Hey Marisa – It’s a Management Problem

I’ve been debating on whether or not I wanted to chime in on Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting. I have had an opinion since it was first announced a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to toss it out to this group, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’m not sure why I had any reservations in the first place.

In the end, I don’t have much of an opinion on whether or not people should or shouldn’t be allowed to work from home. Determining whether or not people should telecommute should be driven by business drivers and the specific roles. If the role is bolstered by telecommuting then have at it. If being in the office enhances the probability of a better outcome, than mandate being in the office. NFL Players can’t work from home. The team’s accountant can. If telecommuting is neutral to the role, but provides employee benefits, then again, have at it. Marisa’s decision to ban telecommuting across the entire organization isn’t a telecommuting, productivity, innovation, or efficiency issue. It’s a management issue.

The official Yahoo statement for the decision to ban ALL telecommuting at Yahoo was to improve innovation and collaboration. I love this motive. I’m a huge fan of innovation and collaboration. The problem with the decision is not EVERY role in Yahoo plays an innovative role. Let’s keep it real, not every position in a company is in a position to affect innovation. Cutting telecommuting across the entire organization is a knee jerk reaction I argue misses the point.

If Marisa was feeling that Yahoo needed to become more innovative and collaborative, if Marisa felt that the parking lot was too empty and not enough work was getting done then she needed to look at management not telecommuting. Marisa doesn’t have a telecommuting problem, she has a management and leadership problem.

If Yahoo is unable to be innovative and collaborative with telecommuting or if employees are slacking off at home, the problem isn’t the employees or telecommuting, management isn’t doing its job. If Yahoo is unable to be innovative and collaborative with telecommuting it’s because the management team doesn’t know how to manage telecommuters. They don’t have a handle on their subordinates and what they are doing. They’re not hiring the right people, people capable of being productive and innovative while working from home. They aren’t providing the direction, support, training, direction and leadership telecommuting employees need to be successful.

Like any other work place challenge, process or environment, success starts and ends with leadership. I am constantly amazed how little focus is placed on management (front-line, middle, and upper) during turn-arounds. If you want to create wholesale change in an organization, focus on management first. Find out who has a command of their business. Identify who the true leaders are. Uncover those who are winning through leadership and not command and control. Dig into the business to find the leaders who are already being innovative. Scour the organization for the “resistors,” those in the management ranks who resist change and fight growth, those that passively or openly defy the organization’s goals and objectives and get rid of them.

The first step in a turn-around is to start with leadership and management. It’s to get the right people in the leadership positions and then train them. Train them in the culture of the new org. Educate them on the new directions. Indoctrinate them on the goals, objectives, strategies, behaviors and expected results. Once the right leadership is on place, set em loose. Let them determine if telecommuting is best for their organization or team. Let them determine the best environment for collaboration and innovation. Let them run their business.

Company wide edicts are bad signs. It means the CEO/the board doesn’t trust the organization. Edicts are a vote of “no-confidence.”

I don’t know what Marisa’s next move is. This might just be a stop gap measure to stop the bleeding allowing her to fix what she sees as a management problem. If this is the case, well played. If not, and this is a permanent edict from the top, I wouldn’t bet on Yahoo’s long term prospects.

No company can make it with shitty leadership and management. As talented as she is, Marisa can’t do it herself. She needs a killer leadership and management team between her and the employees. Trying to cure the symptom, like a cold, only feels good temporarily. When the remedy where’s off you’re still sick and you feel even worse.

Only time will tell if Marisa is treating the cold or the symptom, but what I do know is telecommuting isn’t the problem.

If you’re a EVP, SVP, VP of sales and your not getting the results you want, if you’ve been struggling to meet your goals, don’t look at your sales people, start with your leaders. Everything emanates from them

Oh, BTW – that means you too!