When I first read the details from Kara Swisher at All Things D, my initial reaction was, “WTF is going on at Yahoo!?” A Silicon Valley-based tech company mandating an end to flexible work arrangements is like spotting a white elk…and then watch it charge you, ready to gore you on its antlers. It doesn’t happen very often and it when it does, it usually ends with a bloody struggle. We’ve entered an age when the old ways of working are no longer valid, where productivity and effectiveness are not measured by whether you’re sitting at your assigned desk, in your building.
Which is why there is a very real possibility this isn’t at all about flexible work arrangements at all. It’s about a most pernicious form of a corporate lie. This is a layoff in disguise. By forcing remote employees to return to the office – it’s worth noting that many remote workers will have to uproot and move to make this happen – Yahoo! is effectively telling their folks to either love it or leave it. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I can’t help having a nagging suspicion that something very dodgy is happening here that will do nothing but ratchet up skepticism and cynicism among their employees. Maybe there’s open and honest dialogue taking place within Yahoo! that’s more truthful as to the real objective behind this new HR policy. I hope so, but judging by the employee anger reported by Swisher, I’m betting against it. How can there not be a sense of broken trust between management and employees? And even if you’re not a remote worker, wouldn’t you question what else is coming that will impact you? Matt Mullenweg of Automattic won’t be the only one trying to poach smart talent from this mess…and I’d say he’ll get quite a few resumes this week.
And yet, it gets more interesting when we read the original internal email from Executive Vice President of People and Development, Jackie Reses, announcing the policy. Never mind that it’s marked as “YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD”. It was forwarded to Swisher and she shares it at the bottom of her follow-up post.
What really fascinates me is the second paragraph of the email:
To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
Note the implications. That collaboration and communication only happens when sharing the same physical space. That working outside of the office space leads to less-than-optimal performance. That “speed” and “quality” can only be managed when the boss is sitting down the hall. That Yahoo!’s employees don’t know how the hell to work independently, achieve objectives without constant management oversight, and share ideas using technologies like the phone, IM, web-conferencing, and the like. To which, I call bullshit. That’s lazy, backward, and potentially business-suicidal thinking. And that’s not an employee problem. It’s a management problem that will further sink the company, no matter how many times they try to redesign their home page.
So, which is it? Is Yahoo! just trying to surreptitiously lay off a portion of its workforce? Or admitting it doesn’t have a clue about how people can work together to solve real business problems in 2013? Or is Yahoo! just rotting from the head down?
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk
One of the reasons I’m attracted to anthropology is because I want to better understand something that most businesses fail to fully comprehend: organizational culture. There are countless posts out there by otherwise well-intended people trying to describe “corporate” culture. Trying to clarify how this concept of culture works. Trying to explain how we can create culture that gets results.
These posts are all very nice. And most of them are dead wrong, at least in terms of trying to convince us that culture is this narrowly-defined concept bereft of nuance and appreciation for complexity.
In a blogpost last week, Rand Fishkin wrote about what company culture is and is not. On whole, it’s one of the better and more eloquent attempts by a business leader…but it still simplifies culture down to what are very limiting ideas. Yes, culture can encompass shared beliefs and values. Yes, it can include how people act and behave together. But too many organizations use culture to control their people and institute a false sense of order. When this happens, they are perverting culture to be just another management tool.
Business leaders do this based on what I have found to be three interrelated myths of organizational culture:
Myth #1. Culture can be built, top-down.
Yes, it’s important for leadership to clearly articulate goals, values, and mission. But these elements merely provide direction and structure, the expectations of management. They are not the culture themselves. The problem is that management has come to see culture as one more way to institute controls over employees. If you read, “This is the [insert company name] way” when discussing culture, then you’re reading a top-down, executive mandate for what management wants the culture to be…but likely not what actually is. And just because the CEO says, “This is our culture” doesn’t make it true. It’s way bigger than that.
Myth #2. There is just one culture.
No matter how many people call an organization their professional home, there is not just one culture in play. Actually, there are multiple cultures and subcultures that often get overlooked. Even in a small start-up, think about the differences between accounting and sales teams. Yes, they may adhere to the same shared norms and values of the company, but how they work and interact are very different.
