The Slippery Slope: Why Are Companies Working So Hard to Solve the Wrong Problems?

Which trade-offs are acceptable and which are losing propositions? Inevitably, if a company begins to see employee satisfaction, engagement and loyalty as a trade-off, it is not headed in the right direction.
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I did not see this coming. Workplace flexibility programs being dumped in the name of better productivity and "all hands on deck" agendas? I have to think that the leaders making these decisions aren't entirely informed. That their pursuit of short-term results is overshadowing their view of enduring success of not just the bottom line, but their most important asset: human capital.

Two particular announcements in the past couple weeks gave way to some head scratching and reactions of a much more pronounced fashion -- Yahoo and Best Buy cutting their progressive work programs. While I am not a "Yahoo," I do take issue with the larger premise that corporate CEOs are viewing alternative work solutions so myopically. Stopping all remote work is not the solution for bringing a company together. Roaming the halls and meeting at the cafeteria aren't specifically paths to collaboration since an engaged workforce is not about physicality but about appropriate management and empowered communication initiatives.

To say "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home" seems entirely baseless, as countless workplace studies have proven the opposite. Perhaps the demise of Yahoos being allowed to work from home is a result of little understanding on management's part as to how to get the best work out of employees, regardless of their location. Managing to results and fostering collaboration is a supervisory function. Yes, making time in the office together is a good practice to keep everyone understanding the big picture and new strategic direction, but sweeping mandates like this one are a step backward.

Now, Best Buy seems to be the latest in a rash of, well, seemingly rash decisions to comprehensively cut alternative work programs by announcing the end of its ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) program. For a program that has been lauded and held as an example over the years, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly made it clear that he never really bought into the idea. Earlier this year, he described ROWE as "fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint" in that it effectively assumed the only acceptable way to lead is by delegating.

That's not the point at all. ROWE is about empowering employees to succeed, not about a style of leadership. This is where uninformed executives who don't understand programs like these -- nor care to learn them -- begin to fear lack of control. And when companies like Best Buy and Yahoo are in trouble and turn-around executives are brought in, it's all about shifting that control. Last November, three months after his appointment, Joly told the press that he intended to restore accountability to the company's culture: "You need to feel disposable as opposed to indispensable." There's the root of poor decision making right there.

The fate of any business is decided by the decision-making ability of its leadership, and every important decision inevitably involves a trade-off. So which trade-offs are acceptable and which are losing propositions? Inevitably, if a company begins to see employee satisfaction, engagement and loyalty as a trade-off, it is not headed in the right direction.

David Ingram wrote that there are five steps to making an ethical business decision. This one in particular seemed relevant: Consider the effects of your decisions on all stakeholders. Decisions are often made to address one or a small number of issues, such as revenue growth, cost control or client-specific issues, but it is important to realize the wider implications of your decisions on everyone affected. Business decisions made in the best interest of stockholders, for example, can have effects on employees, clients, suppliers, people living and working near your operations, the natural environment and even future generations of people. Consider how stakeholders will be affected if the decision turns out the way you plan, and how they will be affected if things go wrong.

Historically, companies tend to make short-sighted business decisions in tough economic times. I think that's what we are seeing here as organizations work toward solving the wrong problems. The validity of flexible work options has been proven time and again. What I fear these kinds of discussions will do is stall the positive momentum we have around bringing our workforce to modern standards. Do you agree?

Allison O'Kelly is founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national professional staffing firm with a focus on flexible work. Launched in 2005, Mom Corps has helped champion the view that flexibility is a benefit to not only professionals but to the companies that employ them. Follow us at @MomCorps and @AllisonOKelly.

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