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Gini Dietrich

Yahoo! Letter: Was Their Communications Team Consulted?

By: Gini Dietrich | February 25, 2013 | 
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Yahoo Offices SignBy now, many of you have likely seen (and had some emotion about) the letter that was sent to Yahoo! employees regarding their new policy about no more remote work.

In my Facebook stream, emotions ran from: Marissa Mayer is setting back women 20 years or many defiling her use of “easy baby” because she has lots of help with her newborn to the company probably needs this last ditch effort and who cares?

As you well know, I’m a big advocate for not only women’s equality in the business world, but also working from home, having run my organization remotely a little more than a year.

That said, I don’t know why asking everyone to work from an office is setting women back nor do I think virtual workplaces work for every company.

Where I have a problem with this whole thing is the apparent lack of consulting their communications team before the letter went out from HR.

The Yahoo! Letter

Following is a copy of the letter (and, no, the irony of “DO NOT FORWARD” is not lost on me).

YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD

Yahoos,

Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

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.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.

Jackie

Jackie, by-the-way, is Jacqueline Reses, the head of human resources.

Business Calls for Tough Decisions

There are lots and lots of reasons a top executive would make this kind of decision:

  • Productivity could be down…way down
  • They could be in the middle of saving the company and need all hands on deck
  • People could be taking advantage of their work-from-home arrangement
  • Costs are too high and this is a good way to get rid of people without having to pay severances or unemployment
  • The company is fat and lazy and extreme decisions take extreme measures

Whatever the reason, it has not been clearly articulated, putting hundreds of people up in arms.

Revised Yahoo! Letter

What if, instead, the letter read this way:

Yahoos,

During the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient, and fun. With the introduction of initiatives such as FYI, Goals, and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica and Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

Each of you know we not only want to beat our competitors, we want to be the best place to work. As such, communication and collaboration are even more important during this time of competitiveness that is going to put us ahead of Google.

I think I speak for all of us when I say we want to beat them!

To do that, we think it’s important to be working side-by-side. In person. In the cafeteria. In the hallway. In meeting rooms. In the game room and in the company gym.

If you work from home, your manager has already talked to you about our new initiative: Let’s Get Physical, a program that brings us all together every day.

I know this is hard news to take. Some of us will have to sit in traffic for two hours every morning and every evening. Some of us will have to figure out new daycare arrangements. Some of us may even need to move. Some of us won’t care about the additional perks because they’re not worth our lives being upended.

This is not an easy thing to swallow and I know many of you are upset. If you have questions, need to vent, or just plain, old disagree, please talk to your manager, to anyone on my team, or my physical door is always open. But please, do not talk to anyone about this outside of the company until the official announcement comes out of our offices.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.

Jackie

Maybe it isn’t the right message that they’re doing this to beat Google, but see the difference?

Empathy vs. Dictatorship

Rather than “we’re laying down the law and we don’t care if you have to meet the cable guy for four hours during the day, even though we all know how painful it is they won’t give you an actual appointment time,” the tone is empathetic and explanatory. It’s “I know this sucks for some of you, but we’re doing it for the betterment of the company.” It doesn’t even conjure up the feeling the decision is putting women back 20 years.

We all understand hard business decisions have to be made. It’s in how you deliver the news that makes the biggest difference.

Also. Before this letter goes out (either version), every, single person who works from home should have had a discussion with their managers about the decision.

If they had, there wouldn’t have been the outrage and sneaking around to make sure journalists and bloggers got a copy of the confidential letter.

HR teams, work with your communications team. Although we may not be privy to the high-level reasons decisions like this are made, we can help you word things to be less of a blow during an extremely hard transition.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

166 comments
Leon
Leon

G;Day Gini,

Far be it from me to tell the Yahoo CEO how to run her business. But I think she needs a good dose of Ricardo Semler of Semco. Apart from that, I've been preaching for some time that the future of management lies in making employees totally responsible for running the business on a day to day basis. It's the only way managers will ever get enough time to run their businesses.

