Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (I've previously blogged about her here) was a fantastic recent hire. But it seems folks just can't resist tripping the proverbial prom queen. Unlike pretty much the majority out there who get off on second guessing every move she makes**, I, for one, am convinced she knows what the hell she is doing.
If anyone can right the sad, sinking ship that is Yahoo today, it's her. Informal poll time: show of hands, who uses Yahoo on a daily basis? Yeah, I thought not. I still use a Yahoo mail account and people actually make fun of me for it.
So when Mayer (the well-compensated tech genius expert) tells us (the technically-inept masses) she has mined Yahoo's employee VPN data and it has told her in no uncertain terms ALERT - the folks you have been paying to do the work aren't doing the work!, then she had the responsibility to do something about it. And she did - her move was a decisive, drastic one that has made her very unpopular in the press: she decided nobody at Yahoo is allowed to telework anymore.
For starters, nobody in her peer group is more data-driven and evidence-based in their processes than she is. Mayer made the decision by checking the data showing how much teleworkers were actually logging in to Yahoo’s network – and well, case closed. From the SF Chronicle:
“Likewise, we’re hearing from people close to Yahoo executives and employees that she made the right decision banning work from home.
“The employees at Yahoo are thrilled,” says one source close to the company.
“There isn’t massive uprising. The truth is, they’ve all been pissed off that people haven’t been working.”
There you have it: folks were not doing the work. Why her middle managers couldn't have effectively managed their own employees in the first place is of course, another story, and one that probably speaks to Yahoo's lackadaisical cultural problems that Mayer is trying desperately to correct. I prefer to call it strong, unflinching leadership on her part, but her critics are calling it some other unflattering things.
Her critics, such as Lisa Belkin in Huffington Post.com, are saying, "I had hope that as a new mother, she would use her platform and her power to make Yahoo an example of a modern family-friendly workplace"... it's a warning for everyone "that their lives don't matter." Seriously, Ms. Belkin? That sounds awfully hyperbolic. @Cloud, Wandering Scientist has a great analysis of why we aren't holding male CEOs to these same feminist standards.
Mayer's role is to lead a lagging company within the context of unforgiving American tech company capitalism - where it's survival of the fittest out there. Which, like most of corporate American life, is onerous hell to folks who need to take some time out of it for various reasons, but hey that's our system, and while I can't think of a better one either, I know we can do a few things better (uncoupling insurance from employment, universal child care, guaranteed paid maternity leave etc etc). But, as Mayer is not an elected official I would submit these concerns are not her primary problem. Instead, her focus is right where it should be: on building a collaborative workplace that will create and deliver inspired, innovative products. Buy into her vision, Yahoos, or get out. I can respect that, but I may not like it. And if I'm a recent Yahoo hire whose employment decision was predicated on my ability to telework, then yes, I have a legitimate grievance - but I'd wager that's a small subset of Yahoos. Certainly, there are also Yahoos out there who are grateful to have a leader with a snowball's chance in hell of saving their jobs.
As I've commented elsewhere, "productivity" alone is no longer the name of the game. There seems to be a dichotomy between productivity and innovation. Everyone's gut intuition about it and the current research seem to agree that telework improves productivity. But surprise, surprise telework is actually bad for innovation:
"Studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm. "If you want innovation, then you need interaction," he said. "If you want productivity, then you want people to work from home."Mayer was hired last year with a direct mandate to alter Yahoo's stagnating culture. A decade ago, Yahoo was a place where the best and brightest Internet hires came together to innovate. For too long, Yahoo has been coasting along on auto-pilot, losing market share while maintaining existing business lines rather than growing new ones (i.e. being "productive" rather than "innovative"? hmm....). Yahoo has obviously been outpaced by Google and Facebook - two companies which, by the way also frown upon telework, albeit in a less extreme way than Yahoo's anti-telework policy. Which ought to tell us something.
If this anti-telework trend catches on outside of the tech-specific domain, that will be a crying shame. Because we know for a fact telework is great for productivity at fixed jobs. At Yahoo, and at this specific historical moment for the company, I can totally see how Mayer made the correct call. So, please, let's all stop questioning Mayer's intelligence in these matters.
** By the way, they call this "Tripping the Prom Queen" (great book, BTW) wherein the strongest females are attacked by the weakest females - the exact opposite of the treatment of strong males in our society. I happen to think this explains most of the anti-Mayer and Sandberg rhetoric out there.