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Accelerating Change at Microsoft

Geplaatst op nov 23, 2013 in News

A recent Wall Street Journal article quotes Steve Ballmer as saying: “the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is with a new leader who will accelerate change.” Amen to that.

Since I didn’t load up on Microsoft stock when Mr. Ballmer took the reins, I have no personal peeve against him. In fact, I can actually feel sympathy for him. He took over an organization that had gone through a period of incredible success. With it came all of the usual problems of such success: A culture of arrogance. Competitive juices turned inward creating a deeply political environment. Complacency. Good luck trying to accelerate with those anchors hanging on the corporate ship.

And that brings us to the challenge for the new boss. He or she needs to get the organization to accelerate, yes. But the new CEO will have people who probably think they are already going as fast as they can. And they’re probably going in six different directions, or around in circles. He will have people who think they’re smarter than the new boss and who probably begrudge that they, or their mentor, didn’t get the CEO job. And he will likely be surrounded by people who will tell him that if only we do this little thing, or that little set of things, we can break out of our stall — which is a fantasy. It’s a big, heavy stall and nothing little is going to break them out of it.

Can such a large, hierarchical organization accelerate into a better future? Can it become more strategically nimble in an increasingly chaotic environment? Yes. But the problem is systemic and can’t be solved with a quick fix. As I have written about previously, we need a whole new system that enables the organization to capitalize on opportunities and dodge threats, and yet still make the numbers — a kind of dual operating system. This system is real and I have seen it in action,  but it takes real work to build.

Step one in the journey toward building this totally new way of operating at Microsoft will be creating a genuine sense of urgency around the right big, rational yet emotionally compelling opportunity. And I mean urgency not just among the 5% of “important” people. The new boss will need at least 51% of everyone. 80% would be better. This is so far from where they’re at right now. Where there is arrogance, people have no sense of urgency, and where there is politics, people, even if they do have urgency, will never have any alignment.

So, is it possible for the new boss to break Microsoft out of its slump, where for the last decade its batting average has been about .109? The answer is yes. But change will only be real and sustainable if he or she steps back to look at the whole operating system, and then focuses on the right opportunities to raise urgency.

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