Why did she do it? That’s what I can’t figure out. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is no idiot.  She’s in a business where the attitude is open and swinging.  Autonomy is in and innovation is free wheeling.  There is no water cooler. Everybody’s packing plastic bottles that they’re careful to sort and recycle. She knows all that. Why would she put her name to a memo that would bring marching moms banging and critics flapping?

What’s it all about? You might, possibly, conceive of some old codger of a boss ranting and raving at the female whippersnappers who should be here at the office in their blue suits, white blouses, little bow ties and short-heel shoes taking orders if not dictation.

She’s not that. She got this job. She posed for the pictures for all the major business media making the point that she’s serious — except, for gosh sakes, a foolish-for-the-Wall-Street-Journal shot of her in this week’s paper looking pert and innocent, holding a baby wrapped in cuddly colors—that she’s the exception, she’s broken the mold, and, move over, guys, watch me make Yahoo! deserve that exclamation point. What’s it all about, this culture-busting memo that seems so…inept? There’s got to be something that makes this make sense to her.

What could it be?

Somebody told me, trying to help me, that maybe Marissa honestly, fervently even, believes in the supreme value of collaboration and working side-by-side. But, come on, she had to know all about the alternatives of the new normal of phoning it in. The free-agent age has been around, and Google and others have long since found ways to work around. She couldn’t have come into Yahoo!, with flash and promise, thinking that she would surprise ‘em all with unveiled old-fashionness.

Another friend wondered if there’s somebody there, maybe on the board, certainly with some power over her authority, who is into another agenda for the company, and who needs this fresh, young face out there rationalizing whatever that agenda is. Is Yahoo! trimming down for sale?

Does the company have a whole lot of empty office space that it can’t rent out? Has some consultant group with benchmark data shown that the company is overstaffed and underserving and has this somehow coupled with what seems to be a clumsy move to get people to quit? Is there a merger emerging with a firm that’s old school (with in-school students)? Is this a workforce reduction ploy?  One of the bloggers, a former Yahoo! employee, nodded toward that: “Some remote workers won't want to come into the office and they will quit,” he said; “that helps Yahoo, which needs to cut costs. It's a layoff that's not a layoff.”

There’s got to be a lot more we don’t know.  Like, who wrote this memo?  I know.  It was signed by the HR person, but it had to be cool with the CEO, and it had to be drafted by a writing pro…didn’t it?

Can you imagine a seasoned (not to exclude young, seasoned) writer, a professional corporate communicator, cranking out a memo trying to convince stay-at-home guys and gals that it would be great for them to get in the car, or the bus, or the train every day and come experience the benefits of “tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun”?

It just doesn’t scan.  There’s got to be more to the story.

Several years ago, Arthur Miller wrote a play about a beautiful woman who was a star performer and what it took for her to get there. The play was critiqued harshly.   It was panned as Miller’s lament, his self-serving salvation from misery connected to his loss of Marilyn Monroe as his wife.  I recall one critic saying that Miller wrote the play too soon after the break-up, that his emotions were too fresh for analyzing the condition.  A rule I remember from this was the critic’s counsel that Miller should have waited until the key to the apartment he lived in with Marilyn was not still on his keychain.

That’s where I end up:  it’s too soon to say.  It’s too soon for me certainly, to analyze without data, to criticize without sophistry, with no more facts than we’re all reading on the web and in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal.

E. Bruce Harrison
EnviroComm International