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Chipp Norcross, Synecticsworld

Dear Steve:

Back in the nineties, I felt I was at the center of the world as a consultant at Microsoft.  It was the early days of the Web and I was working with the early versions of Internet Information Server, developing some of Microsoft’s groundbreaking e-commerce sites. At the time nothing in the world was cooler than working at Microsoft. The fact that your office was just down the hall from mine added to that mystique.

Over the years, I was always an early adopter of your technology, buying a Windows CE device when everyone else had a Palm, snapping up an early Windows smartphone back when people still drooled over a RAZR, and anxiously awaiting Windows upgrades to see what cool, new features would make life easier.

Just a few short years later, I don’t have any Microsoft products.  This is heartbreaking, simply because I think Microsoft is far too important of a company to settle for what it has become.

There are few companies that have the talent, scale and resources to change the world in an instant. I believe Microsoft is one of those companies. The now famous August 2012 Vanity Fair article certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture of how things are going for you and the company, but I’m a sucker for a comeback story, and that’s what I want for Microsoft, for its people, and frankly for all of us.

My big wish, is for Microsoft to become Microsoft. Not a bit of Google mixed with a dash of Apple and a hint of Oracle. It’s time to stop copying the Apple Store and pasting a Windows Store. And not the Microsoft of old that used its hoard of cash to buy any shiny new object it came across. Its time to become Microsoft.

It’s time to figure out what is really beating in the heart of Microsoft. What does it stand for? What does it believe in? What do its people really want to do? Other than survive?

I believe that identifying a core understanding of what Microsoft and its people truly stand for would be transformational for you. In my experience, good people, especially in the technology space, don’t want someone else’s past.  They want to innovate and create the future.  They want to put a vision for changing the world up on the wall and ask themselves, “How do we work together to make this happen?”

What is it that the people of Microsoft want to put on that wall? By tapping into just a small amount of the latent passion that roams the halls of Microsoft every day, you have the potential to reshape the world dramatically. And to me, that is endlessly exciting and possible, it just requires that first, scary step of admitting that you alone don’t have all the answers.  And I think a lot of people would be happy to hear you say that.

What would I do if I were in your shoes?

  • I’d get to work on understanding the real motivations and passions that your senior leadership talks about in private to their spouses when they go home at night. What drives them and what do they wish they could achieve given the enormous potential of Microsoft? And I’d use that understanding to revisit Microsoft’s vision and mission. A company with a focused mission statement is not prone to the seemingly unfocused paths the company pursues today.
  • Then, I’d pull together a team of your best and brightest and put them to work on a single project that would take the first steps towards achieving the mission and announcing to the world that Microsoft was on its way back.
  • I’d leave behind the stack-ranking system that seems to be toxic to your teams and let them re-experience the joy of working together collaboratively, knowing that they are all in it together and that they have each other’s backs. Let them take the first step to changing the world once again.

As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and that is why I would not start by dreaming up a snazzy new strategy but by focusing on culture. It won’t be as simple as hanging up a few banners, having a few assemblies and declaring that you have a new collaborative culture. I think we all know that kind of stuff doesn’t work. It’s going to require real work and soul searching, but its certainly possible, and I can’t think of any company that I’d rather see take on that challenge than Microsoft.  Like I said before, I’m a sucker for a comeback story.

Best,

Chipp Norcross

Principal, Synecticsworld Inc.

 

8 Comments

  1. Say Keng Lee

    Hi, Greetings from Ho Chi Min City!
    You have really hit them right on the nail. It always takes a small mouse to teach a big elephant how to dance.

  2. Alexandra

    Yes, you make good points in that Microsoft needs to evolve and reinvent itself. However, it may be too late and perhaps Microsoft’s time is over – the victim of disruptive innovation. Not all great firms are meant to last forever. I think once they are struggling, playing catch-up, and have to bring in a “ lets change the culture consultant”, they are done…

  3. Kurt Knackstedt

    Well said Chipp. The funny (and perhaps ironic) thing is is that Microsoft really needs an Apple-esque renaissance to become the company they used to be. I have to be frank, I’m not optimistic and if their recent “re-branding” exercise – if you call a font change and squaring up the logo a re-brand – is any indication, a newly innovative and dynamic Microsoft may be a pipe dream. Like you though, I too love a comeback so I’ll watch with interest!

  4. Marek

    It might be over for Microsoft, since they thought clients are dummies and want to spent more money every year for a bunch of upgrades with near to 0 improvements. They killed theirselves with neither true passion, nor innovation and, most of all, no client focus commitment. I used to be their reseller for more than 17 tears, pity.

  5. Nice notion, Chipp (is your name really spelled with two p’s?), but – come on – you know it ain’t going to happen. From what I can tell, the Microsoft culture is more dysfunctional than ever. The amount of people who have been dumped recently is scary… and many of them believed in the culture you’re talking about. The first thing that has to take place is for Steve to look in the mirror and admit his shortcomings, but… like I said… that ain’t going to happen. I say bring back Bill! Put the cat among the pigeons and watch the feathers fly!

  6. Alfredo

    Clearly, a Microsoft renaissance would be preferable to following in the footsteps of Polaroid and Kodak. Those once proud companies actually had good products, as well as loyal and talented people. Now they are reduced to generating value for patent attorneys. Can Microsoft really become a customer-focused innovator, or will they just try to copy Apple and Google and call that a strategy?

  7. I appreciate all of your comments, and I have a question for you. If you could wish for any way in the world for Microsoft to regain its lost glory, what would you wish for? A break-up? A change in leadership? Something entirely different?

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