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This Is Why You Can’t Have Nice Things, Yahoos (techcrunch.com)
89 points by coloneltcb on Feb 27, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments

You know who I like?

Marissa Mayer. She's doing this right. It's the velvet glove on the iron fist. She starts with food and modern cell phones. She tosses out the bad execs. She eliminates the dumb trademark symbols on all the physical signage. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief – these changes are good news.

The message is clear: your boss knows what you need and wants to take care of you.

But she's not all cupcakes and kisses.

With the tone set properly, she identifies the dead wood. From what I hear, shitloads of people are checked out at Yahoo. That's a cultural problem that's tough to lift. Imagine being checked out and outside of the day-to-day social nudges that keep you feeling a little bit like your job expectations have consequence.

Mayer's an optimizer. Years at Google taught her all about getting the best ROI from the simplest operation. With one stroke, she can identify who really cares about Yahoo's mission and who is just along for the free gravy train. Yahoo isn't going to get out of trouble by casually, lazily sidling to the promised land.

It's going to take work. And now the boss wants a sign of commitment to that work.

The hysteria about this move is misplaced. She nailed it. Great call.

What happened to leading by example?

"Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer built a nursery in her office so she could bring her baby to work, which has angered some stay-at-home employees following her demand that all remote workers report back to the office.

'I wonder what would happen if my wife brought our kids and nanny to work and set em up in the cube next door?' the husband of one remote-working Yahoo employee asked in an interview with AllThingsD's Kara Swisher.

Many employees are upset because they don't have the money or clout to build their own nurseries at work. And many assume Mayer has a whole team of people, from nannies to cooks and cleaners, helping her raise her son - after all, she does have a $5 million penthouse atop the Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco in addition to her $5.2 million 5-bedroom home in Palo Alto."


I don't get it. She's building the nursery at the office, how does that contradict a no-working-from-home policy? She's explicitly not working from home.

Rank-and-file don't get nurseries in their office? Ok, they don't get a CEO salary and responsibilities, either. That's life.

Yahoo lists dependent care on their benefits page (http://us.careers.yahoo.com/benefits/tag/4754/lang/en); even without knowing the details that's already a lot more than a bunch of other companies offer.

When you, alone, have the power to turn a company around, you get more or less anything necessary to ensure your success.

Let's be real.

This isn't CEO camp. Not everyone gets a turn.

Mayer is special. She's got a kid on the way. I'm sure the shareholders would prefer she not have to choose between saving Yahoo and raising her kid. If employees were able to deliver similar levels of value, I'm sure they'd be first in line for their own special accommodations.

How is it related to being a CEO, though? Fact is, Mayer had a child. She realised that in order to be effective in the office, she needed a nursery, so that she could be close to her child while also working.

Why does the same not apply to Yahoo employees with young children? Mayer may be CEO, but the logic she used to install a nursery would apply to all employees.

There is a cost associated with the accommodation (which Mayer was uniquely able to pay for). There's limited physical space. There are practical considerations.

Other employees don't deliver enough value to tip the equation in favor of the accommodation. If tier-4 person has a nursery, you get a marginally better contribution four tiers down. If Mayer has a nursery, she potentially turns Yahoo into a fiercely competitive organization.

Is it fair? No. It's business.

Hell, why not give everyone a corner office? Give everyone a private jet? Y'know?

You know, there's a cost effective alternative to giving every employee a nursery. It's letting them work from home.

That's kind of the whole point of why people are picking up on this.

Exactly. Eliminating working from home punishes those who need the option most, Yahoo moms and dads.

Just for the record:

- The US is the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns

- The US is one of only three nations — rich and poor - that doesn't guarantee job-protected time off with some amount of income after the birth of a child

- New parents in the U.S. are guaranteed their jobs for 12 weeks after the arrival of a new baby, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, but they do not have to be paid during that time and exemptions apply for small companies.

- California provides 60% pay for 12 weeks

- UK provides 90% pay for 280 days, Russia 100% pay for 140 days, Spain & France & Netherlands 100% pay for 112 days, Germany 100% pay for 98 days, China 100% pay for 90 days

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/04/maternity-leave-pai...

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/12/why-paid-le...

Letting people work from home doesn't help a person do their job if they still have to look after the child(ren). You might get a couple hours work done at nap time but otherwise young kids require all hands on deck.

And one day, when Yahoo is very successful and has a trusted, properly incentivized workforce, I am certain they will explore such accommodation. In the meantime, homegirl is running a turnaround; the French Resistance didn't have featherbeds.

It's hardly as if Yahoo employees don't have other places they could go. At a time when tech companies are falling over each other to persuade people to work for them, turning off prospective employees seems like a turnaround all right.

You're assuming that she turns yahoo around and doesn't just postpone inevitable.

I think the logic behind the nursery probably does apply to most Yahoo employees with young children. But that's an argument for on-site day care (does Yahoo offer it?), not working from home.

She is probably expected to work a lot more hours than the majority of employees. In fact doesn't she have a reputation for basically working 24/7.

This is a way to do that without having her kid basically raised by a nanny.

So the drones have to sacrifice their benefits to drive up the share price, but the C-suite gets extravagant bespoke benefits because they're delivering value...by tearing up other people's benefits.

Seems like good work if you can get it.

