Marissa Mayer: ‘Employee transparency has realised Yahoo’s greatness’

Dreamforce 2013: Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer has described how being transparent with employees has won their trust and helped the company “realise the greatness that has always been there”

Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! chief executive, says transparency with employees has won their trust and helped the company

Speaking with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce in San Francisco, Mayer explained how she rolled out a process dubbed PB and J – process, bureaucracy and jams – for employees to feedback on processes that were holding them back from making progress.

Read an exclusive profile of Yahoo’s EMEA chief marketer Robert Bridge

Staff members then go on to vote for the problems they needed solving and those with the most up-votes were fixed – more than 1,000 issues since Mayer joined, including making it easier to move between roles internally.

Elsewhere, Mayer has invited her staff to create the board slides she presents when she meets with the company’s board. After the first iteration of the idea in April, the board members asked Mayer to present in this way every time because it gave them a broader view of the company.

She said she viewed her role, and the role more generally of CEOs, as “playing defence”, while the team is offence.

Mayer added: “Your job is to say we’re going to run in this direction, then clear a path, get the objects, bureaucracy, the naysaysers out of the way and help people run as fast as they can.”

“I think mobile caught a lot of people by surprise. It’s really amazing how much people use their phones and how quickly it’s happened. When you look at the history for Yahoo, it was not clear how quickly to make the move.”

Earlier on in the chat, which was briefly interrupted by protesters who appeared to be chanting about Mayer’s involvement with Walmart where she sits on the board, Mayer spoke about the importance of design at Yahoo and revealed she is currently recruiting for a senior vice president of design.

Mayer said it was not possible to have good products without good design but said companies should neither start building a product from a design point of view, nor design for “the expert user”.

She added: “If you look at the progress in design and the value place on design culture and industry over the last five to 10 years it’s really remarkable. Design used to be an afterthought, get the product working then make it look pretty, but now it’s not just about product design but interaction design.

“When you look at what is our core [values]…for us there’s really been an element at Yahoo around entertaining and informing and ideally inspiring. When you look at those values design is inherent to all of them, you can’t have entertaining, delightful, inspiring experiences unless they are well designed and well thought out. I think that’s where we are focused in terms of the design piece.”

She did say, however, that some companies can “fall too in love with design”.

“At the core you need to have something users want to use every day, like Salesforce. Yahoo focuses on the daily digital habit, stocks, news, email search. You need to have a core value proposition, be useful then have design as a core part of that product offering. I’d argue it’s important not to lead with design but have design be part of your product process.

“We don’t think of ourselves as a design first company, but mobile first.”

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