Culture First – Is Yahoo on the right track?

Marissa Mayer – Targeting Culture First

The more I think about it, the more I appreciate Marissa Mayer’s decision to go for “culture” first. I think it’s brilliant. She needs the whole team to be on the same page – doing the right things at the right times… and that’s not easy, even with everyone in the same building. However, it’s even more difficult to reframe a culture with a dispersed “virtual” work force. Culture change is one of the most difficult challenges a leadership team faces.

In the short-term, I think Yahoo’s biggest challenge is in making Yahoo a place that people WANT to come to work because of the energy and interactions that happen “by chance” when people are close by. During her time at Google, they invested heavily in making their facilities “collaboration enablers”… and they were very successful. Why wouldn’t Yahoo benefit from a similar strategy?

I know that it’s not fashionable, but I’m rooting for Marissa Mayer and her leadership team. They don’t have much visible support… but I think the long-term results will speak for themselves.

What about you? Rooting for Marissa or disappointed?

Innovation – Is the team paying attention?

Marissa MayerYahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took a very controversial stand recently It got me to thinking about our business model, and why we choose to innovate in a traditional, collocated, style. I think there are some very good reasons why we do.

Innovation is rarely an “individual sport”. It’s rare to find someone who can turn a problem statement into an innovative product on their own. Innovation often usually requires collaboration. It thrives on the freedom to build upon the ideas (good and bad) of colleagues (and competitors)… and the faster the innovation process happens, the better. Ultimately, innovation only pays off when it turns into something real – something that matters. So the emphasis is on getting from theories to practice as quickly as possible. In the product development world, we call that “time to market”.

Like it or not, the “chemistry” that happens in a room – and the “serendipity” that happens when colleagues can quickly connect around an idea, is much easier when we are in close physical proximity. How many times has an idea drifted away because the conversation was delayed by a “busy signal”? How many conference calls have drifted into mediocrity because one or more of the participants disengaged (because it’s so easy when nobody has to make eye contact)?

Our business is built around new product development for aerospace, medical, and industrial markets. We design, build, and test new technology and then our customers depend on it – for years. Much of the “development” part of our business involves physically assembling and testing products – and that requires being “physical proximity”. Many of our innovative products also require unique skills and special processes. We work together to make complicated things happen quickly and consistently.

So, for our business and many businesses like ours. Working from home is not an option. For other business models that aren’t tied to a physical product, it’s not quite as clear. However, as much as I like the freedom to work from home, I’m not convinced that it’s the best solution. If “time to market” for a physical product is important for your business… working from home is probably NOT the best model.

I think Marissa Mayer has acknowledged a very important fact. If you want people to work together and get things done, you need to be sure that everyone is paying attention. “Telecommuting” allows the team to drift – to be “partially engaged” when the team needs them to be “all in”. I applaud Marissa Mayer for doing what needs to be done to get Yahoo back on track… starting with getting everyone to pay attention to the right things at the right time.

What do you think?

Which comes first – ‘Trust’ or ‘Trustworthy’?

I’m fortunate to work at Moog, an organization that identified TRUST as a foundational value more than 60 years ago. At the time, men like Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. (of MIT fame) and others focused on measuring productivity and improving profitability by INCREASED CONTROL of individuals in the work place. In stark contrast to the “command and control” approach that was in vogue, Bill Moog and his executive team built a culture of trust and mutual respect that has stood the test of time. The emphasis on trust at Moog, and the corresponding freedom (DECREASED CONTROL of individuals) that followed in the workplace, resulted in a company culture of trust that is a competitive advantage. Moog’s robust aerospace processes and the freedom to speak freely have been a cornerstone of our success – and an encouragement for people to trust and to be trustworthy. It’s not surprising that, decades later, Stephen Covey’s article “Thirteen Behaviors of a High Trust Leader” noted that “demonstrating trust in people actually encourages them to act in a trustworthy manner”.

#13 – Demonstrate a propensity to trust. 

Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned your trust.  Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning your trust.  Learn how to appropriately extend trust to others based on the situation, risk, and character/competence of the people involved.  But have a propensity to trust.  Don’t withhold trust because there is risk involved.

“People ask me how I’ve had the interest and zeal to hang in there and do what I’ve done.  I say, ‘Because my father treated me with very stern discipline:  he trusted me.’  I’m stuck, I’ve got to see the trust through.  He trusted me.  I trust other people.  And they did the job.”

     – Robert Galvin, Jr., Former CEO, Motorola

“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”

     – Henry Stimson, U.S. Statesman

“I have found that by trusting people until they prove themselves unworthy of that trust, a lot more happens.”

     – Jim Burke, former CEO, Johnson & Johnson

These men are voicing strong support for a principle that I have also held for many years. But there are others who make an argument for more control versus more trust. Our experience at Moog is a clear example that demonstrating trust actually encourages us all to act in a trustworthy manner.

Do you have similar experiences that you’d like to share?. I’d love to hear from you.

– Dave