Startup HR: Remote Working - How to Avoid the Worst-case Scenario That Yahoo Forced Marissa Mayer Into

by Tricia Hollyer | Startups

The recent uproar over Marissa Mayer’s decision to prohibit Yahoo employees from working from home has focused on issues like the impact on Yahoo’s culture, what this may mean for other tech companies, the effect on working families, etc. But a major issue at the heart of this decision has largely been ignored—managing the performance of our people.

The press has primarily been negative, although a few voices have come out in support of the decision mostly because of the reality of the situation at Yahoo. The company has been struggling, and by inside accounts noted in a recent Forbes article, there seems to be little accountability for performance.

Mayer is trying to correct this, and perhaps she inherited a situation that required drastic measures. The problem with this approach is that it will certainly impact good performers as much as poor ones.

Yahoo’s situation is a worst-case scenario because they have had to implement broad measures to figure out who is actually working on what and who is delivering results. Without an effective form of accountability for performance in place, all are equally being “punished” by this new rule. This is a common mistake companies make in dealing with performance—avoidance and then overreaction.

Let’s face it. No one wants to be bureaucratic and create an unwieldy “system” to manage people, especially in the early days of building your company.

Tech culture is all about being fast, flexible, and innovative, and you trust the people you work with. But establishing the ground rules for performance is a lot easier when you’re starting out than once things are out of hand like in Yahoo’s case.

You don’t need to do annual reviews, but you do need to have a way to figure out who is delivering results and who isn’t, one that isn’t just your gut feel or what someone else told you about the new guy’s work. There are lots of different approaches to managing performance and you need to choose one that fits your culture, but the key elements you need to have are:

1. Be clear about what you expect up front.

You’re absolutely sure you already are clear. But most managers fail miserably at this.

When you ask them what they expect, it’s crystal clear. When you ask their people, they have no idea. Write it down. Map it out. Draw it on the whiteboard walls of your office. Keep asking your people to express it back to you until you’re absolutely sure—both of you—that the expectations are clear.

This includes those things you think are a "given," like working late, or doing whatever is needed to meet the deadline, or asking for help if they are stuck.

2. Ask questions, then shut up and listen.

Managing people is not a one-way street. You set expectations and decide on what needs to be done, but there’s a lot your people won’t tell you if you don’t ask.

Even when you know them well and you’ve worked together before. Once you’re "the boss," you have to go out of your way to find out what they think. A good rule of thumb is to listen three times as much as you speak. When you ask more and listen more, you show your people that you value and trust their input, they feel more invested in what they’re doing, and you can spot problems early and resolve them much more easily.

3. Deal with problems immediately.

It’s not fun to tell someone they screwed up or figure out why they suddenly aren’t interested in getting the new release out on time. But ignoring it will not make it go away, no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise.

“I’ll just give them some time to get back on track" or "It’s a small mistake, I’m sure it won’t happen again" shouldn't happen. Responding quickly, fairly, and impartially as soon as something happens sets the standard that accountability matters.

Had Yahoo dealt with the individual telecommuters who were slacking off, they wouldn’t be prohibiting everyone from doing it today.

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Tricia Hollyer

Tricia Hollyer

Tricia Hollyer is the owner of Compassionate Leadership, a consulting firm that specializes in providing HR expertise, coaching, and management training to fast-growth companies. Prior to starting her own company, Tricia was an HR executive in the technology industry for 18 years, going from startups to buyouts of multi-national public companies like Peer 1 Hosting. She is an expert in people... more

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