According to Sunday's New York Times, Yahoo is about to announce a huge round of layoffs amid a crisis in confidence in CEO Marissa Mayer's ability to turn the company around.
According in part to the article and partly to my own observations, here are Mayer's huge blunders, along with the lessons we can learn from them.
1. Encouraging her superstar status.
From the moment she left Google, Mayer seemed more concerned with building her own brand image than working on Yahoo's problems. The time for her to raise her public visibility was after she'd fixed Yahoo, not while it was a work in progress.
Lesson: Nose to the grindstone means out of the limelight.
2. Scapegoating remote workers.
Mayer's first major policy decision was to compel Yahoo's remote workers to come into the office, an implicit accusation they were goldbricking and needed oversight. However, many other companies use remote workers successfully. Why not Yahoo?
Lesson: When a company falters, always blame the leaders, never the followers.
3. Rewarding disloyalty.
To keep key personnel from jumping ship, Mayer offered sizable retention bonuses. This naturally created resentment among employees who remained loyal and also created an incentive for top people to look elsewhere.
Lesson: If you have to bribe people to stay, you're better off without them.
4. Attempting to keep layoffs secret.
Apparently in an attempt to avoid bad publicity, Mayer conducted a series of clandestine layoffs based on secret evaluations. Nobody knew who would be next or why someone might be laid off, creating massive, pervasive, justified paranoia.
Lesson: A layoff should be like surgery. Cut deep, do it quick, and then allow time to heal.
5. Drawing out the layoff process.
Rather than perform surgery, Mayer drew out the Yahoo layoffs into death by a thousand cuts. To make matters exponentially worse, she publicly announced to the entire company that layoffs were over, and then reneged and started them all over again.
Lesson: Lie about a layoff and your credibility is gone forever.
6. Dithering on strategic changes.
During the past year, Mayer wasn't able to figure out what to do with Yahoo's huge stake in Alibaba or, after deciding what to do, how to do it. The result has been a company in strategic and financial limbo.
Lesson: At the risk of stating the obvious, failing to decide is deciding to fail.
7. Diversifying pointlessly.
In a rather obvious attempt to imitate Google, Mayer tried to push Yahoo in multiple directions, few of which seemed to make much sense. Meanwhile, changes that did make sense (like better email) were lost in the shuffle.
Lesson: In business, imitation is the sincerest form of failure.
8. Setting meaningless timetables.
To give herself breathing room, Mayer predicted it "would take three to five years for the company's turnaround efforts to show results." In high tech, three years is a geological epoch and five years a near eternity.
Lesson: If you don't have a plan, don't predict the future.
9. Employing blithering biz-blabbers.
The Times article contained this from a Yahoo executive: "We all want to make as much impact as we can and leverage Yahoo's existing strengths." It speaks volumes about Mayer's management skill that she continues to employ an executive who can cram both "impact" and "leverage" into a meaningless platitude.
Lesson: If you have nothing to say, don't.
10. Motivating through fear.
Mayer's decisions and indecisions alike seem calculated to create as much fear as possible throughout Yahoo's organization. The result has been an entirely predictable exodus of talent, thus creating a downward spiral.
Lesson: Sic Transit Gloria Marissae.