Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Telecommuting, Cows, and De-calibration

Telecommuting, Cows, and De-calibration

Drawing a straight line from one theme to another to a third is not always a simple task. Writing when emotional does not really help the process, but it does inject a certain amount of creativity. Six months after writing a post on Stacked Ranking, I have a few more thoughts and (hopefully) a more interesting storyline.

My wife and I were driving past a small farm one morning. The farm owner is clearly creative. In addition to a couple of plywood bear cut-outs, he has a Nessie (Loch Ness) cut-out standing in a small pond. Also standing in the pond... a cow, doing what cows do. I made the quick joke "well, we don't want to be drinking water from that pond". I made a mental note to talk to the boy (age 8) about how to locate fresh water while on his Boy Scout adventures.

Drawing a Straight Line

Let's assume that the pond is corporate culture.

None of the cows on the farm are impacted by the dirty pond water. Their systems have adapted a tolerance for less than pure water. New cows would probably not be impacted by the dirty pond water. 

But I don't think companies hire "new cows" if they want to change. Many companies hire new employees in order to gain an infusion of ideas and to improve productivity. How can new employees impact the existing culture if they are the same as old cows?


Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! recently changed the rules for telecommuters. Some may have been less-productive while working off-site, but some were probably very productive. The strict nature of the change and the broad-brush painting of telecommuters as not up-to-par caused quite a stir. See: Yahoo’s Telecommuting Ban Shows Mayer is working.

When does teamwork and cooperation become "drinking the Kool-Aid"?

I would argue that Telecommuter productivity is bolstered by being away from the corporate cultural pond. Remote workers still need leadership, still need strong managers and certainly need accountability. Mayer may believe that bringing everyone together will help move Yahoo! forward. Mayer does risk losing some talent, along with some dead wood, but at least she is showing leadership by acting upon her vision. 

When is the Best Time for Feedback

End of the Season, Mid-Season, or in the middle of the game?

One of my most despised corporate stories comes from a mid-year review when I was working in Phoenix, Arizona. The conversation was very short, and went something like this: "We got feedback from an anonymous source that sometime back you told an inappropriate joke across the cubicles, so you are not getting a high rating..."

I packed my things, left Phoenix and moved back to San Francisco.

The feedback was late, un-actionable and indefensible.

How Useful is the 360 Degree Feedback process once the Pond Becomes a Cesspool?

Key Manager Goal: Attract and Retain Talent

In the previous Stacked Ranking post I discussed the idea of "out-running the bear". In this post the question focuses on entrenched employees (cows) and the inertia they maintain. New employees need to find a means to adapt to the culture and then apply force to change the culture. 

What are HR Assumptions about the 360 Review Process

A surprise outcome in my recent cycle was the poor return of 360 degree reviews (many requests were sent, very few returned). Then again, why the surprise? There is no incentive to return a 360 degree review. Are you going to write kind, supportive words for someone that is going to be ranked against you? Are you willing to return kind words for someone in a different organization, or different job or different pay grade? Are you willing to slam someone, or merely trip them while trying to outrun the bear, just to keep your relative ranking? 

A review process (like stacked ranking) supports both good behavior by allowing rewards for performance, and correction for under performance. But does it incentivize bad behavior? It should not allow cows to do what cows do.

While working on a resume tracking application several years ago, I saw an interesting graph which showed employees by years of service. The company had gone through an acquisition, and was leaking talent in years 3, 4 and 5. Changing the culture would be a challenge since new employees were not maturing in the organization. 

Was the sophomore and junior talent leaving because of the acquisition, because of a competitive internal environment, or because of better external opportunities? Were the people that stayed impacting change, or adapting to the pond (or contribution to the pollution in the pond)? If the Human Resources department cannot answer those questions, then the leaking will continue and the entrenched bureaucrats will begin to calcify. 

Fictional recreation of employees by years of service.

Telecommuting, Cows, and De-calibration

  • Do you run the stack-ranking (calibration) process at the end of the year, or mid-year? 
  • Are you adjusting for the next season (the next year), for the next quarter, how about next month, or tomorrow - the next game?
  • If your team is not performing, is the reason 
    • Management - tracking, reporting, direction
    • Leadership -  vision and motivation
  • How good are your company processes, people and tools?  Which is the weakest link?
  • If running a process to evaluate employees is a necessary evil, what is the best way to mitigate the impact?
  • Are you providing encouragement and rewards, or are you frustrating your employees - resulting in "de-calibration" and eventual exodus?
Marissa Mayer is showing leadership by changing the telecommuting policy. It may lead her team to understand that she is willing to make the big changes that leaders are paid to make. How she deals with the employees at HQ is yet to be seen. She changed a policy that employees actually "liked" (if you will pardon the Facebook pun).

What are your thoughts on work-place reviews, new employee assimilation, and the ability to inject change into a culture?