04/12/2013 12:14 EDT | Updated 04/12/2013 12:14 EDT

Let's All Give Marissa Mayer the Benefit of the Doubt


Much has been written about the Yahoo CEO's decision to end telecommuting at the company. Rather than boring you by repeating it here, I ask you a question instead. What if we are all missing something? Having been involved in several entrepreneurial ventures, I have experienced firsthand both the benefits and pitfalls of a flexible workplace. My experience is that the success or failure of an organization is most influenced by the quality of the employees and less on their individual work arrangements. You don't need an engineering degree from Stanford to figure out that an employee who is unable to innovate at home will not magically be able to do so at work, or be inspired by those at work who are currently unable to innovate.

Back to Yahoo. They stated that the decision was made to foster innovation and collaboration within the company, in addition to improving the corporate culture. Given my own experience, I thought how misguided Ms. Mayer was and was exasperated why the press was focused on the debate on the relative merits of telecommuting or worse yet, the length of her maternity leave or her newly built nursery (this is a topic to be addressed under separate cover for sure).

Keeping in mind that Mayer is a Stanford educated engineer twice over, employee number 20 at Google, and ran one of their most important divisions, I decided to give the situation more than a passing thought. It took my better half to say to me, "give her the benefit of the doubt, don't you think she knows more about management and Yahoo than you do," to get me on the right track.

My wife continued, "she probably knows the majority of the workers are deadwood, but needs to start somewhere. What better way than getting them back where they can be supervised and evaluated, if they want to quit they probably weren't the people she needed to turn the company around and if they don't you have grounds to fire them."

I contemplated whether I bought my wife's idea. With this in mind I revisited Mayer's highly criticized decision to personally interview all potential candidates, thus slowing the turnaround at the company down critics charge.

When I combined my wife's assertion with Mayer's interviewing decision, I began to believe. Mayer needs to ensure she is hiring the right people (and clearly the people who have been part of the problem probably can't figure out how to hire the solution to said problems). This implies that she knows perfectly well about the state of her workforce, she just can't say it. Imagine the headline "50 per cent of Yahoo's employees are performing at a sub-par level and will have to be replaced." Telecommuting is the Trojan horse to get to her real problem.  

If this argument doesn't convince you, how about giving her the benefit of the doubt. You decide which is more likely given our relative track records -- that I have superior insights into the relative merits of telecommuting and talent management or that she has a plan to address Yahoo's human resources shortcomings in private.

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