Does Yang's E-mail to Yahoo Employees Have Write Stuff?

Ann All

I wrote last month about how many folks seem to have lost sight of theimportance of the Yahoo and Microsoft staffs in the success -- or lack thereof -- in any merger between the two companies.

 

While that's true in any merger, it appears to be especially so in this proposed tie-up, in which Microsoft hopes to acquire some very specific expertise. A Forbes article I cited in my blog quoted an analyst as saying that Microsoft doesn't know how to sell ads but Yahoo certainly does. If any rank-and-file positions were eliminated following a merger, speculated another analyst, they'd likely come from the MSN portal side of the house.

 

Yet one has to assume that employee morale is less than strong at Yahoo these days, what with Carl Icahn attempting to strong-arm his way into a proxy fight to replace sitting Yahoo board members with folks who'd be more amenable to a deal with Microsoft. Far from appearing afraid of Icahn, Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock sent him a letter saying Icahn understood neither Microsoft's proposal to buy Yahoo nor the board's negative response to it, reports The New York Times.

 

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang is doing what he can to rally morale. He obviously realizes it'd be bad for droves of employees to leave the company just when it is trying to revive its financial fortunes. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Yang sent an e-mail to Yahoo workers that lauded the company's "solid results" in 2008's first quarter and urged them to ignore "the rumors and speculation" so they could remain focused on improving Yahoo's business.

 

Of course, it might have been better if Yang took a more personal tone than this (from a copy of the e-mail included in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing):

Yahoo is a great company with a truly unique set of highly-valuable assets that is growing, profitable and executing well on its strategic plan to enhance our leadership position in online advertising.

Jeez, that sounds like it came straight from the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator. If only Yang could have worked in something about synergy.

 

Maybe Yang's famously casual style made it more personal. As the Journal's Katherine Rosman notes, the CEO's message was all in lower-case. Maybe not the best move, according to JoAnne Yates, deputy dean of MIT's Sloan School of Management and an expert in business communication. Yates says:

Although young employees may find the casual style attractive, more mature stockholders could interpret it as not taking the offer and their concerns seriously enough. Thus, it could increase shareholder unhappiness over his refusal of the offer.

I've written before about the different communications styles employed by younger workers. While a survey by placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found 95 percent of recent college graduates possessed basic technology skills, the same couldn't be said for writing ability. The survey found that half of the grads had inadequate writing skills. I cited a Computerworld article in which one expert said the abbreviated writing styles used on Facebook and in text messages doesn't translate well to presentations, proposals and other traditional business communications.

 

For what it's worth, according to the Journal, Yang sent a separate e-mail to Yahoo executives, offering them a list of talking points to address any concerns expressed by employees about Icahn's plan.



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