It is good work if you can get it. So is getting $10M a year to play basketball. If you have the rare talents that our 21st century economy demands from the top performers, a nursery in your office is the least of the perks you get.

If you have the less rare but still valuable talents of a yahoo programmer, you get no jet or crèche but you get six figures and free soda.

If you live in Detroit and know how to make fasteners, you get less than that in most cases today.

If you live in Somalia, well...

Fair it may not be, but I'm not crying for the poor Yahoo lead developer who has to go to the office now. It's a cold, cold world.

The whole point is that cutting other people's benefits, salaries and jobs is not a talent at all. A robot built to mimic the average private-equity or management consulting firm could easily determine that brave, stringent cuts to employee compensation desperately need to be made, since that's what they always say.

This is just an appeal to worse fallacy. Just because others have it bad doesn't mean we shouldn't improve our own situation.

Who cares? It's not her job to be fair, or to coddle the Yahoo employees.

The point of the article is the working remotely is built on trust; if you break the trust, you lose the privilege.

The whole thing screams of entitlement to me. Just because someone else has something, doesn't mean you deserve it too. If you want it, work for it and do it yourself.

I see this all the time and it makes no sense. Mayer has not eliminated maternity leave. She eliminated working from home. They are not the same thing.

You cannot work full time from home AND take care of a newborn baby. Anyone who has been at home with a newborn knows this. Working from home is about flexibility and focus, not cheaping out on child care. If you work from home, you still need someone to watch your kid(s). If you are watching your kids, you're not working to the same extent you would in the office.

So yeah, Marissa created a situation so that she could come back to work way earlier than most new moms do. I bet the board of Yahoo prefers that to a CEO who takes her federally-mandated 3 months of family leave.

It's usually a safe assumption that rules that apply to employees don't apply to C level management.

So build an onsite nursery onsite for all the working moms! This is a great idea! Though I'm sure they get maternity leave so its a bit superfluous (mayers isn't taking hers, I guess). But we can generalize into onsite pre-school care, that would be cool (or they could hand out subsidies, it might be cheaper).

I mostly agree.

She is in a turn-around situation. Want the same results? Keep doing the same things. So instead: Shake up everything. See who reacts well and can adjust, see who can't adjust to even minor changes. If you can't handle lifestyle changes while making way the hell above median income then the company can probably apply your salary to more effective purposes than feathering your nest.

Except nothing has changed at the top. In fact, she's getting paid even more than the previous CEO with a package worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Maybe its the Board of Directors who need some shaking up.


Yeah...sure... Because all those unproductive work from home employees are going to be super productive once they get in the office. No way they'll slack off there, browsing the web or come up with meetins and excuses.


They're not going to go to the office. They're going to quit.

That's the brilliance of the move.

And the risk of the move is that the "slackers" aren't the only ones who will quit. The productive work-from-home employees might quit, too. After all, they're the ones who are most likely to resent the change in policy. If you were slacking you could easily be unhappy about the change, but you're unlikely to feel it is "unfair". The productive employees might even be more likely to quit - especially if they're the ones most confident of their ability to find another job.

It could go either way. Time will tell, I suppose.

No, a brilliant move would be to fire people who didn't do their jobs, and to fire the managers who let that happen.

You really think the people who suck at their jobs are going to quit? Maybe some of them, others will move to the office and slack off. You know who will quit for sure? People who are getting a lot done at home, and realize they can work at another company that pays better and/or lets them work at home.

My wife was just asking me tonight to summarize the whole issue for her and the first question that came to her mind was "well, are the remotes being offered relocation expenses?"

Haven't seen one lick of a mention about this. I'm guessing the answer is a hearty NO?

In my experience slackers rarely quit, they keep clinging to their jobs like their life depended on it, doing just the bare minimum to avoid getting fired. While your point might have been Yahoos intention, they might get the reverse result. The deadwood piling into HQ and much of the top talent leaving because they have better options.

Actually it seems a large part of the expectation is that many slackers will prefer quitting to commuting. This would allow Yahoo to get rid of the unproductive and/or hire actual productive people in their place, with little effort. I don't think anybody's really expecting people who have become comfortable with slacking off, to suddenly not be slackers in an office environment. Sounds like a smart move.

MM's choices have made perfect sense to me. A lot of commenters don't seem to realize just how bad Yahoo's situation is, and how much of a task Mayer is trying to accomplish. It's true that a lot of her decisions wouldn't make sense at normal, functional companies-but Yahoo isn't a functional company, so policies like no working from home or approving every hire make sense.

If she knows who's not logging in to the VPN, then fire them.

Why would you want those people coming in to the office?

Fire them.

Don't punish the responsible people. And if the managers don't know which ones those are, fire them and replace them with their underlings.

Sorry but have you EVER worked at a large company before ?

Because none of what you said makes any sense. There is no evidence that people at Yahoo are more or less "checked out" than any company. And it is ridiculous to think she can magically weed out those select few who are not committed to the company's mission.

And this underlying assumption that there is a relationship between working remotely and productivity/innovation is simply unproven. Especially when you realise that much of the innovation in our industry comes from open source projects where everyone is disconnected.

Were you working for or do you work for Yahoo? The allegations of rampant abuse of the work-from-home system in TFA is some sort of evidence, at least.

And frankly, relating open-source software to productivity in a big company is a worse argument that what people have been saying about productivity and working remotely.

Anecdote is not the plural of data.

