Yahoo CEO's Criticized Hiring Changes Suggest a Cultural Shift

Marissa Mayer is now personally vetting new employees. One expert commended the move as part of the shifting culture at Yahoo. 

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's provocative decisions continue to make headlines. Or, one might say, her decisions continue to be considered provocative.

Most recently, Mayer has come under fire for making a change to Yahoo's hiring policy in which she now personally reviews every new hire, after they've been vetted by a team of colleagues­.

Critics of the new policy—which reportedly mirrors the little-discussed hiring policy of Mayer's former bosses at Google—say it's creating mountains of paperwork and slowing down the hiring process to a point that Yahoo is unable to hire talented people before they've been scooped up by rival companies.

Slowing down a company's hiring process is a particular sin in Silicon Valley, where talented engineers are aggressively courted and can afford to be choosy.

The Associated Press reported March 20 that Yahoo has acquired Silicon Valley start-up Jybe, less out of a desire to own its product than to bring its five employees, all former Yahoo engineers, back under Yahoo's roof.

Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite, a job recruitment and applicant tracking platform, and the former head of Yahoo Hotjobs, told eWEEK that he expects Mayer has come to the conclusion that "Yahoo needs to change its culture before it can attack its problems," and the best way to influence a company's culture is to be clear and succinct early on.

"With a company the size of Yahoo's, it's a challenge to meet every hire—there's only so much time in a day, and she knows that," Finnigan said. "So clearly, she's decided that the downside risk is worth the upside benefit of changing the culture into something she thinks is more competitive and likely to win. No big decision is going to influence culture without risks."

There have been media reports that Mayer, again like her former Google bosses, has set specific criteria for new hires, such as that they must hail from Ivy League schools. While adding that it's hard to know how real these criteria are, Finnigan offered, "By making these clear and blunt policy changes she's trying to shock the system ... and raise the bar on the work ethic at Yahoo, and then own the culture more. ... She's making clear that the buck stops with her."

Mayer, during her first interview as CEO, emphasized her belief in the importance of a strong company culture.

"I believe that really strong companies have strong cultures. ... Each has their unique and individual flavor. I want to find [Yahoo's] and amplify it. That is how you find the energy," she told Bloomberg Television's Erik Schatzaker. "You can harness that into innovation. ... You can take that energy around culture and find fun ways to apply it to engage users."

Mayer also came under fire earlier this year when she decided that Yahoo staff could no longer be home-based but had to come into the office. The decision set off a national debate about work-life balance and whether Mayer—who took the CEO role when she was seven months pregnant and reportedly recently built a nursery beside her office—was being particularly unfriendly to families.

When Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly made the same decision in March, the world barely paid attention.

A March 17 Boston Globe opinion piece pointed out that no one should feel surprised when Mayer makes the same decisions as her male peers—or hold those decisions against her.

"Mayer didn't succeed by changing the rules of corporate America as she climbed the career ladder. She did it by winning at the old rules," said the report. It went on to note that during Mayer's first five years at Google she pulled 250 all-nighters and to quote what one Mayer colleague told New York Magazine: "She will outwork you. She will outwork anybody."

Whatever changes Mayer is making, "at the end of the day, she is responsible for Yahoo's success or failure, and in my opinion, her actions are demonstrating that she takes that very seriously and she intends to win," said Jobvite's Finnigan.

"Time will prove whether the risks she's taking with [talent] will work or not. Every business decision is risky," he added. "But she's demonstrating an ability to take risks, and I commend her. Yahoo didn't need a CEO who was going to be everyone's friend."

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