Every industry needs a bad guy. In technology that bad guy is Microsoft. The more they innovate, the more they create, the more they participate, the more wrong they seem to do. To little fault of their own, mind you, much of it is market-made fanfare and not necessarily a reflection of the company’s actual accomplishments. When a Google or Apple product product is launched it is met with flair and when it fails its swept quietly under the rug but when something new comes out of Microsoft it’s under heavy scrutiny from the first breath of possibility through whatever outcome it has in the open market, even the positive ones.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” – Lewis Carroll
Microsoft’s biggest challenge has not been competing with Google, or Apple, or confronting continuing Governmental probes or constantly shifting consumer behaviors or anything else external for that matter, it’s been it’s own coalescing. Incrementally Microsoft has diversified and with the continued growth it has become an unwieldy octopus of a beast that at times appears to have no unified concept of what direction it was going.
This isn’t about the cosmetic knocks on Microsoft like usability, stability and security or about the accusations of anti-trust violations, patent infringements or anti-open source, licensing-heavy approach to distribution it’s about the shared vision reflected in the inherent structure of the company. It’s about the business and not allowing just any road to just take them anywhere anymore.
The legacy business lines that made its core of the business identity but over time the different expansion groups went in their own directions without a lot of continuity between them. Zune from a multimedia side should have been a great match with Xbox on the gaming side but they never seemed to come together, while the mobile division seemed to be going in different direction from the desktop one, IT consulting never seemed to embrace the broader developer community, the online identities such as search and advertising appeared disconnected from, well, everyone… and so on. The opportunity loss in these rifts between divisions were high, but it’s not illogical they came to be.
Some of this is inherent to the nature of company expansion. Some of it was to guard against further anti-trust problems. Some of it was meant to focus resources on certain competitive needs. Some of it was borne out of classical business operation models. And none of it is unique to Microsoft: Not as a technology company or business in general.
The lack of a unified corporate vision that resonated through each of the divisions caused Microsoft to be pulled in a multitude of directions, each product line heading almost wherever its individual profitability called. It wasn’t quite chaos, but it certainly didn’t present itself as a calming force. Not for investors, not for consumers and most of all not for the company’s human resources.
Later this week it is expected Microsoft will make a restructuring announcement. This will be something either helps align the corporate vision and continues the trend of removing divisional barriers that began last year or it will breed a Yahoo! like epic failure in its bid to find a corporate identity. The former will provide rational basis for being excited about many of the recent moves, particularly the coordinated mobile + desktop Metro-UI fronted OS-7 the latter, well, you know what the latter creates.
The challenge to this unification is not removing redundancies and flattening the corporate hierarchy, re-imagining the divisions and providing a structure for collaboration, it’s communication. Sending a singular directive to the staff in such a way that it it empowers them to embrace corporate unity is the key. To many times directives like this have come down through C-level management only to fall on deaf ears in the trenches. Too many times it’s about buzz words and trendy jargon and not enough about communicating honestly and transparently. Too many times it fails to take what are inherently complex business problems and disseminate them accurately in a simple and streamlined manner. For Microsoft to succeed in this latest pivot they need to express the new vision to every employee in a straight forward, understandable and most importantly executable way.
Execution is the key word. If the new direction cannot be comprehended and thus executed then it will fail on face. Due to the inherently complex nature of a diversified company having everyone’s daily routine follow the larger corporate identity is a difficult, but not impossible, task. Typically, the average employee is shielded from this and takes on the mentality of their role based upon the view from their role. Transforming this heads-down approach to a globalized heads-up one during the process of transition is where most restructurings fail because employees aren’t able to understand why or how to pick their heads up and see the new horizon laid out in front of them. They may not feel the obligation to have their head up. Or may rebel against change, or feel disenfranchised by it, or even not recognize it is happening.
The unifying of the corporate identity only begins with the goals and objectives and that’s the part that Microsoft needs to initially get correct later in the week. Regardless of that outcome and how it affects their short-term stock price, upcoming product orders and consumer reaction without the buy-in by the employees to execute this change in strategy they could end up worse off than they are.
However, if you don’t pick a path you may never get anywhere and it sounds like Microsoft is finally ready to definitively pick a path.