If you don't have some correlation coefficient between working from home and lack of productivity then your entire argument is moot. My point with open source software is that there are plenty of facts on the ground that working from home does not necessarily equate to a lack of innovation. I was proving the negative.

If you disagree. Then provide some numbers.

She doesn't need a correlation when there is direct relation between those who work from home and those who didn't even bother logging in to the damn VPN. It's easier to make everyone come in than try to suss out who is and isn't getting their work done when their positions keep no tabs on it (actually, she should just cut that dead weight outright, saving her the trouble of her Friday FYIs).

If executive decisions were made solely by productivity stats we could be running the entire economy on some pocket calculator. Just look at research papers and how they "measure" innovation. In innovation centric research that is frequently done by easy accessible data such as the number of patents submitted by a certain company. Do you really want to make your decision based on hard "evidence" like that?

Using open source software as a counterexample is not a good idea, since we don't have the foggiest idea what the rate of success is. What percentage of people who sit down to produce open source software are actually successful, and what percentage just read HN/Reddit instead? Is it 10%? 1%? 0.1%? We never hear about the failures, so who knows.

> If you don't have some correlation coefficient between working from home and lack of productivity then your entire argument is moot.

You're arguing on an internet forum about a CEO's decision about a multi-billion dollar company. The article in question is from TechCrunch. You need a reality check.

The coefficient you're asking for will never be available to the general public. You know this. In effect, you are saying that if numbers aren't made public supporting an argument, that argument can not be made. Unfortunately, most important debates don't have relevant data. Are most debates moot? I suspect most of your cherished beliefs are also "moot" by this ridiculous standard.

> My point with open source software is that there are plenty of facts on the ground that working from home does not necessarily equate to a lack of innovation.

Open source developers are motivated for entirely different reasons than full-time Yahoos. Red Hat is the only company that could start to make a good comparison. Data on this doesn't actually exist. This is a ridiculous point to make.

> I was proving the negative.

You have proved nothing. Nobody ever will here, because the amount of information we have is the tiniest sliver of what actually matters: data on Yahoo employees working from home.

> If you disagree. Then provide some numbers.

This is not a "lets compare numbers" discussion. You cannot "win" this one. Let's stop trying to be "right", okay taligent? You have an opinion, but your opinion actually has no more weight than any one else's opinion here.


I like you.

If I can ever do you a solid, just drop me a line.

And this underlying assumption that there is a relationship between working remotely and productivity/innovation is simply unproven. Especially when you realise that much of the innovation in our industry comes from open source projects where everyone is disconnected.

Actually there is quite a lot of evidence - see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5145358

(And for what it's worth - the two folk I know at Yahoo! (in different groups) are both going "fuck yeah - about time" on these changes and both of them /want/ to telecommute. That says something about how fked up remote working is at the organisation. Both have gone from cynicism to enthusiasm over the last six months of Mayer's rein. They're really smart folk and could walk into dev jobs in SV - and they both now /want/ to stay with Yahoo! I see lots of people saying what a terrible decision this is. I see very few of those complaints being attributed to folk who actually work there.)

> Sorry but have you EVER worked at a large company before ?

Sorry, but have YOU ever had a parakeet before?

Why does pulling people into the office finally give Yahoo the ability to fire under-performers? You don't need to see butts in seats in order to identify people who are not pulling their weight.

If people are coasting at home OR at the office you can tell that by their work output. Where they do their work doesn't enter into it.

Adopting a Results Only Work Environment (http://gorowe.com) would allow them to have folks who work from anywhere and give management the tools to fire under-performers.

If this were only a temporary measure, a "reset" so to speak, then I still don't agree with it (I think you can do that without the disruption), but it would be understandable. As they have not said that this is temporary, I have no reason to think it'll come back in the future, which is the tragedy.

It doesn't have to be like this.

My impression of what you're saying is that you would pull a metric and fire everyone who does not meet a minimum contribution. My impression of what MM is doing is that she understands that the culture has slipped but there's a way to get it back, cut the bad, and keep the good.

It's easy to look at this from a culture of performance and say "drown them all". It seems to me that MM is trying to salvage the good people who got carried away with the bad culture because she understands that the problem isn't just a few bad apples, it's a mind set.

The way to move to ROWE is not by firing all the employees, it's transformation, no? I mean what do I know, I'm no manager but it seems like there's a way to do this and a way not to, and then there's another way to do it with 14 thousand employees.

This is a bit pedantic, but I believe what you mean is that she understands that the problem is a few bad apples. The full phrase is "A few bad apples spoil the bunch" — it only takes some minority threshold of underperformers to threaten the entire culture.


Managing people by adopting draconian measures never works. Your talented workers will resent you for managing with an iron fist, while your lazy team members will turn up to work and be just as unproductive in the office.

If you have a problem with quality and productivity, you have a problem with hiring or an inability to measure and manage performance. It should be of no consequence to a CEO of a global technology company if Joe Blow in engineering works from home every Friday.

I like the point someone raised that part of the point is to avoid firing people as that gets very costly. Instead they'll hopefully quit.

Who's going to quit though? The people who care, the people who know they have better options elsewhere. The talentless hacks who still don't give a shit about the company but are willing to go through the motions for a paycheck? They're like barnacles you'll have to get rid of by scraping them off and using a blow torch. The way to get rid of underperformers is by firing them, period, there's no other hack or workaround that makes things easier.

