marissa mayer’s insights on amplifying company culture

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When Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new CEO, closed the 2013 Great Place to Work Conference we were all wondering if she was going to talk about the ‘elephant in the room’—her decision to end the organization’s work-from-home policy. She addressed it with humor, head on by projecting an image of an elephant, colored yahoo-purple with large white lettering that read “WFH” (work from home).

With the image of the purple elephant as her backdrop, Mayer said her decision was a personal one for Yahoo. Work from home was just not right for Yahoo at this time. She feels her teams need to be working and collaborating side-by-side, together.

As she then detailed the foundational cultural shifts that are creating the internet giant’s impending renaissance, I was impressed. Mayer seemed real, thoughtful, and wise in her efforts to reconnect employees with their purpose in her first nine months at Yahoo.

Most of us will never be tapped for the incredible task before Mayer, but as we work to create successful cultures of our own, the questions and problems we face are largely the same:

  • What is core to our story?
  • Who do we aspire to be?
  • Do our practices and processes support our story? Our aspirations?
  • How can we better connect to employees’ experiences, perceptions, priorities, and voice?

Mayer’s answer—and I liked it—was to AMPLIFY.  Don’t concentrate first on cutting out what is wrong with your current culture; work to turn up the volume on what is right.

1. Tackle the Obvious: It can be overwhelming if you set out to examine all the things that come together to create your culture and attempt to sort them into good, bad, better, and best. Start with what you know is good and do more of it.

2. It Should All Make Sense: Are you moving through the motions of facilities or processes that don’t make sense in your organization? Mayer cited parking cross arms that served no purpose, dual security stations, and a 22-page travel policy. Her answer? Get rid of them.  It sends a mixed message to surround employees with the nonsensical.

3. Ask:  Unsure what employees’ value? Ask them. They are just waiting to jump in and help you create a culture that makes coming to work meaningful and fun.  Mayer even let employees author her last board report. She asked them to submit what worked and what didn’t over the last quarter and committed to deliver the report verbatim.

How did Yahoo employees answer? What did they prepare for her to deliver to the board?  It started with a statement about how much the culture shift had helped Yahoo employees’ deliver what was needed.

Now that’s the answer we’re all looking for.

By mindi cox
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