When Marissa Mayer was appointed Yahoo’s new CEO on Monday the IT industry’s reaction unfolded in two parts which followed each other in rapid succession. There was the giddy shock of the unexpected – she’s an original Googler leaving for the competition! She’s a woman! – which almost immediately gave way to a sense of doom. Why would anyone, even someone as talented and ambitious as Mayer, join what seems like a sinking ship?
As she takes the helm on Tuesday Mayer will face a situation, albeit on a much larger scale, which isn’t unlike of many CIOs and IT managers who join a new organization and walk into a long history of political battles, failures and false starts. She will be battling not simply the shortage of time, lack of optimal resources and learning curve typical of any new leader, but also a wall of skepticism and naysayers who have been watching Yahoo struggle amid a revolving door of senior executives.
IT professionals no doubt have it much easier than Mayer will, but consider the following obstacles, and perhaps use her as a case study in why it’s worth taking on what may sometimes seem impossible:
- Legacy nightmares – Yahoo is still young by most Fortune 500 standards but it has a storied history of products and services that may not have performed as expected and an entrenched way of pursuing business opportunities. Just as Mayer will have to dig through what works and what doesn’t, IT managers often find themselves drowning in a sea of hardware and software complexity, a mess that they did nothing to create. Best to face it confidently and head-on, with the ideas of an experienced outsider, which is exactly what Mayer is to Yahoo.
- Low morale – it can’t be easy going through the waves of layoffs that Yahoo has experienced, not to mention relentlessly negative press coverage. When technology has routinely failed to live up to expectations, IT managers and CIOs can face a similar sense of wariness and outright hostility from the very stakeholders with whom they need to develop strong relationships. The only way to combat that is to emphasize the opportunity for a fresh start. Watch Mayer to do this as she courts employees, shareholders and partners.
- Competitive pressures – There was a time when IT leaders were brought on to run a standard set of tools for business users. Now they are expected to offer innovative strategies that will set their organizations apart from the competition. Coming from what is widely considered one of the most creative companies outside of Apple, one of Mayer’s biggest tests will be her ability to facilitate breakthrough thinking and deliver cutting-edge offerings on a par with Google.
It might seem strange to leave the top dog in search for an organization that seems to be going through an identity crisis, but Mayer realizes that there is a lot more to learn and accomplish by turning tough situations around. Few CIOs and IT managers get to work at an industry leader, either. The best of them know their growth – professional and personal – will come when they take the good and make it great. Getting in on the early days of a company like Google might lead many people to stay there for life. Take inspiration in Marissa Mayer, who, despite having found so much success in her career already, has decided to keep on searching.