Sometimes, a Policy Change Is Just a Policy Change – Even at Yahoo

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes, a policy change is just a policy change. And to attribute larger societal meaning is misguided and, well, you know, not smart.

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo isn’t a new skirmish in the “mommy wars” as USA Today proclaims.

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo isn’t a frontal attack on GenX and GenY as countless bloggers are screaming.

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo isn’t a stake in the heart of workplace flexibility as SHRM believes.

It’s about turning around a business

Ending telecommuting at Yahoo is a bold decision by a bold CEO trying to turn her business around.

I’m a business leader. I get it.

I get it that when you’re turning around a business you frequently have to make decisions that are unpopular.

I get it that when you make decisions to support your strategic plan others will assign meaning that was never meant.

I get it that you may have to make decisions that will change the culture in big ways.

I get the stress you feel when you decide to that cultural change is required and that decision will potentially put good people at risk.

I’m a business leader. I get it.

Turning around a business isn’t for sissies of either sex. Ask Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd and Meg Whitman.

Why is HR so wound-up over this?

The current brouhaha over Yahoo’s decision to bring the field back home and end telecommuting is out of control. The HR community, in particular, is totally wound around the crankshaft over this decision. The cries of “foul!” are everywhere in the Twitterverse, the Blogosphere, old media and new media, radio and television.

And I understand the concern, although some of the hysteria is a little hard to take. Workflex, as SHRM and the Families and Work Institute call it, is a boon for working mothers and fathers, a requirement – we’re told – for hiring and retaining GenX and GenY, and a central plank in improving engagement. Their data is solid. I get it.

Except when it isn’t working.

Except when management has lost line of sight into employee productivity. Except when the culture of work and communication has gotten inefficient and lost its discipline and rigor. Except when out of sight truly is out of mind.

I give Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and her new EVP for People and Development Jackie Reses big time credit for stepping up to the plate and swinging for the fences. I saw the memo. It said that the time for focusing on speed, communication, collaboration and quality is at hand. And in the CEO’s judgment, that means being physically together in hallways, work spaces and cafeterias.

They’re turning a business around, people! And that’s intense work. It requires all hands on deck.

Change calls for doing things differently

I think Mayer and Reses want – and need – to harness the talent in Yahoo! in ways that keep the focus and intensity high. In an environment where leaders can be hands-on and where communication isn’t delayed one second by distance and physical separation.

Say what you will about the value of engaging your workforce by allowing flexible work arrangements, but doing things the way you’ve always done them and expecting a different outcome is, well, you know, not smart. And no one ever called Marissa Mayer that.

Saving a business isn’t about comfort and preferences. It’s about rolling up sleeves and doing whatever it takes to emerge triumphant. And if that means some long-term, previously engaged colleagues decide that the new requirements don’t fit their lifestyle, then they’ll make other plans.

That’s tough, for sure. But it’s how things work sometimes. Everyone has choices to make and consequences to manage. I think Mayer is making tough choices and I think she’s prepared for the consequences.

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Do you get it?

Is this a referendum on workflex? No

Is this an assault on working parents? No

Is Mayer betraying her gender and her generation? No

Will this change the talent management landscape overnight and around the world? No

Is this one CEO and CHRO working together to change a culture’s priorities and save a business? Yes

I get it. So should you.

This originally appeared on China Gorman’s blog at ChinaGorman.com.