If that's her plan they would need to be careful to avoid running afoul of the concept of "constructive dismissal". If you make the work environment so intolerable as to make someone quit the law generally treats it as if you had simply fired the employee.

Can most claim that actually having to go to work is "intolerable" if they've not so much as logged into the VPN? Probably not. But the stay-at-home moms who can demonstrate they've been producing while teleworking might have a leg to stand on there.

To determine whether people are coasting or not delivering as much value ("work output") as they should be, you need to be able to measure it. Maybe people are under-tasked and teams are too big for the amount of work available (bloated), but in order to hold people to a standard, you have to have a standard in the first place.

>> Adopting a Results Only Work Environment

It needs to be adopted first, and that sounds like another long-term project. Meanwhile the hope is that some under-performers will just quit - faster and cheaper for the company.

”We’ve checked and some people who work from home haven’t even logged into the VPN…”

Wow. The WFH ban is starting to sound like the beginning of a bigger shake-up. I suspect Yahoo will want get rid of a ton of its unproductive employees and rebuild around a small core of talent, some of which will presumably be poached from Google.

This is when you start going up the chain to see where it's broken. If some random leaf node employee isn't online, that's a problem. The fact that someone else didn't notice it until now is also a problem. This person's "manager" is clearly in need of review. This may continue to that person's manager (because they didn't notice their report not checking on the VPN person) and so on.

It sounds like it's time to break out the chainsaw and start lopping off dead limbs. This is good stuff.

> ”We’ve checked and some people who work from home haven’t even logged into the VPN…”

So why were they still employees? No Yahoo, that is why you can't have nice things.

I haven't been a Yahoo! employee for 7 years, but back in my days (dusts off his old cane to tell the kids to stay off the lawn) the product was run by product management, while engineering was responsible for development and maintenance.

With top management shakeups every week or so I'd imagine the product management part of Yahoo! being in a state of disarray, with some people leaving on their own, some getting the boot, random new people showing up, but nobody sticking long enough to make any product decisions.

Reliability is the only remaining thing on the engineering plate, and with good infrastructure a lot of smaller projects from here http://everything.yahoo.com/ just run themselves most of the time.

Well, I don't know if they checked this but when I worked remotely for Yahoo I didn't use the VPN either -- there's a ssh gateway you can proxy through which works just fine. I assume they are aware of this...

They are now...

To be fair when I worked from home for a company that had a VPN I almost never logged into it either, simply because I rarely needed to.

I assume they have other things they can check, if they are a developer are they committing code and writing on the issue tracker? If they are in customer service are they answering the phone and replying to emails?

At some companies the only way to get email is to log in through VPN. It seems like such a strange concept, but I know for a fact that this still exists today.

Why would this be a strange concept?

Every network service offered by a company -- mailserver, Samba, proprietary web applications for internal use, whatever -- needs to be locked down pretty hard if it directly faces the Internet. It takes time and engineering talent to make sure everything's configured securely. If you don't believe this, take a look at the length and complexity of the top Google result for the terms mailserver howto [1].

Servers still should be secured if they're accessible on the VPN, but limiting access to employees vastly reduces the likelihood that an insecurely configured server will be hacked. (Compared to an identically configured server with an unfiltered Internet connection, that is.) Not having servers connected directly to the Internet also provides another level of protection against zero-day exploits. And if something does happen, the VPN's login credentials can point you in the direction of who's responsible [2].

[1] http://flurdy.com/docs/postfix/

[2] Bad guys can still get on your VPN if they compromise someone's credentials with malware. To mitigate this, many companies that use VPN's either require client machines to run regular virus scans and keep their OS up-to-date, and/or only issue login credentials for company-issued machines.

2 Factor auth with keyfobs is also pretty popular for corporate VPN.

If that's the case, pulling people in is still stupid. You're going to drive off good remote workers who don't want to be in the office just to cut the chaff.

How many good remote workers? They're already calling the lax attitude and loss of productivity a cancer and we all know killing cancer also means losing some healthy cells along the way.

I'm fairly certain they'll be able to pinpoint the problem actors immediately and those needing more flexibility will receive it after review. And by the looks of it, those dedicated employees understand why this is necessary for the survival of the company.

FYI, I do work mostly from home except when I need to go see a client or if I'm training someone. Slacking off is still impossible since a lot of my work is needed on very specific deadlines that can't change under any circumstance. In that regard, my work location is flexible, but total time spent isn't.

There was and is rampant abuse of the Yahoo work-from-home policy — it was a joke. “Working at [Yahoo] HQ was like paying taxes in Greece,” said Twitter’s Patrick Ewing, who also had friends who cheated the system. The fact that the Yahoo parking lot is relatively empty (compared to, oh, Facebook’s) at 5pm is why you can’t have nice things.

if this is indeed the problem, then how is bringing in non productive engineers under the same incompetent and uninspired managers going to improve the situation at all? is this going to at least indirectly aid in culling the unwanted, laggard staff?

you can still slack off even when reporting to the office, especially if you commute by car.

if they have VPN logs, can't they just fire engineers using this evidence? it's not like we:re in Italy or France where firing workers is next to impossible.

I think Marissa is trying to get rid of these managers too.

Not all people are fully self-motivated. There are plenty of very smart people who on their own will fuck around a lot, but in a well-managed office with (for example) a daily 5 minute standup, will get motivated and add a lot of value.

