Yahoo’s decision and the quest to build an innovative and collaborative organization

Picture6Yahoo’s recent decision to not allow employees to telecommute and require them to be physically present on site seems to have divided the business world in to two polarizing “Either Or” camps. Perhaps that’s a false dichotomy. The stated reason for this mandate is that the best way to promote innovation and teamwork is through face-to-face interaction. Isn’t there a comprehensive AND solution that is inclusive and inspiring? In this short post, I want to explore that opportunity, identify the real issue well-meaning business leaders and organizations are grappling with and suggest a solution that is perhaps more appropriate for the times we are living in.

Business World Divided in to Either OR Camps

Yahoo issued a Company policy informing employees that they can no longer work from home. Reactions to this directive have been swift and strong from a wide cross-section of people and can be summarized as follows:

In favor: Yahoo has lost its way and it’s time for tough love. Employees have to earn the culture of freedom and flexibility to work from home that they desire. We need people to communicate and collaborate and be physically present in one place. That’s how innovation happens. This is a necessary step. It is not an attack on telecommuting or working mothers.

Not in favor: This is an arrogant, hypocritical and short-sighted move. It is a knee jerk reaction and a step backwards that is bound to backfire. Yahoo will lose employees that they can’t afford to. The best ones need creative freedom and flexibility; they don’t like mandates. How can you innovate without the buy-in of your people? You can’t force them to give their best. You have to inspire that within them.

What’s the real issue?

Let us not get caught up in the emotion and rush to make a snap judgment on Yahoo or its new CEO, Marissa Mayer. My invitation in this post is to take the opportunity to explore the underlying fundamental issues and questions all well-meaning business leaders and organizations are grappling with. What does it take to have an organization that is engaged and innovative? What does it take for employees to give their best? What is the key to outstanding individual productivity and team collaboration?

In the case of a company like Yahoo these questions have to be dealt with a sense of urgency. I am afraid we can’t fully answer these questions unless we dig deeper into understanding human nature and what motivates us. Clearly an intellectually stimulating work environment along with market success and a competitive compensation that is tied to company’s performance helps. This works well in the short-term for many companies. But as the Yahoo situation proves, it is not sufficient to maintain a high level of engagement and innovation that is consistent and sustainable.

We have come a long way from the command and control style of functioning of the industrial age, when it was acceptable to work against the grain of human nature and operate at lower levels of human needs. Our collective awareness has shifted to the point where fear, intimidation and greed do not motivate us as much as they used to. We seek personal fulfillment and collective wellbeing even in business organizations. The best and the brightest, we call them conscious leaders and organizations, recognize this and are transforming leadership and management practices to be in tune with the shifting human needs and requirements.

Survey after survey have proved that flexible work schedule enhance employee engagement, productivity and innovation. What inspires them most is a shared purpose with a common vision that is tied to bottom-line business success. Intellectual stimulation alone is not sufficient, leaders have to emotionally connect with and inspire the employees to give their best.

It’s the Process, Stupid

So how does a conscious leader and a conscious organization respond to the situation yahoo is in? First and foremost, a conscious leader works hard to earn the trust of her people. How? By telling the truth when it is hard! She is transparent, authentic, humble and self-confident, all at the same time. A conscious leader has the paradoxical ability to be self-confident in an uncertain environment and humility to reach out and seek input and feedback. How does this manifest in practice?

Take decisive action with people: Identify the keepers that are high performers and committed and those that need to be won over. Engage these two groups of employees and earn their trust by seeking their input and buy-in. Get rid of the cynical and disenfranchised employees who are unwilling to change.

Focus on the process: A conscious leader recognizes that decision-making process is as important as the final decision. Even good decisions, if they are made without an inclusive process, lead to poor outcomes and drain organizational energy. When we are dealing with intrinsically motivated professionals, we have to engage them get their buy-in. Let’s review the Yahoo example: to allow or not allow employees to telecommute?

Facilitate collaboration: The conscious leader poses the question, what is the best way to improve innovation and teamwork?  She then facilitates a no-holds-barred discussion. Various strategic options are presented and the pros and cons of each are debated vigorously. The best way to promote innovation and teamwork is through face-to-face interaction says one. No says another, the best way to promote innovation and teamwork is through collaboration and this can be achieved with a healthy balance of face-to-face and virtual interaction. So true, agrees another voice, creative work also requires focused and concentrated effort and this is many times difficult to achieve in an office environment, which can be prone to interruptions and longer than necessary water cooler chatter. Another one shouts excitedly, “I don’t care where I work; I am energized by the shared purpose and our team spirit.”

Inspire Execution: A command and control approach will not keep the good employees nor will it help win over the skeptics. When a conscious leader facilitates a collaborative process, amazing things happen. People are no longer attached to being right and wanting their perspective to prevail; they collectively want to do what is right for the company. An objective decision is made and everyone is committed to execution. They inspire themselves and each other to give their best!

