By Kevin Meyer
Several articles over the past week have once again raised my hackles on the oft-forgotten second pillar of lean: respect for people.
Two weeks ago Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made the news by mandating that Yahoo employees can no longer work from home. This raised the hackles of many, especially those of us that do work from home. Dan Markovitz admonished us as bit, but appropriately, reminding us that since we're not in her shoes we should respect her – and her decision.
I have my own opinions about her decision, but in the absence of
observable fact, my opinions are based on preconceptions, personal
biases, and assumptions. It would be both foolish to judge her decision
without knowing what’s really going on.
Before we condemn Mayer’s new policy as showing a lack of respect for
her employees, we should show *her* some respect by going to the gemba and seeing first-hand what’s happening at Yahoo. Until then, we have no right to opine on her new policy.
Ok, I still don't like it, but Dan has a point that I am not intimately familiar with the innards of Yahoo.
And then Best Buy followed suit. This time the CEO, Hubert Joly, gave a reason that presumably even Marissa Mayer would get livid at:
“In a turnaround transformation, direction needs to come from the top. I
make sure it gets to a conclusion based on fact," Joly said. "You need
to feel disposable as opposed to indispensable.”
Employees need to feel disposable? Now there's some leadership – to the extent that I bet there are some fine Best Buy employees willing to jump ship right about now. Some knowledgeable folks have correctly criticized this rollback of ROWE – the Results Only Work Environment.
Erin Kelly, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who
has authored studies on ROWE, said companies are unfairly scapegoating
flexible work programs for their subpar performances. “I’m concerned that these flexibility initiatives
and telework initiatives are getting blamed for what may be other
problems those organizations are facing in the broader market,” Kelly
Exactly. Subpar products, service, and leadership come to mind.
Whether it's a result of traditional accounting methods recording the "cost" of employees without understanding the "value" side, or if it's simply a lack of understanding of human psychology and potential, people are the kneejerk reaction. How about another example, coincidentally from my very first post-college employer.
German light bulb maker Osram, soon to be spun off by its parent company, engineering giant Siemens, said on Thursday it was selling a factory in China as part of a drive to slash 8,000 jobs worldwide.
"With the planned disposal of Shaoxing,
Osram has achieved half of its planned cuts of 8,000 jobs by 2014
worldwide in our traditional business activity," the firm said in its
Now granted the article probably doesn't give the whole story, but it sure seems like the goal is to slash 8,000 jobs, period. Really? I sure hope it's part of a product rationalization and longer-term growth strategy – not just a goal to reduce headcount. Although it is interesting that they chose probably the "cheapest" 4,000 people they could find.
Finally Eleanor Bloxham had the cohones to really nail the underlying issue that drives most layoffs: the failure of management. Actually she calls them lazy, in addition to incompetent.
Probably every worker today has experienced — or known someone who has
experienced — at least one layoff. Layoffs are an abomination — for
the pain they cause innocent victims — and the lack of accountability
they often represent.
She echoed John Hunter's sentiments of five years ago.
Layoffs are a failure of management. If the company has not been
executing a long term strategy to respect people and manage the system
to continually improve, manage for the long term, working with
suppliers… it might be they have created an impossibly failed
organization that cannot succeed in its current form.
Yes there are always exceptions, but they are rare. The inability to develop a strategy, execute the strategy, and grow is a failure of management, let alone leadership. Believing that employees are purely a cost, not understanding that just because the value of employees is not explicitly stated on a P&L and balance sheet doesn't mean that there is no offsetting value to the "cost," is a faiure of management.
By not leveraging the potential of his employees to help turn around Best Buy, I'm betting that Hubert Joly will soon personally understand exactly what "disposable" means. Those employees – and sharehoders and customers – deserve better.
David Kasprzak says
Good thoughts, Kevin.
As flawed as I came to believe the ROWE approach is, the statement by Joly is one of the most ridiculous statements ever made. Reports indicate Mayer’s decision at Yahoo was the result of an investigation into data on remote employees’ behavior and an attempt to override abuses and create a more collaborative culture which, even if we disagree with her conclusions, doesn’t appear to be pure, ignorant malice. At Best Buy, however, declaring people are simply disposable is almost criminal, and probably should be.
Mark Welch says
You know, none of us has a right to judge others unless we are at the gemba and have the full view. Let’s try and have faith that those at the top are truly going there and listening to the people and doing what’s best for all stake holders. All the rest of us can do is speculate, which is actually unfair. For myself, I’ll assume, hopefully correctly, that those at the top are doing this and that they truly are doing what is in the best interest of all stakeholders.
Definitely thought-provoking, Kevin.
JM Fleck says
For Best Buy, you want to demonstrate to your customers that you are selling quality products? Then, please stop trying sell me a warrenty on everything. Why are you asking me to take all the risk that you sold me a defective product, or spend $100’s more on an insurance policy that you did? Stand behind what you sell. If you can’t ensure quality, don’t ask me. This is what turned me off from Best Buy years ago. They don’t build a trusting relationship with their customers, it is no surprise that the approach their employees the same way.
Mark Welch says
Well said, JM. Pushing those extended warranties has always annoyed me for exactly the reasons you describe. What those warranties DO say to me is that they’re out for the pure money grab – not to provide more value, which to me is pure greed and horrible business ethics.
Steven Bell says
One part of Mayer’s reasoning that wasn’t explored was that sometimes the best innovations arise from people interacting in person during informal face to face encounters like “water cooler” conversations.
This is part of the reason cross functional lean product development teams are clustered together physically instead of just virtually.