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One Microsoft? One Big Cultural Challenge.

By Ryan Rieches

Recently, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent an email to the company’s nearly 100,000 employees saying that Microsoft planned to dissolve its eight product divisions and merge them into four broader groups as a means to encourage greater collaboration. “To execute, we’ve got to move from multiple Microsofts to one Microsoft,” Ballmer said, in an effort to break down the internal silos and politics.

I believe this move goes beyond improving operational efficiencies and is a clear attempt to shake up the corporate culture. By shuffling the responsibilities of nearly every member of his executive team, Ballmer is beginning to take the steps necessary to bring industry-leading innovation back to Microsoft.

Clearly something needed to be done, as the once dominant Microsoft has taken a backseat to the next generation of technology leaders, such as Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook. Time will tell whether this move brings the company back to relevancy and effective competition with the tech elite. I found it interesting that the company didn’t even post a press release of this reorganization on its website, although some of the major media covered it — but clearly the market hasn’t been impressed, as the stock dropped more than 10 percent within one week.

During the course of the past year, Ballmer has been talking about transforming Microsoft into a “device and services” company — an attempt to move beyond its roots as a pure software company. Microsoft has always had a big vision. In the early days, it was “putting a PC on every desk and in every home.” Today, the company’s vision is “to help people realize their full potential.” That vision is certainly is full of aspiration, but to me it’s not very focused, clear or measurable. Culture starts at the top, and Ballmer’s attempt to align the Microsoft team could be enhanced by more clarity in its core statements of Purpose (why we exist), Vision (what we aim to achieve) and Mission (how we will achieve our vision?). If you have been following my past blog posts, I have shared this point of view — but don’t just take my word for it: Read an article from Forbes, “Be Visionary. Think Big.”

For an example of a vision statement with this viewpoint, consider Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” With its clear focus on the customer, I believe this statement guides the Amazon team’s strategic initiatives and daily actions.

Another example is Google. Although it only offers a mission statement on its website, it is very clear: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Although it might be time to update the statement, as the company’s business aspirations have expanded, you can’t deny the focus or clarity in this statement.

I feel the initiatives Ballmer outlines in his internal memo are a step in the right direction — I just think he missed a major opportunity. This reorganization is a significant event: It’s an opportunity to present a clear, exciting new future for Microsoft. In my opinion, it’s also an opportunity to present a set of new core statements — Purpose, Vision and Mission — statements that could bring better clarity and unity to the entire team. In his memo, he did outline updates to Microsoft’s core values: Nimble, Communicative, Collaborative, Decisive, and Motivated. But that only goes so far — especially in an email. We have launched many global brands over the years and although there is a role for email, nothing can take the place of in-person communications.

When Howard Schultz came back to run Starbucks, he realized the culture had shifted and was no longer focused on the highest quality customer experience. Rather than send out a memo, he closed every one of the 7100 Starbucks stores for an afternoon to begin the process of retraining every employee on how to think about the brand — starting with serving an incredible cup of coffee. That took guts, and it cost the organization approximately $6 million. But it sent a huge statement to the internal team and also got significant media attention.

In summary, I think Microsoft is an incredible company that will continue to be a leading innovator. I just feel the organization could benefit from leadership offering more clarity and inspiration to its global team.