A Punch List for Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer

A Punch List for Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer

Define Yahoo’s Strategic Position I always tell my clients that their company, no matter how old, is a gangly teenager. If they aren’t they are an at-risk newborn or a calcified senior citizen, neither of those categories offer as much promise as the gangly teenager with a strong body and mind, seeking desperately for meaning and acceptance. Mayer needs to figure out what her teenager wants to be very quickly and start creating the context for taking it there. Yahoo (YHOO‎) is a conglomeration of disparate assets that quite frankly, I don’t think most people would mourn much if they disappeared. Marissa needs to create a meaningful purpose for her organization that will define its future strategic direction and actions. What she buys, sells, disavows, or disassembles all need to be driven by a singular purpose that the organization understands, and has a chance to align to.

Have the Business Units Interview for their Inclusion in Yahoo going forward. It’s a bit cliché to have people interview for their jobs when a new boss arrives, but to have business units interview for their continued existence puts a healthy bit of pressure on them to think about how they contribute. Longevity, survivability, and adaptability don’t mean anything if you can’t explain a strategic contribution. I like this approach better than briefings. Briefings focus on flowing information up—often edited information. You can fail at a briefing because nothing is at stake. Fail at an interview and you don’t get the job.

Strong Emphasis on Design but the Yahoo design aesthetic, not the Google one. Don’t over assert too early. Get a feel for Yahoo. Google is white and sparse with an occasional flare. Yahoo is loud and purple. The world needs loud and purple as much as it needs white and sparse. Marissa needs to let go of her seeming penchant for detail and control and let a little of the Yahoo spirit move her while it’s still kicking around the halls of corporate headquarters.

Listen and learn The most important thing Marissa can do over her first month is listen and learn. Competitive intelligence about Yahoo from her time at Google is no substitute for visceral, in-your-face passion, disappointment, disenfranchisement, and hidden gems. Go hunting for the truth before making major changes.

Don’t quick fix Every new manager wants to arrive and put their stamp on the company. They want Wall Street and the shareholders to get a sense of their control. As those steeped in Eastern philosophy will share, not acting is usually the best representative of control. Marissa needs to resist the common instinct to just get in and do (because, gee, I have been doing and that’s been working out OK) – but you are now being asked to perform in an unfamiliar pond. Find the rocks, understand the currents and map the tides before you spend any time terraforming the landscape.

Finally, early layoffs and divestitures should be seen as uninformed. Until Marissa and the board come to an agreement on what Yahoo wants to become, any public action should be perceived negatively. I don’t care what senior managers are telling her about what they have been planning, and much they lobby for those plans to continue. Any senior manager at Yahoo that has been planning has been doing a pretty poor job. What Yahoo needs is motivation and leadership, a renewal of spirit, passion, and purpose—not another layoff or closure of a division or service.  At least not right away.

As for Microsoft, it’s OK to reach out to Steve Ballmer for advice, but I wouldn’t put any more into the partnership. Pretty clear it has done either company much good, and it has diluted the Yahoo brand. If Yahoo wants to be anything other than a lunch buffet for another company, it needs to re-establish its own identity, using freed cash from eventually dismantled operations to build differentiated value in those operations that remain.

When Marissa does act, it should be with clear strategic intent and with transparency. Following these notes won’t make tough decisions any more popular when they ultimately get made, but following them will likely mean better decisions that have a lasting and meaningful impact on the brand, on performance, and on strategic position.

As they so often say in Silicon Valley: May the Force be With You Marissa.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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