Then there are just people who will fuck around under any condition, and never add value. Bringing everyone into the office is the first step to sorting the former from the latter.

The WFH ban is just a band-aid. The fact that it was necessary is a symptom of the fact that many yahoo employees had simply given up. They'd stopped putting in effort, they'd started staying at home and pretending to work. Now with Mayer's ban they will simply come into the office to not work. It's a classic "the beatings will continue until morale improves" measure. It won't work, it'll just remind unsatisfied yahoo employees how much they hate their jobs and lead to an even more dysfunctional workplace and evaporate away all of the talent that was ever at the company.

yea, I can see that. But I think MM is sending a message here, and the WFH crowd were among those that cared the least.

What is the message? "Stop goofing around, get to work"? She's sending the wrong message to the wrong people, it'll have exactly the opposite effect she imagines.

The value of a software company is in its developers. The best developers are almost always intrinsically motivated. And the best developers are the ones who typically end up being the heart of the company, they're the ones who keep the whole system working through the thousands upon thousands of little things they do that aren't mandatory but are necessary in order to ship any quality software.

Mayer's efforts here are to treat the developers as spoiled children, and it will serve only to further alienate and demoralize the best developers who have just been too lazy to leave and find better work elsewhere. It doesn't even matter if the developers actually are acting like petulant children, if you drive them away they still go away. And then once they evaporate you're left with the dregs, and then shockingly somehow it becomes orders of magnitude to ship anything of any quality on time. The worst part of this is that I'm sure this cycle has already played out multiple times at yahoo.

You can't treat creative knowledge workers like factory drones, even when they're misbehaving.

The only thing that will actually help Yahoo is tackling projects and creating a work environment that encourages intrinsically motivated devs to work, everything else will follow naturally. If they want to continue on their long slide into the dust bin of history then by all means they should create a workplace that is optimized for mediocre devs and mediocre projects.

> The best developers are almost always intrinsically motivated.

Have you managed a large team before? The single best way I know to demotivate a highly motivated developer is to let them see a coworker at the same pay grade do significantly less work without any good reason. (footnote: individuals going through cancer treatment are the tricky complication here, due to privacy issues)

And I should emphasize that for most of the developers I've managed, it wasn't a fear thing like, "oh, he'll fire me if I don't work" but rather a removal of the sentiment that, "why should I keep working so hard when others here don't pull their weight and are being rewarded for it?"

That's a large part of the reason I like semi-enforced distributions in curve-oriented review systems. Many managers, particularly first-level leads, tend to pull their rewards towards the mean (barely rewarding high performers and still rewarding low performers) instead of focusing on doing the right thing at the tails. Though that's certainly no guarantee of success; I got a decently sized development and test organization (~60 of each) merged into our organization and it took nearly a month of full-time work for myself (and one of my peers) to sort out the years of misrewarded individuals to get neglected high performers promoted and HR action started on people who'd been resting and vesting.

These aren't comparable situations necessarily. How you fix a mostly functional organization with problems is different from how you fix a fundamentally dysfunctional organization. If you have a functional organization then it makes sense to get rid of all the low performers, regardless of how much "effort" they're putting in. And if you end up with someone who is able to work fewer hours and still be as productive as other team members you would be silly to get rid of them even if other team members were upset.

and, I think, Engineers have their own hierarchy; we understand that an hour of the new kid's time is worth maybe 5 minutes of the really expert person's time.

Generally speaking, if one person isn't working all that hard but is contributing a lot (due to greater skill) the other Engineers can recognize and appreciate this. We all understand the tradeoff between ability and effort; The better you are, the less effort is required (but, there are minimum levels for both effort and ability; no matter how awesome you are, you need some minimum level of effort; even if you dedicate your life to the job, you need some level of ability. - but, to some extent, ability can make up for a lack of effort, and effort can make up for a lack of ability.)

>That's a large part of the reason I like semi-enforced distributions in curve-oriented review systems.

I'm still at the point where I tend to see the disadvantages of this approach. It seems to me that, in terms of performance management, that the important pieces are the regular one on ones and an honest effort to work equally with people who are high/normal/low performers to improve. A forced distribution seems to work against that because it puts people in the position of defending themselves rather than being open to a discussion. However, that's my view from a bit further down the food chain from your own experience (as a first level lead for teams between 21 and 37 developers). I also agree with InclinedPlane that ultimately it's about intrinsic motivation and being connected to work that interests you. If you can create that kind of work environment you'll get developers who are engaged and want to work hard because it's something that interests them.

So you're essentially saying that the people in the WFH program have given up because it's not inspiring work. And Mayer canning that program to cut the dead weight is bad because it gets rid of them?

She's trying to shift the culture over there and it's going to be hard to do that with a bunch of people outside the main HQ, especially when they aren't actually doing anything.

Another way to look at it might be that employees who work from home, who aren't exactly feeling inspired, feel re-energized being on the main campus again and get a new spark for doing great work. Lot's of spin, lot's of angles.

I'd give her a bit more time before raising the pitchforks.

Let me try an analogy.