This isn’t even including the cultures we bring with us from our own outside lives. Think of the large, multi-national companies with work teams spanning the globe. We don’t shelve our personal lives when we enter the front door of the office, why then would we expect folks to shelve their respective cultures?
Again, by emphasizing one monolithic culture, management can feel like it’s exerting control over the organization. This also ignores the next myth, which is…
Myth #3. Culture is tame and structured.
This is the most pernicious lie that business leaders tell each other. Instead, here’s something closer to the truth: Culture is messy. It’s constantly evolving. It can be fragile and bewildering. This is what happens when people come together. We’re not programmable robots. We’re extraordinarily complex creatures with emotions, dreams, fears, and ambitions.
Corporate culture isn’t a highly conformed and stable melting pot. Instead, think of it more as a dynamic mixed bag of goodies of all shapes, sizes, and flavors.
It pains me to see culture get thrown around like so many other management buzzwords. This is when it gets stripped of its meaning, its vitality, and its power to convey something that is truly beautiful in its complexity.
Photo credit: otkuda via Flickr
How was your 2012? Now that we’re on the 2013 side of things, I find it makes it easier to reflect on the year that was. Personally, 2012 was both hellish and magical. It was a year when I got my ass kicked…A LOT. But it was also when I discovered some important things about myself. About the direction of my life. About what it means to live, love, dream, and fail. Through it all, what I have come to know is that a year in our lives isn’t all bad or all good. It’s a complex and messy mashup of wonder and loss, where each experience offers learning if we choose to accept it.
Throughout December, I started to write down some of the things I learned (or relearned) in 2012. The list was long, but here are some of the highlights:
Find your rock.
I simply do not know what I would have done without my wife, Carrie, last year. When I had my bad days, she was there. And when I had my REALLY bad, curl-up-in-a-ball-in-the-corner days, her strength and presence helped me stand back up. See, we can’t do this thing called Life alone. I discovered a new level of gratitude for her that I may never have known without living through 2012. (I’ll say the same thing about my absolutely wonderful parents, Linda and Dennis.) If you have a similar rock in your life, stop reading and tell them right now how much they mean to you and that you’re glad to have them in your life.
Failing is an act of courage.
I left a well-paying job to start a solo business in 2012. Actually, I started two of them when counting the venture I started with Carrie called BabbleRousers. And neither of them took off. We sunk a huge amount of money into these ventures and the whole process nearly bankrupted the family (Access to Capital is now my new entrepreneurial mantra). And if there’s one thing that I am not able to handle very well, it’s the idea of bankruptcy and losing everything. A couple of times, I was visited by panic attacks where it felt like Jabba the Hutt was lounging on my chest.
It took a few weeks for this struggling perfectionist to start to relearn something important: failing takes guts. There are plenty of really good blogposts that speak to the necessity of failing in order to succeed. I don’t plan on launching any new business ventures anytime soon, but I’m grateful for the experience and wisdom I gained from the process. Namely, learning and failure must co-exist together if we are going to grow into who we were meant to be.
Related to failing, is the act of daring. And no one influenced me to dare greatly more than Brené Brown. Her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead was a tough yet welcome read for someone with an undiagnosed vulnerability phobia. Prior to mid-2012, I was doing a bang-up job of extracting as much uncertainty and emotional vulnerability from my life. However, that came with a cost to my creativity, sense of adventure, and desire to leave a powerful legacy. I’m still not where I want to be in terms of living a more daring life…but I’m again moving in the right direction.
What Greatness is ahead…in 2013 and beyond?
It’s a terrific question, isn’t it? It acknowledges that the very best we can achieve is directly in front of us. It offers hope when we feel stuck in neutral or (worse) wondering if we’re traveling down the wrong path.
Here’s the truth: this path each of us are on is exactly where we need to be. If we feel like we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in the past, we can take comfort knowing there are no “right” or “wrong” turns. They are just choices we’ve made. Every choice offers an opportunity to embrace the totality of life’s experiences, both good and bad. I’m very grateful for everything I am and have. I know I wouldn’t be where I am right now without encountering the magic and pain of life in 2012.
So, here’s to a 2013 full of inspired thinking, bold action, and personal evolution. I look forward to walking it with you.