Yahoo! CEO: Right Decision, Wrong Communication

by PR Coach on February 28, 2013

Yahoo is as big as the Titanic

Turning around Yahoo is a formidable challenge for new CEO

Bringing telecommuters back into the office has never created such an uproar!

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s cuts to telecommuting, sparked catcalls from women’s groups, questions from academics, anonymous complaints from Yahoo employees and polarized opinions in the media and at office water coolers around the world.

On CNN, four experts practically choked each other trying to advocate their polarized points of view on this story. It’s a fun clip to watch but it showed how strong and divided opinions are on the issue.

Richard Branson was quoted saying telecommuting is a good idea although he didn’t practice it personally. Donald Trump said it was a great management decision and employees need to be in their office to be most effective.

Predictably, some women’s and anti-industrialists groups claimed it was a step back for working women and worker freedom although many telecommuters are men.

Academics and management consultants pointed to their favorite research studies showing how well telecommuting works, the productivity gains and how telecommuting is a cure for what ails the economy and global warming.

You know what they say about lies, damned lies and statistics though.

Pick your political spin and you’ll find an expert to support your point of view.

Maureen Dowd wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed:

“Mayer’s bold move looks retro and politically incorrect, but she may feel the need to reboot the company culture, harness creativity, cut deadwood and discipline slackers before resuming flexibility.”

Fortunately, some commentators have pointed out that other technology leaders, including Google, do everything they can to have employees in the office, working and productive. Including day care, massages, chef-prepared meals, pizza, ping-pong, pool tables and pub get-togethers to go with productivity.

Michael Schrage in the Harvard Business Review blog says:

“Let’s be serious: if significant portions of Yahoo top performers were “stay@home” coders, testers and project management telecommuters, do people really think Mayer would arbitrarily issue edicts guaranteed to alienate them? It’s possible. But that would imply Mayer hasn’t learned very much about her company’s best people, best performers and culture since joining last July. Most successful technical leaders I know avoid getting in the way of their best people’s productivity. But what do leaders do when even very good people aren’t being as productive as you want or need them to be? Challenging them to be better onsite collaborators hardly seems either unfair or irrational.”

Mayer has the unenviable task of turning around the Yahoo Titanic before it hits the proverbial iceberg.

In her brief time as new CEO, she’s clearly identified an area where change is needed. Leaders need to make tough decisions.  Employees are going to have to be more productive, more focused, more creative and more agile if Yahoo is to compete and survive.

Right Management Decision, Poor Communication

New Yahoo CEO, Marissa MayerI think Mayer made a tough but appropriate management decision. But the communications part of this announcement rescinding telecommuting was badly handled and very poorly written.

Witness the leaked internal memo from Yahoo Human Resources VP Jackie Reses. I’ve highlighted the questionable parts to illustrate:

YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD

Yahoos,

Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.

Jackie

This was clumsy internal communication and likely demoralizing for some Yahoo employees.

It called into question employee “speed and quality” of work. Really questioning the integrity of all remote workers to all other employees. Hardly fair.

Second, there was no need for a kindergarten lecture about the cable guy. I think talented employees can handle the challenge.

Yahoo can and should communicate better.

Where’s the Real Problem with Yahoo?

Yahoo office signageUnplugging telecommuters has caused a big debate that overlooks what I think may be the real source of the problem.

I think the real problem lies in accountability. Yahoo, like many agile technology companies has grown into a big corporation. Unlike its early days, layers of management, many locations and thousands of employees later, accountability is a casualty.

Three CEOs in 2012? That speaks volumes about leadership, direction and resolve.

As Larry Hawes writes in Forbes:

“Mayer is attempting to return Yahoo! to a vibrant place where colleagues work closely with each other to create new services that delight customers. To do so, she must reboot Yahoo!’s employee network.”

But no one seems to have asked the key question.

Are managers properly managing the telecommuters? A smart CEO might first charge her managers with reviewing how they will deliver better results with their remote-work teams. Regardless of whether employees work around their kitchen tables or in Yahoo cube farms.

It’s all about results. Research shows that telecommuters are more productive. But, they bring a different set of management challenges. And they require skillful employee communications and managing of remote teams to deliver results.

I admire Mayer’s decision. It’s not popular but it’s an indication of a steely resolve to get the good ship Yahoo back on course before it founders.

I suspect there’s a long lineup of talented people who would give anything for the chance to work at a company like Yahoo. Telecommuting or not.

If it all works out positively, the critics will recognize it as one of the leadership decisions that made a difference.

I just hope Yahoo does the communication piece way better next time! Otherwise, the armchair CEOs will be back again with more criticism.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Visuals: Techpinions, CNN, Biography.com, Design You Trust

More Reading:

Bodies Matter: The Inconvenient Truth In Marissa Mayer Banning Telecommuting At Yahoo [Forbes]
Get Off of Your Cloud [The New York Times]
Marissa Mayer Is No Fool [Harvard Business Review]
Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo! Mistake (It’s Not What You Think) [Forbes]
“Physically Together”: Here’s the Internal Yahoo No-Work-From-Home Memo for Remote Workers and Maybe More [All Things D]
Tech execs question Yahoo’s work-from-the-office edict [CNN.com]
Teleworking: The myth of working from home  [BBC]
Yahoo ends telecommuting [CNN – Video]