Leadership, Culture and the Situation of Marissa Mayer

marissa_new4Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, sent a shock wave across the internet and the blogosphere last weekend when she announced that Yahoo’s policy of allowing people to work remotely would be ended, and that remote-working employees would need to begin reporting to the office by June 2013.

The debate has raged over the wisdom of the move, with a heaping ton of criticism coming from culture-change advocates who point to research indicating that remote work programs are beneficial, while the other side of the coin points to lost engagement and productivity.  A short, quick summary of the debate can be found over on the Huffington Post:

What I find interesting is that, in an era when so many are advocating culture as the basis for an organization’s effectiveness, as well as the need for leadership to take charge of establishing that culture, that so much criticism is being thrown at Mayer for her decision.  All this even as some insiders report that the move was utterly necessary because the work-from-home policy had created more problems than it solved, and the abuses of the policy were significant.

All of the admonitions and warnings and tirades thrown at Mayer, or in support of her, all seem to be coming from outside the company – by folks who have a voice, but who are not, necessarily, informed.  Like them, I do not know Marissa Mayer.  Unlike them, however, I won’t assume that she’s a short-sighted crazy person or an idiot.  Her ideas do have some merit, even if we disagree with them.

What’s daunting, however, is what we are seeing is a high-profile CEO doing what everyone is demanding of high-profile CEOs – to take bold steps and to lead an organization through the establishment of a company culture.  If Mayer believes that her organization will perform best when people are interacting face-to-face, then she must act with integrity and follow her beliefs by bringing that dynamic into her organization.  It has become the stuff of many an article and business school essay at places like Facebook and Google.

Of course, that’s also exactly where the problem lies.  Mayer is attempting to benchmark against other organizations and believes that worked over there will also work at Yahoo.  That’s a bit short-sighted, however, it’s also the exact same dynamic being offered by her critics – finding the best case example of a situation just like your preferred alternative, and then using that as evidence that the alternative is the right one.  For example, the creators of ROWE responded to Yahoo’s policy decision with an Open Letter to Marissa Mayer, citing The Gap as an organization that has done well by implementing ROWE.  Unfortunately, you can’t claim the Gap’s implementation of ROWE was a success and ignore the fact that performance at Best Buy, where ROWE was created, just sucks.

Likewise, you can’t say this was the right move and not wonder why there was not a declaration of the need to identify the root cause of these behaviors.  If people are abusing the system and failing to collaborate – face time might not be the root cause.  There is likely something else going on.  Perhaps that something else can be attended to by having people co-located, or maybe not.  Fact of the matter is, none of us knows for sure, and all anyone is contributing is an opinion, if not an agenda.

There is clearly a clash of cultures occurring as well, as most of the criticism is coming from tech/software/internet company founders and their employees who have embraced remote work.  Others outside of the tech community are much more supportive of the move.  If we believe the insider’s view, then this was the right move for Yahoo at this time – and maybe it is, or maybe it is not.  What the critics themselves should be chastised for is campaigning for executives to lead and set the tone within their organizations and then criticize those same leaders for not setting the tone the critics preferred.

The truth is that no one knows if this will be the right move.  It is, quite clearly, going to be something of an experiment.  Those who believe remote work, in general, is a good thing based on their experience or beliefs and, therefore, a good thing for Yahoo are about to have that hypothesis tested.  On the other side of the debate, those who advocate face-to-face interaction as the core that fuels innovation, will also have their theory tested.  What all must do now is what everyone who has conducted an experiment must always do – establish the parameters of the experiment and observe the results.

If Yahoo’s performance improves over time then we will have evidence over which to debate this decision, and not just relentless opinion.  If, however, it turns out that the performance of the company declines, then we’ll know that the performance problem was not due to attendance, but to other, deeper flaws in the management of the company.  Either way, some years from now when the evidence is available, I suspect no measure will be given to the dynamics of the system and I’m certain Marissa Mayer will either be celebrated or blamed.

Netflix culture and the Core of Operational Excellence

netflix_defeats_blockbuster_by_plaidklaus
netflix_defeats_blockbuster_by_plaidklaus

netflix defeats blockbuster by plaidklaus

The slideshare below describes the core concepts that define the culture at Netflix.  First released in 2009, it provides insight into what co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings calls the “Freedom and Responsibility Culture”

There are several elements of the document that sound just like the ROWE movement that I discussed quite a bit on this blog last year.  Just as I found with ROWE, however, the Netflix culture manifesto fails to deliver a significant “Wow!” factor.  Why?  Because Lean and Operational Excellence provide a much deeper management philosophy that takes into account every aspect of either the ROWE or Netflix schools of thought, and then some.

