Mayer Boosts Yahoo Morale with Google Techniques

Former Google product manager Marissa Mayer wasted no time making herself at home as the new CEO of rival search company Yahoo. She’s bringing in many new practices that were (and are) staples at her old company. This should do a lot more than just raise morale, though.

Kara Swisher does a great job of covering all the changes. After being spotted in Yahoo’s cafeteria getting her own lunch, Mayer added a weekly all-hands Friday afternoon meeting to the schedule. At the first of these meetings, she announced that the food at Yahoo’s URLs Cafe in Silicon Valley would be free from now on.

For those who don’t know, Friday afternoon all-hands meetings and free food in the cafeteria are classic Google staples. And more seem to be coming. Mayer seems to be planning big changes to the layout of Yahoo’s work areas and buildings. The idea would be to foster a more collaborative environment, probably with a more open floor plan, and add some “coolness” to the place. Mayer is supposed to also be looking at upgrading the goodies you can get at Yahoo’s stores, according to Mayer’s sources. Both of these should make anyone who has worked at Google feel right at home – and it’s putting smiles on the faces of those working at Yahoo (except for, maybe, the accountants).

Arguably, Yahoo employees can use this kind of salve to their morale. They’ve been through years of confusion, poor leadership, and dropping market share. Even so, everyone knows at least some of the reasoning behind these changes; as one of Mayer’s sources quipped, “There’s no free lunch.”

To that end, Swisher reports that “Mayer has been studying org charts carefully this past week” and several sources told her that “she has asked all her direct reports for strategic plans in the next 45 days.” Amid all the cheer surrounding the new CEO of the California-based company, I have to admit this comes to me as no surprise; we could hear the collective sharp intake of breath all the way over here in Florida. Yahoo’s layoffs have been legendary, and there’s no way Mayer will be able to avoid them completely. The seemingly-everything-Internet company is simply too big and sprawling, and Mayer will need to decide where to focus.

One person we do know is definitely leaving was originally pegged by some as likely to become a permanent Yahoo CEO. That’s Ross Levinsohn, who took over as interim CEO from Scott Thompson this year before the board chose Mayer. By some reports, Mayer actually would have liked to have him stay with the company, despite his joining in 2010 Yahoo in 2010 under then-Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. Search Engine Land reported the details of the severance he’ll receive; let’s just say he won’t be hurting any time in the near future, especially if Yahoo’s stock goes up.

So where will Mayer turn her focus next? As a product manager, many hope for a return to creating tech products and improving the ones Yahoo already owns. Some users clearly desire to see Flickr improvements, for instance, and then there’s turning Yahoo Axis into a better mobile browser. That’s just two of many possible examples – and while Mayer may need to make some layoffs related to products and services that don’t make her cut, she’ll also need to recruit new talent. With Yahoo’s campus taking on a more hopeful, more excited vibe, and Mayer’s long history at that other search company, you can bet that some of these great brains will come from Google.

Others will surely come from elsewhere. Yahoo is actively hiring to help make Flickr awesome again, as you’ll note at the first link in the paragraph above. Swisher and other observers think that Yahoo will soon make a splashy purchase of another company with a cool product. Unless that was already in the works before she came on board, I’m willing to bet that Mayer is going to wait at least a month or two; she has some other very important decisions to make, and while she does make quick decisions, they’re never hasty.

Here’s hoping Mayer gets enough time from shareholders and Yahoo’s board of directors to do whatever she needs to do to turn things around. Who knows? We might even stop seeing the company’s name in the press constantly preceded by the adjectives “beleaguered” or “embattled.” Now that would be a change!

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