 

Only last week Ezine Articles published a lengthy missive of mine on this very subject.  I'll send you a copy separately.

 

It really doesn't matter where employees are or what they do. I know that's outrageous heresy to some. In the final analysis, what counts is the measurable contribution employees make to the sustainability of the business. As Semler says, "I just want them to go home and be proud of their work." Perhaps if they're already at home........

 

Best Wishes 

 

Leon

 

milguy23
milguy23

@danielnewmanUV @ginidietrich In the end - biz is biz. Screw-You. Nobody is irreplaceable. Wake-up ppl. Yahoo getting down to biz.

reinventioninc
reinventioninc

I'm wryly amused that anyone would define this as a communications issue. It's an operational efficiency issue. And no amount of spin will problem solve it. Millionairess Marissa can afford the luxury of a nanny and a private nursery next to her office. Many (most) women can't. The bottom line here: Yahoo's Flexible Spending Account isn't substantive enough to cover full time day care and like it or not research shows that child care responsibilities still frequently default to mothers. Until Yahoo addresses that employee benefits shortcoming, the "no telecommuting" HR policy will thwart gender diversity which will in turn inhibit innovation and Yahoo's sustainable growth prospects. It's a proven fact that diverse teams solve problems more creatively than homogeneous teams. Diversity delivers competitive advantage. The problem is particularly sticky since high-tech Silicon Valley is desperately trying to infuse diversity into its workforce. Fortunately for Yahoo, companies that embrace their limitations and use what they've got in unexpected ways can achieve surprise utility and levels of innovation. Yahoo should embrace their current HR policy limitation and use what they've got (specifically, making Marissa's private office nursery and nanny available to all employees). Instead of wordsmithing, a good communications team would bring relevant consumer trends and insights to the table to counsel a short-sighted, far removed from reality executive management team.

John Novaria
John Novaria

That's a thoughtful rewrite of a very troublesome memo. Kudos, Gini. Seems any organization that struggles with a teleworking policy has a bigger issue - namely, how to successfully engage workers who are spread all over the globe. If every employee - regardless of working location or arrangement - * believes * in the importance of their contribution to the strategy, then there should be no worries about distractions or reduced productivity in the basement office.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

Funny, when I read your version, I thought "wow, this is great, it's dripping with empathy!" then the next headline had it. Maybe we all of big biz should start retaining you... Not sure why they haven't already!

Latest blog post: GooglePlus « So Genius

cmjohns
cmjohns

Gini - What do you think from a communications standpoint should Yahoo!'s next step be? Should they do anything at all or try and explain their decision in an effort to calm those up in arms over this?

MaKBirch
MaKBirch

Explanations can be nice. RT @ShellyKramer: Yahoo! Letter: Was Their Communications Team Consulted? http://t.co/6xxU2ITTCk via @ginidietrich

rdopping
rdopping

I strongly believe that the decision was tough but if it was necessary then the best way is to be succinct and honest. I don't see anything wrong with the actual memo other than it should have been precluded by a town hall, video few or whatever Yahoo needed to do to communicate their position. If this was a major shift in work style then the communication plan really should include a clear message from the CEO. I am not sure too much empathy in a written message is a good idea but being open to employees who are really in a bind is necessary. In confidence. No matter the decision she made people are going to complain and take advantage of the media. The appointment was public and she lives a public life. I am not suggesting it's right just that no matter the position there will need to be a strong communications strategy both inside and outside the company. Maybe that's what is missing in this equation.

