Recently Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer admitted the potential incompetence of corporate middle-management but – as is usually the case in corporate America – she held the wrong people responsible.
She claimed that telecommuters are “unproductive”. To which I’d ask a question, are they the only ones that are “unproductive”? Did she actually compare telecommuters to cubicle bound bench warmers? What about the social butterflies? I would bet she hasn’t, in fact I would bet this is not even her idea. This will be the consensus of her own middle-management. There’s a certain irony about a technology company that cannot tolerate technologists that prefer less social interaction – technologists that use technology to allow them to focus their efforts on the task at hand. The irony being that the good ones will be the ones that leave.
How many of the people that report directly to her do you think are telecommuters? Not many, so when the rubber meets the road, do you think middle-management will be taking responsibility for having no clue what their direct reports are working on? I can assure you they will not. They will pass the buck.
The recent news comes with some predictable backlash, however there is also a subtext to be analysed. It was mentioned that not only were many “unproductive” but Yahoo didn’t even know some of them were still on the payroll. Talk about supervisor incompetence!
So we get to the point of this post. One thing some in middle-management fear, is exceptionalism. In the type of corporate environment where supervisors “kiss-up” and “blame-down” the only threat to their existence is for their staff to be too productive. How can they “blame” down when the exceptionalism of their staff is well known? The answer is, they cannot. The clock begins ticking on middle-management’s illusion as soon as they cannot blame someone else. Politicians tend to work precisely the same way. In fact exceptionalism at the management level is demonstrated by not behaving this way but rather taking responsibility. Sadly it is the road less traveled.
Those of us who are truly exceptional will experience this consistently. Even in management, there will be a lot of pressure to find someone to blame when things go wrong. Only small organizations, hardly comparable to the average “Corporate America” are capable of tolerating exceptionalism and that only lasts for as long as the organization remains small. For instance, a CEO/Owner (like mine) will perceive little threat from great staff. They will only perceive value. However, once the CEO is not the owner. Instead, they answer to a board of directors, and ownership has been relinquished to stock holders. When there is no clear “owner” the scale tips, and even the CEO will be tempted to “blame down” and “kiss up”.
It takes a very unique individual to fire a “kiss up” but a diva/rock star wizard that is productive and knows it. They are easy to dislike. They don’t tend to be very good at “kissing” they are much better at “kicking” … kicking arse at what they do.
I had a corporate gig once upon a time. I left over my manager’s obsession with me sitting in my absurdly uncomfortable desk chair. The reality, I recovered more revenue for that company in a single day than they paid me the whole time I worked there. Of course my manager didn’t mention that to my CEO. What if she had? Then she would be forced to accept responsibility for her poor communication and often complete ignorance of current projects. When she wasn’t in meetings “kissing up” to corporate leadership, she sat at her desk wasting time in ways that would make a soap opera addict seem productive. To this day the CEO believes that I was just “insubordinate”. That CEO has just as much responsibility. Marissa Mayer has just as much responsibility. She needs to stop looking for yes men, and find the rock star managers who aren’t afraid of rock star staff.
Today, as I type this article and prepare to dive into a wrestling match with some ugly ASP, I have sat on the floor, in two different recliners, and had zero water-cooler conversations about my new tie. Yes, Ms. Mayer, there are unproductive telecommuters. Productivity can be directly related to accountability. There are always people who will take advantage of poor leadership. If it’s your supervisors’ jobs to supervise, then no matter how much “kissing up” they do, it’s your job to hold them accountable for that and not allow them to create scapegoats. You’d have to let them stop kissing up and get back to their jobs. If all of that kissing up is too important to you Ms. Mayer, then you’re part of the problem. Being CEO, if you are ever any “part” of the problem then you are likely the whole problem.