I bet no one’s yodeling at Yahoo these days

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Danielle Rumore.

Sad-yahooWhen I read that Yahoo! had once again done another round of holiday season layoffs, I couldn’t  help but be reminded of Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” You remember the basic messages in that poem – play fair, don't hit people, say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. That type of thing. In today’s fast-paced, competitive world, I think it’s easy to forget or even dismiss the core point of kindness/do-unto-your neighbor in Fulghum’s poem. If you think about it, it really can be a template for how global business leaders should – but too often don’t – do business today.

I don’t pretend to know a single thing about what’s going on inside Yahoo (or at other companies beside my own), but it seems to me that when you lay off 5 or 10% of your staff around the holidays on a somewhat regular basis, something isn’t quite right inside your house. Worse still, companies that are perceived as quick to swing the ax (especially around the holidays) can get a reputation as being heavy-fisted and dismissive of their people without ever really fixing the underlying issues that plague their firms. When my firm represented Yahoo!, we experienced this iron fist mentality first hand. It’s a surefire way to bleed the good talent you do retain (it has happened at Yahoo!), and that leads to worse productivity still, and so on.

Well, maybe that’s just how I see things.

What I do know is that employees don’t respond well to fear or threats. It destroys morale, and scared or unhappy employees translate to poor-performing employees. This post isn’t intended to pick on Yahoo!, but the timeliness of its announcement couldn’t have come at a better (worse?) time.

Now, I’m not naïve nor am I a modern-day Mary Poppins. I’ve worked through two pretty significant recessions – the Dot Com bust and of course our most recent, ugly downturn. I understand (but definitely don’t like) the necessity of needing to cut costs and conduct lay-offs when these dark times come.  But even with these harsh realities and all the attention paid to cost cutting, being “lean” and global competition, I think leaders have lost sight of basic courtesy, kindness and respect for their most important assets – their employees.

My first boss in the PR world, John Bliss, was not only a savvy communications professional and a great teacher, but also a good man. He always said that an agency’s most important asset is its people – which he reiterated to his staff time and time again. He also said goodnight to each and every one of us every day before he left for the night. Every day. It was the little things that made us feel appreciated and also created a loyal and productive staff. That kind of mentality is about as common today as a landline, and it’s kind of sad actually.

To me, there simply is a right way of doing things and a wrong way. Do your lay-offs, streamline your business, reorganize the hell out of the place but then focus on cultivating, breeding and respecting the talent you do have. Treat them nicely, say thank you, recognize and reward good performance, ask them about their families and their interests. Some cookies and milk in the kitchen helps, too.

Most importantly, though, allow everyone to have a voice. Encourage your people to bring some outside thinking to their jobs. You never know where the next great idea will come from – and that great idea may just be the thing that sets your business apart. Then when the tough times come, your employees may just rally around you if they believe you have always had their backs.

9 thoughts on “I bet no one’s yodeling at Yahoo these days

  1. Excellent post, Danielle. It’s not surprising about Yahoo, though. The “tone” of the company starts at the top, and when you have someone in management that literally curses at its employees to make a point…well…need I say more? It’s also interesting that the NY Times stated the information “appeared to be leaked.” It’s interesting because your point about treating employees well is what earns their respect, not threatening them, especially when you say “If I find out who leaks information, I’m going to drop-kick their *ss to f**king Mars.”

  2. Sam, that’s amazing. Those days are definitely long gone. But like I said, while I definitely don’t like lay offs, I do understand that they’re sometimes necessary. Yet, it just feels like certain companies have lost a little humanity in how they handle these matters. And many simply treat the employees they do retain as expendable. I just hope that more companies wake up to realize that at the end of the day, their people are truly their most important asset.

  3. Great post, Danielle. It reminds me of Carol Sanford’s book, “The Responsible Business.” She profiles how Kingsford Charcoal at one point streamlined its business operations to eliminate a good portion of its jobs but made the commitment that they wouldn’t let people go until they found each of them an equal or better job…and stuck to it.

  4. Ann: would you mind calling (212) 931-0010 at 8:30am tomorrow? Thank you. And, go ahead and buy that car you and Bob were thinking of getting.

  5. I thought the timing was awfully tough on the newly ex-Yahoo employees, too, Danielle. It must be pretty demoralizing for everyone who’s left, too, because if you’re working for a company that lays off people at this time of year, how much can they really care about employees?
    But it could be worse; take a look at how Sanofi-Aventis laid off 1700 employees a couple of weeks ago: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/17/rugmaker-lays-off-1700-vi_n_798442.html