Consider these 9 Core Values from the Netflix presentation:

 

  • Judgment
    • You think strategically, and can articulate what you are, and are not, trying to do.
    • You smartly separate what must be done well now, and what can be improved later.
  • Communication
    • You listen well, instead of reacting fast, so you can better understand
    • You treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you
  • Impact
    • You accomplish amazing amounts of important work
    • You focus on great results rather than on process
  • Curiosity
    • You learn rapidly and eagerly
    • You seek to understand our strategy, market, customers, and suppliers
  • Innovation
    • You re-conceptualize issues to discover practical solutions to hard problems
    • You challenge prevailing assumptions when warranted, and suggest better approaches
  • Courage
    • You take smart risks
    • You question actions inconsistent with our values
  • Passion
    • You inspire others with your thirst for excellence
    • You care intensely about Netflix‘s success
    • Youcelebratewins
  • Honesty
    • You are known for candor and directness
    • You are quick to admit mistakes

All of that sounds an awful lot like some terms that are familiar to anyone with a knowledge of Lean:

  • Lead with Humility
  • Respect for Every Person
  • Experimentation
  • Seeking perfection
  • Constancy of Purpose
  • Deliver customer value
  • Achieve results 

To be certain, the slideshare below appears to demonstrate many of the common misunderstandings of what process is, or should be, and especially of what process means in the Lean context.  Nonetheless, there isn’t anything in this document that isn’t already a part of Lean philosophy, or that isn’t represented in the Shingo Model.  Even the stated distaste for process is met later in the document by a healthy awareness that good processes vs. bad processes actually enable creativity, not prevent it.

In spite of the supposed revolutionary nature of Netflix culture, however, what I am more inclined to believe is that Reed Hastings, like the creators of ROWE, has stumbled upon the same core operational Excellence fundamentals that have already been developed, practiced, and that continue to evolve in Lean.

View the presentation below and share your thoughts on whether or not this is Revolutionary, or simply the re-discovery of some universal truths that are already well incorporated into Lean thinking.

 

“Discipline, effort, patience and courage”

patience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrosepatience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrose

patience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrosepatience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrose

Thanks to StumbleUpon, I came across on article on Psychology Today entitled “What to Tell Kids After Failures and Mistakes.”  The Author, Salmansohn, describes some recent research conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck, who advocates an “Incremental theory” of learning.

Incremental Theorists believe that success is achieved through putting in the necessary hard work. According to Dr. Dweck, a big key to a successful life is to embrace being an “Incremental Theorist” – so when failure or disappointments occur, you are ready to overcome them.

This quote from the article is powerful:

Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values for kids to grow up embracing.

 

They are also hugely important core values for adults to maintain, too.  I think we can easily simplify that message and state that Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a grown up or just look like one, either.

Consider all of the writings on change management, personal improvement, operational excellence, or just about anything else I’ve ever discussed in this blog.  Every school of thought regarding those issues relies on some combination of exactly those same 4 principles:  Discipline, effort, patience and courage.

Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement seems to embrace these concepts most closely.  To successfully launch, you have to have a plan, work your plan, stick to the plan, but be willing to make the courageous decision to pivot when called for.  That dynamic applies to many facets of both work and life far from the startup environment, too.

Since there is always overlap of concepts and even repackaging of old one, I’ll go ahead and assume that the practices advocated by the Incremental Theorists aren’t anything entirely new.  Nonetheless, the depiction of the characteristics necessary to overcome adversity is simple, powerful, and entirely consistent with the best practices for both business and personal development (and isn’t it funny just how much those 2 things go hand in hand?).

So long, Ray Lewis, and a tale of two retirements

Ray_Lewis_by_youngandreckless
Ray_Lewis_by_youngandreckless

Ray Lewis by youngandreckless

If any of you watched the Ravens – Colts football game this past weekend, you were treated to the final home game played by one of the NFL’s all-time greats.  Ray Lewis, an iconic figure for over a decade in the NFL, has announced he will retire at the end of this season. While I am not a fan of Ray Lewis, personally, any fan of the game of football still must respect and appreciate him for his tenacity, toughness, on-the-field and locker room leadership and overall football smarts. 

 What has always turned me off to Lewis is his ballsy bravado and showmanship that is so very much the hallmark of many a famous athlete.  It does nothing for me, whatsoever.  Nonetheless, watching him play the position of inside linebacker has been a site to behold for a very long time.  

