New Microsoft’s CEO letter to employees a mixed bag

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At any company, getting a new CEO can be an exciting yet fearful time. People want to know who he/she is. They want to know more about the person’s philosophy. Most important, employees are concerned as to how their jobs will be impacted.

So as Microsoft named only its third CEO, there was great anticipation, internally and externally, to learn more about Satya Nadella.

Microsoft posted for all to see (employees and the public alike) a lengthy (1,045 words) memo from Nadella designed to give people an idea of who he is and how he thinks. I have to wonder how much of this he wrote and how much was written by communications people skillfully leaning towards the flamboyant.

Overall, it is a well-written effort to help employees understand Nadella and his vision of Microsoft going forward and get them excited about it. The problem is that it is filled with platitudes and short on specifics.

He talks in general about changing the world. He offers a great pep talk about what a wonderful company Microsoft is (he makes it sound a lot like Apple): “We are the only company with history and continued focus in building platforms and ecosystems that create broad opportunity,” he wrote, though it is not clear exactly what that really means. He also told employees, “This starts with clarity of purpose and sense of mission that will lead us to imagine the impossible and deliver it.” How he will accomplish that is not answered in this memo.

And, he does not address specific concerns like consolidation possibilities, specific new businesses the company might enter, specific areas the company may no longer pursue, the potential of people losing jobs, and so on.

It is important to note that for people looking at Nadella’s high-level vision, this is a good document. It portrays him as a real person, a humble family man. It gives people the impression he is approachable and caring. This is a different personality compared to the “tough guy” image some CEOs like to project. It sets an optimistic tone with lines like, “I am here because we have unparalleled capability to make an impact.”

His conclusion also makes the reader, whether an insider or outsider, feel good about the company’s future as he wrote, “Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources, and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance. And as the new CEO, I can’t ask for a better foundation.”

[RELATED: Find out how the best workplaces have the most engaged and collaborative workforces at our February conference.]

While he offers a generally optimistic feel-good vision of the future, he falls into corporate jargon that really doesn’t mean much, such as: “ambient intelligence, “cloud-first world,” “intelligence from machine learning,” “unparalleled capability to make an impact,” “reimagine a lot of what we have done,” “prioritize innovation,” and “high-value activities.”

He uses the word “empower” six times, a word that many would argue is passé’.

He has a grandiose vision, but what it really means isn’t clear. He needs some specifics. At a fast food restaurant, the person taking your order doesn’t ask the generic, “Would you like anything else?” The person will ask “Would you like apple pie with that?” It puts pictures in our heads and most of us think in pictures.

So when Nadella says Microsoft “empowers people to do more,” it would help to offer an example, such as (assuming this were true) how the software enabled designers to create a system to provide water to millions in Bangladesh or how their software enables medical records to be shared instantly worldwide.

So while people may feel good about Nadella and his overall direction, there may still be trepidation in terms of how individuals at the company will fare.

Issuing a memo, even if it is filled with flashy sounding language that really doesn’t tell us much beyond cheerleading, was a smart move. It gives people the feeling the CEO wants to communicate with his people.

But once you begin to read more closely, there is much, yet, to know about where, specifically, Nadella plans to take Microsoft. Is it a software company? Enterprise company? Gaming company? Hardware company? Phone company?

That remains to be seen.

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