I have been following the goings on with Yahoo! of late with a mixture of curiosity and cringing. While we really don’t have all the information and reasoning behind Marissa Mayer’s decision to put and end to working-at-home for Yahoo! employees, it seems that given the response, the approach by Yahoo! leadership is an example of poor communication, both in planning and execution.
This decision should not have come as a surprise to employees if the change in process and protocol had been effectively, clearly and compassionately communicated through the right channels at the right times. If there is a true business case for “all hands on deck” then that should have been the starting point. Employees want to know why changes are being made. It helps if they understand the business need for the change, otherwise they will assume that company leaders are acting based on their own egos, hubris or preferences without concern for those in the trenches.
And while the business reason behind this change is speculation on my part, as an employee of Yahoo! I would want to know if the competition is eating our lunch and the company’s future, as well as my own, is in jeopardy. I would be willing to sacrifice working from home (for a while) if I knew that by teaming up and showing up, we could help forge a better future for us all. I might even feel inspired to show up if I knew specifically how my contribution has meaning to the company as a whole.
While we don’t know the extent of or the communications approaches used apart from the now infamous memo, which was questionable in several ways, my guess is that more thought was put into the decision to make this change than was put into the process for communicating the change. When leaders underestimate the importance of clear, conscious and consistent communication, they face greater resistance and have a steeper hill to climb during the process of change.
My friend and fellow communication expert Mary-Claire Burick of MC Strategy recently gave a presentation on communicating change and engaging employees in the process. In her talk, she outlined the following pitfalls to effective communication that, if not heeded, fail to produce the intended change:
Communication is done too late
- Leaders wait for certainty/final decisions to communicate
- Failing to time releases of information at the same time, in the right order
Communication is too infrequent
- Failing to consistently communicate or give updates about significant internal/external developments
- People need to hear a message an average of seven times before it resonates. During change this is probably even further amplified given the anxiety people are feeling. Aim to over communicate and you’ll probably get it right
Communication is too generalized
- Whitewashing the truth or failing to provide hard facts about the business and specifics around strategy, why the changes are being made and what specifically the implications are
- Failing to address rumors
- Not addressing how employees can contribute or what you want them to do
- Not providing enough information, tools or support to those charged with communicating “down.” Line managers are often unable to communicate the change either because they don’t understand it themselves, haven’t had the chance to explore and own it, or they may lack the skills to communicate effectively with their people, so they focus too much on the details of implementation and not the why of the change
Communication is too impersonal
- Leaders often deliver messages ‘from afar’ – employees want to hear it from their direct managers in person
- Senior management are further along the change curve than their employees, so they’ve had the time to work through the change and become accustomed to it, whereas employees have yet to come to grips with the need for change, or the general approach taken to making the change
- Failing to provide forums for two‐way dialogue and Q&A
- The task of articulating a strong vision for the future is not something that can be delegated. Not personalizing messages or leaders who become aloof or inaccessible provides a fertile environment for rumors to spread, which affects employee focus and productivity.
I can’t say it often enough. Effective communication isn’t about what is said or even what is heard. Effective communication is about what happens as a result. With poor communication comes speculation and distrust, neither of which will help Yahoo!..especially if it really does need an all-hands approach for the time being.