writingprincess
writingprincess

Quite frankly I think the letter is moot. Either version doesn't matter because it's the least of their problems. I like the other version because it attempts to rally the troops, but you can't rally troops who don't feel like troops. I doubt the wording would have made that much of a difference. You could have passed out golden tickets with that letter and I still think there would have been backlash anger.  We're talking culture here and no matter how you pretty it up a pig in a dress is still a pig in a dress. The very fact that you have to ask your employees to, in essence, come in to work, is the problem right there. The fact that you need a letter like that shows your problem, and it ain't wording. I would love a poll of Zappos employees who say "I'd rather work at home..." I'm sure there are some but the whole idea of companies like Z is to make their culture so vibrant and amazing that you don't think of it as work but as an extension of your family. And, for the cynics in you that means they work HARDER. Google doesn't provide free food for nothing - its campuses are designed so that you don't ever HAVE TO LEAVE. :) 

In the tech industry you have a lot of people used to telecommuting, but you also have a lot of people looking to collaborate and they've been doing it in unique ways beyond "sitting next to each other."  Your culture should be so strong and so amazing that people would want to fall over themselves to be with the people they work with. But that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be at work. The idea should be to incentivize productivity, not to reward butts in seats. There's a difference. If you work with smart people you'd be surprise how creative a great team can be when you give them a productivity goal. Does that mean they have to work at the Yahoo campus to do it? What if a team gets its  inspiration from staring at Picasso or listening to Vivaldi? Why should they be penalize if a team has a meeting at the Art Institute rather than a work conference meeting room? You should incentivize results. That's a faster more efficient way to change a culture. This idea of "work at work," rule is only addressing a symptom but not a problem.  

katecrowley
katecrowley

@charshaff from the confidentiality part, I wonder id they didnt expect it to "get out"?

decillis
decillis

@ginidietrich I'm so glad you took this approach on it. I'm annoyed by the others...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@josgovaart You just made me spit water at my screen. LOL!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@milguy23 I don't disagree. But leading companies like that set the stage for the rest of us. It's a blow. @danielnewmanUV

mpondfield
mpondfield

 @reinventioninc Completely agree with you, it just wasn't thought thru with all the ramifications ahead of time.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @reinventioninc Oh Kirsten. Just when I thought you'd disappeared from my life for good, you rear your ugly head again. As it turns out, I don't disagree with anything you've said, but I do take offense to the idea that you think I've "spinned" the letter. This is a PR blog. We talk about communications here. We don't talk about operations or business consulting. I'll leave that to experts like you.

 

I don't know what's going on internally there. All I know is if I received a letter that insinuated going to work was more important than some of the personal things that come up in life, I would be upset. There are MUCH better ways to couch things that create collaboration and increase morale that don't essentially say, "If you want to work with us, you can't have another life."

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Laura Petrolino

inspiredcat
inspiredcat

@ginidietrich you're quite welcome, Gini!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @John Novaria I've been thinking a lot about the teleworking piece of it. We have people scattered across North America. I think it works for us for one reason: We're all teleworking. When some of us were in the office and some were not, there was a lot of animosity of those who were not. No matter what I did - brought them in once a month, made sure teams had both on them - it was a big problem. I think it'd be really, really challenging for a company as big as Yahoo. 

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Laura Petrolino

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @cmjohns I've been thinking about this since you asked the question. Since I wrote this post, I've been privy to some of the things that are driving this decision. I've also learned what Marissa and her team have done to explain (and explain again) internally what's behind the decision. It sounds like, instead of letting people like Jackie deliver this news, Marissa needs to be that person...and she needs a communications professional on her executive team who thinks like she does and will allow her to be herself. People inside really respect her and WANT to hear from her. 

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Laura Petrolino

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @writingprincess You raise a REALLY good point about Zappos. I remember reading an interview where Hseih said, at his other company, he hated going to work so it was his goal to create a new culture he enjoyed. It's pretty apparent their culture is far superior. That said, we went completely virtual in November 2011. Last September, I raised the discussion about going back to an office. I got a big, resounding no. I'd like to think that's not because they don't want to be around one another or don't like each other, rather because they enjoy the benefits of being able to work at home. AND...I'm extremely focused on results. If they achieve their goals, they get no flack from me. I don't care where they are to do the work.

charshaff
charshaff

@katecrowley Yah, no kidding!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@decillis You know me...I always look at stuff from a PR perspective. We have NO idea why they decided to do it.

jenniferwindrum
jenniferwindrum

@StaceyHood Hey Hoodie. Hellllooooo right back. How the heck are ya? I'm in a yarn crisis. Bet you didn't think I'd say that. Ha. And you?

