Is There An iPod Equivalent In Yahoo’s Future?

Marissa Mayer knows how to throw a party. The controversial CEO of Yahoo! once threw a flannel-themed Christmas party at her Palo Alto home (she also has a penthouse apartment in the Four Seasons) that featured not only shipped-in snow but also a backyard ice-skating rink almost large enough for NHL games. At some point during the party, as recorded in Nicholas Carlson’s book Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!, a pajama-clad Mayer climbed aboard a mini Zamboni she had rented for the occasion, and set out to smooth out the ice that had become cut up by her ice-skating guests. “It was a comical, cheerful scene, and another host might have laughed and waved at her guests as she rode the funny-looking Zamboni in her pj’s,” Carlson writes. “Not Mayer. She was very serious. Sitting on top of the big machine, she concentrated on the ice beneath her. She wanted to smooth over every inch. She was going to get the job done herself and be excellent about it.”

As Carlson describes in his book, the Christmas scene reflects the personality of Mayer: hands-on, serious and driven to excellence — which in the minds of many Yahoo employees and former employees translates, writes Carlson, into “micromanaging, bottlenecking and dictatorial.”

In many ways, the cover of this book is misleading. Despite the photograph of Mayer and her name in bigger type than the rest of the title, this is, surprisingly, more a book about Yahoo than about Mayer. After a brief prologue, readers don’t run into Mayer again until more than 130 pages later, when, in part II of his book he describes Mayer’s early life and career at Google. Part III of the book returns to the behind-the-scenes battles between activist shareholders and Yahoo executives that dominate much of the early part of the book. Marissa Mayer finally enters the Yahoo! building for the first time nearly 250 pages in, giving Carlson less than 100 pages to cover Mayer’s two years (so far) at the helm of Yahoo!

In those 100 pages, Carlson narrates in engaging detail the ups and downs of Mayer’s first two years at Yahoo! For example, Mayer sent shock waves in the progressive hi-tech industry when she abolished Yahoo’s work-at-home policy. At the same time, Mayer replaced employees’ Blackberries with more up-to-date smart phones, and, in a bid to introduce transparency, started staff meetings in which she and her executives answered questions from employees. Mayer bet heavily on mobile apps and on digital magazines, hiring Katie Couric and others to create momentum that never materialized. On a more positive note, she acquired Tumblr for $1.1 billion, a record for a social media company at the time and an acquisition that in some ways has helped keep Yahoo! relevant.

Self-Inflicted Problems

A number of Mayer’s problems seem self-inflicted, including, according to Carlson, her inability to hire effective executives and her unfeeling interactions with her subordinates. The dictatorial, micromanaging style, as many employees see it, can demoralize a workforce whose morale, according to Carlson, is already badly hit by another Mayer initiative, the quarterly performance reviews (QPRs) that have echoes of Jack Welch’s infamous rank-and-yank employee policies at GE. Inevitably pitting employee against employee, the QPRs discourage collaboration and encourage cut-throat competition: it’s better that your colleague looks bad and gets the bad reviews; otherwise it will be you.

Mayer had an enormous advantage as she began her new position as CEO: a guaranteed two years in which the company’s financial health was assured by Yahoo’s prescient stake in the groundbreaking Chinese company, Alibaba, whose anticipated IPO in the fall of 2014 netted Yahoo a cool $8.3 billion windfall. (Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba, now worth $39.5 billion, was spun off into a separate company in January 2015, after the book was published.)

The question remains whether Mayer can make Yahoo! into the dominant Internet player it once was. Marissa Mayer, Carlson writes, points to the five years that Steve Jobs took to revitalize Apple, with the creation of the iPod. Is there an iPod equivalent in Yahoo’s future? For Carlson, the verdict is still out. The outcome depends in large part on the patience of the activist shareholders who pushed out several CEOs prior to Mayer.

Creating Urgency in a Nanosecond Culture

“The only way to ensure your company’s success is to change faster on the inside than the world is changing on the outside.” Jason Jennings

Jennings and his researchers have spent years up close and personal with thousands of organizations around the world—figuring out what makes them successful in both the short and long term. He understands the real challenges that keep more than eleven thousand CEOs, business owners, and executives up at night. And he knows how the best of the best combine speed and growth to deliver five times the average returns to shareholders.

In The High-Speed Company, Jennings reveals the unique practices of businesses that have proven records of urgency and growth. The key distinction is that they’ve created extraordinary cultures with a strong purpose, more trust, and relentless follow-through. These companies burn less energy, beat the competition, and have a lot of fun along the way.

