vendredi 31 juillet 2015

Yahoo’s Mission

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[Original post in French]

[UPDATE, November 12, 2015] Wow! I can't believe it, today Yahoo crafted a 24th mission: Yahoo is a guide focused on making users' digital habits inspiring and entertaining... I guess the next one will be written directly by McKinsey!

[UPDATE, Febbruary 19, 2016] Marissa did it again, three months later: the 25th mission commutes the 24th mission in the 23rd one: Yahoo is a guide focused on informing, connecting, and entertaining our users... Finally, the last and true one is probably “Yahoo is exploring strategic alternatives to sell ... Yahoo!
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A press release dated July 7, 2015 states:
Yahoo is a guide focused on informing, connecting, and entertaining our users. By creating highly personalized experiences for our users, we keep people connected to what matters most to them, across devices and around the world. In turn, we create value for advertisers by connecting them with the audiences that build their businesses.
This is the 23rd time Yahoo has changed “missions” since its inception in January 1994. That’s more than one mission for every year!

I was quite surprised to discover this “news,” especially since I had just compiled Yahoo’s previous 22 missions in an infographic, which I posted on June 25 (and updated since), just one week BEFORE Yahoo AGAIN changed missions!

By chance, on the very same day an internal memo signed by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was leaked. It revealed the company’s new mission statement:
Today, I want to share more on the overall context and connective tissue between our mission, worldview, strategy and culture. It is critical that we start the new fiscal year with this shared vision on what we can do and who we want to become. 
Mission. Every great company has an enduring mission. Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. I’m proud to share that this is our new official mission statement. This mission is ambitious and at the core of what our customers deeply care about.
And, in keeping with what the Microsoft chief had already announced a week earlier, the company’s official blurb is now:
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world and is focused on empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.  
A mission. That’s the key: “Every great company has an enduring mission.” Except Yahoo, apparently.

At the beginning it seemed that Ms. Mayer was planning to rewire Yahoo:
Mayer's most important job is to articulate a vision of what Yahoo can be beyond what she has described as giving "end users something valuable and delightful that makes them want to come to Yahoo every day." That mission statement is not different from that offered by her many CEO predecessors at Yahoo.
Yet Marissa Mayer is also convinced that “very strong companies have very strong cultures, and Yahoo is no exception.” She uttered these words in a very interesting interview with Bloomberg TV at the 2013 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where she discussed the future of internet technology and search with Erik Schatzker.

Her statement seems in stark contrast with reality. A company with a strong culture does not change missions every year. Between 1994 and July 2012, there were 18 changes in 18 years. And between July 16, 2012 (the day Yahoo hired Marissa Mayer) and today, there have been five more changes, for an even faster pace than during the 18 previous years!

Could this be validation of the “disappointment” expressed by Shar VanBoskirk, a Forrester analyst for B2C marketing professionals, in her post titled “Marissa Mayer Doesn't Fit Yahoo!'s Needs” on the day Mayer was appointed? She says:
Yahoo! needs a strategic visionary, not a product engineer. (…) And Mayer's background is in product development...not corporate strategy, not marketing, not brand definition...the areas where Yahoo! has the most critical need. 
Yahoo! needs a strategic vision, not individual product promotion. My other worry with Mayer's appointment is that it signals yet another shift in strategic vision for Yahoo!. I count four different strategies over the last four years. (…) 
Now, Yahoo! seems to be chasing a new vision: one which emphasizes individual Yahoo! products, over a big-picture brand. I am not a fan of this vision (see my first point above), but I also hate that Yahoo! can't identify and stick with a clear strategy for more than about 10 months. 
The optimist in me hopes that the third time will be the charm here for Y! with its post-Yang CEO choices. Mayer will prove me wrong if she can: 
  1. Define a clear vision for the Yahoo! brand; 
  2. Get rid of the extraneous Yahoo! products that have nothing to do with that vision (say its Web hosting or domain registration businesses?); and 
  3. Market the new vision clearly so that business and consumer customers know what Yahoo! is and why to use it.
Three years later, how can we reconcile “having a strong culture” with still not having a clearly identified mission upon which the company can build and grow over the long term? Can we say with confidence that Mayer has been able “to define a clear vision for the Yahoo! brand and market it clearly so that business and consumer customers know what Yahoo! is and why to use it”?

No! As I concluded in my first post on this crucial topic for any company (first published on March 1, 2010 and updated on June 24, 2011), having too many missions & visions just means you have no mission, no vision at all!