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV

@ginidietrich @milguy23 once leading companies? POW

milguy23
milguy23

@ginidietrich @danielnewmanUV Assume work-at-home structure is a mess. Instead of blaming themselves, putting burden on you. Bummer.

John Novaria
John Novaria

 @ginidietrich  @John Novaria Yeah, Gini, I hear you, yet when I was at GE I don't recall ever hearing a disparaging word about a teleworker, their work ethic or productivity. The way the company saw it: if the best talent is in a city where you don't have an office, you don't have to make them relocate and you have a better chance of landing that talent if you let them stay put. That said, managers set high expectations and would only allow teleworking if the person was a high performer.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@21law I heard a few friends who work there say most people who work from home are seen as non-productives

writingprincess
writingprincess

 @ginidietrich G-Queen you're so right! It's all about CULTURE. At Zappos the culture is about being at the workplace, being together to get the job done. At your place it's about working as a team from wherever you are. At my firm my writers are scattered around the globe. Our culture, largely infused with my freelancing, globe-trotting spirit, is I don't care where, I only mildly care how, but get 'er done. So since I employ writers I want them to be comfortable to produce greatness. I care not where they do it. (Writers are a strange bunch...) Same for Tony, he wanted to create a culture of customer service that happen to sell a product. But even Z's had to acquiese to the world..they have operations in more than one city they don't require everyone to work at a desk in Las Vegas. It's Tony's, yours and my attitude that I'm really commenting on. We trust our employees to know how they work best and we're focused on those results. Where they do it is inconsequential! And that's my problem with the "physical requirement,.." it takes the public school model of you must be present to be present. It's didactic and not supportive of culture. And I read ATD's article and apparently it's permanent so after June 1 you work from there or leave. A company that gives me ultimatiums like that seems pretty desperate to control things and that's their right. And it's also the employees right to walk. 

katecrowley
katecrowley

@charshaff NPR has it on 5:30p news!

decillis
decillis

@ginidietrich EXACTLY! They may be trying to accomplish something they did not articulate in that letter. #ginicrush

milguy23
milguy23

@danielnewmanUV @ginidietrich That's a good one. Yahoo in the mud.

21law
21law

@ginidietrich lots-o-disruptn needed at Yahoo +Very surprised that @nilofer+various others spoke quickly sayin Mayer's memo was oppo of need

writingprincess
writingprincess

 @ginidietrich Also on "physical part," whenever a Zappos employee logs on to his/her computer a picture of someone else in the companies pops up...the employee is asked if h/she knows the other employee and, if not, a dialogue is started. This is an example of creating collaboration without regard to the physical. It's a brilliant strategy that Z's is employing to support creating real employee relationships that lead to organic innovation rather than false paradigms that lead to employee resentment. I wrote about it in a book I co-authored called "It Takes Work to be Happy," about creating positivity in the workplace. http://www.linkedin.com/company/write-way-writing/it-takes-work-to-be-happy-1150218/product

So that's what I mean about the culture you create. You can find creative ways to foster innovation that aren't rule-oriented or didactic as this letter from Yahoo sounds. There will always be naysayers but surely you can come up with something better than a lame HR letter. 

decillis
decillis

@ginidietrich I totally mentioned how I tried to take you out to ice cream to someone a couple of days ago! Get your butt back here!!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@decillis BTW...I'm needing a Betsy ice cream date

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@decillis LOL at the hashtag! Ha! I don't think giving up remote offices is great, but there are reasons we aren't privy to...

Trackbacks

  1. […] over the board. I also loved Gini Dietrich’s take on it in this post on her Spin Sucks blog, rewriting the original memo to be more empathetic and less of a cold and heartless edict (which IMHO it clearly […]

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