Going Against The Tide: Marissa Mayer isn’t Stupid

7383103226_ab367cde13_oYahoo and cry have arisen about Yahoo’s decision to put a stop to work-from-home arrangements.

I don’t know Yahoo, or anyone who works there.  I do know management turnaround situations.  Here’s why I might have made a similar decision.

Unclear performance objectives and/or expected results.   Without clear, measurable expectations, people won’t be successful.  From anywhere.

In a management turnaround, one of the first things I do is review the performance management process.   Yahoo has done this.

A “results only work environment” requires agreement on what results will be, commitment to accountability, and metrics.  This requires an organization to have a pretty refined level of management skill.

My guess:  The performance evaluation revamp signals that management doesn’t have enough information to evaluate the operational inputs to Yahoo’s financial results.

Bluntly, it might not be possible to tell who’s working and who isn’t.

Work is community.  Humans haven’t evolved to the point where we can have functional relationships that don’t require face-to-face contact.   Communication involves facial expression, body language and tone of voice.  Not just words on the screen.

We don’t need my guess on this one.  Here’s what Yahoo management thinks, via Kara Swisher at All Things D:

Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings.

I agree.

Yes, there are dysfunctional work at home situations.   It takes a level of self awareness, maturity and organizational skill to work at home.  Buy me a coffee if you don’t know someone who doesn’t work well at home.   (Have you ever been on a conference call with a barking dog in the background?)

Or, maybe you know an organization where the phrase “work at home” invokes air quotes.  Or where it’s a joke.  It might not be the whole company, but a team.  Or individual people.

My guess is that this has been a pattern at Yahoo.

(And for those making broad statements about how bad this is for Yahoo’s women:  wrong.  What’s bad for women?  Being grouped into a “slacker” category.)

It’s not working.   Yahoo has failed to innovate, its stock has languished, and people don’t want to work there.

My guess:  a new performance evaluation process and bringing everyone back to the office will rationalize the management process at Yahoo.   Steps like these are necessary when you simply can’t identify who is doing what.

If they’re successful, we’ll see remote workers again at Yahoo.  Maybe 12-18 months down the road.

And it won’t be management admitting that their experiment failed.

Photo: Alone Against the Tides, by Flickr’s Pat Loika, used under Creative Commons license

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