Let's say you are an allied soldier in the early parts of World War I. You're in your trench in dirty clothes, you can feel your feet rotting away inside your boots as you stand in knee deep water, mud, and filth. Most of the buddies you had a year ago are dead or gone away, having lost limbs or sanity in the war already. You spend your days watching your squad mates shit their guts out from dysentery. You've been over the top before, you've run across hundreds of meters of cratered moonscape filled with mud and barbed wire, all the soldiers around you are getting ripped apart by ferocious machine gun fire. And you know how futile it is to attack enemy trenches head on. You've seen thousands upon thousands of men killed by shelling and machine gun fire before they even got close to the other trench, it's a suicidal strategy and yet it is the only strategy the commanders have come up with. You think about deserting. You think about getting a group of friends together to rise up against the officers. But your friends are dead or gone, and desertion or rebellion are a certain route to execution. You start to think seriously about acquiring some sort of injury that would send you home, maybe if you shot your own foot. But your thoughts are interrupted by the announcement that tomorrow morning there is another attack planned, you're going to go over the top and attack the enemy trenches again.

Your morale, and everyone else's, in this situation is obviously low. The solution the commanders have for this problem is that if you don't do your job you'll be shot. The result of this genius was the destruction of a significant percentage of an entire generation. The problem in this situation wasn't the soldiers. As many historians have detailed many of them "fought like lions", and many of them were intrinsically motivated to fight the enemy to the utter limit of their abilities. But morale was still low and a lot of people deserted and some even rebelled. The problem was the strategy and the commanders. The problem was that the actions being undertaken were hugely wasteful of men and resources without having any reasonable chance of success.

You don't win this sort of war by ordering yet another mass assault backed up with the threat that anyone who doesn't comply with the order will be executed. You fix it by changing your strategy and tactics.

So you're saying it might be better if anyone anywhere had any idea what Yahoo was actually trying to be?

They had the guy in the trenched die to hold the enemy from taking over your towns and your tank research teams, your aircraft factories; to buy time for the engineers and scientists to master their craft.

It sucks, but it worked.

They do that by staying in the trenches and mowing down the enemy with machine guns, not by getting mowed down. The latter didn't work. In the period 1915-1917 neither the Allies nor the Germans had made any significant tactical or strategic gains in the West, though the Allies had much higher casualties because they made a greater number of failed attacks. Indeed, such attacks almost weakened the Allies so much that they could have lost the war in 1916. And in 1917 20,000 French soldiers deserted, it took replacing the General in command and ending the practice of mass frontal attacks to prevent the army from dissolving away or rebelling.

You don't win a war by trading human lives for bullets, it's necessary to gain some average net advantage if you lose lives, otherwise you will lose.

Suicide attacks didn't win the war for the Allies, it was patience, attrition (through naval blockades), new tactics, new allies, and new technology which led to victory.

I am french and my great grandfather served in WWI as an aide-de-camp to a general and I used to talk to him on our long walks when I was 8-9 and he was 87-88. I have a rather unique perspective on the war. He also showed me the road where Stukas gunned down fleeing Parisians in 1940. He showed me the trenches and the woods where people would run to and hide. We used to walk around in those woods. It's near Nemours, in Seine-et-Marne. His son (my grandfather) was the commander of a tank unit in 1940. He was captured and sent to a work camp in Germany, near Baden-Baden. He returned in 1942, to work the more fertile french farm. My mother was born in '43. There were two SS officers quartered at the house, in the upstairs bedroom. I slept in the same beds when I stayed with them. The more senior of the SS officers, according to my great grandmother, made sure that my mother had eggs and milk in the first year of her life. They left in June of 44 and she did not hear of them again. She told me the younger one came home crying one evening. She asked him what had happened. They were sitting on the stone doorsteps, side by side, just as she and I were when she told me the story 35 years later. He said, through sobs, that US bombers had bombed his town and killed his entire family. His parents, grandparents, sister, and much younger brother. Last but not least, my great grandfather told me that in July of 44, an american bomb exploded near our house, in the rear field, and a shapnel fragment broke a hole in the back courtyard door, raced across the yard, barely missing my mother's head by 20cm, then crashed into the water cistern. He then walked over and ran his finger over the discolored patch. He said: "This is where the hole was."

All this to say that while I have read the history books, some in French and never translated into English (apparently some french material isn't suitable for a British audience's taste and sensibilities), I also have some more intimate knowledge that transcends the written page and the maps with arrows and dashed lines.

Note that I don't disagree with you, and as you point out, it was partly new technology that won the war for the allies.

I'd agree with you if the only output of the "best" engineers was their code. But in my experience, good engineers help pass on their practices to the engineers working with them that aren't as good, making new "best" engineers in the process. That can't happen, at least not as effectively, if the good engineers and the average engineers are not working side-by-side.

When I was at Yahoo in 2008, some staff were always "working from home" but never responded to IM or email. They'd surface for a day or two, squeeze out an artefact, then vanish again for a week.

I somewhat blame their direct managers. It's always tempting for lower-level employees to game the system, especially if they are having personal issues (young kids, bad marriage, low workplace morale). Managers should provide guidance to bring their reports back into line.

Then again, the managers in question were busy fighting org politics and seemed happy just to have an extra "soldier" on their roster.

So maybe Marissa's stalinist purge of remote workers will prove to be a blunt but effective instrument for flushing out the bludgers.

