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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/17/13

The Ides of Yahoo!

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Way back nearly two thousand years ago, the Ides of March (March 15th) began to be considered unlucky after the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated on that day.   Well, it was certainly unlucky for him, although not necessarily for the Roman People -- Julius was trying to become not just an emperor but also a god, a task at which he failed miserably.

Fast forward to the Ides of March 2013, and we find that Yahoo!'s newly appointed CEO Marissa Mayer is also seeking divinity by decree.   One of her first actions has been to decree that all of this high-tech company's twelve-thousand staffers will no longer be permitted to work from home, as had been a Yahoo! prerogative from its inception. According to the Blogosphere, Yahoo! staff reactions range from puzzled to incensed, as working from home has been a bedrock principle of Yahoo! -- and a great recruiting tool as well.  Many studies show that such flexibility is vital to high-tech firms' cognitive requirements.

As a management consultant for five decades, I know that when basic changes such as this one are made by a new CEO who has not done the necessary research or sought out the necessary guidance, they are usually unwise, and sometimes disastrous.   There is more to be considered here than just the locations at which Yahoo! tasks can be done; the whole philosophy of this pioneering firm is at stake, and is being changed hastily and, in my own view, most unfortunately.     Staff reactions have understandably been very negative, and are likely to become even worse.

Similarly, one major reason that on-line education is expanding so rapidly is that it reaches a whole new cadre of students who would be unable to take on-campus courses (there are many other advantages as well, particularly more attention to individual needs.)  A comparable situation occurs with on-line employees, so that the best people all over the world can be recruited, and can be allowed to work in whatever environment is best for each of them. After all, this is the Twenty First Century, something Yahoo! used to know. Whenever Yahoo!'s far-flung employees need to meet, they can merely teleconference.

There are, of course, some changes which desperately need to be made at Yahoo!   From my own experience, their customer service/tech support telephone systems are almost impossible to use, as customers get redirected into a very unpleasant and nearly-endless loop of options, none of which apply to most problems causing the phone call.   Their email system is even worse; repeated emails on Yahoo!'s customer-disservice contact form are merely ignored, as are faxes.  After our own Yahoo! account was hacked, Yahoo! decided to deactivate it -- understandable, but without telling us in advance.   Since then, they have utterly failed to restore the account to its former settings and status, as repeatedly requested.

Serious problems of that sort, making Yahoo! very customer-unfriendly, are indeed compounded by their failure to deal with such issues.   Even email to their media and investor-relations sections, the only email addresses one can find on-line, are totally ignored.   This is the height of arrogance -- at a time when Yahoo! no longer has cause to be so arrogant.   These and similar Yahoo! problems and issues urgently need correction--and if CEO Mayer needs something to do, besides pushing her employees around, she might instead start with correcting them -- rather than ignoring all efforts to reach her and other top Yahoo! staff.

Marissa Mayer also might well remember the Ides of March -- in case she needs a model to avoid, one more recent than that of Julius Caesar, she should consider the example of Carly Fiorina, former head of Hewlett-Packard and once the most powerful female CEO in America.   Ms. Fiorina, who has since become an annoying talk show guest with strong right-wing leanings, was removed by her own board of directors several years ago after she spied on them (and lied about the spying) in a witch-hunt seeking alleged leaks emanating from that board.   Her removal at H-P became the Ides of March for Carly Fiorina -- one may hope that no similar fate awaits Marissa Mayer and that she does not suffer the Ides of Yahoo! professionally-speaking. But that, of course, is up to her.   Unfortunately, judging from her early performance and poor decisions, Ms. Mayer is not off to a very good start at Yahoo!  Creativity cannot be ordered, or ordered around either.

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Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)

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