Marissa Mayer is right to ban remote work

I’m amazed by the number of posts blasting Marissa Mayer for requiring employees to be in the office rather than working from home.

I’m obviously a fierce proponent for remote work arrangements of all kinds. I know that over the long term, companies with the strongest leadership win because they are able to attract, engage, and retain the best people. Strong leaders lead regardless of the environment they are placed within, and most people can learn to successfully lead their teams through all kinds of work arrangements.

However when faced with a fatally poor performing culture, change must happen quickly. Unless the investment has already been made to build strong leaders, when your company is dying then you must take dramatic steps to increase the speed of organizational learning. There are obvious advantages to physical proximity when you are driving significant and fundamental change, especially if you do not have strong enough supporting leadership in place to spread new ideas and build new habits.

I applaud Ms Mayer’s courage in taking the steps she feels necessary to save the company, regardless of  how unpopular they may be. However, the remote work ban at it’s best solves only a symptom. I hope that once a better culture is established and results are on the mend that she takes a longer term view, and begins to build a leadership team worthy of managing remote teams. Only when she and her leadership team are strong enough to lead despite the circumstances can the company be truly successful.

Why aren’t my employees getting more done?

Ever feel like your employees just aren’t getting enough done fast enough? For most employees, their jobs often feel like pushing a rock uphill. Whether they are responsible to finish a project, maintain a certain standard of service, or sell a certain number of widgets every day, their job is to push some rock uphill towards the pot of gold at the top of the mountain. As a manager, your job is to run from mountain to mountain, providing extra pushes at just the right moment, generating momentum which makes their jobs easier so they reach their pot of gold more consistently.

Fernanda

Fernanda (Photo credit: Omar Moreno Jiménez)

If the rocks aren’t moving quickly enough, there’s likely one of these three problems. Diagnosing the core issue is your first step.

  1. They’ve lost focus on the goal. Do they constantly seem to be working on issues that you think are less important? Are they pushing the rock in a different direction than you need, making a lot of progress on the less important pieces of the rock?
  2. They’ve run into an obstacle. Do you constantly hear “I can’t”, “I’m waiting on…”, “I don’t understand”? Does it seem like they’re working really hard but not getting anywhere?
  3. They don’t share your sense of urgency. Do they always make a little progress but don’t seem to be pushing as hard as you expect? Have you seen them do similar things before, so you know they can do it?
Once you determine the most likely reason, identify what extra push you can provide to get that rock moving again. (more…)

Top 5 Ways to Alienate Your Customers

Diary

Diary (Photo credit: kevinspencer)

I’ve been using a website pretty regularly for the last year. I really don’t want to list the site name but let’s just say it’s a diary type application. They just changed the whole site and are receiving some passionately negative feedback from their customers. With social media and customer feedback so prevalent, I thought these were now common sense. Obviously some companies didn’t get the memo. So here’s the short list for those who haven’t been paying attention.

Top 5 ways to alienate your customers

  1. Don’t ask for current customer feedback
    • Before you change anything. Most log-in type websites require your email and online survey tools are prolific. You should be surveying your customer base regularly anyway, but especially before you make significant changes.
    • During a beta period. Give your customer the option of which site to use. Watch the site traffic. Now you automatically know which site works for which segments of your customer base.
    • After you make changes. The new site didn’t provide any method of providing feedback. Eventually I found the outsourced “help” forum, where many other folks were venting. Loudly. Partially because they couldn’t figure out how to provide feedback.
  2. Rely on only one method of communication. It appears they may have announced the upcoming changes on Facebook. There were no splash pages on the site promoting what was happening. There was no warning email sent to the current customer base. Not everyone uses every social media tool or cares enough about your company to follow you. It’s your job to make sure your customer hears your message in the way they will hear it, not just the way you like to communicate.
  3. Copy the current “hot” site instead of focusing on your niche. The old site’s strength was that it looked just like an offline diary: simple chronological, text-based listing, a format that’s actually pretty unique. The new site looks just like Pinterest or Tumblr. If that’s what people want, they’d use those sites. If you are going to compete, there needs to be something that sets you apart.
  4. Continue to ask for feedback without really addressing the feedback you’ve already received. One of the first comments they received was “I hate this, give me the old layout back”. The response was “we had to do it this way for speed but we are releasing a ton of stuff as we go, thanks for your patience“. Eighty-seven comments and a month later, they were still saying “just tell us what you need”. You can’t just ask for feedback, you have to listen to it and do something about it. Try “I’m sorry, here’s the back door to get back to what you are used to, we plan to keep it up as long as it’s being used”.
  5. Don’t provide an “out”. I understand that businesses must continually innovate and change. Sometimes, a business is no longer financially viable and may need to start with a completely new paradigm, including a brand new customer base. When that happens, you don’t just toss your old customer base aside. That ruins your reputation and could prevent you from ever being successful in any venture. It’s so simple to:
    • Communicate what’s happened including the new vision
    • Provide your old customers the ability to easily take their information with them and close their account

The saddest part of all for me was the complete entrepreneurial failure. By establishing themselves as a diary site, they set an expectation of the service: A diary is a record (originally in handwritten format) with discrete entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. (Wikipedia definition). It was actually a pretty unique space on the web, with a clear customer segment defined in the name. When they needed money (because the original concept did not consider how to best monetize the site – business plan failure), they tried printing blank journals that looked worse than other blank journals that are readily available. With print-on-demand so prevalent, why not create a beautiful journal with the person’s entries from the last month, maybe even a lockable version like the old-fashioned diaries? Or give your current customers an upgrade option with additional features like picture attachments or generated graphics based on text. You could have charged more, would have sold more, and really would have set yourself apart.

For those of you searching for diary alternatives, my new setup (including screen shots from the old one since no download tool was provided) is a separate notebook in Evernote. I’m also exploring Penzu.com which looks to have some real positives including privacy, simplicity, a mobile version, and a pro version that will hopefully keep them more financially successful and stable.

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