Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo: Seems that Jonathan Swift’s got it right

Seems that Marissa’s Yahoo empire is imitating Swift’s fiction..

Marissa's Yahoo's (courtesy of doodlejam.com.au)

Marissa’s Yahoo’s (courtesy of doodlejam.com.au)

According to the old book Gulliver’s Travels, the “Yahoos” were a degraded band of humanoids kept tethered in stalls by their equine captors, and Marissa Ann Mayer the relatively young (37 yo) CEO of Yahoo seem to be bring to imitate fiction by implementing an almost medieval solution to the company problems. Just a few days ago in Feb 2013, she decided to break with the long term tradition of flexible work arrangements at U.S. high tech companies, and told Yahoo employees that working from home was no longer and option and they either could start working at the office or quit. It seems that in her opinion (as it happens for many current CEO’s) it’s always the employees fault when the organization does not meets the expectations of the stakeholders and their (CXO’s) jobs and inflated salaries are at risk.

This reminds me of the old but still valid story of the original Titanic. If we apply the same principles, Edward Smith (the captain) could have easily blamed the ship machinists for putting too much coal on their steam engines, the stewards for cleaning the ship too much, the pilot for holding to the wheel, the radio man for not getting a response, and even probably the passengers for enjoying the trip too much. Seems that in today’s organizations they can blame everybody else, but the Captain that made the wrong decisions and caused the ship to sink.

Mis-Management?

U.S. DollarWhat is scary is that Marissa seems to have so quickly forgot the lessons learned during her meteoric career growth (and potential demise). Coming from a company like Google with it’s seemingly endless attempts to make employees happier, job descriptions nonexistent, and to embrace a culture where creativity is sustained with freedom and enjoyment, Marissa took her clues from the oldest and more retrograde management theories and reversed in one day almost 25 years of organizational development. Some of the theories that we could apply to her latest decision could be:

  • Taylor’s Scientific Management Theory: Endless workflow improvements by analyzing the current workflow (Kanban, Kaizen anybody)..  The problem with this theory is that a lot of the actual work done at Yahoo, Google and others is creative work and I challenge any CXO to be able to “mandate creativity” (if is an option they should use it themselves first)
  • Fayol’s Administrative Theory: A cousin to Taylor’s, Marissa seems to think that she’s the only one with good ideas, and that if she can make it to the office, so should everybody else.
  • Webber’s Theory of Bureaucracy: This fits Marissa very well, if she can get everybody sitting nicely at her desk, then for sure they will somehow fix the problems created by the lack of proper leadership. At the end what is important is that people sit at the office from 9-5 not that they’re really creative.
  • Theory X (workers don’t really like to work): The problem at Yahoo according to Marissa could be that the employees really don’t like to work, so if they are brought into the office, somehow the very motivated middle managers could somehow make them truly productive… ( hmm I wonder if those are the same managers forced to go to the office also)..
  • Agency Theory (It’s all about me and my career): This one could actually be the one that truly represents what’s going on with Marissa. She is interested in protecting her newly acquired CEO status, and trying to show “who’s the boss” without truly thinking on what does it takes to be the boss.
It seems that as it happens in many modern high tech companies, just being one of the first employees is one of the primary reasons to be promoted, but it does not necessarily means that the person is ready or even qualified to the new role. It seems that just because in barely 12 years she grew from her initial role at Google as an engineer to her latest as one of the company executives, someone thought that she was qualified to run another competing company and somehow make it happen. What everybody seem to have forgotten is that she was a probably a great employee, but considering the recent news, not the best leader or role model that they may have wished. One of the worst parts is that she is forcing everybody to come to the office right after she worked from home during her own pregnancy, and decided to end the benefit to the rest of the employees right after that.

The kid with the ball..

I care about my employees this much (courtesy of npr.org)

I care about my employees this much (courtesy of npr.org)

This whole mess reminds me of the story of a little pathetic kid on the playground. He/she owns the ball but is not really good playing the sport, and is being benched during the important game. Because of that he/she throws a tantrum and threatens to end the game by telling the rest of the team that either they play the way she wants or that she will take her ball and go home (and end the game there). It seems that after her 2011 interview with Lady Gaga, Marissa really believes that she can throw a tantrum and get away with it. I wonder is she’s actually practicing for what could be her next role as the replacement for Niki Minaj in American Idol.

 Let’s just hope that the rest of Silicon Valley CXO’s don’t take their lessons from Marissa during their weekend getaways. With already struggling employee satisfaction figures in many of their companies, attempting to micromanage employees any more than they are actually doing, could seriously backfire for many of them. Leading and motivating employees is more than just ordering them around, and leaders need to recognize that while motivation has multiple components, rewards should be an important part of them.

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