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Leadership Now

New "Nimble, Collaborative, Decisive" Microsoft So Far None Of Those Things

Steve Ballmer wants Microsoft to get nimble. So like any lean-thinking executive, he typed up a 2,720-word memo. How'd that go? We asked leadership experts for their takes on Ballmer's big moment.

New "Nimble, Collaborative, Decisive" Microsoft So Far None Of Those Things

When all but the most productive among us were still hitting the snooze button at 6 a.m. this morning, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent out an email to his entire staff. In some 2,720 words, Ballmer detailed his vision for "a far-reaching realignment of the company."

The shake-up is aimed at pulling Microsoft’s 90,000 employees together into fewer divisions to make the software behemoth behave more like a nimble startup—and maybe even innovate.

In a section subheaded "Communicative," Ballmer wrote: "In the new, rapid-turn world, we need to communicate in ways that don’t just exchange information but drive agility, action, ownership and accountability."

Um, okay. Alignment is a good thing, especially as the company struggles with a series of less-than-stellar product launches. Despite speedier delivery of upgrades (to three months from three years), product groups operating as completely separate entities spawned a portfolio of products that look like they were created by different companies.

Apple was in a tough spot, too, when it restructured in 1997. But Steve Jobs’s announcement was vastly different. As former Appple employee John Lilly noted in a Tumblr post: "Someone in the audience asked him about Michael Dell’s suggestion in the press a few days previous that Apple should just shut down and return the cash to shareholders, and as I recall, Steve’s response was: ‘Fuck Michael Dell. If you want to make Apple great again, let’s get going. If not, get the hell out.’ I think it’s not an overstatement to say that just about everyone in the room loved him at that point, would have followed him off a cliff if that’s where he led."

Could Ballmer have said it better? We asked some experts to weigh in:

"It's hard to imagine how complex it is to transform and motivate a company as big and far-reaching as Microsoft. However, I've found that teammates at work are just like consumers at home. They want a short summary of how this affects them, more detailed information on demand, and candor throughout. I think the message is powerful here but might get lost on some due to the length and complexity of the language. The best quote I ever heard on communication is, ‘Be brief, be bold and be gone."

—Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight

"One thing that really seemed to be missing was a central message that was relatable and repeatable. In an era when everyone is inundated by email, this one is extremely long, has a lot of detail but few phrases to carry forward—there are great nuggets in here, including motivational nuggets, but they are buried."

—Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking

"This is a drastic cultural shift for Microsoft. Steve Ballmer should have said:

  • I recognize this is an about-face for how we have operated in the past. Gone are the business unit silos; we are arranging by function and now need to work horizontally.
  • I am realigning our rewards and compensation to support the collaboration required.  
  • Annual bonuses will now be linked to team and company goals, so we can put Company, Team, and Individual needs in that order.

—Val Wright, leadership growth expert, Val Wright Consulting

"We like for our messages to be inspiring and fun and with a whole lot of energy mixed in. If the message speaks to you on an emotional level, you are more likely to believe it, deliver on it, and share it with others. When we talk to our Rackers about our vision and culture, we combine the message with stories that everyone can relate to." 

—Sophie Yanez, culture program manager at Rackspace

Obviously, the announcement is just the beginning. The real work is still ahead and employees need more than a long-winded memo to get fired up about the changes. If the reviews from staff on employment site Glassdoor are any indication, Ballmer and company are going to have their work cut out to shift the culture from one heavily based in processes, politics, and "draconian" rankings for staff.
 

"A re-organization is a step forward but will not solve the core cultural issues identified by Ballmer. It won't get them to 'One Microsoft.' The challenge will be to create enough broad-based urgency, given they're so big and there's no immediate crisis. The real question is what are they going to do post-reorganization to actually change the culture. The re-org will not change the way they behave and act because they've spent years and years doing business in competitive silos. It is going to be less about telling people what they need to do differently and more about engaging their hearts and minds to pursue the exciting opportunities ahead for Microsoft."

—Randy Ottinger, executive vice president at the leadership and strategy firm Kotter International

"Though I like the way he places Microsoft in history, it does leave you wanting more. Employees are very savvy to this kind of stuff and jump to the worst possible conclusions [such as] are they going to be downsized. Short of saying, 'We anticipate no downsizing,' there is no magic bullet. It is up to each manager to address up front that they anticipate they can achieve goals through natural attrition.

Management at every level needs to have an open-door policy for people to challenge information. They need to anticipate questions and discomfort and be ready to respond, not hold hands. They need to treat people with respect and dignity. Caring about people is not in the words [of the announcement]; it’s communicated in meetings from the top down through the organization."

—John Baldoni, author and chair of N2growth

How have you communicated sweeping changes to your staff? What would you have done differently in this memo? Tell us in the comments below.

[Mess Of Colors: Rudchenko Liliia via Shutterstock]

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