Say What? 12 Moments of Nonsense in Microsoft’s Reorganization Memo

7/12/13Follow @curtwoodward

Microsoft’s attempt to radically shake up its corporate structure, getting rid of warring divisions and uniting the company behind a common “devices and services” mission, has dominated tech-industry news this week.

And you can read the details yourself, straight from the CEO’s mouth, in the all-staff memo that the company posted online.

It can be a revealing look at how one of the business world’s biggest names sees its past and its future. But sadly, like almost any corporate missive, this monumental memo from CEO Steve Ballmer is larded up with jargon, acronyms, catchphrases, and the stilted business-school gobbledygook that makes executives feel smarter.

Here are the dozen most confusing, impenetrable, and hilariously unreadable moments from the boss’s big gung-ho letter to Microsofties worldwide. Let’s hope they can understand him better than we can looking in from the outside.

—“The frontier of high-value scenarios we enable will march outward, but we have strengths and proven capabilities on which we will draw.”

I wanted to love this line, but even an admirable attempt at some visual scene-setting (frontiers marching ever outward!) can’t fix a would-be buzzphrase like “high-value scenarios.” Especially when you’re about to beat people over the head with that whole high-value part. Such as …

—“We will pull together disparate engineering efforts today into a coherent set of our high-value activities. This will enable us to deliver the most capability—and be most efficient in development and operations—with the greatest coherence to all our key customers.”

It’s a shame that this passage is so hard to understand, because it gets right to the heart of what Ballmer says he’s trying to accomplish in this reorganization: Break a past structure of warring factions and unite everyone in a single mission. Also, mentioning the word “coherence” in an utterly incoherent paragraph is just funny.

—“We will plan across the company, so we can better deliver compelling integrated devices and services for the high-value experiences and core technologies around which we organize.”

Better planning! Sounds great. The rest of it isn’t exactly a rallying cry that people are going to be hanging in their cubicles.

—“Some of these changes will involve putting things together and others will involve repartitioning the work, but in all instances we will be more coherent for our users and developers.”

Apparently it seemed too negative to say that some of the changes will also involve taking things apart. But I wouldn’t say “repartitioning the work” is exactly comforting. Luckily, we can see that coherence is once again a high-value activity.

—“The evangelism and business development team will drive partners across our integrated strategy and its execution.”

No idea.

—“DPE, Corporate Strategy and the business development efforts formerly in the BGs will become part of this new group. OEM will remain in SMSG with Kevin Turner with a dotted line to Tony who will work closely with Nick Parker on key OEM relationships.”

To be fair, this is a subsection of a bullet point about former Skype boss Tony Bates’s new job, which will be sales and “evangelism” with other manufacturers and developers. So it’s real down-in-the-weeds stuff about who reports to whom, the things day-to-day employees want to know. Still, you could give them a break from the acronyms.

—“Most disciplines and product groups will have a core that delivers key technology or services and then a piece that lines up with the initiatives.”

Here’s where Ballmer starts getting into all that process and deliverables and lines-of-reporting stuff that Harvard MBAs just love. I’m sure it makes sense to someone.

—“Each major initiative will have a champion who will be a direct report to me or one of my direct reports. The champion will organize to drive a cross-company team for success, but my whole staff will have commitment to the initiative’s success.”

Champions, you say? Bring on the “Gladiator” games! This is another important point lost in interminable business-speak: It sounds like, despite the new divisions and vice presidents, Ballmer will have his own agents working to make sure everyone is on the right track. Sounds like kind of a fun job, actually.

—“Our focus on high-value activities—serious fun, meetings, tasks, research, information assurance and IT/Dev workloads—also will get top-level championship.”

Then again, I would not want to be the one assigned to top-level championship of tasks and meetings. That does not sound like serious fun.

—“In the new, rapid-turn world, we need to communicate in ways that don’t just exchange information but drive agility, action, ownership and accountability.”

