Dear Marissa:

It was great to see the New York Times headline this weekend touting Yahoo’s purchase of Tumblr and other start ups. The deal presents a great opportunity to tap into Tumblr’s 117 million (mostly young) users and better connect Yahoo with the future of the internet rather than the past. Of course, another big reason for this purchase is to pick up the talent that will come with owning Tumblr. It sounds like you’ve already locked down Tumblr’s 26-year-old CEO, David Karp, for at least four years. You might even secure his next level of leadership. But, what about the rest of the crew? Will the best and brightest stay on once absorbed into the mothership—or run away as quickly as possible?

Based on decades of experience helping companies like yours navigate this precise challenge, I have some ideas to help you head off the likelihood of a talent hemorrhage while shortening the post-acquisition fracas by 50%. You need to limit the loss of productivity and costs associated with losing top talent out of frustration with the transition process. You should focus your efforts on analyzing and reducing the inevitable talent risks you will face as the companies merge.

In order to get people back to work quickly you need to ensure that each employee down the line can answer three key questions as soon as possible and in alignment with your executives’ vision:

  1. What is my new role and how does it fit in the big picture? (So employees can focus on the highest priorities, make good decisions, and see a future for themselves.)
  2. What tasks am I personally responsible to master? (So employees can plan their time and return to productivity quickly.)
  3. How will I know if I am doing my tasks the right way in the new organization?(So employees can line up behind the right technical leader—the standard bearer for a task or group of tasks—whether he or she comes from Tumblr or Yahoo.)

I can tell you from over twenty years of experience helping blue chips and other major organizations go thru similar transitions that these three questions are both straightforward and highly elusive. From a talent and knowledge transfer perspective, the consequence of not answering them explicitly is clear: the best people (who have options in the job market) give up and quit. I’d like to provide you with a quick and clear way to ensure that the technical talent that made Tumblr successful will stay on board and get back to work as quickly as possible helping Yahoo win in the marketplace.

Best of luck as you continue to help bring Yahoo forward. I look forward to talking with you about this.

Steve Trautman 
Knowledge transfer expert and Principal at The Steve Trautman Co.