Desperate measures

Perhaps 2,500 years ago, the Tao Te Ching observed that if you don’t trust people, you make them untrustworthy. You will get burned every now and again, but even then, the vast majority of the organization will see that you have their best interests at heart and that the violators were only looking out for themselves (and deserved what they got — see previous post).

Marissa Mayer’s (CEO of Yahoo) recent edict cancelling a long-standing policy allowing telecommuting headlined the message “We don’t trust you!” The immediate downside is that those who were not abusing the system will feel betrayed, and it’s safe to assume that these were among the company’s best performers. Ms. Mayer should expect many of these to leave and be prepared for resentment on the part of the others. In other words, there will be damage to the trust that still remains at Yahoo.

Here’s the key point: You can’t compare the situation at Yahoo with with successful organizations, such as Ms. Mayer’s previous employer, Google. A recent article in the New York Times noted that:

It should probably be obvious at this juncture, but Google doesn’t require employees to work from the office. It doesn’t even keep track of who’s there. The notion seems to have never occurred to anyone. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a policy on that,” [Google spokesman Jordan] Newman said, but “we do expect employees to figure out a work schedule with their team and manager. It’s not a free-for-all.”

But Google is an effective and successful powerhouse (10 times Yahoo’s revenue, and roughly 30 times its EPS) that by all reports already has a high degree of trust. So Ms. Mayer’s first task is to rebuild a basic level of mutual trust, Einheit, and strange as it seems, forcing people back into the office may be a way to do it.  As noted in the last post, Boyd suggested that you build Einheit by putting people into situations where “each individual can observe and orient himself simultaneously to the others and to the variety of changing situations.” This sort of implies an advantage to being together during the rebuilding phase.

If she can get the trust engine going again, lots of options become available, and then you can start comparing Yahoo to Google. Until then, don’t forget the old saying about desperate times.

5 thoughts on “Desperate measures

  1. This also shows the peril of hiring managers from superstar organizations, hoping they’ll bring the magic to your company. Often the managers do not know the fundamental reasons for their company’s success, such as Einheit.

    Very often they believe the reason for success was *them*, or the specific policiies they used. Often neither transplant well.

    • Fabius (or is it Maximus?),

      Very good point! She’s an engineer by background who rose because of her success on the techie side, which took advantage of the organizational climate already in place at Google.

      As Michael Schrage noted on his HBR blog:

      So when Mayer decrees seven months into the job that she wants people to, you know, physically show up at work instead of telecommuting — or else — I’m pretty confident this reflects a data-driven decision more than a cavalier command.

      Schrage’s somewhat fawning article article ends up roughly the same place I do:

      My bet is that, sooner rather than later, the truly productive/high impact employees with special needs will enjoy a locational flexibility that their lesser will not.

      • Chet, I’m a bit confused about your comments re working from home. It seems as if you support Marissa’s decision to bring people together within the office as a measure for Einheit AND disagree with her because you’d lose the best workers who prefer working from home and are thus most productive. Would you mind elaborating on your position please?

      • Hi Hans — Thanks for the question.

        Pros and cons. If she’s going to use this as a way to build Einheit, it could work. She does talk about building “one Yahoo.” On the other hand, she’ll likely lose those people who were working hard and creatively from home but who resent being called deadbeats.

        As Boyd points out, one of the prices paid by leaders who are successful in building Einheit is “Courage to share danger and discomfort at the front.” (Patterns, 118). Given that she just had a private nursery built next to her office, she may have a problem with this.

        Hope this helps.

  2. Google in our fair city has few people to keep track of, so the point of keeping track of where any one is, I bet, a moot point.

    Besides, the culture of secrecy surrounding Google, at least as they stealthed their way into position, probably sees an advantage in no one being able to find out where anyone else is positioning themselves.

    This ambiguous positioning gives them the greatest ability to design and plan for entropy, after their employees Act.

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