Marissa Mayer and Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!
Friday, April 12, 2013
By Jan C. Hill
back when you were a kid and you’d play outside as late as you possibly could
on long, balmy summer evenings. I’d join the boys on my street in an elaborate
game of hide-and-seek. One person was "it” and had to guard the compound
from the "spies,” who were trying to touch the coveted "home space”
unnoticed. If you were caught, you became an "it,” too, so it became even
harder to survive as a spy. If you could outfox and outlast the growing team of
"its,” you’d eventually hear "Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!” being shouted
out, meaning you won and could come home safely.
hiding out near the home space unnoticed and hearing the "its” talk when
they thought I wasn’t listening. As the only girl in the group, this gave me
unprecedented access to the inner workings of boys’ minds. Over time, the boys
decided to handicap the game by declaring that two spies had to work together
and come in together. I liked this, too, because it allowed me to partner with
someone different from me and to learn and use what they knew. Collaborating
was harder. I liked the challenge.
these years later, it doesn’t seem so different in the corporate world. Women
are still the minority in the c-suite, but we can gain access to information,
intelligence and collaboration that makes us smarter and better.
why I was flummoxed by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to put the kibosh on
any employees’ ability to work from home. It’s the type of unilateral executive
decision that didn’t seem to be well thought out, and as a result she’s been
filleted in the media.
Mayer learned that many remote workers weren’t regularly accessing the Yahoo
intranet, some were rumored to be starting and running side businesses and some
just weren’t as available and collaborative as they needed to be for Yahoo to
get ahead. Rather than fire them, Mayer thought it would be better to just put
a stop to the work-from-home option to invite the type of collaboration that
only happens when people are physically in the same place.
productive working parents who have enjoyed the flexibility of an occasional
telecommuting option felt betrayed. This led to personal attacks on Mayer,
herself a new mother. While some argued that she should understand and support
working parents, others slammed her because she built a nursery for her child
on the Yahoo campus so that she could return to work just a few short weeks
after giving birth.
Albright was famous for saying: "There’s a special place in hell for women
who don’t support women.” For my part, I have to admit that I went to hell for
a bit. My immediate reaction was to condemn Mayer’s judgment because it tweaked
a value of mine – the ability for solid performers to choose how they work to
accomplish a goal. I saw this as a management problem and that Mayer’s solution
"threw the baby out with the bath water” and would alienate good
performers who didn’t abuse the work-from-home privilege.
recalled a mentor I had at Procter & Gamble, Joe Reynolds, who once told me
to go home because I wasn’t being effective. He’s also the guy who told me to
get my hair cut on company time because it grew on company time. I cherished
him because he taught me how to use my energy and my own judgment about what I
needed to do to produce top results.
here’s the kicker – Mayer wasn’t dealing with top performers.
years of age — and 28 weeks pregnant — she had the guts to take the helm of
badly broken, largely dysfunctional, poor-performing organization. Since then,
she’s refused to let work keep her from pursuing her dream of having a baby and
she’s refused to let motherhood prevent her from fulfilling her dream of
reinventing a company. To accomplish this, she threw out a bold leadership
directive that basically stated: We need all hands on deck now, including me!
She knows the best ideas occur when smart people are spontaneously
collaborating in the same space. She feels that right now Yahoo needs to avoid
the siloing that invariably happens when people regularly work from home. She’s
not afraid to take a stand and upset people. She’s willing to lead.
call "Ollie Ollie Oxen Free” because maybe it’s time to stop listening to
the "its,” whose job is to protect the home space, and begin thinking like
the spy that outfoxes them. If Mayer has the guts to try a new way, and her
board has the guts to support her for who she is and what she wants to
accomplish, then she may just have what it takes to pull this off. I think I’ve
talked myself out of hell, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
is CEO of Hill Enterprises Inc., a consulting, coaching and training company
established in 1990. She previously served as a manager with Procter &
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