Sunday, March 03, 2013

Yahoo! - All Hands on the Deck

Recent memo from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's - banning work-from-home and calling all employees to be in office has come under sharp criticism from media and experts.  I was initially surprised and dismayed by the news - but then I realized that it was the right think to do and I have full support to Marissa Mayer's decision. Over next few days I read lot of criticism on her decision. The worst one came in's blog By Zeus Kerravala:  Marissa Mayer: CEO of the year 1955 

While experts and mavens criticize Marissa Mayer's decision, the same people will agree on the following:

1. Nature of Internet is changing from PC to Mobile world.

2. Yahoo is not a leader in Mobile Internet.

3. Yahoos's current revenue is tied to PC based Internet

4. Yahoo is at the risk of becoming irrelevant.

By the end of 2013, majority of Internet traffic will be from mobile devices - Smart Phones and tablets. In this new world, Yahoo faces several challenges. Today Yahoo does not feature in top ten Apps for iPhone or Android or Windows 8.0 or Blackberry. In short, people who use Mobile Internet do not need Yahoo! Thus making Yahoo irrelevant to the Internet.

Yahoo is also becoming irrelevant to the PC based Internet. Taking my life as an example, I have been using Internet ever since the days of Archie & Gropher. Initially, when World-Wide-Web was introduced, I was among the earliest to have a Web email - Rocketmail & Hotmail. Rocketmail was taken over by Yahoo. I also became a heavy user of Yahoo search (replaced by Google), Yahoo Photos (replaced by Piccasa), Yahoo Groups (replaced by Google Groups), Yahoo Finance (replaced by Google Finance), & Geocities (replaced by Blogspot). But then Yahoo decided to shoot itself on its feet  and killed Rocketmail, Yahoo Photos, & Geocities.  As a result, today, I do not use any of the Yahoo Internet properties at all. So for me Yahoo is irrelevant.

Yahoo's slow slide to irrelevance is seen in its decline of market share and revenue, and Marissa Mayer is acutely aware of this. She has been asked by the Yahoo board to turn things around and make Yahoo a leader of Internet once again.

In order to achieve such a challenging goal, Marissa has to navigate rough seas and take tough measures to transform Yahoo. As a leader of Yahoo, she has just called for "All hands on the Deck" - calling all Yahoo employees to act with deep sense of urgency.

Marissa has already laid out the next steps in the transformation of Yahoo.

Step-1: Create a sense of urgency

While there is no doubt that Yahoo is in a crisis. Yahoo needs to transform quickly to stay relevant and protect its revenues. Marissa is also leading the charge to create a bigger sense of danger within its employees. The recent announcement of plans to kill old products is the best way to kill any sense of complacency and create a sense of urgency. I would compare this to a old military strategy: "Burning your bridges to win the war"

See: Yahoo's new strategy - Kill Old Products (

Once a sense of urgency is created, Marissa Mayer should ensure that all hands agree and work towards the transformation .

Step-2: Have a strong Moral purpose with empathy

Any change is hard, Marissa Mayer is driven by resolute purpose. She has a deep change insight - vision of what the future of Yahoo will be, and she must not let that insight stay with her - it must be shared by the entire organization. To succeed, she must be persistent with her vision and ideas - a leaders simply do not, and would never, give up in face of opposition to those ideas.

This requires empathy and respect to deep human values. In order to win over others, leaders have to possess the impressive empathy that enables them to understand why people disagree and then figure out how to relate to the objections and make them see things in they leaders see it.

So far, Marissa Mayer has been able to explain the real reasons for calling all employees to office and taking away the work-from-home option. I am sure, Marissa Mayer has articulated the reasons for her actions and have won over the internal critics. There are stories on web - about employees agreeing with her and some being delighted with this decision.

A leader cannot call for "All Hands on the Deck" without a strong purpose.  In case of Yahoo, the purpose is very clear and articulated in Yahoo's product strategy - A 21 page product plan for next three years which can be summarized into five main action points:

1. Infuse deep personalization using science and data into every consumer and advertising experience we build.
2. Delight our customers with best-in-class products, iterating frequently for constant improvement.
3. Build for connected devices first with localized, in-context, multi-screen experiences in mind.
4. Power real social relationships with features that enable conversations around content.
5. Build a digital media ecosystem that creates a premium marketplace for advertising and content and distributes Yahoo! experiences across the Web.

- See more at:

Once the purpose is articulated, the strategy is defined, the next step is to execute on it. It is crucial for Yahoo to stay on course against all odds and in early stages of execution, display empathy to opposition and win them over. Leaders in successful organizations focus on a small number of core priorities, stay consistent on the message, and develop people who convert the vision into reality, all the while making course corrections as necessary.

Step-3: Motivate People to Collaborate 

Once all hands are on the deck and their purpose is well understood, Leaders must motivate people to collaborate and be more creative to achieve greater results.

Marissa seems to have brought some ideas from Google. People tend to be more creative and successful when the collaborate with others. Once all employees are meeting face to face in offices, they can bounce off ideas from each other, feed on other people's ideas and create new things faster. Google spends enormous amounts of money to create the best workplace for its employees  - which is collaborative workplace and the results are obvious. I am sure that in next few months, we will see a rapid transformation in work place at Yahoo and soon Yahoo will be ranked as one of the best places to work.

Closing Thoughts

"Wisdom is the ability to act with knowledge while doubting what you know" - Pfeffer and Sutton

Leaders must always be confident of the outcomes. As a change leader, Marissa Mayer has displayed a strong confidence in her actions. She understands that failure is not an option for Yahoo and to succeed she must act wisely. Everyone at Yahoo knows that the future is unpredictable and yet Yahoo must hurl itself into this great unknown, solve complex problems in the process while exude confidence in the end result.

I would like to compare the situation at Yahoo with the original Star Trek's tag line - "Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."


Naveen Varghese said...

Arun, your objective analysis on this issue is very impressive. I was looking for a Marissa Mayer perspective while the internet is filled with contrary opinions. Thanks and keep up.

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