What Yahoo should have done instead of stepping back into 1979 – Or How to Get Results and Engage People

What Yahoo should have done instead of stepping back into 1979 – Or How to Get Results and Engage People

A few days ago, Yahoo Human Resources put out a memo to all employees telling them they must work in the office every day. Their timing couldn’t have been better, because I’m in the midst of reading “Why Managing Sucks and How To Fix It” which is basically a guidebook to a Results-Only Work Environment, and we have just announced that Jody Thompson, the book’s co-author and co-creator of ROWE, will be our Opening Keynote at Impact99 2013. So reinventing work and the workplace is on my mind. And when I say reinvent, I don’t mean take us back to 1979, which is what the infamous memo from Yahoo does.

Two of my favourite lines from the memo:

for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who works in a very traditional office environment. She had taken a sick day so that she could go to the Dr’s… We talked about what a waste of an entire day this was, and how disengaging the situation was. Really Yahoo? You’re going to question people’s cable calls…? There’s this thing called technology – it allows us to work from home – or anywhere for that matter… at a bare minimum, there should be some form of flexibility and the ability to work from home in these types of circumstances. Don’t instil fear in your people for having their cable fixed.

Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Let me start by saying I am a big proponent of face to face interactions. But I know from experience that this is not the only way to work together effectively. In fact, my partner Christine McLeod and I pulled off two very successful HR Summits last year (and are planning the same this year) by working solely through technology to interact and collaborate across 3 timezones. I have also worked in an open office environment, with no walls and an expectation that we were all there between 8:30 and 5, and have seen how completely unproductive people were in that environment, and how most of us got our work done in evenings and weekends at home because of constant interruptions and unnecessary meetings. Again, this thing called technology has really revolutionized how people can interact. With collaboration software, video chats, online whiteboards for brainstorming, wikis and more… there is no need to meet daily with people. In fact, this will slow people down. (Plus I just think it’s kind of funny that they call their people “yahoos” – thesaurus-ize it… )

Then came some justification from employees saying why Yahoo had to do this. This is when it became even more clear that this “solution” is just a cover up for bad management. Here’s why.

Apparently, too many people were not being productive and, as one Yahoo said, “A lot of people hid. There were all these employees [working remotely] and nobody knew they were still at Yahoo.” Obviously, this is a huge problem, and speaks to years of mismanagement. But managing seat time does not force productivity. Managing performance and results leads to productivity.

Another reason Yahoo employees gave is the “side benefit” to this. Yahoo needs to reduce costs, and this will save them money in restructuring as many people will quit rather than come in. Hmmm… Did they think about how it’s entirely possible that they will lose a lot of hi potential or top performers this way? Adult employees who feel that they are mature enough to figure out how to get their work done, regardless of where it is?

What they should do instead… there is still time to correct this!

  1. Train all managers in performance management. And by performance management, I don’t mean managing seat time at the office. I mean train them to:
    • align their department and personal objectives to the goals of the company
    • set SMART goals
    • provide and receive feedback to employees regularly
    • hold people accountable
  2. Set SMART goals for every role. And hold people accountable to them. Goals should be about what people need to accomplish – not HOW to accomplish them. This is difficult – as much as we’ve been paying lip service to SMART goals for years, it takes time to really think about the results you want to achieve in a measurable way. But this is critical to actual success.
  3. Give people a chance to improve productivity once they have clear goals. At least Yahoo is giving people until June to start entirely change the way they live and work… When you change the way you manage work, you need to give people time to adjust as well. you can’t just set goals and say “you’re not meeting these”. Set longer term (annual), milestones (quarterly) and short term (daily / weekly) goals where possible. Recognize people for achieving them. Hold them accountable if they’re not. This is the other hard part. It means managing performance.
  4. Manage performance, not people. If your employees are getting their work done in a timely manner, why does it matter how, where, or when they’re doing it? However, if they’re not, this is where the tough part comes in. It means following up, asking why, getting them to score their own performance and build their own accountability. And if they continue to not meet expectations, it means managing them out.
  5. No results, no job. This is where that clear goal setting piece becomes REALLY critical. If you’re just starting to fire people who are not meeting expectations, you’re likely going to be paying out a lot of money. But if your goals make sense, are agreed upon, people are given time to achieve them, and ample clear warning about what not meeting their goals will mean, they will often manage themselves out of their job. (Note – I’m not a lawyer and would recommend you check with yours when you’re following a performance improvement process to termination). In fact, once they see that they actually have to get work done, many people, will either A) realize it’s a lot more meaningful and fulfilling to do great work or B) realize they are in the wrong job, and quit anyways.

What do you think? Is working from home critical to productivity? Do you work in a ROWE? I’d love to hear from you!

And if you want to learn more about ROWE, how it works, and how you can improve results AND engagement in your organization, read Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It and Join us at Impact99 in October (you’ll even get a free copy of the book)!


  1. February 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Pam, I couldn't agree more. I was shocked when I read the news about Yahoo. I couldn't help thinking what a huge step backwards (or at least in the wrong direction) this is. Then I started to thing "Maybe they are just doing a reset before creating a very productive work environment" (I'm not holding out much hope for that though). Based on past experience, I know that when someone is treated like an adult, trusted, empowered and not micromanaged, amazing things can happen. I was just talking to a friend of mine (wink) who is feeling very demotivated because his company expects "a bum in every seat". They are paying everyone based on the hours worked, not the results. They are tied to the myth (as quoted in "Why Work Sucks & How to Fix It") that Time + Physical Presence = Results. I think it's time he made a change.

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      March 2, 2013 at 10:32 am

      It was shocking to me too, Tim! I do see a lot of value in face to face collaboration but not in 100% working in the office... and definitely not in micromanaging how and where and when people work. I think they're off the mark here and should be focusing on results, not on time in seats. I hope your friend's work environment improves!

      Reply »

Leave a Comment

We would be glad to get your feedback. Take a moment to comment and tell us what you think.

Join our community for exclusive access to:

  • Free electronic copy of the Blueprint for Workplace Reinvention
  • Facts, stories and tactics from cutting edge organizations
  • Insider early access to Reinvent Work events

Together we will Make Work Awesome!