As a result, Yahoo’s core business, once the leading guide to the internet, is now valued at $4bn, just 1 per cent of Google's latest valuation.

Yahoo even pulled off the tour de force of failing to buy Google for $3bn in 2002. Page and Brin can seriously thank Terry Semel.

Proportionally speaking, it’s a similar situation to Blockbuster, which refused to buy Netflix in 2000 for $50m. Today, Blockbuster doesn't exist and Netflix is worth about $43bn.

But since Yahoo does still exist, probably more for historical than economic reasons, I wondered what might be its actual mission going forward. What might form a mission that is both unifying and enduring?

Before offering my own answer to this question, I decided to do an in-depth analysis of the 23 missions put forth by Yahoo since its IPO in 1996. I figured this would at least tell us something interesting about what Yahoo thinks about Yahoo.

There’s nothing like a visual representation to give you a clear overview of the evolution:

Right off the bat, we see four major periods emerge, each corresponding to a specific era in Yahoo’s governance:
  • 1996-2001, CEO Tim Koogle, 6 missions, a new one each year 
  • 2002-2009, CEOs Terry Semel + Jerry Yang, 6 missions 
  • 2009-2012, 4 CEOs: Carol Bartz, Tim Morse [interim], Scott Thompson & Ross Levinsohn [interim], 6 missions 
  • 2012-present, CEO Marissa Mayer, 5 missions

This breakdown is confirmed by a statistical analysis of the 23 missions, with a list of the 15 most frequently used terms for each of the four periods:





So the statistical analysis of the 23 missions total 1291 words, averaging 56 words per statement, and all the terms that appear most often within each of the four periods (aside from “Yahoo” and its variations) form a semantic cloud revealing the 40 most frequently used words:

As you can see with just a glance at the cloud, the “vision” is completely lost in the whole, which is more a cacophony offering little hope of any coherence. Maybe that’s also why, in the last two missions, Yahoo has lost its exclamation point.

Shar VanBoskirk had already noted in 2011
Yahoo! lacks vision and a focused corporate strategy. This is Yahoo!'s greatest challenge: it is everything... a content company, an email engine, a database marketer, a publisher network, an ad server, an ad management platform, but with no overarching vision of why all of these things and how they fit together. 
This is precisely the image we get from the word cloud!

Here is a table of these 40 words weighted by number of occurrences:






















However, in the Bloomberg interview Marissa Mayer seems to offer interesting answers to what Yahoo’s mission and vision should be. The one I find the most convincing is this:
She said that the Web has become “vast” with content, and that what Yahoo can do is use all the contextual clues it has about its users – their “social context,” their specific location, their activity on Yahoo and elsewhere – “to make sense of the content.” In short, what Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo will do is present “The Internet, ordered for you.”
She calls it a return to the company’s roots:
That’s interesting, because it actually brings Yahoo back to its roots – that’s what Yahoo was – it took the internet and ordered it up. Now it’s so vast, you can’t just categorize it any more.
At the same time she seems to allude to Yahoo’s return to search, which had been the company’s biggest failure next to Google: “You become the query, so Yahoo will take all daily habits and all signals and map them in the user’s interest graph, create an ontology of entities, relations between objects, and the Web ordered for you…”

Why not? It certainly seems like a great new mission (and vision) for a company like Yahoo, but she would be more credible if she started by putting Yahoo in order, and then the Web. As an example, there is still a complete lack of consistency between the company’s 23rd mission (still different from the official one) and the one that appears on Yahoo's site or on Yahoo’s Twitter account (malaysian one, still with the old logo) and abroad, where Yahoo France is different than Yahoo Italia and so on. I can’t even imagine what the other countries and languages look like.

Let's have a look at the different mission statements on different official Yahoo sites as of July 31, 2015:

As a result, after 21 years of reflection and 23 unsuccessful attempts to create a compelling, unifying and enduring statement for users as well as shareholders and investors, the time may have come for Yahoo and its executives to solve this problem.

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From the very beginning of the Yahoo enterprise, starting with the meaning of the name (Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle), it all reminds me of Diderot and the Encyclopedists during the Enlightenment: their dream was not only to gather all the knowledge in the world, but “to change the way people think.” So the authors chose this verse [242] from Horace’s Ars Poetica as part of the Epigraph:

In other words:

So great is the power of the right arrangement and connection 

Wouldn’t that be an excellent, authentic mission for Yahoo?

Other posts on the same matter: 

1 commentaire:

  1. These are simply mission statements that are filled with empty statements, not of objectives but of even a scintilla of genuine meaning.