Deconstructing Satya. Episode II. The Empire Strikes Back.

on July 21, 2014

Last week before the news broke, I warned Microsoft employees, all of them, to “get to work on your resume.” Change was coming, major change, and that always always always begins with a bloodletting.

Indeed, as others were decrying the word count of Satya Nadella’s “bold ambition” manifesto — signifying nothing, given it took Steve Jobs 1700 words to tell us he wasn’t going to use Flash on the iPhone — I read each word, every sentence. Nadella’s near-term intentions were obvious.

What was not clear, however, not until now, is how deeply divisive the Nokia purchase remains within the corridors of Microsoft’s ruling elite.  

This Deal Is Getting Worse All The Time

Despite the corporate-speak, despite the strategic shift toward “productivity and platforms,” Nadella’s manifesto message last week was undeniable. Job cuts. Thus, I wrote:

“Big layoffs by Christmas.”

But Nadella kept hinting, so I followed that with…

“Big layoffs by Thanksgiving.”

But Nadella hinted further, so I followed that with…

“Big layoffs by Labor Day.” 

In fact, the big cuts came only a few days later. Points for swift action, I suppose.

Nadella’s willingness to act fast, to re-make Microsoft, hack away at the extraneous and transform the company into “the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world” appears to be exactly what the company needs.

But when you gut a $7.2 billion acquisition, which the company only closed on this past April, and fire 18,000 people, then you haven’t leapt from a burning platform, you’ve set the platform ablaze. There is no going back, no do-overs for Mr. Nadella. He is about to set the company on a ten year course, possibly longer, and though Microsoft possesses a rather stunning array of assets, what’s most stunning is the company still has virtually zero response to the iPhone, the iPad and Android. In 2014.

Competing in a mobile-first, cloud-first world — with no mobile device the world actually wants — seems less like corporate bumbling at this point and more like French royalty certain the barbarians will forever remain outside the gate.

Sadly, more than 18,000 will soon join those barbarians.

That Was Never A Condition Of Our Agreement

Nadella’s follow-up email to staff announcing major cuts is mercifully shorter than his bold ambition manifesto, though similarly riddled with the kind of corporate-speak analysts with expense accounts use on marketing managers with a too large budget.

My thoughts on Nadella’s latest message are below, in bold italic.

From: Satya Nadella
To: All Employees
Date: July 17, 2014 at 5:00 a.m. PT

5am! Leading is hard. 

Subject: Starting to Evolve Our Organization and Culture

“Starting to Evolve.” Catch that? This is just the start.

Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction as a productivity and platform company.

And now I’m gonna need those TPS reports.

Having a clear focus is the start of the journey, not the end. The more difficult steps are creating the organization and culture to bring our ambitions to life. Today I’ll share more on how we’re moving forward. On July 22, during our public earnings call, I’ll share further specifics on where we are focusing our innovation investments.

This reads like a draft memo from the assistant to the regional manager. No excuses here. 

The first step to building the right organization for our ambitions is to realign our workforce. With this in mind, we will begin to reduce the size of our overall workforce by up to 18,000 jobs in the next year.

Nokia is dead. Godspeed all you Nokians. 

Of that total, our work toward synergies and strategic alignment on Nokia Devices and Services is expected to account for about 12,500 jobs, comprising both professional and factory workers.

12,500

In his “bold ambition” email to employees, only days before this, Nadella stated “first party hardware” would form part of the core Microsoft vision. He said this four times! 

    1. Our cloud OS infrastructure, device OS and first-party hardware will all build around this core focus and enable broad ecosystems.
    2. Our Windows device OS and first-party hardware will set the bar for productivity experiences.
    3. Our first-party devices will light up digital work and life.
    4. We will build first-party hardware to stimulate more demand for the entire Windows ecosystem.

[emphasis added]

Now, days later, he guts Nokia, kills off the very popular Asha hybrid phone line and halts development of the AOSP-led Nokia X.  

I suspect Mr. Nadella believes the smartphone wars are lost, despite whatever else the company may tell us. They are no longer worth fighting for. 

