An Open Letter to Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer
Yahoo Inc.
701 First Ave
Sunnyvale, CA 94089

Dear Ms. Mayer,

Note: Unlike the many other “open letters” that have been written to you recently, I offer no sarcasm here. I mean every word I say.

Your recent announcement of workplace policy at Yahoo ignited an exciting public debate. I know you are not alone with frustration about far-flung teams and the challenge of inspiring them. I applaud your decision to focus on collaboration and search for a solution that works. As someone who started in theatre and now assists business leaders to develop strategies to inspire their teams, create collaboration and drive sales, I know the value of “face to face” communication.

The advances in motion pictures, video and the Internet have made many wonder why the theatre still exists. And yet it does and there is still no replacement for actors using their skills in person to deliver stories to move an audience. This correlates closely with your desire to bring your team face-to-face to create excitement and forward motion.

I have seen business leaders in your position, with the same conundrum, who have successfully leveraged today’s technology to create theatre and communicate an inspiring message across the globe. It must be planned well and executed even better, but it can work…even if you cannot get all of your team under one roof or on one campus.

Truly think of it as theatre…you have your actors (the employees) who want to inspire their audience (the customers) with a message crafted by the playwrights (your marketing team, sales team, etc.). You have producers (your investors) who are keen on profits, success and ROI. And you are the director, the one who must put this all in motion in a way that rallies the troops and inspires them all to hold on while the plot unfolds and brings them together, all pulling in one direction toward one vision.

Inspiration from a good director will motivate actors to do their jobs well and the production generated will get good reviews. However, inspiration from a great director will motivate the group to inspire each other, resulting in a production that will generate great reviews. In the end, you want your message to resonate with your team in a way that drives them to work together, to inspire one another.

You can do this whether they are all at desks in the same building, or whether they are in offices around the globe. I’ve seen it done.

Before Tyco announced plans to split the company in 2011, we worked with their leadership team to create a global theatre event that took the company’s siloed teams around the world and brought them together through a video webcast resulting in a level of understanding and camaraderie never seen in their sales teams before. It wasn’t the technology that succeeded. That was just the delivery system. It was the message that we worked to craft and hone with their leadership, like a Broadway script, that attracted their audience. And it was the performance of that message that inspired thousands to reach across silos and invigorate product development and sales. The stage was the floor of one of their Chinese plants and the audience was gathered in groups in large rooms in front of screens and in front of individual computer monitors throughout the globe.

The result was rave reviews from an inspired team that was re-invigorated to work together. We’ve seen this work time and time again when the leader is courageous and willing to create a potent message and hone it until it can’t help but resonate with the audience.

If I understand your memo correctly, isn’t that the end result for which you are striving?

In Erik Brynjolfsson’s book, Working Against the Machine, he concludes that success can be achieved today only if we learn to work with the machine. Inspiring people today requires working with the new methods and delivery mechanisms, not going back to earlier models that have proven less useful over time. Your leadership in finding a balance between face-to-face communications and “online theatre” (of which Yahoo is an inseparable part) will be the answer to your quest.

You certainly have your team’s attention. Bravo. Now, you need to inspire your cast and crew to, in turn, inspire your customers. Imagine the potential.

Should you like to talk about this further, I’m here – and online. I would truly love to discuss your challenge and what success looks like for you.

Respectfully,
Rick Preston
Preston Productions Inc.

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