Breaking Mayer’s Trade-off?

You may recall the controversy that greeted new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban employees from working at home. I suggested that while such a decision might be useful in the turnaround phase, it does send a message of “We don’t trust you” and so could undermine Einheit if kept in place for too long.

Clive Thompson had another take yesterday on Wired.com: What Marissa Mayer Doesn’t (and Does) Get About White-Collar Work

He cites research (an innovative approach!) that shows advantages to both working at home and at the office, depending on the types of work to be done.

“Thinking work” is invisible and hard to observe accurately. Waber studied one company where a handful of superstar programmers complained that they could only be productive at home. So leave them home, right? Except Waber found that when these stars worked in the office, the firm’s productivity as a whole soared, because they’d answer other coders’ questions. Let them work from home and everyone suffered.

He recommends doing both:

Managers and employees need to assess what type of mental work they’re doing on any given day and gravitate to where it’s best suited. Doing Mad Men–style “aha” groupthink? Stay in the office. Need to crush that 90-page memo on paper-clip appropriations? Seems like the kind of thing best handled at home, possibly in your underwear. One-size-fits-all policies—like the one at Yahoo—are too crude for today’s white-collar toil.

Seems reasonable, but the big question still remains unanswered. Do you trust your employees to make this decision for themselves, or, like one of the companies he cites, do you lay down a fiat that thou shall work at the office on MWF and from wherever you want on TTh? That might solve the work-at-home-or-at-the-office issue, but what do you do when a highly productive employee finishes a critical project by working from home on Friday?

As Thompson suggests at the end, the most successful companies may be those that break the trade-off between control and trust and manage to have both. Boyd’s framework is designed to break exactly this trade-off. As I describe in Certain to Win, it rests on Einheit/mutual trust, shaped by such concepts as Schwerpunkt (focus and direction) and Auftragstaktik (roughly, mission “orders”).

Once you have done the hard work to build Einheit (also “unity” and even “team feeling”; c.f., Patterns 74-79, 118), and once people appreciate the need for both creative individual work and for team interaction (this need being part of your Schwerpunkt), then a little leadership should resolve any problems that come up in day-to-day operations.

One thought on “Breaking Mayer’s Trade-off?

  1. The idea is to treat each employee as a separate incorporated entity, in other words a sub contractor, providing a service within the organization. Wages go up, but overall costs and liabilities go down, efficiency and moral soar. One issue is that not everyone is cut out for self employment, or can deliver. Overall, sadly, though the trend is exactly the opposite, contracting and freelancing is dying.

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