culture wars

From the Department of Unsolicited Advice:  Jack Flack gives Carol Bartz six pieces of advice as she tackles the Yahoo CEO job.  Blodget likes all but the first, about reducing the friggin’ moxie, since a little pseudo-profanity makes his own job more entertaining.

To add my own unsolicited advice, which Bartz surely doesn’t need:  only the second point, about the folly of stalking leakers, has a lot of merit – but Blodget already said it much better.  It’s the fifth point that inspired me to post, because it’s truly terrible advice:

5. Ignore the current company culture. Courting the employee masses will have limited upside. Many Yahoos still actually bleed purple, but the percentage of destructive malcontents in Sunnyvale, Calif., rivals that of even the cheesiest reality show. Consequently, the best way to get early traction will be to create a small inner circle of people who want to win, and build from there. As you make decisive moves that are applauded, your support base will grow quickly.

I’m not sure exactly what he means by “ignore the current company culture,” but any way you read it, it’s bad advice.  If he means that the current culture is that of destructive malcontents, then why would you ignore that?  Fixing that poisonous culture should be a top priority.  If he means that cultural change is accomplished by anointing an inner circle of true believers, that’s wrong too – instead it’s a sure formula for creating (or reinforcing, if it already exists) a toxic culture of self-interested politics.

The worst interpretation would be that Bartz should ignore whatever remains of the passion that first made the company succeed, the purple blood that so famously runs in the veins of the devout Yahoos.  That’s exactly the opposite of what the CEO should do.  A great CEO would find and nurture that spark, because it is the only hope of returning the company to any semblance of greatness.  It is eminently possible to revitalize that culture while still weeding out the malcontents and malingerers; in fact, doing the latter would go a long way to accomplishing the former.

Establishing and reinforcing a great company culture is one of the key jobs of any CEO.  The only exception would be if the CEO really was only hired to sell the company ASAP – while that may end up as the outcome, I don’t think Bartz would have come out of retirement if that were her only possible objective.

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