You’ve got to love a passage about communication that makes almost no sense, and also attempts to coin a pointless phrase like “rapid-turn world.” A masterpiece of the genre.

—“We will help businesses that find themselves in a new world of ever-mounting information to manage that information through greater enterprise information assurance.”

Now we’re really cooking. When Microsoft starts talking that sweet, sweet enterprise IT market talk, no CIO can resist. I mean, who hasn’t sat up all night begging and pleading to the universe for greater enterprise information assurance in this new world, where information is ever-mounting? That’s what I thought.

—“In other words, better execution and innovation through strategy and goal and discipline and engineering coherence.”

Another moment that should be much more thrilling—you’re summing up the whole message here. It’s an opportunity to talk to people like you’re sitting with them at the kitchen table, not reading a PowerPoint slide. It makes sense, if you can stay awake.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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  • All Hat, No Cattle

    This amusement paradigm is accelerating toward our delighted customer!

  • Walt French

    I guess he’s saying there’ll be some internal changes that will reverse years of siloing and legendary intramural hostility. Mr. Ballmer must know a lot more about organizational development than I do, to think he can effect such a change in just a year; more power to him.

    But what’s with the idea that customers will see something revolutionary?

    Wasn’t one of the big selling points of WP that it supports Office and Microsoft’s cloud? Does anybody actually claim that Surface was built for “mobile first” instead of taking the legacy Windows paradigm onto a completely different form factor, with different customers and usage? Personally, I’d have advised Ballmer to separate the legacy moneymakers from the quasi-startup groups. Otherwise, they’ll merely sap the franchise by trying to sell more Surfaces by keeping iOS off iPads.

    Microsoft is trying to satisfy a huge spectrum of customers—from Skype users who merely want to save a few bucks while calling friends & family overseas, to extremely demanding big business types who need the most complex, but reliable networks in the world. Unlike at Apple, which famously could (recently) have put all its SKUs on one table, the notion that there’s actual synergy in that diverse product set is simply bizarre. Trying to put a one-size-fits-all organization on top of that smorgasbord is equally bizarre.

    • DavidChicago

      So.. you’re saying that the Windows 8 metro interface on every device isn’t really a good idea? Just be happy they didn’t put it on Xbox .. yet

  • Steve

    Let’s see your letter to employees when you’re leading a multibillion company with over 90K employees. Some of those make no sense to you, but they do to the people he was addressing.

  • Contrarianism

    Just an idea: Maybe if Microsoft spent a little more time inventing ways to please their customers and little less time trying to please their partners at NSA, they wouldn’t need a wholesale reorg?

    As a end-user consumer, I want to know the companies I support with my hard earned $$ have integrity, and are working hard inventing way to make my life better and more productive … not working against my interests. Harvesting all my personal private data and handing it over to someone else w/out my knowledge or permission is not how you are going to win me over and get my business. Being complicit in stripping me of whatever last vestiges of privacy I may have left is not how your going to gain my loyalty.

    Microsoft is like a cheating partner/spouse that sneaks around behind your back, then when it gets caught red-handed, lies and tells half-truths to try to squirm their way out of it. “The government made me do it”. “I had no choice”. Really? With this level of commitment to the customer, they are going to need far more than a reorg to win back my love.

    From the Guardian …

    Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

    • The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

    • The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

    • Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

    • In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSAboasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

    • Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI andCIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”

    • John Mitchell

      you’re!

  • John Mitchell
  • Fill

    You know you are in trouble when you’ve even trumped Dilbert in terms of corporate idiocy and double talk. Especially in the context of reorganizing a company to save it. But, it does nicely highlight Ballmer’s incompetency if he feels he needs to write a memo this way to inspire his minions and customers.

  • AnnonymousCoward

    Just out of curiosity, do you bitch and moan at your doctor when he diagnoses you? Or do you shut up and Wikipedia the stuff you dont know? Perhaps the reason you find all of Steve’s speak incomprehensible and opaque is because they were not meant for you. You should be lucky you get to see the letter and be privy to the magical world of people actually getting stuff done.

