Microsoft CEO's yawnathon adds little new

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy July 10, 2014
Long on rhetoric and vision but short on meaningful substance, you have to wonder what is next for Microsoft. CEO Nadella attempts to provide clues but comes up short.

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There is something kinda creepy about seeing a 'leaked' memo to employees. You just know it isn't the real deal but a massive PR exercise on all stakeholder fronts. And so it was that Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft's missive, ostensibly aimed at employees but parsed around the tech world and no doubt being ground out on Wall Street.

My gut reaction was to shrug. Enough has been written about Nadella's style and approach for us to be confident that he wouldn't be punting the long held party line that Microsoft is all about Windows. He gets off to a good start:

The day I took on my new role I said that our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation. I also said that in order to accelerate our innovation, we must rediscover our soul – our unique core. We must all understand and embrace what only Microsoft can contribute to the world and how we can once again change the world. I consider the job before us to be bolder and more ambitious than anything we have ever done.

But then the memo quickly descends into a sprawling rhetoric that could, quite easily, have been condensed into a one pager. Unfortunately, large companies often have armies of lawyers who suck the life out of PRs to the point of rendering them almost meaningless. Even so, the memo does have a stab at portending Microsoft's future while laying the past to rest.

More recently, we have described ourselves as a "devices and services" company. While the devices and services description was helpful in starting our transformation, we now need to hone in on our unique strategy.

At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.

If Nadella had said anything else then he would have gotten a massive raspberry from the world at large. But other than talking about 'productivity', an odd choice of expression when coupled with the oft repeated 'experiences,' there just wasn't that much where you could say - OK, I get it.

We will shift the meaning of productivity beyond solely producing something to include empowering people with new insights. We will build tools to be more predictivepersonal and helpful. We will enable organizations to move from automated business processes to intelligent business processes

This is odd on multiple fronts. When I think about the core Dynamics family of solutions, I just don't see Microsoft applying that much attention to what many believe is a $1.7 billion business. That is despite the fact we have seen some amazing approaches to well worn processes like CRM.

On the other hand, the shift towards software built upon open source components leaves Microsoft with an unenviable challenge of defending its cash cow IP. It has a massive community of developers but can it truly motivate enough of them to either play nice with open source and/or overcome the shifting tide?

Instead, we were left with promises of more dialog and a 'wait and see' message that was long on words and short on substance.

The one area that caught my attention was the allusion to internal transformation:

Our ambitions are bold and so must be our desire to change and evolve our culture.

I truly believe that we spend far too much time at work for it not to drive personal meaning and satisfaction. Together we have the opportunity to create technology that impacts the planet.

Nothing is off the table in how we think about shifting our culture to deliver on this core strategy. Organizations will change. Mergers and acquisitions will occur. Job responsibilities will evolve. New partnerships will be formed. Tired traditions will be questioned. Our priorities will be adjusted. New skills will be built. New ideas will be heard. New hires will be made. Processes will be simplified. And if you want to thrive at Microsoft and make a world impact, you and your team must add numerous more changes to this list that you will be enthusiastic about driving.

This comes at the end of the document. I wish it had come first. Placing transformation at the top of the agenda sends a very different message to the one we see presented here. You can argue it represents the logical outcome of what went before but I don't see how this will be read other than an 'oh by the way - shape up folks.'

Some believe this will mean a streamlining of the many management layers. That's a decent start because it is often two and three levels down the hierarchical food chain where organizational resistance to change is at its most potent. But beyond that?

Having said all that, we mustn't forget this document was meant for public consumption and may well have little to do with the way Nadella executes on his vision. For that, we will have to wait.

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