Let’s dive right in. Marissa Mayer got a lot of press, hype and buzz when she took over. She was very influential force for women. However, professionally, her strategy was scattered, and her tactics were cherry picked from plays that were over-hyped and poorly thought “me too” plays. By that I mean, a struggling company sees other successful companies and tries to dress like them, wear the same clothes and sing the same songs. She proved not to have a unique vision of Yahoo! but instead to be full of buzzwords and sizzle. And to those apologists who forgive her for the troubled company she inherited, it was the troubled company she knew she was signing up for.

Also, many of their cultural plays were in vogue for Silicon Valley and couldn’t be mapped to inform or align with a cohesive strategy. Culture trumps strategy they say, and Yahoo!’s culture emphasized fashion over function for years. The lessons to learn here are:

  1. Don’t be vague and vain with strategies and hope media coverage will lead to the stock price recovering. Have a vision in the first place then build strategies around that. Yahoo was all over the map. Mayer is no and was no visionary, more of a market reactionist. She had no vision. There I said it. She had the buzz words down and that was about it. Yahoo! needed a new vision a new dream, a new future state.
  2. When your best products are the media site (news), that is increasingly commoditized space, and your other source of revenue is boomers who pay $24 a year for email support (legacy model, long outdated), it’s time for new revenue streams AND a new flagship. They’ve known this for years and did little beyond the AOL playbook of acquisition.
  3. Acquisitions are a known risky business and often take a long time to integrate and align with the company. Buying innovation vs. creating something was a mistake. It may prop up the value of the company for the sale, but it appeared it had little to do with saving the company. It only adds new gears to a machine that already was broken and out of alignment with Technology, Leadership and Culture (what we at Heroik refer to as TLC). Adding new gears only added complexity. It was like adding more wires to crows nest, hoping that would somehow untangle it or bring more clarity.
  4. Don’t let your leaders off the hook – regardless of race, creed, gender, etc. I don’t think a male CEO would be given so much time and freedom with such little resistance and it’s worth saying. Don’t treat women CEO’s with kid gloves. They’re more than capable of being called to the mat and held to an equal standard. At least I practice that way, giving them more breathing room then the guys implies you believe they’re weaker. And, if they did this to ride the positive PR train it failed. We need to get comfortable with equality so we can tell truth to power and effectively advise and manage to an equal standard regardless of gender/ethnicity, etc. Holding a different standard consciously or unconsciously, if it leads to holding back on advice and a trip to the woodshed between boards and leaders, this doesn’t help the leadership stay aligned to mission, vision, values and purpose. And more importantly the organization suffers for it! I feel this area goes completely ignored (especially so close to this crazy election) but it’s worth saying.