Yahoo: Face Time or FaceTime?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013

Marissa Mayer on NBC's Today show

Yahoo: Face Time or FaceTime?

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer certainly unleashed a brouhaha with her recent telecommuting policy change. Reaction from the business media has been swift and loud.

Here’s an excerpt from Yahoo’s HR director’s (leaked) company memo:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. This is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

CEOs get paid the big bucks to make hard decisions.

What would push Mayer to make such a drastic (some say backward) decision? The decision is driven by pressure for Mayer to restore Yahoo to an innovative and profitable tech company. Mayer is banking on the idea that more intense face-to-face collaboration among employees will result in increased productivity. Feels a bit draconian, but it might be the jolt the company needs. If it works, it will be a great case study in leadership—how defying conventional wisdom about talent management saved Yahoo. It will also be a great case study in how a CEO used social health* drivers to transform organizational culture.

So what’s ahead for Yahoo’s leaders?

Well, they will have to start playing a different leadership game. Essentially, they are being asked to take a track relay team and reengineer it into a basketball team. Yahoo literally wants people “rubbing elbows” versus “passing along” ideas. That’s a huge leadership challenge.

The New York Times reports Mayer says the change has little to do with workplace flexibility. She is much more concerned with the social and cultural health of the company. No matter the ultimate outcome, Mayer appears to be modeling the leadership behaviors that she wants to see from her teams, leaders and employees.

Since Mayer is focused on changing the social health of Yahoo, what leadership behaviors does she expect from Yahoo’s leaders?

In his upcoming book, Grounded, our CEO, Bob Rosen, explains how leaders can develop and maximize their personal social health to make great things happen at work.

“Leadership is an inside-outside progression. Social health starts with authenticity, advances to mutually rewarding relationships, and culminates in nourishing teams and communities.”

Be authentic.

Now is not the time to play games or politics. Everything hinges on trusted relationships in a situation like this. Open, honest communications leads to trust. You have to walk the talk of building helpful relationships yourself before you can expect others to do the same. Mayer seems to be setting the tone, being clear, forthright and honest in her communications.

Be vulnerable.

Mayer has certainly put herself in the spotlight, demonstrating her willingness to take risks. She had to know she’d get slammed in the media and blogosphere for going against conventional wisdom about telecommuting. Opening herself to criticism (especially as a female CEO who recently had a baby), clearly demonstrates her willingness to show vulnerability.

Build community.

When you are in the fast lane and you need to change things up, giving people the benefit of closer contact and collaboration is a powerful strategy. It can be scary. But it is a powerful tool to change old habits and engage people in different ways that can produce new results. Increased “face time” will accelerate trust building. And more trust drives deeper and lasting collaboration.

* social health—building and leveraging relationships for healthy, win-win outcomes.


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Forward this email to your staff or colleagues and use it as a discussion item at your next staff meeting. Some talking points…

1) What kind of team are we? Basketball or relay team? Are we having enough face time to achieve our goals?

2) Can telecommuting contribute to the social health of your business? If yes, what are you doing right? what do you need to improve?


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