The Verghis Group

Ordered back to the mother ship – Why Marissa Mayer’s work-at-home policy signals future challenges

By adamk on March 4, 2013

By Adam Krob

This week, I read Yahoo! announcement that work-at-home privileges were being revoked for its team members.  As a long-time work-at-home advocate (nearly 5 years of working from the study overlooking my garden), I was surprised.  I watched as the pundits weighed in about the policy, both for and against.  I came to the conclusion that this decision signals big challenges for Yahoo! in the not too distant future.  There are two reasons for my concern – first that the decision highlights the importance of the Yahoo! mother ship, and second that the decision shows a dangerous leaning toward activity-based metrics.

My first concern is Yahoo!’s express elevation of the work that goes on in Sunnyvale over work done elsewhere.  Whether intentional or not, Mayer’s decision to end work-at-home sends a message that the only important work is the work being done at headquarters.  At The Verghis Group, we call this the mother ship syndrome.

The long-term effects are two-fold.  The first is that the mother ship syndrome is demotivating to anyone who works outside the corporate headquarters.  If you work in Asia, Latin America, or Europe, you will begin to think that your contributions are less valued by the organization.  If you have to wait until 9am pacific time to green light a small project or make a personnel decision, your perceptions will be confirmed.  Top talent will stay just long enough to find another organization that values their contributions.  The second effect of the mother ship syndrome is the loss of key perspectives.  I have been working with a team of people for about a year.  This team is made up of people on four different continents and five different cities. If our team had restricted membership to people at any one of the locations, we would have lost key people with varied and important perspectives.  Our differences have made our team successful.  You don’t get as much difference in one location, not matter how appealing you make it.

My second concern with Mayer’s decision is the (reported) reason that she made it.  According to several reports, the key metric that led to ending work-at-home for Yahoo! team members was time on the virtual private network (VPN, a technology that allows computers outside a corporate firewall to work as if they were inside it, while keeping the data passed between computers private).  I find the time on the VPN metric troubling because it is prioritizing an activity over an outcome (perhaps customer adoption of a new Yahoo! service).  Looking at trends in activities like time on the VPN is fine, as long as it doesn’t become a key decision factor (as it appears to have in this case).  If the activity becomes more important than the outcome, the organization is headed for trouble.  If your team knows that time on the VPN is the most important goal, then developers are smart enough to game the system.  I am sure someone already has an automated process that generates VPN activity to simulate real work.  More problematic, though, is that the team loses touch with what is really important—the outcomes like profitability, customer satisfaction or team satisfaction.  Focusing on activities kills organizational alignment.

Yahoo!’s work-at-home policy change isn’t a small step, it is a big one.  Mayer and her team need to weigh the drawbacks with their positive intentions.

Talk with startup founders at Groundwork Labs

By Phil Verghis on January 22, 2013

Spent a lovely afternoon with a wide range of very interesting startup founders who were part of the Groundwork Labs, a ‘no strings attached’ community-supported technology incubator in Durham, NC. I spoke on scaling a business and how to focus on the customer from the start, based on the explosive growth at Akamai in my early days, and my experiences since then.

3 Shaky Pillars of Customer Support Metrics

By Phil Verghis on October 3, 2012

A link to my October 2012 newsletter…

Pricing the Priceless — an interesting read for all of us struggling with measures, metrics and madness.

By Phil Verghis on July 9, 2012

As we struggle with the move from ‘easy’ measures and metrics to outcome-based measures, it is very interesting to see how smart people are trying to define and articulate similarly difficult-to-measure measures on a macro level.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the traditional proxy for how well off a country is. However, it is a measure of economic production or income (not wealth), and it doesn’t help with figuring out how sustainable the growth is.

A new study from a United Nations team lead by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University has proposed a new measure — the Inclusive Wealth Index. It puts a monetary value on three areas: Physical Capital (manufactured assets), Human Capital (education and skills) and Natural Capital (land, fossil fuels etc.).

As the Economist notes: By putting a dollar value on everything from bauxite to brainpower, the UN’s exercise makes all three kinds of capital comparable and commensurable. It also implies that they are substitutable. A country can lose $100 billion-worth of pastureland, gain $100 billion-worth of skills and be no worse off than before. The framework turns economic policymaking into an “asset-management problem”, says Sir Partha.

Full report:

Highly readable Economist article – where does *your* country stack up in this new way of measuring?

Sir Partha also states the measures are illustrative, not definitive, and that much more work needs to be done to properly refine and develop these concepts. Sound familiar?

Does anyone have access to researchers doing work in this field? It would be great to invite them to join in the discussion and discovery process.

Just finished superb session with Cisco and Pitney Bowes

By Phil Verghis on May 9, 2012

I had a great TSIA Spring 2012 session with two smart and talented co-presenters – Janet Ramey (Sr. Director, Cisco) and Karen Lim (VP, Pitney Bowes) on Measures, Metrics and Madness. Both shared how two very different companies with different cultures and styles made major changes by moving away from obsessing on metrics. I shared some new research we have seen from behavioral psychology on how to target specific habits in order to change behaviors.

Getting ready for a Metrics and Madness session

By Phil Verghis on May 4, 2012

Just put the final touches on a ‘Beyond Metrics’ session with Karen Lim (VP, Worldwide Software Support at Pitney  Bowes) and Janet Ramey (Senior Director, Strategic Business Operations at Cisco). Two very smart individuals who are committed to making a difference for their customers. Learn what has worked and what hasn’t. Session is from 4 – 5 PM on Tuesday May 8th.

Join us at Technology Support World

By Phil Verghis on May 4, 2012

Adam, Priya and I will be at the Technology Services World conference in Santa Clara this coming week. We have a number of 1:1 meetings already set up — there are a few slots left if you’d like a private conversation on what’s on your mind.

  • The Verghis Group booth – 44b.
    Do stop by for a preview and launch of a new service we have been working on, which will be available to a select group of beta-testers by invitation only. We are looking for innovators. No followers. Interested? You know where to find us.
  • Monday May 7th: 12:45 PM – Expo hall.
    I can’t give you details yet, but this is superb news. If you are a friend/client – do come. You won’t regret it and we will really appreciate it.
  • Tuesday May 8th: 4 – 5 PM
    Phil will be facilitating a session with Karen Lim (VP of Global Software Support at Pitney Bowes) and Janet Ramey (Senior Director of Strategic Business Operations at Cisco). We will talk about large-scale changes that resulted from a new way of looking at metrics at two very different companies. The practice sessions have been superb, and I’m looking forward to sharing and learning.

You can see the schedule here:


Einstein and the Pursuit of Gross National Happiness – Nov ’11 newsletter

By Phil Verghis on November 5, 2011

Announcing the Nov 2011 Verghis View newsletter — ‘Einstein and the Pursuit of Gross National Happiness’ — lessons on measurements from disparate sources like Einstein, an ancient Egyptian cartographer and a tiny, landlocked Himalayan kingdom.

This has generated an immense response – from  five continents so far…

Free webinar on ‘Measures, Metrics & Madness’ hosted by HDI

By Phil Verghis on September 16, 2011

Rarely done (and free!) webinar on measures, metrics and madness – – Tues Sept 20th. Join a few hundred of my friends who have already registered.

Measures Metrics & Madness: Boston event – October 5, 2011

By Phil Verghis on September 12, 2011

I’ll be leading a highly interactive version of my workshop — ‘Measures, Metrics & Madness: the new world of guiding, not grading’ at the First Wednesday Group session in October. Seats will sell out, so act now…

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