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Sunday, September 8, 2013

5 Ways Mayer's Trying To Kick-Start The Yahoo! Culture 09-08

5 Ways Mayer's Trying To Kick-Start The Yahoo! Culture

After reviewing Marissa Mayer’s first year as CEO of Yahoo YHOO -0.21%, my colleague Kathy Gersch finds that Mayer has provided some decent examples of ways to turn a company culture around – despite what the media’s had to say.
In her first year as Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer made some transformational changes, launched dozens of apps, and purchased 16 startups. Her most infamous change went viral in February, when an internal memo   to employees requesting that everyone work on-site, was leaked to the press. While Mayer was widely panned for this move, she didn’t intend it to be punitive. She simply recognized that nothing can replace face-to-face collaboration to drive innovation. She may have stumbled on her delivery, but the intention to increase the engagement of her team was right on target.
This memo triggered Mayer’s biggest scandal of the year and the ensuing media-frenzy overshadowed the memo’s very important message. The message asked that employees “participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum.” While the message was intended to “get all-hands on deck,” Mayer had neglected to first establish a sense of urgency throughout the company around the opportunity to change Yahoo for the future. If she had, the memo may have received more cheers than jeers.
Looking past the headlines and debatable financials, here are five points Mayer has wisely pursued, which led to the most recent surge the Yahoo culture is experiencing today.
Communicate your vision widely, be clear, and “over-communicate.”
Many leaders are shocked at the lack of initiative shown by employees. What Mayer has figured out, which those other leaders haven’t, is that in order for employees to participate, they have to understand the vision. CEO communication is so rampantly poor, recent studies show that 70% of employees don’t understand their company’s strategy. In fact, research finds that leaders typically under-communicate their visions by a factor of 10  . As Mayer was interviewed over the course of the year, her quotes in the media seem startlingly redundant. She speaks constantly about the company’s goal to develop “engaging” products that “delight and inspire,” by focusing on “the things that Yahoo’s always been great at.” While it may strike you as repetitive, she was no doubt focusing on ensuring the company and the world understand her vision for the future of Yahoo. Smart leaders gladly risk sounding like a broken record in order to ensure that they are clearly understood.
Get them to re-commit.
The best way to turn a company around is to establish a clear opportunity to do something great, and to make that vision clear to everyone. While most people are eager to be re-invigorated by change, unfortunately, a cynical few become so attached to the negativity of the past they cannot let go. In the controversial memo, when all remote employees were asked to work on-site by June, Mayer was drawing a line and asking for engagement – either you’re with us or you’re not. Many missed the positive intent – she asked employees to join the movement and take a personal part in changing Yahoo for the future  . Those without the interest or the energy to see the opportunity in this message, opted-out. Any company’s culture is better off without those who aren’t willing to participate.
Give permission and ask for participation.
If employees who have innovative ideas have exhausted their attempts to make change, receiving either no support or discouragement from leadership, they will give up innovating. In Mayer’s first memo to employees   she stressed and repeated, “You are doing important work. Please don’t stop.” She then closed by inviting employees to come by her office to say “hello” and that she, “cannot wait to hear your ideas for Yahoo’s future.” This was the first of Mayer’s direct and clear calls-to-action, requesting that everyone in the company pitch-in. Employees need to know it’s okay to try, to take risks, and to learn from failures.
Provide the support that nurtures innovation.
At the WIRED business conference 2013, Mayer said she had a lot of people with great ideas who haven’t been able to run   with them due to the economy and other internal problems. She said “to get my team to play offense [get people to run with their ideas], my job as an executive is to play defense,” or in other words, clear the barriers out of the way.
She’s been clearing them. As Mayer works to set up the foundation to support new ideas from the inside, that infrastructure is already there to support the innovation being brought in from the outside (new acquisitions). This will fundamentally change the way a company functions – switching from incremental changes, to taking big risks that offer big rewards.
Celebrate the progress.
When Mayer speaks to the media, no matter what subject she’s interviewed about, she refocuses attention to the accomplishments the company has made most recently, celebrating those wins. She’s also said over and over that “at Yahoo people are working on important things,” and the repetition of this statement helps her people reconnect with the pride they have in their work. There have been innumerable press releases celebrating new acquisitions and app releases, partnerships, and expansion plans. When employees feel they are an integral part of the success, they spend their free-time dreaming up new innovations, and they bring their best and brightest ideas to work every day.
Are Mayer’s efforts to improve the company culture paying off? Well, the media continues to highlight the company’s ad revenue challenge, and they attribute the 73% increase in the company’s stock value   over the year to factors outside Mayer’s control. Time will tell if Mayer has her priorities in the right order; the next year will tell a very interesting story. Either way, if you’re a CEO with a stagnant company culture, the examples she’s provided may help turn your company around and get it innovating again.

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