It was a beautiful summer day in Seattle today, sunny, comfortably warm, not humid, just perfect. But the cloud over Redmond was dark and gloomy. Coming hot off the rumor mill and confirmed now as fact, Microsoft will be eliminating up to 18,000 jobs. In some ways, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Generally speaking, whenever a new CEO comes onboard there’s usually a round of house cleaning. But in the case of Microsoft, it’s coming at yet another inopportune time. And quite honestly, that’s been a repeating trend for the past few years now. So much so, Microsoft finds themselves in this constant state of flux with no real sense of direction or growth.
Let me jog my mind and provide a high level recap of just the past few years:
- Surface: The major confusion between the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro was such a mess they ended up discontinuing the Surface RT line within the year, taking a $900 million dollar bath.
- Xbone: After being completely upstaged by Sony and the PS4 at E3, Microsoft essentially walks back their entire vision and strategy. Shortly thereafter, Don Mattrick (the head leader of Xbox driving this show) picks up and leaves the company altogether. Sales struggle initially until Microsoft finally listens to the public demand and strips out the Kinect 2 from the console. Sales actually doubled because of this move. Oh all those plans for branded shows and what not, forget about it.
- Nokia Acquisition: While this acquisition went fairly smooth barring a few hiccups with the EU and India, the net loss for Microsoft was huge considering the poor sales of Nokia devices and those that were flat out discontinued in the process. In short, Microsoft is paying a lot more for this acquisition than what it was supposed to gain, especially in human capital with these layoff hitting mostly the folks in Finland.
- CEO / Organizational Transition: Ballmer stepping down was years overdue, that’s not for debate. and say what you will about the guy, at least he was consistent and committed in leadership. He didn’t cut and run when the chips were down and towed the line through thick and thin. But as a result, Microsoft hasn’t been as nimble as they needed to be. But that’s likely to change with new leadership in place.
All of this adds up to Microsoft finding themselves in this constant loop of uncertainty. There’s a strong lack of committed direction or vision, and more over no real sense of personality. To coin an old American colonial term, Microsoft is very much a doughface. They’re being pulled and drawn in every other direction but their own, unlike their peers. But this state of flux presents Microsoft with a superb opportunity to attempt some major moves and innovative ideas instead of playing catchup. While everyone else is concerned about wearable tech and virtual reality devices, Microsoft is in a prime position to go in a completely different direction.
While this provides Microsoft a tremendous potential boon from an organizational perspective, this real collateral damage comes in the form of the discarded workforce. Having been on the unfortunate side of layoffs more times than I care to, I can empathize with these people. The anxiety and worrying of who’s safe or not, does not provide for a very effective nor focused working environment. It’s not something I wish on anyone. For those that make it through the round of cuts, congratulations. Now it’s time for you to start making Microsoft a better place, a different place it’s been the past few decades. Put aside your ‘survivor’s guilt’ and shine. And for the unfortunate ones out there, this is not the end. There is life after Microsoft. This is an opportunity to move on to something different, something better, or even the push you need to pursue that life passion of yours. Regardless of wherever you land, just use the moment to start shining in your own way. Be kind to one another and just be awesome.