What Marissa Mayer did Wrong: An HR Perspective

Marissa Mayer's recent mandate to cease all work from home arrangements come June 1 has rightly caused an uproar all around the working world. But some of that criticism is misdirected. It's not the policy that's problematic; no one is denying that Yahoo needs to make some changes and that co-located teams are generally more productive. But the manner in which this new policy was conveyed, with complete disregard of its history and  and its implications is incongruous with our times and industry, and the telltale signs of a leader who has a bit more maturing to do.

And by the way, this has nothing to do with being a woman. A man proposing this change would have been equally lambasted and men whose flexible work arrangements are being taken away are as affected as women. This is about business.

From a human resources perspective, here's what Marissa Mayer did wrong:

1. Zero change management - Any HR professional worth his or her dime will tell you that a change of this magnitude needs a plan with a proper communications strategy: are the stakeholders on board? Who are the influencers that should be seen embodying the change? In this day of CEO access and transparency, how did Marissa's comms team think it was ok to send a memo? How were managers trained to deal with the backlash? There is something to be said for authentic voices in leadership but "conform or quit" is a bit 90's .

2. Blanket policies and mass generalizations - The new policy assumes that everyone is a slacker or unproductive if not at the office.  Instead of implementing a blanket ban,  managers should have been asked to look at their teams and assess the most productive outcomes and arrangements instead of an across-the-board mandate. And if working from home arrangements had to be ceased, the change should be made gradually with consideration to each employee's unique circumstances.

3. Incentivizing face time, not performance - Some employees that work remotely are extremely effective and many that come into the office every day are putting in face time. Are Yahoo's performance management systems equipped to tell the difference between those that are really producing and those that are hanging out on Facebook at their desks? Did anyone look at performance data in the first place, before deciding that remote working was the death of productivity? Rewarding the wrong behaviors can be the end of innovation and good work and Yahoo is dangerously close to getting there.

4. Creating a culture of compliance, not ownership - The personality type that Silicon Valley companies like Yahoo want, the kinds of people that innovate and take risks, are not motivated by top-down mandates. They are most productive when they believe they are valued and trusted. What Marissa is saying to her employees is we don't think you can get the job done unsupervised. And some people can't. But many can and do, and they won't be doing it at Yahoo.

5. Taking away an employee benefit  - The cardinal sin in people management is giving people a benefit, and then taking it away, at least without something to replace it. In the long run maybe Yahoo employees will see the wisdom once they are basking in the "one Yahoo" culture and revelling in a rising stock price. But in the short term, managers are going to have to deal with disgruntled and resentful employees who will be looking for some sort of compensation for what they have given up. Marissa better come up with something fast, and free food aint' going to cut it.


Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan has a Masters in Human Resources and spent four years doing Change Management and Organizational Effectiveness at Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley.






Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan

CEO+Founder, Momaboard.com 


Twitter @momaboard

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