On his blog Jeremy Zawodny poses an open question regarding Yahoo’s malaise:
The less obvious problem is a deeper cultural issue. It’s an institutionalized lack of accountability that makes it easy to blame others (upper management, other product teams, “market forces”, and so on) for things that don’t happen.
Of course you can acquire your way to greatness; that’s the core of the success of companies like Cisco and HP. The problem is that buying successful teams/products doesn’t always work. But if that’s not working there are a couple of possible reasons why: 1) you’re not integrating the acquisition properly; 2) the acquisition wasn’t a good fit in the first place; 3) your strategy changed between the time you made the acquisition, etc., etc.
It’s also possible that if your acquisition strategy isn’t working, you’re just not doing enough of it. Cisco (to use the canonical example) snaps up an absurd number of companies each year, and that company has a culture and a process to support that efficiently.
Bad company culture isn’t nobody’s fault, and no product team within a bad culture can be successful forever. Responsibility for systemic cultural problems has to land at the feet of executive management; middle managers can’t be responsible for fixing it. (I know, I’ve tried.)
There’s an excellent term from the startup world that applies to Yahoo: “bias toward action”. There is no bias toward action at Yahoo, and there hasn’t been for years. There’s very little reward for accomplishing anything, and there are no consequences for doing nothing.
If Yahoo’s CEO, whoever that’s going to be this week, could wave a magic wand and fix one problem at the company, I’d fix that one. But that’s not the wand that Carol Bartz is waving (she’s elected to solve a problem that’s far easier, which is cutting costs).