Satya Nadella’s mission for Microsoft is an icon of clarity

Satya NadellaSixteen months ago, Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft CEO. Today he emailed Microsoft’s 100,000 employees about the company’s mission. His email is an icon of clarity, focus, and motivation.

Thanks to GeekWire, you can read the whole email. Consult your local analyst for an opinion on whether Microsoft can execute on this vision. But regardless, you could learn a lot from what Nadella does well in this email. (Full critique is here.)

Mission statement

Here’s the new Microsoft mission statement:

Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

This statement is ambitious and yet clear and motivational. If you work at Microsoft, your job is to make people and companies more productive. This doesn’t limit Microsoft regarding hardware, software, or services, and it’s not limited geographically. You could cite this as you argue with your boss about priorities. I love it.

Here’s the original Bill Gates vision:

A computer on every desk and in every home.

That’s another clear, powerful vision. It served Microsoft well for decades and the company actually came close to realizing it. It eventually wore out as the focus shifted from computers. So we got this in the Ballmer era:

. . . create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.

This is mushy and full of unnecessary qualifying works like “devices and services” (why not software or other products?). Why at home, at work, and on the go, but not at play or in a restaurant? Like Ballmer’s leadership, it has one foot in the past and one in the future with priorities that seem like they could shift at any moment.

Clear writing

Nadella’s email is full of powerful, unequivocal, first-person directives about what the company will do. It’s rousing. Here are a few:

I believe that we can do magical things when we come together with a shared mission, clear strategy, and a culture that brings out the best in us individually and collectively.

Perhaps the most important driver of success is culture. Over the past year, we’ve challenged ourselves to think about our core mission, our soul — what would be lost if we disappeared.

We aspire to move people from needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows.

Today, we live in a mobile-first, cloud-first world . . . What we do with our products and business models has to account for this fundamental transformation.

Any confusion about what he means and what you’re supposed to do about it? Not much. There is jargon in this email, such as “mobile-first, cloud-first.” But it’s clear that this jargon is central to Microsoft, that people there know what it means, and that it does mean something. Nadella explains that “mobile-first” means “it’s centered on the mobility of experiences of that, in turn, are orchestrated by the cloud.” Mobile plus cloud is a central idea for the future, and Microsoft has put it at the center of their strategy.

Active voice

This missive is 1500 words long. I found only three passive-voice sentences in the whole thing. That’s extraordinary. (It must be because of that wavy underline that indicates passive in Microsoft Word.) Consider some of these very active sentences featuring pronouns like “I” and “we”:

Today, I want to share more on the overall context and connective tissue between our mission, worldview, strategy and culture.

Our platforms will harmonize the interests of end users, developers and IT better than any competing ecosystem or platform.

[W]e will reinvent productivity services for digital work that span all devices.

[We will be] customer-obsessed. We will learn about our customers and their businesses with a beginner’s mind and then bring solutions that meet their needs. We will be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that knowledge into Microsoft, while still innovating to surprise and delight our users.

[S]tarting on July 29 when Windows 10 becomes available, employees are invited to volunteer some time and upgrade their communities as part of the broader movement.

That last one is passive voice. Did you spot it? (The consistent power of this email tells me that Nadella got help from editors; they missed this one.) Why not wake up the reader with a “you” and say: “I invite you to volunteer some time and upgrade your own community.”

Forgivable flaws

No writing is perfect. This letter has some jargon, cheerleading, and cliches. In fairness to the others I’ve critiqued, let’s look at some weak spots. But these flaws are a lot more forgivable because the rest of the content is excellent.

We have unique capability in harmonizing the needs of both individuals and organizations. This is in our DNA. [Cliche]

There is an explicit path dependence on how we achieve the “inter-connectedness” between the various elements of our strategy to gain momentum. [Somebody should have translated this into plain English. It could be a lot clearer.]

[A]ll these experiences will be powered by our cloud platform – a cloud that provides our customers faster time to value, improved agility and cost reduction . . . (Passive voice and getting a bit too deep into the jargon.)

Leadership is about bringing out the best in people, where everyone is bringing their A game and finding deep meaning in their work. We need to be always learning and insatiably curious. We need to be willing to lean in to uncertainty, take risks and move quickly when we make mistakes, recognizing failure happens along the way to mastery. (This is very ordinary cheerleading. Any HR hack could write this. “Bringing their A game” is a cliche that lands with a resounding thud.)

This letter doesn’t make me want to work at Microsoft. But if I were working there, it would give me hope for the future.

Thanks to Dave Winer for bringing this item to my attention.

Photo: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (Microsoft File Photo)



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