Jennings strategies include:

  • Encouraging employees to make the right moves without hesitation. J.M. Smucker has done this well by creating five guiding principles that employees at every level can apply to faster individual decision making.
  • Doing more to constantly innovate and bring in new customers. Besides spending more than $2 billion on research and development, Procter & Gamble sends its senior executives to the homes of families who use their products in one hundred different countries, to learn their stories and connect with them, gaining fresh insights for new products.
  • Being transparent about management decisions. Sonic Corp. knows this is the best way to drive trust and engagement with both employees and customers.

We’ve invited Jennings to join us on April 2nd for our Soundview Live webinar How to Create Urgency & Growth in a Nanosecond Culture. Please join us for this event and consider inviting your colleagues to listen in as well.

How to Lead Breakthrough Change Against Any Odds

stackingthedeck

Change is a constant, and leaders must do more than keep up — they must innovate and accelerate to succeed. Yet people are often unnerved by change. As a leader during a time of transformation, you may stand up before teams that are indifferent, or even hostile, and need to convince them that change is necessary and urgent. What does it take to be an effective change leader and increase the odds of success?

Stacking the Deck presents a nine-step course of action leaders can follow from
the first realization that change is needed through all the steps of implementation,
including assembling the right team of close advisors and getting the word out to
the wider group. Based on Dave Pottruck’s experiences leading change as CEO of
Charles Schwab and later as chairman of CorpU and HighTower Advisors, these
steps provide a guide to ensure that your change initiative and your team have the
best possible shot at success.

Leading an organization through major change — whether it’s the introduction
of a new product, an expansion to a new territory or a difficult downsizing — is
not for the faint of heart. While success is never guaranteed, the right leadership,
process, and team make all the difference. For all leaders facing major change in
their organizations, Stacking the Deck is an indispensable resource for putting the
odds in your favor.

The nine crucial steps for creating breakthrough change in your organization:

Step One: Establishing the Need to Change and a Sense of Urgency

In leading breakthrough change, we must first convince others — those to whom we report and those on our team — that our proposed change has a positive, necessary
and urgent purpose.

Step Two: Assembling and Unifying Your Team

Leaders must rely on a well-balanced leadership team. It’s your job to actively develop and unify a group that will guide the organization in making your change a reality. You are looking for pioneers, for people who are comfortable with a greater degree of risk than
the average person.

Step Three: Developing and Communicating a Clear and Compelling Vision of the Future

Once you have your leadership team in place, you and your team need to be ready to envision and communicate the future in such a vivid and irresistible way that everyone
around you understands your vision and shares your passion for it.

Step Four: Planning Ahead for Known and Unknown Barriers

The fourth step in the Stacking the Deck process is all about anticipating problems as you are planning, and confronting these problems before they derail your efforts.

Step Five: Creating a Workable Plan

Now you need to translate the inspiring vision of the future that you and your team have developed into a workable, real-world plan.

Step Six: Partitioning the Project and Building Momentum With Early Wins

Leading breakthrough change often means working toward an end that seems distant and out of focus. If your people can’t visualize the future in real terms, they’ll find it difficult to muster the urgency to undertake the journey. You therefore need ways to make the immediate steps clear and to help people — particularly those who may not have been involved in developing the vision but who will be crucial to its realization — see the path to the future in real, concrete terms.

Step Seven: Defining Metrics, Developing Analytics and Communicating Results

To define success for your initiative you need to focus on measurable outcomes. People need to see the end result with such clarity that they can act on their own.

Step Eight: Assessing, Recruiting and Empowering the Team

This builds on the work you did in Step Two. At this point, you might want to revisit and repeat some of those initial team-building actions.

Step Nine: Testing with Pilots to Increase Success

Defining a precise set of rules about how to roll out your next breakthrough initiative is impossible: the potential projects are simply too diverse. Nevertheless, appropriate
and careful use of pilot projects is a consistent thread in successful rollouts; pilots can dramatically enhance your prospects for success.

The Self-Made Billionaire Effect

WHY BILLIONAIRES SUCCEED

It’s possible to become a millionaire, thanks to a high-paying job in the right industry. To become self-made billionaires, however, takes something more, write John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen in their fascinating new book The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value. The authors label those who can succeed within the constraints of organizations or established systems, as performers. Billionaires, in contrast, are producers. “They envision something new,” the authors explain, “bring together the people and the resources to create it and sell it to customers who didn’t know they needed it.”

Researching the factors that differentiate self-made billionaires from everyone else, Sviokla and Cohen found that self-made billionaires were entrepreneurs who shared certain “habits of minds” that took form in what the authors term “dualities.” A duality is a set of two characteristics that complement each other.

Based on an in-depth analysis, augmented by personal interviews, of the history and personalities of the self-made billionaires on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, the authors identified five dualities common to all billionaires.

