Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Morale is Not an Objective, It’s an Outcome

Why We Keep Talking About Yahoo! (and Not in a Good Way)
The plus/minus of Yahoo!’s decision to reverse their work-at-home policy continues to dominate discussion about the company. It’s a clear sign that they’ve not taken control of the issue. 

The New York Times ran another story on the controversy today. Who were their sources? Who’s speaking for Yahoo!?  “A former senior employee,” “Brandon Holley, former editor of Shine, Yahoo’s women’s site, now editor of Lucky, Condé Nast’s shopping magazine,” a current “manager” and a “former manager.” This is not the way to 1) represent the company or 2) take charge of the message.

Because Yahoo! is staying out of the discussion while everyone else is weighing in, the issue continues to churn. Instead of redirecting us toward information on Yahoo!’s promise, we’re left talking about their problems.

I can certainly understand the need to address corporate culture issues; I support that wholeheartedly. But the headline of the NYT article announced, “Yahoo Says New Policy Is Meant to Raise Morale.” That's a big mistake, in my view. Here’s what I wrote in my book, Camelot, Inc. (Chapter 11, Joust for Fun: Dealing with Boundary Issues): 

You can’t mandate fun or good morale. I was in a room full of executives at a leadership retreat when the moderator asked, “What is your job?” The answers from the group were varied and included: “I protect and expand the reputation of my company,” “I generate new business and keep the money flowing in,” and “I try to create a great atmosphere where the people can contribute, learn, grow, and have fun.”

Wait, what? Fun? How much fun should we be expected to provide? Directly, none. Someone’s fun or happiness is his or her own job, or the job of a friend or spouse. Fun, like morale and office friendships, should be the happy byproduct of a vibrant, empowered work environment. 

The bottom line is that morale, fun or a “cool” place to work are outcomes of an honest, communicative and interesting work environment. Yahoo! will succeed if it focuses on delivering differentiated products services, providing unambiguous information, and instilling confidence with visible and empathetic leadership.

Between blog posts, I invite you to follow me @pauloestreicher.