The Ravens defeated the Colts handily and, although the game was well out of reach, Lewis took the field for the game’s final play – a meaningless kneel-down to run out the clock from the Colts rookie QB sensation, Andrew Luck.  There was no need for Lewis to be on the field.  In fact, he stood about 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage, deep in the defensive backfield, avoiding even the suggestion of contact on the final play of a game in which he played with a large, heavy brace on his injured arm. 

This play, however, was the most memorable thing for me in the entire game, even with amazing circus catches from Anquan Boldin and explosive runs pulled off by Ray Rice still lingering in my mind’s eye.  Ray Lewis left the stadium where he made himself a legend in the one place where he should have – on the field.  He was not on the sideline, high-fiving teammates, hugging coaches or waving to spectators.  He was active, involved, in the game and doing his job – no matter how trivial or small the play he was going to be remembered by everyone in that stadium as spending his last final moments right where he should have been – on the field. 

Now, let’s contrast that with another story…… 

I knew someone who, after spending over 30 years with a company, decided to retire.  After a long but unspectacular career, it was time to leave the rat race as just about every single one of us who is not a legendary NFL icon will do.  Unfortunately, also unlike those legendary NFL icons, leaving the job with an iota of respect wasn’t in the cards. 

You see, the rulebook indicated employees needed to work on such-and-such days in order to receive certain benefits.  This meant reporting to work for 2 more days, even though operations on those days were just about completely shut down for the Holidays.  And, of course, there’s no way that a full day of work could be done with all the retirement congratulations going on, not to mention the complete lack of motivation to throw yourself into anything knowing you are never – ever -never-ever-never coming back. 

Rather than thanking this person for a lifetime of commitment and riding off into the sunset with a feeling of admiration and respect, like Ray Lewis, the company required reporting to work for a couple more days just to satisfy some meaningless policy requirement from which no value to anyone could be derived. And that is the difference between running an organization on the basis of cost vs. running one on the basis of value, and the difference between people in an organization that understand what Respect for People means, and those who do not.

Follow up: Why Lunch & Learn is not for everyone

lonely_lady_loves_lunch_by_emohoc
lonely_lady_loves_lunch_by_emohoc

lonely lady loves lunch by emohoc

Last time out, my post on why I dislike the practice of Lunch & Learns drew quite a few visitors to the site, and a small handful of comments on reddit.

One comment, in particular, stuck out in my mind.  Reddit user: “CivilDiscussions” wrote:

You sound like quite the slacker. In the real world, we have lunch meetings all the time. Lunch isn’t guaranteed to be “your time”

Now THAT is a fascinating take – that wanting to have a break with which to recharge, or to avoid yet another mindless, unproductive meeting, is associated with slacking.  The only thing this makes me believe is that people with this mindset have not yet adopted the principles of productivity or efficiency.  Instead, they value activity over accomplishment and, therefore, believe attendance at lunchtime working sessions is useful, which is just plain silly.

After reading the comments on reddit, however, i recalled Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, and her Ted talk on The Power of Introverts.  The assumption that people are “slackers” simply for their preference to be alone for awhile, especially mid-day after 4-5 hours of listening to other people’s incessant yammering, chatter, shifting, shuffling and noise, is certainly ignorant.  For those like me who crave that 30 or 60 minutes of isolation to block out the world and spend a little time doing something that either interests us intently, and/or relaxes us significantly – being chastised for doing what helps us to work seems like something that would cause a loss productivity.

Given that such a significant portion of the population is, in fact, introverted – that only makes the practice of Lunch & Learns that much more difficult to understand.  Consider what we know:

  • Trying to divide a person’s attention is counter-productive.  Eating and working at the same time guarantees a loss of efficiency in both activities and, since time is limited, makes both less effective, too.
  • The majority of people out there don’t like their jobs.  Throwing more information and activity at them in the same amount of time & space is mind numbing.  This either breeds resentment, fatigue resulting in a loss of creativity, or both.
  • A very large percentage of people function poorly when they don’t have a chance to “switch off” and re-charge.  Once they can do that, however, they are remarkably productive and creative.

Lunch & learn sessions fill what seems like non-productive time with something that feels more useful.  What gets missed, however, is the longer-term affects of allowing people to relax, unwind or to even have some time to think about the issues of the day without interruption.  Eliminating this time in favor of the vain belief that if people are doing something that feels like work, they must be doing something productive, is simply ignorant and condescending.