The Five Dualities

The first is empathetic imagination. Billionaires have the imagination to develop billion-dollar ideas. Those ideas, however, emerge from what the authors call “extreme empathy” for their customers’ needs and wants. For example, few people were buying mutual funds when 24-year-old Joe Mansueto began buying them in the early 1980s. Drowning in paper, after ordering the quarterly prospectuses from each fund he wanted to follow, Mansueto realized that investors would welcome a service offering a report that provided information for all comparable funds. Within two years, Morningstar was born.

While the first duality concerned ideas, the second duality, patient urgency, frames the billionaire’s perspective. Billionaires, according to the authors’ research, are uniquely comfortable with both urgency and patience. They can work fast and super slow simultaneously, depending on the needs of the situation. As the authors explain, “They urgently prepare to seize an opportunity but patiently wait for that opportunity to fully emerge.” Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky, who had failed with an earlier ahead-of-its-time website, painfully realized the value of timing. He also knew that the social media layer of Facebook, Twitter and others had made the time ripe for a deal-of-the-day site such as Groupon, and forged ahead with the idea that would make him a billionaire.

The third duality, inventive execution, underpins how billionaires act. Execution is important, but that doesn’t mean that execution cannot involve creativity and imagination. Micky Arison, former CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, turned the three-ship company of his father into the world’s largest cruise company, owning 10 established cruising brands. Through initiatives such as air-sea packaged charters, Arison reinvented cruising from a leisure activity for the elite to a mainstream vacation.

Billionaires are not huge risk takers, the authors write. But, at the same time, they are less afraid of what they might lose now if there is an opportunity to create enormous value in the future. Having been fired from two real-estate investment jobs, Stephen Ross knew trying to start his own real-estate development firm had little chance of success. But the enormous risk of starting his own company was smaller than the risk of trying and failing again to work within the constraints of another firm. It’s this duality of the relative view of risk — balancing opportunity vs. potential loss — that separates billionaires from mortals, according to the authors.

The final duality that exemplifies the mindset and approach of billionaires concerns leadership, or more particularly, co-leadership. Billionaires seek partnerships, the authors write, with people who have the skills or experience that they are missing, usually combining their producer skills with a “virtuoso performer.”

While the bulk of the book explores the dualities, the authors also detail, in this revealing, in-depth exploration into why billionaires succeed, the steps that companies can take to try to encourage and enable potential producers to succeed within their organizations — instead of leaving to start their own enterprise.

The Art of Social Media

HOW TO LEVERAGE SOCIAL MEDIA

Perhaps in a few years, as the leadership of companies is taken over by a generation that grew up with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the myriad of other current and future social media channels, there may be less need for books such as Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users. Kawasaki, the former chief evangelist for Apple and author of the highly popular book on entrepreneurship, The Art of the Start, joins forces with co-author Peg Fitzpatrick, a social media strategist, to produce a short yet surprisingly exhaustive primer on the vast variety of tools and processes that individuals and companies can use to leverage their social media efforts.

Feeding the Content Monster

“The biggest daily challenge of social media is finding enough content to share,” Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick write. “We call this ‘feeding the Content Monster.’”

There are two ways to feed the content monster, according to the authors: content creation and content curation. Content creation is the traditional approach: writing copy, taking pictures and/or creating videos, and posting them. The problem is that such creation takes time, making it difficult to add more than two pieces of content per week to the page. Not enough, write the authors. The better approach, therefore, is content curation, which consists of finding high quality content from other people’s social media, then summarizing and sharing it on your page. The authors offer a list of 14 of their favorite curation and aggregation services that make it easy to find good content to curate. They do warn against too much straight sharing, which, they note, will “dull your personal voice and perspective.”

Moving from general to the specific, subsequent chapters range from how to perfect your posts, how to get more followers and how to respond to comments, to how to socialize events, how to run Google+ Hangouts on Air and how to rock a twitter chat.

One of the great strengths of this book is the succinctness of the advice offered. A chapter on “how to perfect your posts” exemplifies the authors’ cut-to-the-chase approach. One section, entitled “be visual,” argues that every single post should have a picture, graphic or video. You can be visual, the authors explain, by including a link to the original story or creating your own graphics, using a company called Canva. Taking a screenshot or “save as” picture from the source and adding it manually to your post is another option but could be legally tricky. The authors refer their readers to a University of Minnesota checklist to see if they are not breaking fair-use laws.

Opt for the E-Book Version

The Art of Social Media is available both as an e-book and in print. However, the University of Minnesota tip exemplifies the problem with the print book. There is no explanation of where to find the University of Minnesota checklist; instead, the words “the University of Minnesota provides a checklist” are underlined in the text, which signifies that it is a hyperlink in the e-book text. The book is crammed with such hyperlinks that will leave print readers frustrated, as these links substitute for examples.

The Art of Social Media is both comprehensive and succinct in its explanations of the myriad possibilities of social media. However, it is recommended to skip the print version and read the e-book.