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Microsoft's new CEO and his first-100-days plan

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 6, 2014
Corporate strategy experts spell out what Nadella should do to kick off his tenure, and kick Microsoft into gear

Ottinger pointed Nadella to a more top-down approach, suggesting that he collect information — necessary because while he ran a major unit, he was not in charge of others — then formulate his strategy and choose his priorities. "Nadella needs to get some real clarity of their big opportunities and then prioritize those opportunities," said Ottinger. "And those should be driven by a strategic view of the future, not a financial imperative."

Both stressed that speed was important, as was prioritizing initiatives, two characteristics missing from Microsoft for years.

"The reason why Ballmer is out is because the board wanted him to drive the ship faster than he was willing to do," said Ted Schadler, an industry analyst at Forrester Research, in a Tuesday interview. "He was not willing to push [workers] to go the extra mile."

And Microsoft seems to be, if not rudderless, then aiming at so many targets — Amazon and Apple, Google and Samsung, consumers and enterprise, from Xbox and its video games to SQL Server in data centers — that it ends up spreading its energies and resources so thinly it cannot make much headway anywhere.

"Microsoft's shift to devices and services is a good one, what has been disappointing is the pace," said Schadler.

Gregory chimed in, too. "Microsoft is an incredible company that sits on a huge pile of cash," he said. "It's very profitable, but it can be a little bit lazy. They're certainly not as fleet of foot as they should be."

Once priorities are set, said Ottinger, Nadella and other executives must drum up support — that's what Ottinger meant by "creating urgency" — with the 100,000 that Microsoft employs. By engaging workers in discussions about the new opportunities, upper management can get them behind the new regime and its strategy.

"What you're asking for is more engagement than input," Ottinger acknowledged. "But Nadella and others must get them on both a head and hearts level, not just data and numbers. If you can engage people in the 'heart' of Microsoft, that's like the 12th Man," he added, referring to the term used for sports fans, particularly those of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, Ottinger's local team.

"As soon as you're clear about the opportunities, this is where you can get a lot of people engaged with the transformation," Ottinger argued.

Ottinger and Gregory both stressed that Nadella will have to outline how his strategy, how the opportunities he spotlights, drive innovation at Microsoft. Critics have lambasted the firm for lacking innovation, and Nadella must demolish that reputation.

All this advice, however, assumes that Nadella will decide that Microsoft is not on the right path, does not have the right strategy, is not executing on the best opportunities. He gave no hint Tuesday that he thought any of those things.

 

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