July 18, 2014

 

Just about every boss has had to do it.  Announcing layoffs is never easy, and it doesn’t get easier.  Yesterday, Microsoft announced the largest layoffs in its history – up to 18,000 jobs. In advance of the layoffs the company released an all-staff letter penned by CEO Satya Nadella explaining the moves and putting them in context.

 

From a messaging perspective, Microsoft did the right thing by trying to get ahead of this.  Gone are the days when companies can make layoffs on Friday afternoon with no warning.  That said, our experience with employee communication has taught us a few things about how to make this delicate situation a little less painful, and Microsoft has some work to do. 

 

Below are some excerpts from Nadella’s letter along with our thoughts on how it – and future – communications could be improved.

 

Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction as a productivity and platform company. Having a clear focus is the start of the journey, not the end. The more difficult steps are creating the organization and culture to bring our ambitions to life. Today I’ll share more on how we’re moving forward.

 

1.           Get to the point.  Nadella sets this up as a “business update” communication.  Since everyone already expected the layoff announcement, putting it in business context only creates more stress for employees – and more attention on them – as they wait for the hammer blow further down.

 

First, we will simplify the way we work to drive greater accountability, become more agile and move faster. As part of modernizing our engineering processes the expectations we have from each of our disciplines will change. In addition, we plan to have fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making.

 

2.           It’s about them, not you.  Driving accountability and reducing the layers of management are good business goals, but Nadella needs to connect these goals to how they impact the rest of Microsoft’s employees.  How will these actions make Microsoft a better company to work for?  Will having fewer layers of management mean less bureaucracy in employees’ lives?  In short, why should employees see this as a good thing?  If Nadella doesn’t spell out the positives for them, employees will assume the worst.

 

Our workforce reductions are mainly driven by two outcomes: work simplification as well as Nokia Devices and Services integration synergies and strategic alignment.

 

3.           Speak in their language.  Across our employee work, we hear the same thing over and over again.  “Those guys over at [corporate headquarters] don’t understand me and my job.”  The more MBA language Nadella uses, the less likely it is that he’ll connect with Microsoft employees all over the world.  We think it’s a good thing that Microsoft is focusing more on the future and on outcomes here, but if it’s not being done in language that the average employee understands, it’s not going to have the impact Nadella wants.

 

Making these decisions to change are difficult, but necessary. I want to invite you to my monthly Q&A event tomorrow. I hope you can join, and I hope you will ask any question that’s on your mind. Thank you for your support as we start to take steps forward in evolving our organization and culture.

 

4.           Give them a role.  We don’t know how open Microsoft’s monthly Q&A event is, or how many employees have an opportunity to ask questions.  But we do know that successful companies today are ones that welcome and encourage employee feedback across the organization.  One of the most powerful ways for a company to increase satisfaction is to ensure that ground-level and non-manager employees have a way to share their ideas and suggestions up the food chain.  Maybe Microsoft already has ways of doing that, but they’re not mentioned here and that’s a miss from our point of view.

 

The first step to building the right organization for our ambitions is to realign our workforce. With this in mind, we will begin to reduce the size of our overall workforce by up to 18,000 jobs in the next year.

 

5.           Just say “layoffs.”  Too often, companies are so afraid of saying something negative that they couch their entire message in euphemism.  As an employee, I don’t think I would feel any better being “realigned” than “laid off,” and I’d certainly be more confused.  Microsoft is a great company with great employees – Nadella should trust them to be able to handle the truth here.

 

 

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