    • Kurt Fitzner

      If my doctor talked as in”coherent”ly as that, I’d find another doctor. I expect my doctor to be smart enough to know what terminology his target audience is likely to know and to speak toward that. If you write an all-company memo that is intended to be relevant to all of the company, then you don’t use incomprehensible jargon. And if that memo is also for public consumption, you might consider using correct grammar too… just so you don’t look so much like a useless tool.

    • DavidChicago

      LOL.. yeah, the Enron guys said that too…..

  • Doug Bostrom

    Steve (or surrogate): ““In other words, better execution and innovation through strategy and goal and discipline and engineering coherence.”

    Only now? This is novel? Fostering strategy, goals, discipline and coherence seems like it should be part of the standard XO features package, not a discovery that needs to be made after better than a decade of on-the-job training.

    The memo reads like a desperate attempt to answer an essay question without reference to facts, figures or proper nouns.

  • mickrussom

    The only reason this guy isnt called a moron on a daily basis is that he is a powerful billionaire. If you took all his money away and asked him to get rich again he would end up a barista.

  • joel_hanes

    Excuse me, miss — I speak Microsoft

    The evangelism and business development team will drive partners across our integrated strategy and its execution.

    Instead of many little strategies, Microsoft will have a single corporation-wide business strategy, just as all of Mordor reflects a single fount of evil. The evangelism and business development team will be the One Ring that binds all our business partners to their petty roles in Microsoft’s grand strategy, so that they too become mere expressions of Sauron’s will.

  • DavidChicago

    So… you know that whole bit about, maybe you’re just not smart enough to understand.. Yeah, the Enron guys said that too… A bunch of them are still doing time, and I didn’t buy that BS back then either

  • DavidChicago

    So.. wait.. does this mean that they are going to fix Windows 8 and put the start button back or not?

  • OriginalCynic

    Ballmer missed his calling in life. Given number of convoluted, nonsensical, statements in one memo he really should consider a career change. He would make a perfect politician.

  • fickle1

    “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” — greek Proverb

    Unfortunately Steve this world isn’t full of blind people.

    • Mikko

      Actually: In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man would appear like a lunatec.

  • arvinddevarajan

    I guess when Steve decided to put this in the open web, he expected reviews and articles about his letter such as this. Did anybody thing why he still went ahead and put it on the web??? May be, there seems to be message for all of us…

  • Finklegruber

    Everyone seems to agree that change is needed at MS – If it will be successful is another story – Steve did not get rid of the stack ranking system which helped create the siloing in the first place.

  • Arne Babenhauserheide

    This one actually sounds useful: “(1)Each major initiative will have a
    champion (2) who will be a direct report to me or one of my direct
    reports. ”

    In other words: (1) If something new should be
    created, someone will lead that effort and take responsibility for the
    success. Champion is actually a good word for that, I think. (2) For
    initiatives we only have 4 layers of organization: Ordinary developers,
    champions, direct reports to Ballmer and Ballmer.

    And this, too:
    “In the new, rapid-turn world, we need to communicate in ways that don’t
    just exchange information but drive agility, action, ownership and
    accountability.”

    Translated: All communication should have a
    direct effect. No communication for the sake of communicating. Though
    “accountability” means that communication purely for the sake of
    assigning the blame to someone else is OK…

  • Mary Branscombe

    the memo is written in Microsoft-speak; but then it’s written for Microsoft employees who all speak Microsoft and use acronyms like that. Having hung around with ‘softies enough, I could translate any of it into words normal people would say – but why bother when it’s Microsoft speaking its own language to its own people?

  • Superalias

    Ballmer’s message may sound terribly vague and obfuscating, but we learn one clear fact from it:

    Microsoft is actually still in business! Huh! Who knew?

  • Zed 13

    Having been a long time reader of Dilbert I barely made it a handful of sentences in to the original message before I was howling with laughter.