing on her and I just think it is unwarranted. Instead of saying, “Wow. That’s an interesting and counter-intuitive approach. Wonder what the full story is,” they make up the most negative story then can while predicting her demise, attributing the re-start of the Mommy Wars to her, assuring us that this is a subterfuge to get people to leave without paying severance, and on and on and on. I just think it’s way out of proportion. And the media’s willingness to always assume the worst just drives me nuts. That’s all. It may well be a huge mistake and the first step of her monumental failure as a CEO. I see no evidence to support that, but it could happen.

  16. Bravo to you China—eloquently done—and Bravo for bravery to Rese and Mayer.
    Turn around takes just that–bravery

  17. Very well said. Marissa Mayer was not hired as CEO to make friends, win the popular vote or maintain the status quo; she was hired to lead a company that has lost its way and take full accountability for its future success or failure. If she feels this is an appropriate course of action to get her people reconnected to the work at hand, this decision is both her prerogative and her cross to bear as the business leader.

    • Thanks, Amy. Not sure why everyone assumes that this is the only decision she’s made to get the business back on track. If it were, I’d be skeptical, too. But clearly, this one of many decisions that have already been made and that will continue to be made to fix the issues at Yahoo!

  18. Pingback: Just Because It’s Unpopular, Doesn’t Mean It’s Wrong | Marenated

  19. I like your take on this. My perspective is that once again, management is not dealing with the real issue. If performance is the issue, than deal with it. This is basic HR, corrective actions, employee relations, performance measures….all this should be in place and no matter how much you like someone, if they’re not getting the job done, in the office from the home, they’re out. Why is this hard? Am I spoiled in Maryland where employment is “at-will” and in my previous HR life that’s what I did? I’m thinking someone needs to put on her big girl pants and truly lead, that means not hiding behind a an onsite work policy but weeding out the non-performers.

    When I read this article it didn’t occur to me that this would set the telework movement back. But it did make me realize that corporate America still lacks in some of its leaders the backbone to aggressively manage people and expect performance.

    • Thanks for commenting, Kelly. I’d ask one question: why assume that Mayer and Reses are not dealing with the real issues? We saw one memo about one decision. Doesn’t mean it’s the only thing going on. Mayer and Reses do not strike me as able to do only one thing at a time. Their issues are pretty complex I think, and I expect there’s more than one tactic being deployed to get the culture and strategy back on track. I’m thinking this is the tip of the iceberg…

  20. Pingback: Symbolist

    • Thanks, Paul. It always makes me feel good when some of the smartest people I know agree with me. 🙂

      • I think you’re right on… I also think you’re right to suggest there are other gears in play at other levels. This isn’t the ONLY thing they have in the works… but just one of many things to get a handle on the business. At Yahoo and many companies today – personnel is THE biggest expense and getting some sort of handle on it makes sense.

        And no one said this was a long-term solution – it could be just a huddle up before things change again.

        Many moves yet on this chess board.

      • Totally agree, Paul. It really stumps me that people start with the assumption that Mayer is an idiot. I just don’t get it.

  21. Great post China. Turn-around aside I can see this argument from a nuts and bolts business perspective. The business I work for is growing extrememly fast (35% in the past 2yrs). The speed at which things are changing and moving is a massive challenge. The rate at which we are hiring is also a challenge and as a result there is constant pressure to do what it takes to get positions filled and keep our existing workforce motivated. I see the draw with flex schedules and they definitely have their place. I’m a dad of three kids under four years old with a wife who works….I get it. However, as with Mayer and Reses our opting to have employees on premisis bumping shoulders and working together as a (non-virtual) team trumps all. For now the “all hands on deck” is what is keeping us focused and driving our ship forward. I just passed on a great candidate yesterday because they needed one of these arrangements. Thats a tough business decision and tough business decisions are made every day.

