What Yahoo’s Situation Can Teach Sales Leaders and Everyone Else at that Matter

Yahoo’s in trouble.  They’ve laid off 700 employees and their scuttling a number of the properties they’ve acquired over the last few years.   The most notable, the popular social bookmarking site, Delicious.

There are a number of reason’s why Yahoo’s in trouble but I thought this quote from Chad Dickerson Etsy CTO and former Yahoo developer was telling.

“In my experience, entrepreneurs moving into Yahoo! often got stuck doing PowerPoints about “strategy” instead of writing code and shipping products.”

This one from long time Yahoo Engineer Kellan Elliott-McCrea also sheds some light.

I recently pulled up a worklog I was keeping in 2008-2009, and I found 18 meetings scheduled over a 9 month period discussing why Flickr’s API was poorly designed and when we’d be shutting it down and migrating it to the YOS Web Services Standard.

What both of these quotes have in common is they describe a company that didn’t let people do their jobs.   Yahoo acquired  a number of successful companies, with a track record of success and buried them in micro-management, bureaucracy and administration.   They didn’t leave them to do their jobs.  This is the lesson to sales leaders and everyone else at that matter.  Hire good people and let them do their  job.

Yahoo’s is not alone in their inability to let the talented people they have do their job.  As companies get bigger and add more employees work starts to be more focused on reporting, documenting, and protecting.   The work becomes an effort to avoid mistakes.  Shipping takes longer, innovation is stifled, and decisions are dragged out.  The smart people who got them there slowly loose their ability to do their job.

Sales leaders, leaders in other areas should take note.  Let your people do their job.

I’ve seen and worked in too many companies where leaders and cultures inhibit talent by not allowing them to do their jobs.  They build cultures where reporting and meetings are the norm and where a culture for making mistakes, making decisions, are the rarity.  They lack structures that empower their employees to spend money or make decisions at their level.   They measure the idea, not the result.  More time is spent determining if an idea is good enough to move forward, rather than going for it then measuring and learning from the result.

If you run a sales team or are in another leadership position and you require your people provide you with trip reports, weekly status or activity reports, if every person on your team doesn’t have signature authority for at least some level of spending, if discussions focus on what people are doing rather than what they’ve accomplished or haven’t accomplished, if your people aren’t allowed to make decisions that affect their business without permission, you’re not letting them do their job.

Hire smart people.  Tell them what you want them to do.   Ask them how they are going to do it.  Set specific measurable goals.  Allow them to make decision about their business without you.  Build milestones to determine progress and then get out of the way.   Don’t make them report on their time.  Don’t make them report on their activities.  Don’t tell them what to do.  Don’t make them justify all their decisions.  Don’t build processess that focus on avoiding mistakes, but rather how to learn from them and capitalize on them.

The best way to make sure sales teams or organization will be successful isn’t to micro-manage or to focus on their activities but to hire the best possible people and build a culture that empowers them.  Replace activity reports and activity management with efforts designed to drive ownership and accountability to results.  Build processes that focus on decision making, iteration, learning from mistakes, innovation, and self-direction.

Yahoo is struggling because they didn’t let people do their jobs.  They acquired good, strong companies that were more than capable and stopped allowing them to do their jobs.   Once the focus moves from allowing and empowering people to do their jobs to telling people how to do their jobs or inhibiting people from doing their jobs the game is over.

It’s easy to feel we need to control things.  It’s easy to think we need to keep things from failing and mistakes from being made, but by doing so all upside is lost.  The only thing this does is keep bad things from happening, it doesn’t allow good things to happen.  It’s the quintessential playing not to lose.

Leaders, let your people do their job.  Give them the tools to be successful.  Let them make mistakes.  Build a culture that learns from mistakes and gets better because of them, focus on results not activities, hire the best, reward innovation not safety,  and let go.

Yahoo spent millions on good companies, but didn’t let them do what made them great companies.  Learn form Yahoo, don’t hire great people and not let them do what made them great.   Let your people do their jobs.  It’s your job.

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