Marissa Mayer Should Focus on Employee Engagement
If you missed the recent media kerfuffle over Yahoo’s decision to significantly reduce work-at-home options for their employees, you missed a great example of how senior executives can have the best intentions, but cause as much harm as good by taking the wrong approach to implementing their vision.
Yahoo takes the position that working at home deprives the employee of that creative day-to-day interaction employees get when working in an office. Innovation happens best through collaboration, which is facilitated when people are physically in the same place.
This article from Deborah Kotz on Boston.com did a nice job of objectively discussing the pros and cons of work-at-home arrangements.
Here is a strong defense of CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to eliminate work-at-home arrangements.
From the outside looking in, we cannot gauge what drove Mayer to make such a sweeping decree. We guess that she has decided that one clear strategic need for Yahoo is to raise the pace and quality of innovation to keep up with Google and other competitors. She came from Google, where innovation seems to start over breakfast and go all day. She definitely wants to foster that same environment at Yahoo.
She may be right in trying to move Yahoo in that direction, but we don’t think imposing a blanket ban on working from home is going to achieve that for her. This is a big, jarring culture shift in her company and her industry: Silicon Valley companies have been pioneers of flexible working arrangements, and that flexibility has actually been cited as a core method of employee engagement and retention: In short, companies help employees strike a better work/life balance, which raises morale and therefore productivity.
We think Mayer should have been more constructive in approaching her target, moving the company more sustainably toward the creation of a more innovative organization. Here are some steps you could consider when redesigning working patterns for your employees as Yahoo wishes to do:
- Ask the employees what is working, and what isn’t. What currently inhibits creative collaboration? How can we create more opportunities to interact productively?
- Rather than unilaterally eliminating work-at-home options, make coming into the office more enticing:
- Run regular workshops within departments that focus on collaborative innovation.
- Have one day every week be a mandatory “office day.” Schedule your innovation sessions for those days.
- Schedule “work with a senior executive day,” and assign all senior executives a specific schedule to work within multiple departments for a number of hours or even whole days, multiple times each quarter.
- Organize a transition from ‘work-at-home’ to ‘work-at-the-office’ that minimizes the disruption to employees’ current carefully constructed patterns of work and family care.
- Retain plenty of flexibility to allow employees to take care of sick kids, school scheduling issues and so forth.
In other words, entice employees into thinking that working at the office is preferable by offering productive opportunities for collaboration and career advancement that only happen at the office.
We feel strongly that CEOs must avoid trying to be the smartest person in the room. As with Mayer, CEOs usually have a track record of success, and can fall into the trap of thinking they know what is best. They may be right, but they need to stress-test their assumptions against organizational and marketplace realities before acting.
Marissa Mayer was hired to “straighten Yahoo out.” Part of that mandate is shaking things up to see what might work better. Getting people to come in a work at their office desks might be part of that. We don’t get the sense that this particular idea came up through the ranks, however. It’s a pretty safe bet that its imposition may cause more harm than good to Mayer’s goal of raising the rate of employee engagement needed to build the highly innovative culture she seeks.