The Lesson from Yahoo: Like It or Not, Every Manager IS a Role Model

© Andres Rodriguez -
© Andres Rodriguez -

“I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board,” Carol Bartz wrote to her company’s workforce.

“These people f***** me over.”

Why don’t you have the balls to tell me yourself?”

“The board was so spooked by being cast as the worst board in the country,” Bartz opined. “Now they’re trying to show that they’re not the doofuses that they are.”

These were all quotes from the aftershock of the way that the CEO of Yahoo was fired. If you did not know better you would think that this was a segment from the “Real Housemates of Yahoo” reality show.

This can’t be corporate America acting out! Who gets the time out? Are you kidding me? As my favorite fictional hero leader Vito Corleone would say, “How did things ever get so far apart?”

That is what it felt like for me in watching this episode unfold on last week.

Upheavals in the ranks

There were quite a few upheavals in the C-suite last week. AOL dismissed the founder of TechCrunch. Band of America let two of their senior executives go.

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired over the phone by Yahoo's Board Chairman.
Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired over the phone by Yahoo's Board Chairman.

But the Oscar for dysfunction in corporate America has to go to Yahoo.

The difference between BofA, AOL and Yahoo is that their playbooks were a lot different. The first two made their announcements with standard press releases, including the normal “seeking other opportunities” language and a mention of restructuring the layers within the organization. Regardless of your thoughts about these generic announcements, you have to admit that generic looks pretty good right now.

As this unfolded my thoughts were in two directions: first, for the employees and second, about the organization.

I have always felt that the proper way to release someone was to do it with dignity. In the era of social media, this has to be the model you use.

Employees and role modeling

If Yahoo’s senior team is acting this way, try and imagine how the employees felt. Trust me, there was no productivity going on in the office the day this all came down. Everyone was surely gathered around in “water cooler conversation.”

There were probably calls from family and friends, wondering what it meant for them. Why? Because in the end everyone today is worrying about that paycheck. For the star players, their stock just rose a little. They will now be receptive to the head hunters call. Calls will now be returned.

Every manager in every company, whether they like it or not, is a role model. What you say, how you say it, and how you lead all makes an impression on someone. From the mail room to the C-suite, (and in this case, the boardroom) every leader is a role model. Whether you agree with that statement or not, it’s true.

We all are like beacons in the night, broadcasting our signal. That is why being aware is so important.

That is why we should all be aware of the message we are sending out. Employees are watching and worrying, potential employees are watching and wondering, investors are watching and worrying, and corporate governance professionals are watching and just shaking their heads.

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Talent takes a step back

Yahoo recruiters trying to entice talent to come through the doors of Yahoo were just slapped in the face. Yes, good luck with that. Highly talented professionals within the cocoon of Yahoo just realized that, “maybe I should start looking?”

Gen X and Gen Y, already skeptical of organizations anyway, just got a wake-up call. And their next CEO is looking up from the sidelines and is wondering whether taking the helm of Yahoo is really worth it.

Then, the rumor that the company has also put itself up for sale just made everybody’s job that much harder. Whatever search firm handles this has more than their work cut out for them.

Where was HR’s guidance?

But after all of this I have a much bigger question: where was Yahoo’s HR board member?

I am sure that the board did not give this a thought, because as I read through the bio’s of the board, there are no former or current Chief HR Officers on it.

According to the NACD (National Association of Corporate Directors):

The top three issues for public company boards have remained the same over the past three years: strategic planning and oversight, corporate performance and valuation, and CEO succession. It is easy to see that many of these board issues have people implications as do some of the major responsibilities of boards.”

Does this not call out for HR representation, or am I missing something?

They should be ashamed of themselves

According to the NACD study, less than 2 percent of all director seats are filled with executives with an HR background. Knowing that, you wonder why you do not see more of these type actions?

So there you have it. Any board-level HR director would have reined in this action immediately and taken everyone back to the drawing board to rethink this. Then, it would have been staged in a way that would be employee, investor, and Wall Street friendly.

These people on the Yahoo Board created a royal mess. They have left the employees with that glazed look about their careers. The loyalty and trust between the parties is gone. Boards know better, leaders know better.

My Grandmother’s favorite saying after I would mess up was “Boy you should be ashamed of yourself.” Yes Grandma, they should — all of them.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


1 Comment on “The Lesson from Yahoo: Like It or Not, Every Manager IS a Role Model

  1. Firing anyone by phone is a copout and increases the potential for litigation.Yahoo clearly made a poor decision terminating Bartz by phone.

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