Prediction: Microsoft will focus its mobile hardware efforts not on Windows Phone but on Surface, on new mobile gaming devices, and new mobile “productivity” devices; anything and everything that might help them uncover that next great mobile computing inflection point. Smartphones are lost to them. 

We are moving now to start reducing the first 13,000 positions, and the vast majority of employees whose jobs will be eliminated will be notified over the next six months.

13,000 from the 18,000? 12,500 from Nokia plus 500 from elsewhere? Where does this number come from?

Nadella needs to be straightforward here. So far, he’s failed. 

It’s important to note that while we are eliminating roles in some areas, we are adding roles in certain other strategic areas.

Nowhere near 18,000, however. Thus, it would be best if not said at all.

My promise to you is that we will go through this process in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible.

Your own email appears poorly thought out and lacking transparency!

We will offer severance to all employees impacted by these changes, as well as job transition help in many locations, and everyone can expect to be treated with the respect they deserve for their contributions to this company.

Forget them. Move forward. 

Later today your Senior Leadership Team member will share more on what to expect in your organization.

How bureaucratic is this company?

Our workforce reductions are mainly driven by two outcomes: work simplification as well as Nokia Devices and Services integration synergies and strategic alignment.

That’s three, maybe four outcomes, not two. Can Nadella really not trust anyone to review and edit his emails? 

Fact: Nearly every single Nokia device over the next several years will be replaced by an Android, perhaps a few by iPhones, not Windows Phone (in any form).  

My prediction that the remaining “Nokia” employees will focus mostly on new mobile productivity devices and new mobile gaming devices, not smartphones, stands. Nadella just isn’t ready to tell us this, not yet. Perhaps, he’s not come to terms with it himself. 

First, we will simplify the way we work to drive greater accountability, become more agile and move faster.

Perhaps given your size, strengths and history, being inflexible and moving slower, and with less accountability (e.g. investor input), would be the best strategy?

Yes, I am serious. Agility and speed are never the strengths of behemoths. 

Perhaps You Think You Are Being Treated Unfairly

As part of modernizing our engineering processes the expectations we have from each of our disciplines will change. In addition, we plan to have fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making. This includes flattening organizations and increasing the span of control of people managers.

Sideways layers of management? Sideways layers!  

In addition, our business processes and support models will be more lean and efficient with greater trust between teams. The overall result of these changes will be more productive, impactful teams across Microsoft.

Question: How dysfunctional is this company?

These changes will affect both the Microsoft workforce and our vendor staff. Each organization is starting at different points and moving at different paces.

Answer: Appreciably dysfunctional. 

Second, we are working to integrate the Nokia Devices and Services teams into Microsoft. We will realize the synergies to which we committed when we announced the acquisition last September. The first-party phone portfolio will align to Microsoft’s strategic direction. To win in the higher price tiers, we will focus on breakthrough innovation that expresses and enlivens Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences. In addition, we plan to shift select Nokia X product designs to become Lumia products running Windows. This builds on our success in the affordable smartphone space and aligns with our focus on Windows Universal Apps.

Integrate Nokia into Microsoft? Realize the synergies committed to last September? Align the first party phone portfolio to Microsoft’s strategic direction? To win the higher price tiers? Which builds on Microsoft’s success in the affordable smartphone space?

We can’t possibly divine what these words mean because Nadella does not know the way forward in mobile. That’s a problem. 

Making these decisions to change are difficult, but necessary. I want to invite you to my monthly Q&A event tomorrow. I hope you can join, and I hope you will ask any question that’s on your mind. Thank you for your support as we start to take steps forward in evolving our organization and culture.

Satya

It Is Your Destiny

Last week, I praised Nadella for his bold, borderline revolutionary statements. A few days later he morphs into a parody of his predecessor.

I give him a pass. This time.

When it comes to massive corporate downsizing, we always say there’s a right way to do these things but there’s never a right way to do these things. That said, it seems clear Nadella hasn’t yet figured out exactly what Microsoft should do in mobile and that’s a problem for which no one will give him a pass.