Goohoo!

As you’ve probably heard, Yahoo just hired ex-Googler Marissa Mayer as its new CEO. She is the company’s fifth CEO in five years. But can yet another CEO change the fate of the struggling company? It got me thinking.

I get sad when I see “paperboys” (themselves now in their forties) literally throwing a rolled up log of dead tree at “customers” before peeling off. Really? Dinosaurs no longer roam the earth. Equally, though, I cringe at the gilded turd sites and applications that so beautifully say nothing in their perfectly developed pointlessness.

These folks need one another. Here’s a case in point.

I had a great lunch with a good friend and super smart guy recently. He was mentioning that in his particular company “the cavalry is always coming.” Mind you, his is a phenomenal company and very venerable, but it’s always had a bit of envy hardwired in its DNA. They’ve always been one person away from MEGA success in their collective mind.

Finally, at a recent meeting someone finally stepped up and said what some of the newer management had been thinking. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We have everything and everyone we need right here.” Crickets. Crickets. One muted ‘harrumph.’ Then the meeting continued.

This is all too common in most organizations. Most of us envy and fantasize about what we don’t have because it’s easier than really focusing and digging in on making what we do have great. At the risk of going all Dr. Phil on you, I’m pretty sure this is why so many relationships fail. Marriages. Jobs. Friendships. Working at them is hard stuff. A clean sheet of paper is so much easier.

Except it isn’t.

Mr. Clean Doesn’t Always Get the Job Done

The Cleaning House solution very seldom works in my experience. It looks good. It’s accompanied by lots of optimistic, confident proclamations about a new lease on life, fresh takes, and infusions of vim and vigor. It’s got to be better than the tired limp-along that preceded it, right? Not usually. New people, however brilliant and talented (which by the way they all are on paper or in the abstract) rarely know very much about you and your particular situation. They require significant ramp-up time. They bring new flavor to the cultural stew — some of it good and some bitter. It generally takes them a long time to get productive. Some never do. Such is life.

Would you actually be going faster with the limp-alongs you had prior? Probably. They presumably knew your business and their roles within it or they wouldn’t have been there in the first place. If they were bad from the get-go, perhaps it’s you who should be packing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for turning the page on individuals or en masse depending on the situation. Some people are incorrigible and cancerous. Some just aren’t good enough or don’t do what you need done now. I would just never start there. To me, that speaks to ego more than anything else. “New Sheriff in Town” syndrome. Kicking ass and taking names… so much cliched babble from people who read too many books ghost-written for ex-coaches. If you’re looking to sports analogies look at Bill Parcells. He took over a NY Jets team that was 1-15 and with essentially the same personnel he turned it into a 9-7 team the very next season and a 12-4 team two years later.

The secret? There is no secret. He worked with what he had. He got people aligned around a goal. He put them in positions to succeed. He held them accountable.

Contrast that to so much cleaning house that happens in industry today. In retail Sears, JC Penny, and a host of venerable giants routinely clean house, yet their downward trajectory doesn’t change. In addition to Yahoo, AOL, MySpace, and other tech companies have turned over everything except a new leaf.

The key question is: is there enough talent? If there is but it’s unmotivated, uninvested (often literally), or has ‘personality quirks’ that make it thorny, it’s a management problem. The answer? Manage. Lead.

Old + New is Better than Old vs. New

As so many “old” media properties are joined with or taken over by “new” media companies this is playing out in exquisite detail. The New think the Old knows nothing about technology or how the media landscape works these days. Old media types snicker at these skinny jeans who only know content distribution and nothing of how to actually create it. Venus meets Mars– only it’s not chocolate meets peanut-butter but kerosene meets water.

The fact is that technology properly applied to rock-solid content creation makes magic. Push combines with Pull. Collective enjoyment and personal paths both flourish. Three companies that demonstrate this to perfection are Discovery Networks, NPR, and ESPN. They all have rich traditions, but all have (early) adopted technology without throwing the content baby out with the technical bath water. They’ve brought the brands along and the audiences with them.

So with all due respect, good luck Ms. Mayer. But perhaps Y! should think carefully before entirely jettisoning the old for the new. Take an honest inventory of what you have and what you need. You might have more than you think. Only time will tell.

This originally appeared in iMedia.



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