Marissa Mayer’s Performance Review: Yahoo or No Clue?

CEO Marissa Mayer’s changes to Yahoo! Inc.’s corporate culture were swift, and many industry leaders want to know how she managed to transform the tech giant’s culture in just one year while maintaining a seemingly smooth transition of power.

While Mayer notably barred employees working from home, she introduced perks such as free food and extended leave for new parents, which may have helped her earn an average approval rating of 85 percent over the past three quarters among Yahoo employees, according to the company’s employee feedback survey shared in July on Glassdoor.com.

A Yahoo representative did not respond to a request for comment.

By changing Yahoo’s hiring process and keeping the company’s 11,500 employees in house, Mayer developed an aligned and strengthened employee base that helped her execute and reinforce her new business strategies for Yahoo, according to Julie Straw, co-author of “The Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment, and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead.”

“When you bring in a new CEO, you are at a time of transition. You have to make sure that everyone understands where [they are] going, and everyone has to understand what the [corporate] vision is,” Straw said. “When a new CEO comes in, that’s the time when I think employees are anticipating change, and if you don’t move fairly quickly, you’re going to lose that window of anticipation where they are a little bit more open to change.”

In Mayer’s case, her corporate redevelopment occurred in less than one year. Through barring employee telecommunication, for example, the company was able to transition the business fast and efficiently through an improved communication strategy that favored face-to-face employee interaction and teamwork, according to Reut Schwartz-Hebron, author of “The Art And Science Of Changing People Who Don’t Want To Change.”

“The goals of this specific change may have been around innovation and performances, but before those goals could be achieved, prerequisite goals like getting people to recommit, take initiative and rebuilding trust in the senior leadership’s ability to steer the ship must be achieved,” Schwartz-Hebron said. “In organizations [such as] Yahoo, with such high turnover in senior leadership, getting people to recommit takes a lot more than figuring out the right strategy.”

But Yahoo’s fast turnaround example may be an anomaly. For many companies facing an abrupt leadership transition, their employees can easily become disengaged and cynical toward a business’s new changes and rules. In order to facilitate a successful transition, a company’s employees need to first accept and then practice the new policies, values and habits, according to Schwartz-Hebron.

While Mayer’s cumulative CEO approval rating appears to be favorable, her approval rating is down from 91 percent in the third quarter of 2012, which was her first three-month period as CEO. In addition, it has yet to match the approval rating of similar tech giant CEOs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg at 97 percent, Google’s Larry Page at 95 percent, and Apple’s Tim Cook at 93 percent, according to employee feedback surveys shared on Glassdoor.com.

In addition, with nearly 84 percent of North American employees reportedly feeling trapped in their job with a desire to find a new position elsewhere, employees who perceive themselves as being stagnant within their position may be more tempted to quit, adding another possible complication to a fragile power shift, according to a July survey of 400 employees in the U.S. and Canada by Right Management.

Business leaders who give their employees an opportunity to openly discuss their frustrations can help improve morale during a difficult corporate transition, according to Randy Pennington, owner of the consultancy Pennington Performance Group and author of “Make Change Work: Staying Nimble, Relevant, and Engaged in a World of Constant Change.”

Employees who engage in open discussions will have a better understanding of how corporate changes will directly impact them, building an employee’s trust and commitment to an organization, according to Pennington. He said managers giving their employees context for the change also allows employees to “feel like they have some control over the change,” which can ease a transition period.

“At the end of the day, people experience the culture of their organization through their interaction with their direct supervisor and their direct team,” Schwartz-Hebron said. “If change does not trickle down, the change from the top will not sustain.”

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.