Yahoo! translates attraction into engagement

Yahoo! has faced a huge challenge in dealing with what it calls ‘hypergrowth’. Thanks to rapid sales growth and a series of acquisitions between 2003 and 2005, the company’s headcount went from 5,000 to 10,000, and the European workforce almost doubled in 2005 alone. Helen Russell, vice-president for HR at Yahoo!, who joined the company in September 2005, reports that she did “one reorganisation a month” during her first five months in the job.

Now the company is keen to capitalise on the skills of this burgeoning workforce, creating a culture of loyalty and engagement in a market where many employees only stay with an organisation for a few years at most. “The concept of staying in a job in our industry is unheard of,” says Russell. “We would like to think we’re taking more of a longer-term approach, which is revolutionary in our space.”

Earlier this year, Yahoo! decided to split talent acquisition and talent management into two separate teams within the business. There is a vice-president of talent management who manages both teams. Grant Bassett heads up talent acquisition in Europe. He will base its strategy on a similar project in the US, where he says the company is “a year or two ahead of the game than the UK”.

Extended involvement

The aim of the talent acquisition team is not just to ensure Yahoo! has access to enough skilled workers, but that these new recruits are engaged enough with the company to want to stay and build a career. For this reason, the talent acquisition department’s involvement lasts for six months after an employee has joined, handling their induction and helping them to settle in.

“My job doesn’t stop just because someone has signed an offer letter,” says Bassett. The market for staff in online brands is hugely competitive and highly brand-led, with Yahoo! competing with the likes of Google and AOL for niche skills.

To become more competitive, Yahoo! has made an effort to be more proactive in how it approaches employer branding. HR and the talent teams get more involved in briefing both interviewers and candidates on what to expect, and building more in-house expertise in aspects of recruitment such as assessment. Everyone wears Yahoo! name badges in the office, which Bassett believes demonstrates the emotional commitment the staff have to where they work.

On a practical level, Yahoo! has built a tiered series of programmes around learning and development, with separate programmes for senior management, middle management and more junior staff. It also uses the Gallup Strengthsfinder tool to identify each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. The top 10 executives at Yahoo! in Europe all have coaches, and senior managers receive incentives for good performance management and low attrition rates.

Yahoo!’s next challenge will be to increase global mobility within the company as demand for internet services shifts to other parts of the world.

“The market for broadband in the US is saturated, but elsewhere this is not the case, so I think that talent will move east,” says Bassett.

Lessons learned: Helen Russell, vice-president for HR, Yahoo!

  • A manager’s role shouldn’t be to motivate; you should hire motivated people at the start.
  • Good talent acquisition starts by looking after people when they arrive, but is also about ensuring they are successful.
  • Look at people’s capabilities, not just at what university degree they did.

The challenge: attraction

  • Yahoo! has grown at a phenomenal rate since the company was founded in 1994, making it difficult to track talent.
  • Staff in the internet industry tend to move around and are frequently headhunted, so it needed to create a culture of loyalty.
  • In a competitive market, Yahoo! had to cultivate its employer brand to attract new recruits

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