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If Marissa Mayer's Plan Is Really Working, It's Happening Right on Schedule

Turning around any company, especially one as big as Yahoo, takes time.
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A recently-hired executive might be frustrated if their initial changes aren't felt right away. Over in Silicon Valley, one high-profile company might serve as a useful case study in showing that turnarounds don't happen overnight.

Earlier this week, Yahoo CFO Ken Goldman spoke at an investor conference in San Francisco and told the audience that the company is in much better shape from a cultural and talent management perspective than it has been in some time.

"(CEO Marissa Mayer) deserves the credit relative to changing the attitude and morale and the desire, if you will, to…attract new folks as well as to retain folks we have,” Goldman said, according to Quartz. "So I think--I’m very confident. If you talk to anybody at Yahoo today you would find them, whether they’ve been here for a year or five years, they’re very, very pleased with what they see in working at Yahoo. I’m absolutely, very confident in that relative to attrition and our ability to hire all points to that."

Sorting Things Out

Goldman is biased by his position at Yahoo, of course, and his words invite even more skepticism when considering that he was speaking to an audience of investors. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say things are cheery at Yahoo these days.

If so, it's fitting to hear about it just over a year after Mayer's most attention-grabbing move as CEO: the day she called all employees back to the office. The business world was set alight and asunder with debate and dissent over the decision to remove telecommuting from Yahoo's employee offerings.

The policy was regarded by many as regressive and anti-parent, and by others as ignorant of the company's core issues. On the other side, people felt Yahoo had little to lose and cited company data showing telecommuting employees hadn't signed in to the company's servers in months.

Even in contempt, though, most observers agreed that the decision was a big splashy move for Mayer, who had at the time been at Yahoo's helm for just over half a year. And quick action from new leaders, previous research has shown, is key to that leader's success.

Over the course of 2013, Mayer would lead a massive acquisition spree, highlighted by its big spend for the popular blogging service Tumblr. While Tumblr remains a standalone product, most of Mayer's nearly 40 acquisitions have served to bring talented engineers on-board--an asset that has been sorely lacking from Yahoo as it went from tech industry leader to cautionary tale.

How Long Do You Get?

Now, about 20 months into Mayer's tenure, she's seeing results. If Goldman is to be believed, talent is coming into Yahoo, and more importantly it's happy and it's sticking around. If so, it's happening right on schedule.

In today's age, turnaround execs usually get about eight quarters to make their mark (a pretty drastic shift from the 16 quarters leaders were afforded in the pre-Internet era). Mayer's wrapping up her seventh (with a late start on her first, given her mid-July start date in 2012), and she clearly identified Yahoo's people issues as the one to tackle first. If she's largely erradicated them as the company turns its eyes to product and technical issues, then that's a major turnaround accomplishment.

An improved Yahoo culture might have little do with the work from home policy, or even with the acquisitions. That Yahoo still pays pretty well, and that employees seeing a better return on their stock options due to Yahoo's improved market performance, probably doesn't hurt the mood over there. No doubt, employees still much prefer the option to telecommute.

But nearly at the seven-quarter pole, Mayer appears to have solved a major problem. That only means so much if bottom line success doesn't follow. Still, the Yahoo of today is decidedly more marked by Mayer's actions, and so far those actions appear to have had a positive effect. If nothing else, that serves as a reminder that turnarounds take time--and leaders deserve that time to try and make them happen.




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