What's Goin' On?

03/28/2013 11:39 am ET Updated May 28, 2013
FILE- In this Monday, Dec. 7, 2009, file photo, Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience for Google, speaks i
FILE- In this Monday, Dec. 7, 2009, file photo, Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience for Google, speaks in Mountain View, Calif. Yahoo announced Monday, July 16, 2012, it is hiring Mayer to be its next CEO, the fifth in five years as the company struggles to rebound from years of financial malaise and internal turmoil. Mayer, who starts at Yahoo Inc. on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, was one of Google’s earliest employees and was most recently responsible for its mapping, local and location services. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Marvin Gaye's song "What's Goin' On?" keeps going through my head.

Although heaven help me, I am extremely opinionated, this time rather than shouting my usual proclamations, now I cannot stop asking questions. Chief among them: What's goin' on?
Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer's ban on telework has caused a tremendous brouhaha. Well, of course. There is lots of evidence that telework increases productivity, as well as serving as a powerful recruitment and retention tool. This ban hit me in the gut, since I toiled in the 1990s developing telework policies for the federal government.

But Yahoo! is a bit of a mess as a company. Marissa is a bit of a star as a corporate CEO. She must know something about turnaround. But... I wonder what she was thinking when she built a nursery for her baby next to her office, while cutting off any flexibility for her staff. Hmmm. It smells of arrogance. The new policy also smells of bad elementary school teacher. Stop all recess because a few kids can't behave. It also smells of easy way out. Stopping a policy that is sometimes hard to manage is easier than dealing with the real problem, which is probably poor management of teleworkers... perhaps a lack of knowledge of how to manage by outcome rather than face time. Surely the value of casually meeting in the halls can be overcome with texting, Skype, or something else that Yahoo! could (or should) certainly invent.

I understand the need for change in a turnaround situation. I understand the need to shake up the troops. I understand that it may be a good idea to make a big bang coming in as a CEO, to make it clear that things are different now.

But haven't we learned that shock and awe don't work? And haven't we learned that an insurgency that believes what it is doing is right won't be bludgeoned down? It will work hard to come out as a winner in another way.

Now, I would not be surprised that some teleworkers turned into slackers at Yahoo. And change is certainly needed at that firm. I also know that managing by result is harder than just sticking your head into a cubicle and making sure the person is on the computer (even though he or she may have just, in the nick of time, covered up the Facebook page.)

But I don't know the whole story. I don't know anything, really, about Yahoo! or Marissa's reasoning. I can only ask "What's Goin' On?"

Next we have Sheryl Sandberg. (Let me digress here and note that I just figured out the reason I am not an incredibly wealthy and powerful CEO: my name is not alliterative.) We now have a backlash against the idea of "lean in." There is a whole generation, both male and female, who don't want to lean in. They want a more balanced life with more time for family and community. But Sheryl is not an old and old-fashioned feminist (like me, for example). She is powerful, successful, and younger. And she has set off tension between the leaners-in and the leaners-out, neither of whom feel guilty nor want to feel guilty. I can only ask, "What's Goin' On?"

Back on the flexibility front, more affront from Best Buy. Their turnaround CEO has eliminated their much touted and copied ROWE system of management by results. This program is proven! What's goin' on??

Back home on the ranch here in Washington, DC, we have some goin's on too. I mean on the local level. You know nothin's goin' on in Congress. Well, here at home I was hit in the gut as well. A local hospital chain decided to tear down its state of the art child care centers for employees. My firm built those centers in the 1990's, and I stuck the ceremonial shovel in the ground. No! They can't! Well the hue and cry here was loud, and the decision was reversed. But what were they thinking? What's Goin' On?

Also here at home, Arlington County, VA is thinking of abandoning their high standards for child care programs. It costs too much to keep children safe?? What (the he**) is goin' on?

There seems to be a theme. Money trumps people, quality of life, children. But I have to ask, isn't this all the proverbial penny-wise and pound foolish? What's goin' on?!

Margery Leveen Sher is an entrepreneur, writer and speaker with decades of experience as a work-life balance consultant for major corporations and government agencies. Her latest start-up is The Did Ya Notice? Project.