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Process Improvement Through Unreasonable Demands

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Marissa Mayer, the new boss at Yahoo, has a new strategy for catapulting the company forward. According to one source, her plan is to set expectations impossibly high and dismiss people unwilling to meet them.

Business Insider explains the story of a proposal recently delivered to the CEO:

Mayer told the team she loves the new product so much that she wants it shipped by December 1 – months ahead of the schedule the team itself had put together.

Mayer told the team they had one week to figure out if they could meet this deadline.

If, at the end of that week, the team decided they would not be able to meet the December 1 deadline, Mayer said she would find a team that could.

Is this the face of a boss who issues ultimatums?

consulting on Marissa Mayer

© Flickr user NAMEHERE

It is not yet clear if this story is 100% true. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is and follow the logic:

  1. A team works hard to come up with a new product idea, complete with a production schedule
  2. The boss loves the idea, but not the schedule. Without having created the idea or done the research herself, she insists on a more aggressive timeframe.
  3. Employees are given an entire week to decide if they can meet the deadline that the CEO selected (which presumably she did not take more than a few seconds to determine.)
  4. If they decide it is not possible, she will give their idea to someone else and perhaps even fire those employees.

This is a recipe for disaster. It’s an insult to the professionalism of the team, because it implies they either lied about the schedule or aren’t nearly competent as another group.

This scenario also highlights a lack of judgment in management. She has indirectly told her workers that they are unqualified. She is also establishing a precedent as someone who refuses to trust an estimate at face value.

If the employees accept the challenge, the result will be exhaustion and probably failure. If another group steps up—who knows less about the project because it wasn’t their idea—the result will likely be exhaustion and failure.

consulting on fatigue at work

© Flickr user MrSnooks

How could a management error this enormous happen so quickly? Is this a true story or bad reporting?

We’re looking forward to finding out more. But in the meantime, let’s all agree that you cannot conduct process improvement simply by making unreasonable demands.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 3 weeks ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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