What Leaders Can Learn from Yelp's Mistakes

The company's indifferent treatment of two workers suggests a lack of emotional intelligence. Four things it must do to recover public and employee trust

Written by Evan Thompson

Last week, Yelp fired Jaymee Senigaglia. Her termination, which she chronicled on the blogging platform Medium, was the second widely-followed company-related incident for the company in February—Talia Jane lost her job after publishing “An Open Letter to My CEO” protesting Yelp’s pay policies on the same platform.

The day after Senigaglia’s Medium post, Yelp released a statement on her termination via a tweet pinned to the top of its Twitter account. The note justified her firing as a consequence of “repeated absences (10 of her 59 workdays at Yelp) despite many exceptions to accommodate her needs.” The specific circumstances of the decision—Senigaglia wrote that she was caring for her boyfriend in the ICU, and was given a choice of returning to work, resigning, or being terminated—were not addressed. The statement was cold, and thoughtless.

Yelp is a multinational organization with 2015 revenues reaching U.S. $550 million. Its handling of these two employees may well earn it a place in marketing case histories under “brand obliteration.”

I use that term for several reasons. First, Yelp’s harsh and indifferent explanation on Twitter for Senigaglia’s firing doesn’t help the crowdsourced review platform’s efforts to brand itself as collaborative, service-oriented, empathetic, and trustworthy. Second, for a company that prides itself on its mastery of leveraging social media, it seriously underestimated the speed with which the two letters would spin unchecked throughout the social media universe.

Finally, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stopellman’s decision—he, or someone else at the company must have approved the tweet—to go ahead and publish an insensitive, scripted response to an emotionally charged issue was deeply misguided. It sends a daunting message to other Yelp employees who may be struggling with issues beyond their control outside of work. Coupled with the company’s earlier decision to fire Jane, it points to Stopellman’s and Yelp’s lack of emotional intelligence.

Here’s what Stopellman should do to restore public and employee trust in Yelp, and what other leaders can learn from the company’s mistakes.

1. Build trust through communication

Stopellman needs to conduct a thorough debriefing of the events that led to the firing of the two employees, before either situation repeats itself. Management conversations should try to include the two ex-Yelpers, who could expand on the circumstances that led to them writing their open letters. (Although Senigaglia and Jane would have good reason not to want to participate, given Yelp’s treatment of them).

This inclusive gesture would help Yelp be seen an employer that is prepared to listen in order to make things right for its employees, and teach the brand how to avoid similar situations in the future.

The results of such conversations should be shared with all employees, to begin to rebuild an environment of trust and collaboration.

2. Take an interest in your employees

Yelp should more closely examine the pressures that its employees face, and set up focus groups and workshops to gain calm and objective input. This would not only boost morale, but encourage more employees to remain loyal.

Research shows that millennial employees are largely disengaged and don’t stick around if they don’t feel heard. The 2013 “Build a Better Workplace” study of 1,200 Canadian employees by the Canadian Management Centre and Ipsos Reid found that only 24 percent of millennials were highly engaged at work. If Yelp and its competitors aren’t already tapping into millennials’ full potential, imagine the challenges they will face when the older generation of managers moves on, leaving these now-young workers in charge.

3. Lead by example

Unless Stopellman is willing to sincerely and publicly reflect on his actions, and those of his PR and HR teams, the Yelp brand will sink further into the quicksand of negative social media. A CEO personifies his or her company’s brand, especially in Yelp’s industry where trust and credibility are everything. A cold and thoughtless public response to a personal matter sets the tone for employee engagement across the entire company.

4. Step up or step down

Throughout this brand reclamation process, Stopellman would do well to take stock of his personal brand and work to earn back the sorely-tested trust of Yelp employees, subscribers, and other stakeholders. If he is not up to the challenge of putting an empathetic face on Yelp, perhaps he should stick to overseeing the business strategy and operations and hire someone who could lead the company in a transparent and more empathetic fashion.

Evan Thompson is founder and owner of Evan Thompson & Associates. With 30 years of experience as a leader in the communications industry, Evan offers a customized approach to business development through training in personal branding, relationship development and overall workplace culture modification. He has successfully provided coaching to professionals at all levels of business.


What do you think Yelp needs to do to restore public and employee trust? Let us know by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com