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Must Be Present To Win

by Anthony Bontrager on February 26, 2013

“And these children that you spit on,

As they try and change their worlds.

Are immune to your consultations,

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

― David Bowie


TicketsThere is no greater challenge than turning around a business.  Ask any leader who has been in this position – from Meg Whitman to Jack Welch – and they will tell you it’s an arduous process that if not done correctly can have disastrous consequences for all involved.

Beyond the core tenets of leadership, accountability, credibility, communication and execution, the concept of culture is equally (if not more) important in making a turn-around successful.  It is culture specifically that determines how accountability is embraced, how open communication grows, how credible the business appears and how execution becomes a core part of the company’s DNA.  To get culture right, you need a leader who’s willing to lead by example and challenge the status quo.  In many turn-around situations, it is precisely the culture that put the company in its current position and what usually needs to be changed quickly.

Much is being made of Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to limit Yahoo’s from working at home – sparking a huge work/life balance debate among the legions of Yahoos and the we-know-more-than-you digerati.  Slate Magazine in fact called the decision “myopic, unfriendly and boneheaded.”  Other news sites are equally incensed and are tweeting out to Yahoo’s hoping to get more dirt.

Unfortunately, they are all missing the point.

Yahoo remains at a critical juncture and the decisions that Marissa and her team are making will have long lasting consequences that will determine whether or not Yahoo regains its leadership position atop the world of content and technology.  Remember when Marissa joined Yahoo?  After the initial shock settled, many applauded the company’s move to appoint an intelligent and innovative female to a role long dominated by men.  The fact that she was also young, attractive and a soon-to-be mom didn’t hurt matters either.  However, now that the hard decisions are being made, the applause appears to be muting.

I think this is really unfortunate for a number of reasons:

 – First, it’s a bit hypocritical.  If a man were in the CEO slot and taking these steps, he would be lauded as a hard-nosed disciplinarian focused on righting a ship headed towards the rocks.  Why is Marissa, a young executive and new mom, not getting the same kind of respect?

 – Second, it’s unproductive.  We seem to be a society that celebrates American ingenuity, yet at the same time embraces the French work ethic (no offense to my friends in France but you know what I mean).  The two are incompatible to long-term success and Marissa clearly understands this.

 – Third, Yahoo has no choice.  The speed of innovation is increasing exponentially, requiring real-time collaboration, random interactions and chance epiphanies that can only occur if people are in close proximity to each other.  If Yahoo is to re-emerge it needs to accelerate its pace of innovation, which is no easy task even in the best environments.

This doesn’t mean that I am completely adverse to the concept of telecommuting.  In certain instances this is necessary and can be managed successfully for both the company and the employee(s).  Yet I believe it should remain the exception rather than the rule it has become.

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings… That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices”

– Marissa Mayer

Having been involved in a few turn-arounds, I find Marissa’s edict to be bold, decisive and something Yahoo desperately needs if it is to truly re-emerge from its lost decade.  It speaks to a firm recognition that Yahoo’s problems are at its deepest – it’s culture – and that to effect its transformation there must be One Yahoo.

Call it what you want: strangely Orwellian – assimilation by the Borg – or a crazy stunt straight out of Dunder Mifflin – the fact remains, it is right and it is necessary.

So let’s all push pause on the rhetoric and look at this not as a “taking away” but as the “coming together” she is clearly intending.  These things are not easy, and I for one am willing to give Marissa & Co the chance to shake things up and make Yahoo great again.

Like the saying goes: “You must be present to win.”

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