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Marissa Mayer and a Broken Chain of Communications

Update: After further investigation, and talking with communicators at Yahoo, it became clear that the news articles circulating were lacking some of the facts that were happening behind closed doors at Yahoo.

The original email sent internally subjected Mayer and the content of her message to extreme criticism. While it was noted that Mayer did not establish a forum allowing for questions and concerns by employees, it was revealed that there was an element of transparency amongst all employees, as they had a meeting following the receipt of her email, where questions and concerns were encouraged. In addition to that one meeting post-email, Yahoo was hosting weekly meetings where topics and questions were addressed.

Imagine being stuck in a multi-day long game of “telephone.” That is the reality for the nearly 9,000 employees of Yahoo who are uncertain of their future with Yahoo ever since Verizon and AOL acquired the company on Monday morning for $4.83 billion.

The first person to start the game of telephone was Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer. On Monday morning, she sent an email to all of her employees confirming Verizon’s purchase and declaring her intentions to remain with Yahoo. Mayer left employees with mixed sentiments after saying comments such as “For me personally, I’m planning to stay. I love Yahoo, and I believe in all of you.” However, she made no indication on what the employees, who transformed, shifted and grew the company, would have in store for their future. Additionally, she left no room for employees’ comments or questions, and gave them no outlet to express any of their concerns.

Her “employee communication” could be described as selfish—it completely failed to resonate with the audience it was meant to inspire.

Effective communicators are generous and realize their audience is constantly asking “why do I care” and “what’s in it for me?”

The next chain in the game of telephone was introduced when Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, told the public that scale was imperative. With most acquisitions, scaling is expected, along with cost-saving synergies. “Synergies” can be an unnerving word for employees of both acquirers and acquisition targets because it almost always involves the closing and combining of offices, which also means the reduction of headcount. Armstrong was clear with saying that there is no set structure, and Mayer’s position is not guaranteed.

The rank and file employee wants to know how this impacts them—rarely do they care about the CEO’s job security when their own is in question.

The third chain that entered the game was the numerous anonymous sources, including current and former Yahoo executives, who claim Mayer will only be included in the transition, but will hold no position once the transition is complete—it appears likely that Verizon will fire her once the deal is closed. A majority of her current board members are not fond of Mayer, and Mayer held an alarmingly low approval rating of 66%—nearly one-third lower than Yahoo’s top competitors, including Apple, Google, and Facebook.

With all three chains interfering with the direct line of communication between Mayer, the employees, and the public, Mayer should have established a much clearer plan of action for accurately relaying the message in a way that actually addresses audience concerns.

Just like any other acquired or transitioning company, it should have been clear to Mayer to have had an established employee communications—not just a pep rally letter. Instead of addressing her own concerns about her place within the company first, she should have been transparent about what was and what was not expected from employees and what they may expect in the transition.

There also was no designated communications team. At the bottom of her email, Mayer should have listed personnel, email addresses and phone numbers for any employees to contact to ask questions.

Mayer should also have created a communications plan with Armstrong and Marni Walden, Verizon’s executive vice president, to ensure that they weren’t sending mixed messages. Consistency of message is of paramount importance—but the message also must be clear and address the audience where they are—not where we want them to be.

Mayer’s statement said she was staying with Yahoo, Armstrong’s statement said that scale is imperative, and Walden’s task is to determine if Mayer will stay with the company. With three completely differentiating statements circulating throughout the public, the employees have every right to be, and surely are, concerned, confused, and frustrated.

LEVICK Intern Carly Berkenblit contributed to this post.

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