Why Marissa Mayer embraces micromanagement

Management by microscope.
Management by microscope.
Image: Reuters/Reubin Sprich
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Marissa Mayer has been criticized for a number of management issues at Yahoo, including instituting a version of stack ranking and changing the company’s remote work policy.

A common thread in this criticism is a reputation as a micromanager: that she gets intensely involved in minor product details, makes big demands, and doesn’t always take feedback well.

Rather than denying that characterization, she embraced it in an interview with Steven Levy that appeared on Medium. From the piece:

Mayer embraces her penchant for detail. “[Though] micromanagement can be viewed as a criticism, it can also be something that can make you a lot more successful,” she says. “And for me over the course of my career, and especially here, it’s been about, how do I use the fact that I can keep a lot of facts and details in my mind to my advantage?” The way to do that, she concludes, is “telescoping in on something that really matters.”

The obsession with product, user experience, and her strong point of view is a strength, she argues. For example, her insistence that her team find a way to use the time users spend thumbing their email app to refresh it led to a news and search integration that created millions of extra minutes of user engagement, according to Yahoo mobile head Adam Cahan.

Others at the company told Levy that much of the criticism she faces is unfair, and disproportionate to any perceived failings.  But Mayer declined to do the same, saying that she ignores negative stories about her and that she never plays the gender card. In fact, she argues that her gender doesn’t matter at all.

“In technology we live at a rare, fast-moving pace,” Mayer said. “There are probably industries where gender is more of an issue, but our industry is not one where I think that’s relevant.”