Skip to main content

The Business Case for Effective Change Management Training: Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO

Marissa Mayer Needs a Course in Change Management

Marissa Mayer, the CEO at Yahoo, may turn out to be the poster child for the importance of teaching change management. Mayer made a simple decision - to end telecommuting at Yahoo. Unfortunately, because of the way the decision was communicated, Mayer found herself in the middle of a media firestorm.

Reportedly, Mayer makes her decisions based on data and her research revealed that employees at Yahoo who telecommuted weren't logging into the VPN the number of hours they should have been, so Mayer concluded that telecommuting wasn't effective.

The shocking thing about Mayer's decision wasn't the decision itself, but the way it was disseminated to her employees. Had Mayer understood or been trained in the process of Change Management, she could have avoided the firestorm she created simply by altering the way she chose to deliver the message.

cc-by-2.0 Marissa Mayer

cc-by-2.0 Marissa Mayer

What the Media is Missing

I happen to agree with Mayer's decision to end telecommuting at Yahoo, but that is entirely beside the point, as is just about every other media or blogger commentary on whether the decision was right or wrong.

Because she appears to have ignored basic management fundamentals, everyone is weighing in on her decision. What's interesting is that few people are commenting on the ineffective way the message was delivered and how, with just a little bit of planning and preparation, the whole controversy could have been avoided.

In my brief research on Mayer's decision, comments have ranged from blatantly sexist stuff on Mayer's appearance to her status as a working mom to the fact that she built a nursery next to her office so she could work while also taking care of her child - a luxury most of her employees don't have, especially not anymore since they can't telecommute.

Mostly, and mistakenly, people are discussing whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision. Why are people doing this when it's so clear that it was the execution that was botched?

The reason is simple: human resources management, business culture management, and change management are some of the most under-trained skills in American business. Few people seem to recognize it. Fewer are doing anything about it.

Change Management = Cultural Rewards

Understanding the fundamentals of change management is critical when making a decision that dramatically affects the culture of an organization. Clearly, telecommuting was a critical component of the culture at Yahoo. It not only represented a practical benefit for its employees, it defined an environment of freedom and relaxation. The success of telecommuting was tied to the success of Yahoo.

By ending telecommuting, Mayer threatens the culture at Yahoo as well. While Yahoo may indeed need something of a cultural shift to remain competitive, ending telecommuting may serve to undermine that mission. Part of good change management involves both communication and transparency. Had Mayer chosen to communicate with her management team, disseminated the information through them to achieve buy-in, and be completely open about how they came to that decision, she would have reinforced Yahoo's cultural values instead of undermining them.

Scroll to Continue

What Should Mayer Have Done?

Time will tell whether Mayer has done long-lasting damage to Yahoo's corporate culture and whether that damage affects the company. After all, Yahoo has been in trouble for some time and Mayer was brought in to fix things. So it's entirely possible that a dose of corporate reality may be exactly what the company needs (e.g. a CEO who issues edicts that employees follow whether they like them or not).

However, I suspect that Mayer could have achieved her goal of ending telecommuting at Yahoo without damaging company morale by doing the following:

  1. Consult her team - there's been some suggestion in the media that Mayer simply drew a conclusion then had her HR person issue the edict. If this is true, it's a major flaw in her management strategy. Mayer needed to explain her thinking to her management team and get them on her side so that they could explain the decisions to their employees so that it demonstrated a team ethic.
  2. Communication with the employees - whether this was done through management or via a company-wide meeting, she could have floated the idea of ending telecommuting rather than issuing an order like a dictator. By floating the idea, she would have allowed time for her employees to come to grips with the culture shift and, at the same time, explained why it was necessary to get Yahoo back on track. If the employees have a compelling reason to want to see a culture change, then they're much more likely to accept that change.
  3. Share her research - If the employees haven't been logging into the VPN and it suggests they're not working when they should, then there's no reason Mayer shouldn't share that information. She'll garner a lot of support from most of her employees when they see the evidence that their fellow employees are bilking the system.
  4. Punish the offenders - it's possible Mayer simply doesn't have the luxury of sifting through all the people who telecommute, but employees appreciate and respond to fairness, so revoking the privileges of those who are taking advantage of the telecommuting perk would have been better, at least initially, than simply punishing everyone. The messaging on ending telecommuting is unclear: was it ended because she believes the organization needs a cultural shift or because too many employees were taking advantage of it?
  5. Follow up - what Mayer needs to do now is go directly to her employees and upper management staff and provide the compelling case for ending telecommuting and how it's going to transform Yahoo into the company everyone wants it to be. Hopefully, she's already doing this because now it's going to be a form of damage control.


I don't want to pretend that I know what it takes to be a CEO nor do I want to suggest that I understand the kind of pressures Mayer is under trying to turn around a company like Yahoo. It is no small task and further, she may be seen as an outsider at Yahoo and thus, has to keep her decisions within a very small circle of advisers.

However, if that's the case, it may be too late for Yahoo. In that kind of poisoned environment, managing is difficult, if not impossible. Assuming that this is not the case, Mayer's approach is going to cause her more problems than it needs to.


Lois from Somewhere on the West Coast on December 05, 2013:

I have to say I love this, I have not heard of change management techniques before. I come from the bottom of the chain, and so I am always on the end of bad management decisions. I completely agree that this is a topic that is virtually ignored in the corporate world today.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 09, 2013:

Teamwork is very important in any work environment you have mentioned such valuable tips here.

Related Articles