Uncertainty at Yahoo Underscores Value of Change Communication

Uncertainty at Yahoo Underscores Value of Change Communication

A month after Verizon announced a deal to acquire Yahoo’s core business for $4.8 billion, Seth Fiegerman takes the pulse of the Internet pioneer’s employees at CNN Money, finding a mix of excitement and deep uncertainty:

For certain teams inside Yahoo, the pending acquisition has created a feeling of cautious optimism and greater momentum after months of uncertainty about who would own the company — a feeling perhaps last felt when CEO Marissa Mayer was hired in 2012 to revive the aging Internet company. Those on Yahoo’s media team, for example, say morale is decent and the division has been given the go ahead to keep hiring this year. …

However, a large purple cloud of uncertainty does remain as employees wait to see which divisions Verizon chooses to invest in and which it chooses to reshuffle or kill off after the acquisition closes early next year. The Tumblr team, for example, has heard very little from Verizon about what’s next, leading some to assume the team is a low priority at best. “They didn’t even send over any Verizon swag, so everyone figures that the phone company doesn’t care enough about Tumblr to make any big waves any time soon,” says one former Tumblr employee.

Some Yahoo employees are starting to look elsewhere. Pat Flynn, a partner at executive recruiting firm The Errigo Group, says he has already found Yahoo executives who are ready to leave the company just in the few weeks since the acquisition was announced.

This is an object lesson in the importance of communication in managing enterprise change. Fiegerman adds that Yahoo “has tried to fight off the possibility of a staff exodus by promising to accelerate employee stock options once the acquisition closes,” but another important tool that leaders can use in this situation is to communicate straightforwardly with employees about the change and what it means for them, facilitating conversations even when they can’t provide all the answers yet. It sounds like Yahoo could be doing more in that regard, especially considering that there seems to be some excitement about the impending change that leaders could harness to help it succeed.

Our recent change management research at CEB teaches that it’s important for employers to talk about change openly with employees, even when there is uncertainty. Specifically, they should encourage employees to share their fears and concerns, and not suppress any negative thoughts or feelings that employees might be expressing. They should also encourage employees to talk with one another, not just their managers, to help them understand the change and determine what they need to do differently to support the change. When a company in the middle of a major change (for example, a pending acquisition) doesn’t open those channels of communication, that makes it hard for employees to implement and help support the change, which decreases the likelihood that it will be successful. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read our full research study on open change communication here.)