Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Yahoo, Alibaba and a Poorly-Communicated Game Plan

The business press has been full of articles about Yahoo recently, given Alibaba is about to execute an IPO and Yahoo will have to sell 40% of its large stake in that company.  This is traumatic for Yahoo, since only 14% of its market value is attributable to Yahoo, the rest is due to its holdings in Alibaba (67%), Yahoo Japan (14%), and cash (5%).  Making matters worse, Yahoo’s revenue last quarter slipped 1% and earnings fell 20%.  As the Wall Street Journal put it recently, the new CEO, who has now been in the job for two years, is “struggling to find a clear vision for the company.”

That new CEO is not helping any in that recently the WSJ reported that when she was asked to describe her vision for Yahoo, she has variously called it a “daily habits” company, a “personalization company,” and a search engine where “you become the query.”  How would you like to be an employee in that company trying to understand where your company is going and how your part of the organization can best help the cause?

Contrast that to the early 1990’s, when Lou Gerstner, after four months of studying the very sick IBM he was hired to salvage, communicated to all employees that the new game plan was to “help our customers with their IT related business problems and opportunities.”  That simple statement, which put all the focus on the customer’s needs, generated the wildly successful IBM Global Services effort and the overhauling of the IBM product line so it better matched the needs of customers.

Here are three very obvious communication components for successfully getting your organization to rally around a game plan for attacking the future:

1.) Make the message clear, relevant and aspirational – the rallying charge needs to be one short sentence that instantly communicates something meaningful and will clearly create enthusiasm because it will have a big impact if achieved.

2.) Repeat it often – just like in the advertising world, repetition is important.  That way it won’t be long before everybody understands what the organization is trying to achieve.

3.) Use the exact same words each time it is mentioned – trying to drive home the idea by describing it with various sets of words only confuses things.  Remember, the goal here is that everyone knows exactly what the game plan is and can play it back consistently.

Given these three components, you can see why the Yahoo CEO’s comments above are confidence destroyers.   This Yahoo example is a good reminder for all of us.

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