That's what confused me. I'm wary of armchair-CEOing, given that I have no experience at that level whatsoever. However, it seems like there would be an easier solution to "people who WFH and don't do anything": deal with people who _don't do anything_ (whether at home or in the office). Try as I might, I can't see the benefit to this blunter approach that would justify the cost to recruitment and legitimate remote workers.

Yahoo is a big company. It's not like a startup or even an small enterprise, where everyone knows Johnny is on facebook all day and Terry takes a 3 hour liquid lunch. There's too many places to hide in a big org.

So to identify unproductive people using a top-down approach, you'd need a metric to measure staff productivity and force the managers to implement it.

Which do you think would be less popular, a) curtailing remote work or b) implementing and enforcing an org-wide productivity metric?

This is silly, just silly.

The problem is and always will be unproductive people. It comes down to leaders and leadership. If someone isn't working out, cut bait. That includes managers, execs and programmers.

Any exec worth their salt would attack the problem, not a symptom of the problem. This shows me that Yahoo still doesn't get it.

And if this IS about unproductive people, this is essentially a ban hammer on something b/c of some bad apples. Again, awful leadership. Fix the problem.

I work from home. Everyone on my team works from home. The entire company I work for works from home. We are a big company. It does take good leadership and strong management to make that work. It also takes good developers and, frankly, strong guidance if something isn't working out.

It sounds like Yahoo has none of the above, or, perhaps more tellingly, maybe Mayer knows that (giving her the benefit of the doubt, after all) and that is really an indication of a much bigger problem.

So instead of implementing a proper way to measure employee performance they are banning remote work. I think people who were unproductive at home will remain unproductive in the office unless they actually find a way to measure productivity, this is why I feel that this effort is not only futile, it also does harm.

Yeah, all this article says is that broad measures are being taken which affect the productive and unproductive alike.

I've seen that road, and it leads to utter and complete disaster.

While the WFH ban is getting some criticism here for being a tactical response and not fixing the problem, I can see how it fits into a larger house cleaning. It sounds like Yahoo is in a serious spot both economically and culturally, and I can imagine Mayer saying that Yahoo needs to be rebuilt, right here (on campus), by people who really want to make it work. The ban addresses both parts. It gets people back together, in person, and it weeds out those aren't going to make that sacrifice for the company.

And to those who claim that they are as effective working at home, let me challenge you in this way: how do you really teach, inspire, and build morale if not in person? Someone may be a great coder, but they might also be an incredibly motivating person who lifts up those around them to much higher levels. I've never seen that occur remotely. Yahoo needs help badly, and they need their best people on site, walking the halls, building a culture that means making Yahoo great again. I don't see how said people can do that over VPN.

Agree with this wholeheartedly, as it jibes with a lot of what I've heard of the Yahoo WFH experience. Don't think it's fair for outsiders to judge, and I think that this was a courageous choice by MM. She had to know she'd come under fire for this

I hate this perception that working from home = slacking off.

Think about why that perception exists. It implies that unless you have someone looking over your shoulder you wont do any work. Like a child in a classroom.

Most people are not children. Most people want to do a good job and support their team members.

If you behave like a child then you should never have been hired in the first place. If you are hired then your lack of delivering results will be very visible.

If a slack employee can get away with slacking off, the company has a much more serious problem about the way it works. Putting people in an office will not solve this problem.

I'm happy to argue about the pros and cons of local vs remote teams. Effectively communicating, mentoring,team bonding etc are all debates worth having.

The slacking off argument is not worth having. Its rubbish. This initiative sounds like busy work.

What MM is doing at Yahoo seems eerily reminiscent of what happened at Apple when Steve Jobs first came back in 1997.

John Lilly (of Mozilla fame and former Apple employee) recounts the atmosphere at the time:

"[Steve] said 'You know what, we're going to build a great company. We're going to reinvent the world. And anybody who believes me, let's get moving. If you don't believe that will happen then get the hell out.' And this was an amazing act of leadership because it was so clear who was in and who was out. And I'll tell you, people in the room would have followed Steve everywhere and anywhere, just about anywhere. Now it turns out me and my friends left and we're happy with that decision although economically it probably would have been better to stick around. We've all done okay. But what an act of leadership by a guy who nobody believed in at the time, nobody believed it."

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=3067 (Listen from 13:50 to 16:40 for the story containing the above quote)

if there is one thing I miss about print journalism, it's actual descriptive, concise headlines. why can't we be treated with "yahoo crippled by delinquent, unresponsive engineers and managers"?

If someone has been not-working from home and has never logged into the VPN, why do you even want them to come into the office now? Just fire them.

To me, this sends the signal out that the CEO has lost confidence in her middle managements ability to evaluate who is delivering and who is not, and has forced them to get more involved.

In my opinion, the problem with remote workers is it is FAR too easy for superstars to sandbag and still perform in the upper quartile. They look at it as a value proposition: if I can turn out a weeks worth of productivity for an above average programmer in just 2-3 days of effort, I can slack for the remainder of the work week or not even check in.

Contrast that to a place that enforces the face-to-face time. It's much harder to slack and sandbag when you have people there. That super-star who is now in the office, will churn out super-star material 5 days a week, instead of 3.

I think it's brilliant, and wish them well. I would love to see Yahoo rise up from the ashes.

* apologize for the term superstars, but you know what I mean. Some people just have ability that far exceeds their peers, and they use that ability to shift their work/life balance. I think it's entirely fair, but I can see how an employer would want to optimize in their favor.