Leadership in the age of Transparency and Authenticity

Did Marissa Mayer facilitate this collaborative process before the decision was made? For her sake and Yahoo’s sake, I hope so. Does she have a responsibility to share this information? I am afraid she does. We are living in an age of transparency and authenticity. Being the CEO of a high-profile Fortune 500 company has a broader socioeconomic impact. In addition to the execution and business savvy, a conscious business leader today is expected to have diplomatic skills and persistence of a social leader and the compassion and inclusiveness of a spiritual leader. That’s what I think. What do you think?


About the author

With a passion for guiding leaders and organizations who want to push the envelope of human innovation to unlock exceptional performance and deep personal fulfillment; Sudhir has worked with some of the top global organizations and CEOs of companies to help foster an environment of inspired action. Read more >



13 thoughts on “Yahoo’s decision and the quest to build an innovative and collaborative organization

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  1. Good article.

    Yahoo’s decision – right or wrong has certainly caused lot of discussions on the right model for innovation to work.

    We don’t know the process used to arrive at her decision. Hopefully it was an inclusive process with a good representation from all telecommuting employees. Does she need to share the process with her employees – yes, Does she need to share with the world – no. That’s my opinion.

      1. too bad the people in flkicr don’t care about flkicr. It was great in the mid 2000s before yahoo bought it and stopped it from keeping up with the times. Main probably I have is that the UI is terrible for browsing. Also, I hate that to follow a profile, you have to add to contacts. Just change the wording, and I’ll follow more people! Words are powerful, don’t underestimate them.

  2. It’s difficult to figure out what I’d do in this case because so much information is missing. You’re correct in suggesting that we don’t know if a process to include her leadership team was in place and followed. It’s also true that, as far as I can tell, Ms Mayer did not mention it if it was.

    So far, she has shown great initiative, seemed willing to not try to bring Google think to Yahoo! (for example the very busy new front page, it’s certainly not the Google landing page!) and has been quite decisive as a leader. Not perfect, I’m sure, but then who of us is?

    The other thought is we are assuming her motivation was totally “as stated.” Often times, we don’t (can’t) say all that we are thinking or trying to achieve. Often that happens in personnel issues. What if her motive is also to have those who are not dedicated leave of their own accord? Perhaps taking away, maybe for only a period of time, a prized privilege will encourage mostly the marginal workers to leave (of course this goal has to be unspoken) while at the same time doing some face to face team building. Transparency can only go so far in personnel issues or we get crosswise of the employment laws and privacy issues. Even in an at will employment state.

    Time will tell if this was a good decision.

    1. Great points. I agree that Marissa Mayer has been a decisive leader with a bias for action. She has brought fresh energy, enthusiasm and a fine track record of success. My sense is that she has a very good reason for the decision she took and it could only be a short term move. From a leadership perspective, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that a culture of collaborative meritocracy (similar to Google) is best for enhancing engagement and innovation.

  3. I think Mayer’s decision was based on the fact that Yahoo was not performing well. In the end, she was hired to make the necessary changes to improve the company’s productivity and efficiency in the market. Even when there are many advantages for companies with employees that telecommute, I read an article that claimed that Mayer checked Yahoo’s internal network to see how many remote employees were log-in and how often they did; and apparently, they were not connected enough. If that was the case, it made sense to cut Yahoo’s telecommuting policy just because there was a trusting issue at stake that can be linked to bad performance too. Building the trust also might be easier by working together in the same place. In any case, telecommuting if well managed, can be a great thing; the managerial challenge would be not to abuse it.
    There is also a great article about Mayer’s decision:

    1. Thank you Florencia for your comment. I am sure Ms. Mayer did her homework before taking the bold decision. Leadership is to a large extent situational, she has to do what is right for Yahoo by dealing with current reality. My point though is sharing the process and thinking behind the decision will not only energize Yahoo stakeholders, it will inspire other leaders and organizations to be equally bold, transparent and authentic. The new breed of great business leaders have the paradoxical capability to simultaneously demonstrate courage, transparency and authenticity. I am rooting for Marissa Mayer to join these pioneers and trailblazers.

  4. I think its says more about managment style and trust in employees than ethical capitalism. As a long term homeworker I also know how easy it is to be distracted and demotivated. .
    At the other end of the spectrum, the playful environment at Google for example, we may observe a laissez-faire culture which seems to create detachment from social impact and actually cause harm to the cause of ethical capitalism.

      1. all the time I think, all flickr needs is one kick ass app that is easy and quick to maenuver and they could have an immediate come back. Why is everyone posting to instagram, because it is quick and easy to upload, view your contacts and socialize from their phones, but how about flickrs app, no way jose!

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