What Would Marissa Mayer Do? Advice for Everyone Else
You don't have to look far to find a Marissa Mayer-bashing article. There's a wealth to choose from, including "Why I Feel Sorry for Marissa Mayer's Baby," "Sexed Up and Smart," or (my personal favorite) "Marissa Mayer Is Late All The Time." Just last month, Inc. contributor Steve Cody published two pieces on Marissa's missteps, including her micromanagement of the new logo design and the narcissism of her Vogue spread. If I were to compile an e-book of all of the articles that slam Mayer, it would essentially be an advice book on how to be a great leader. It’s simple: Do everything Mayer doesn't.
There's only one problem. Marissa Mayer is transforming Yahoo, and doing a damn good job of it.
First, take a look at the stock performance since her tenure. In the last month alone, Google's growth was at less than 1 percent, while Yahoo's was at 8 percent. Marissa has acquired a key hire from the New York Times who is focused on stepping up Yahoo News. She's increased the user base by 20 percent and somehow, despite Marissa's controversial "no-telecommuting" work policy, the company is receiving more than 12,000 job applicants per week, a number which grew "by a factor of five or six" since she took over the company. While some balked at the $1.1 billion price tag that Yahoo paid for Tumblr, many digital leaders think the move was a smart one by Mayer.
People want to work for her. She's performing for the company. So I wanted to deconstruct Mayer’s approach a bit and outline what I, as a leader, have learned from her example.
Focus, lead, and only change what needs changing.
Focus on the task at hand: When Yahoo revamped its logo after 18 years, the new design was met with less-than-satisfactory reviews from the masses. Marissa stuck by it though, explaining what really mattered: "For us, what the brand is really about is the products," she said. In turning around Yahoo, she is focusing on only four areas: hiring the right people, building products consumers love, growing traffic, and growing revenue. Anything that falls outside of these goals (such as public opinion on her Vogue spread) doesn’t--and shouldn’t--matter to Marissa.
Lead with confidence: Marissa makes tough decisions. She ended Yahoo's work from home policy and defended her reasoning, despite push-back: "People are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together." One of the innovative products that came as a result of the new policy? Yahoo’s Weather app, which was praised by the media and the general public, and which delivered on Marissa’s promise for a new focus on mobile. What Yahoo needed was innovation, and Marissa did what she felt was necessary for the company, without worrying about her critics.
Only change what needs changing: It's easy to want to reinvent the wheel. Mayer is smart to focus only on changing what's truly broken. When Yahoo acquired Tumblr, it promised not to change it. And kept their promise. Since acquisition, the company has soared; Tumblr is notoriously tight-lipped on user numbers, but according to a which-50 analysis, in just eight weeks after the acquisition, more than 14 million new blogs were added (+13 percent) and 4.2 billion new posts were added (+8 percent). The company did that without changing a damn thing. Focus the change on where it's needed, and leave well enough alone.
Stop criticizing, and do your own thing.
My final insight comes from a post I wrote a few months back when Mayer was vilified for bringing her baby to work. My response was simple: Stop criticizing other leaders' choices. You do you. Marissa appears to have confidence in the leader that she is--she makes no apologies for posing on the cover of Vogue or for obsessing over her logo. She does what’s in the best interest for Yahoo to accomplish its goals.
My takeaway: Forget about what other people think and be unapologetic about making the right decisions for your organization.