Last night I had the incredible opportunity to hear a Fireside Chat with Marissa Mayer and Marc Andreessen at the Andreessen Horowitz TechSummit 2013. The chat was moderated by Adam Lashinsky from Fortune. While the topics were somewhat broad, many of the questions focused on what it takes to achieve a successful turnaround. Put another way – how do companies successfully transform themselves?
Transformation is obviously not a simple problem you can solve with a prescriptive plan that applies in every situation. However, 3 key themes emerged from the discussion last night that are broadly applicable to organizations staring transformation in the face:
Listen to the data
One of the most impressive things about hearing Marissa Mayer speak was how frequently she used very specific data points to support her answers. Adam actually commented on that partway through the conversation – commenting that in typical fashion, she had a wealth of data instantly available on any topic discussed. It was amazing how quickly that diffused what might have otherwise been a controversial question. When asked about her elimination of work from home policies at Yahoo! and the effect it had on recruiting efforts, she responded with data: the number of resumes received on a weekly basis actually increased by about 2,000 per week (from 5K- 7K) during that period, and now they are up even more – 12K a week, which is 1 resume per position at Yahoo! per week. While there’s certainly room to debate causality or correlation, it’s hard to argue with the data.
Iterative change is necessary
Mayer described the environment when she arrived at Yahoo! as one with a lot of pent up desire for change. She said one of the most frequent questions she heard in her early weeks at Yahoo! was, “Can we go now?” People had been waiting for years for the management changes and board changes to sort themselves out. The result was a group of people that had a lot of ideas and just wanted to be given the freedom to go. While massive change in the short term was necessary for Yahoo! to address things that had been stagnant for some time, they are now entering a new phase where being able to iterate rapidly, making small tweaks along the way is the new way of business. That change ranges from continuous refreshes of the user experience to the go to market approach.
Marc and Marissa both talked about “riding platform change” as a key – looking at history – to successful transformation, and Yahoo! views mobile as the platform change that presents that opportunity for them. The change isn’t one that you just make – you go in a direction and you look at the data, then adjust – as often as you need to stay on course.
Start with your people
This topic probably received the most attention from both Marissa and Marc. Marissa cited people as the number one area of focus when she joined Yahoo!, and came back to this point many times throughout the evening. Understanding and analyzing data related to people is an area that we hear about from nearly every customer conversation we have. How can we track how we’re hiring? How can we used what has happened historically to inform what we expect to happen in the future? For many organizations, it’s obvious that people are critical to success, but turning that into something actionable (and data-driven) is elusive for many companies. It’s a pervasive part of every company – lots of different people hiring, recruiting, and managing. Collaboration among the team and clear, consistent targets are the key factors in using people as a competitive advantage.
All of these themes – individually – are generally well known and accepted. Yet the combination of them made for an intriguing conversation about what really drives transformational companies to succeed. You couldn’t ask for a more expert opinion on the keys to driving successful transformation. In high tech, consistent re-invention and transformation is a necessity for long term survival. Many other industries are facing a similar crossroads.