The fact that it was Yahoo that had to explain that the decision was not an indictment of remote working in general is pathetic.

The decision was obviously exclusively related to Yahoo and only pertinent to this current point in time.

> It’s that the bunch of slackers that claimed to be working from home without actually doing any work ruined it for everyone.

How about just figuring out what people goals are and, if they can't meet them, they're let go. Wouldn't that work just as well without causing everyone to come into the office because some people can't manage to work from home?

Does anyone else find it strange that the author of the article interjected one of her own tweets in the middle of the article?

It's not her tweet. It's a tweet from a parody account. Her actual account is @alexia.

What keeps the valuable, skilled, and productive employees from switching to a more accommodating firm while the useless workers who couldn't find employment elsewhere scramble to hang on? Seems like this could easily backfire.

Fire their managers, too.

It seems to me like Yahoo has several years of undesirable cultural legacy. The company needs to reinvent itself. Redefining WFH is a part of that, but the problem is that there are a large number of things that Yahoo needs to do and getting the order right is important. Cracking down on WFH before dealing with the other problems is a bad call.

The real question is: why are there so many unmotivated, unproductive people? Is it bad hiring or bad project management? I don't think there are a large number of intrinsic underperformers, so much as people demotivated by contexts that leave no real opportunities for achievement. Perhaps there are a lot of pointless projects that have no career upside, but that people can't escape from, so they use the bog as an excuse to retire on-the-job. I'm not saying that that's right-- it's not-- but, if this is the case, then it's important to deal with the underlying problem instead of the symptom only.

One of the things that executives get wrong on this is that, if you want to preserve morale, you've got to put a "shit sandwich" (good-bad-good pattern) around your crackdown. First, you do something related and good for the employees (like give them more opportunities to pick what they work on). Then, you deliver the crackdown (reduced WFH). Finally, once you've achieved what you're looking for, you scale the crackdown back or add a perk that makes it more acceptable.

There are two big questions that yahoo faces. What the fuck do they want to be as a company? And what do they intend to do with the engineers they have right now?

They haven't come up with an answer to the first question so far as I can tell, which is a bigger problem than anything else.

For the second question they are faced with a lot of problems. If they want to try to retain as much talent as possible they're going about it the wrong way. If they want to instill discipline and transition down to a smaller more mediocre more "enterprisey" company that pumps out crappy line-of-business apps then they're doing a damned fine job so far.

If I were forced to try to turn yahoo around I'd start by identifying the major projects that yahoo should execute on and then I'd either fire almost everyone and start from scratch or I'd work by replacing the company from the inside out by growing a "bubble" that was a new division built with new rules with new management that hired both from outside the company and from within yahoo and was highly results oriented and, at least initially, worked on fast iteration projects that are easier to judge success on.

A couple good candidates for projects that could serve to help re-energize the company are flickr, yahoo stores, and yahoo hosting services. Revolutionize those, iteratively, make them competitive, and you could go a long way toward revitilizing the company and providing projects that people actually want to work on.

I think you are right on this point: they need to figure out the strategy and direction of the company, and then blast it out everywhere (isn't this the CEO's job)? Define the vision, communicate it, then arrange your resources to aggressively pursue it.

I agree that it will be interesting to find out if Yahoo is sitting on a pile of talented engineers who just need better management in order to return to productivity, or if years of bad management have caused all the real talent to flee. My hunch (based on working at a poorly managed big company) is it's the latter and that years of bad management have created a sort of adverse selection in engineering talent. Talented productive people will leave or be poached away and the people you're left with will happily sit around doing nothing and taking a pay check. My prediction is that Yahoo is going to fire a bunch of people this year.

I'd guess that Yahoo has some talented people and some deadweight, but that seems obvious. No idea what the proportions are.

How would you fix the problem?

Abstractly, I support the idea of firing the untalented, lazy, or parasitic people who drain the company. In practice, very few companies can execute this, because figuring out who those people are, without the process getting corrupted and political, is a rarely accomplished feat. Project-by-project layoffs, while more unfair, I think are often better than most "low performer initiatives" that devolve into witch hunts.

Certainly, if she implements Google's HR/performance review process, she'll only make the company worse and probably kill it.

The overall impression seems to be that "The Elves Left Middle Earth" several years ago, and Yahoo today is primarily C-players. Different people will have different opinions, this is simply the result of my gathered impressions.

Now, Marissa Mayer is heavily involved with new hiring at Yahoo[1]. While this isn't a silver bullet, it probably raises their hiring process from ~10th percentile to ~30th percentile (numbers not exact.)

Combine those two and that means that the average new hire is better than the average old employee. So randomly firing old employees and hiring new ones is actually a +EV bet.

This is an incredibly rare situation! But when you consider the sheer insanity of the circumstances Mayer is working against, I actually believe that most of her decisions have been correct.

[1]: http://www.businessinsider.com/marissa-mayer-is-reviewing-ev...

I think a successful strategy could look something like this: First, fire a bunch of people to free up some money. Next, hire some upper level management from Google (or Facebook, Apple, wherever) and give them the authority to build new organizations within Yahoo using either existing Yahoo employees or by hiring people away from other companies in the valley. Sell the opportunity to work at "the new yahoo" under manager X (who was recently hired and presumably has some name recognition) that is insulated from "the old yahoo" and all its crappy culture of politics and underachievement.

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