Corporate culture wars
Well, I see that Best Buy has joined Yahoo in issuing a fatwa on working from home.
Having made such a hoop-de-doo about their work from home program – which I don’t recall Yahoo ever having done about its telecommuting policy – it’s quite a walk-back.
Known as Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), the company evaluated employees solely on performance versus time worked and office attendance. Employees worked when they wanted and wherever they wanted just as long as they got the job done.
Now most corporate employees will work the traditional 40-hour week, though managers still have discretion to accommodate some workers.
“It makes sense to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done,” said Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman. “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”(Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune.)
My first thought was that this is a bit of a boon for lazy-arse managers. After all, it’s obviously easier to base your employee reviews on showing up than it is to have to worry about whether someone’s actually doing anything (other than just showing up). Plus if your employees are hanging around, it’s much more likely that you’ll have that lazy arse kissed.
My second thought was that I’d really hate to be a corporate flack who has to be the spokes-model on something like this. One day you get to represent how hip and happenin’ your work crib is, only to have to turn around and talk about how it’s not just the results, but how you get the results, that – blah-di-di-blah – matters. Sort of like having to show how you solved the math problem, every step of the way.
Not that there’s nothing to the importance of collaboration and connection. And it’s not, as I’ve said before – in fact, just the other day in a
screed post on Yahoo – that face time isn’t important. It is.
And not just for work-work, but for the social aspects of work that are ultra important to many of us. Socializing is the one thing – okay, there’s also health, dental, vacation, holidays, and knowing where your next paycheck is coming from – that I miss about full-time work.
Still, given that the rising generation of workers are so used to being “always on”, with fluid borders between work-me an personal-me, this will no doubt be seen as a turn-off to at least some of Best Buy’s potential employees. Unless there are no cool, “always on” young folk in Richfield, Minnesota.
Anyway, as with Yahoo, this move is not intended to be mean-spirited, employee-loathing, or misanthropic. As with Yahoo, it’s all about the new CEO’s effort to turnaround the company by putting his/her stamp on the culture. After all, there are some who maintain that both Yahoo and Best Buy are “companies hobbled by dysfunctional cultures.” And, even though it’s highly unlikely that it’s telecommuting that renders a company’s culture dysfunctional - in fact, just the opposite is probably what’s true - clamping down on working from home is visible – aggressively so – and becomes a stand-in for the message that THIS IS SERIOUS.
Which reminds me of my days at Wang, when they brought in a new CEO, Rick Miller, who was going to – hosanna – turn the good ship Wang around.
Although I do know that it didn’t work, I have absolutely no idea what he was doing behind the scenes to take care of business. However, I do know what he tried to do to turn the culture around.
One might have thought Rick would have been better off starting to chip away at the bureaucracy. How bureaucratic was Wang? When I joined the company, I submitted a form to get a bookshelf and file cabinet for my cubicle. The form was sent back because I hadn’t written down the reason why I wanted these accessories. I put down “bookshelf to put books on” and “file cabinet to put files in.” That got things approved.
Or Rick could have tried pushing decision-making (at least on the little things) down a rung or two. In order to take a business trip, you needed the sign off of every manager in your chain of command, up to and including the Executive Vice President. And, by the way, in my group, you weren’t told until the night before you traveled that your trip was approved.
Maybe Rick could have made an executive decision to rescrew in the light bulbs that were taken out to save on the electric bill. (Or maybe the decommissioning of light bulbs was to ensure that we wouldn’t see how dirty the offices were, once they’d stopped cleaning the peon areas more than once a week.)
Instead, Rick focused on the few things that made working at Wang, if not enjoyable, then a bit less odious.
One of the first things he took on was getting rid of flex-time (the 1980’s version of working from home), which he apparently viewed as the province of slackers, shirkers, goldbrickers.
So he started stationing himself at entrances and introducing himself to employees coming in after 8:30 a.m. and leaving before 5 p.m.
God knows, there were plenty of slackers, shirkers, and goldbrickers lazing around Wang, but plenty of them showed up before 8:30 a.m. and never left until 5 p.m. They didn’t actually do anything while they were at work. But they were there.
The new set hours policy didn’t bother me in the least, as I worked “normal” hours. But it still rubbed me the wrong way – symbolically speaking.
I will give Rick Miller credit for one thing he did, though, which was how he got the word out on whatever element of the culture was bugging him.
What Rick would do was regularly eat in the “people’s caf”, ambling around with his tray and asking a table if he could join them. He’d then hold forth on his bugbear du jour.
Talk about viral marketing. Everyone would spot where Rick had plunked himself, and, if you knew anyone at the table, you immediately gave them a call or sent an e-mail asking what Rick was on about today. Once you found out, you’d let everyone in your network know, etc. Thus, within a few hours after lunch, Wang employees worldwide would know what Rick wanted known. Far more effective than sending out a memo, that’s for sure.
Anyway, one day I was heading down to lunch with a bunch of folks in our group. We were an excellent combo: product managers/marketers in suits; techies in business casual. We had women. We had men. We had white folks, an African-American, and an Indian.
On the elevator, I grandly predicted that Rick Miller would not be able to resist our collective lure, and that, if he were stalking the people’s caf, he would be joining us for lunch.
And indeed he did.
The message of the day was about the aforementioned flex-time.
“I don’t buy it,” he informed us. “You need to count on everyone being at work at the same time. If you’re setting your own hours, I guarantee that you’re not getting your work done effectively.”
Moth, meet flame. There was no way I wasn’t going to get into with Rick on this. But after a round or two I realized that his prerogative was bigger than my prerogative, and gave up my counterpoint to his point. (And did I mention going viral? By the time I got back to my desk, I had about 20 e-mails – including one from Australia – asking me what Rick Miller had said at lunch.)
Anyway, if I were the gambling type, I’d bet that what’s happening at Yahoo and Best Buy, culture-wise, isn’t going to be any more effective in fixing what ails the company than what happened at Wang 25 years ago.