    • Thanks, John. As with almost everything, one solution does not fit all situations. Who’s to say that when Yahoo! gets its act together that it won’t revisit this decision. But for now, the CEO thinks it’s the right thing to and that’s all it takes.

  22. I want to like Marissa and what she is doing. I also know that change is hard for all employees, staff and managers included. A couple thoughts I would have liked to see:

    *If this was in fact a policy change that they anticipated to go viral, I think it should have been a joint memo or video message from Reses and Mayer together. Sending out a company wide memo from HR driving the change is so 2005. This is Yahoo. There needs to be more.

    *A focus on performance. I get it, people are working from home and slacking off so they can work on their startups and screw around which is what the Bay area is known for. People in this area, work in a job because they need to make a living and spend the rest of their time working on a passion project and doing what they loved. Sounds like this might be a performance issue to me not necessarily an end to work from home.

    Certainly, I think there will be some exceptions to the rule in who has to come into the office with such a change like this. I would have just liked to see more planning and strategy around the communication and a focus on identifying and managing out low performers instead of appearing to attack moms and telework. It’s easy to see how this is a target for the media and others especially when Mayer is pregnant with child trying to right a ship that has been heading south for a while.

    Enjoyed reading this post, China.

    JMM

    • Thanks, JMM. I truly find it astonishing that so many assume this is an assault on parents. I just don’t get that. I know what it’s like to run a business with employees distributed all over the world. It’s hard to get line of sight into what they’re doing. And if there are performance issues then certainly supervisors and managers need to step up to the plate. But what if the entire culture has gotten lazy and unfocused? She doesn’t have time to do things slowly. It’s got to be a speedy recovery. And I really do think that bold choices need to be made — and if there’s any symbolism there I think it’s that everything is fair game. Shaking up the workforce by requiring attendance at company headquarters seems like a better choice than an across the board percent reduction in force. I don’t know, JMM. We’re either expecting way too much from her or way too little. I, for one, would like to support her. And I do.

  23. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Many theories being bandied about (e.g. exodus, sale, etc.) will be tested.

  24. Respect to my friend, colleague China. Are “WE” missing something? What is the story that actually unfolded here?

    I understand a mile walked in these shoes….Truly. Is it out of the question to ask why we are **not** unfolding this story so we champion a future case study for WHY leaders opt to move in a path that is “less on trend” ? My point is we may need more data.

    I’m puzzled at the moment. Maybe it’s just me. The future of work is too bw. Thanks ahead.

    • Respect right back at you. 🙂 I’m not understanding the “WE” in your comment. Why should Marissa care what we think? She doesn’t answer to us. And making her be some kind of role model CEO isn’t fair. She’s a young CEO trying to save an iconic brand and organization. Why can’t we take her stated reasons at face value? Why does there have to be more? I’m really puzzled by all the comments that this policy change is some kind of subterfuge to get people to leave. “We” would like a layoff better? A layoff certainly wouldn’t have been unexpected. I don’t know… We can dig for more information, I guess, but what if it really is what is being presented? What if she really means what she says? She’s being influenced by her Google experience — and isn’t why her board selected her? It’s a gutsy move in an industry that is for flexibility. But it doesn’t seem like such an earth shattering thing to me. Bottom line for me is that she’s the CEO and if she thinks this will help raise the intensity and collaboration and speed in the organization, then she should do it.

  25. +1, Like and all that good stuff. Smart post, China.

  26. Excellent! This has been so overplayed in the media and among people who have opinions but no real in-the-trenches insight. To be a leader means making the tough choices needed to follow the path toward success. In a turnaround situation, everything is critical. Outsiders should be critical only after they have walked a mile in those shoes.

    • Thanks, Tom. I really don’t understand the persistent drum beat of “there must be more to this story — and it must be unethical.” Marissa answers to her board, her stockholders, her employees and other stakeholders. This is starting to feel like Carly Fiorina all over again…

  27. Great post, China. Couldnt agree with you more.

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