Global CIO: An Open Letter To Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
You said Microsoft's all-in cloud commitment puts more power in individuals' hands. But your heavy-handed iPhone ban severely undercuts the credibility you crave.
The perils of being an iPhone user at Microsoft were on display last September. At an all-company meeting in a Seattle sports stadium, one hapless employee used his iPhone to snap photos of Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. Mr. Ballmer snatched the iPhone out of the employee's hands, placed it on the ground and pretended to stomp on it in front of thousands of Microsoft workers, according to people present. Not a terribly appealing image, is it, Steve? And that's got nothing to do with competition—that just smacks of insecurity and a hopelessly unrealistic see-no-evil outlook: if you can't see it, then it's not really there.
And here's the second one:
Employee iPhone use has led to some spirited discussions among Microsoft executives. At a retreat last March for dozens of senior Microsoft executives at its corporate campus, someone asked about employee use of iPhones in a question-and-answer period. . . .
Kevin Turner, chief operating officer . . . said he discouraged Microsoft's sales force from using the iPhone, they added. "What's good for the field is good for Redmond," Mr. Turner said, recalls one of the people who heard his comments.
Mr. Ballmer took a similar stance at the meeting. He told executives that he grew up in Detroit, where his father worked for Ford Motor Co., and that his family always drove Fords, according to several people at the meeting.
Ah yes, the old when-I-was-growing-up paradigm. The problem is, Steve, that while it sometimes feels momentarily good to trot out those quaint old notions, their very irrelevance kicks open the door to some related questions like these:
**Back in those days when Ford families all drive Fords, what kind of PC did you use, Steve? Back in those glory days of the Industrial Age, what type of mobile device did you have? What mobile service did your family have? Who supplied the broadband service for the wireless networks in your home? Did you run enterprise apps on your notebook, your netbook, your smartphone, or all three? Back when Ford families automatically drove Fords, were you a 3G or 4G man?
No, Steve, I think those are both all-out losers in terms of productive metaphors for your newly open and customer-empowering company. I don't mean to get Steve Elop in trouble for one-upping you, but it sounds like he managed to comply with the iPhone ban in a humorous way that let him stand up for the company without having to put down its employees or leverage ancient history. Here's how the Journal article describes Elop's approach:
Some executives have openly renounced their iPhones. Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's business division, used Apple products before Mr. Ballmer lured him to Microsoft in early 2008. But at a meeting of Microsoft sales representatives after joining, Mr. Elop placed his personal iPhone into an industrial-strength blender and destroyed it in a reenactment of a popular Internet video, says one witness.
It's certainly true that old habits die hard, and this change-management stuff is a lot harder than the technology challenges you face. So don't beat yourself up too bad over what's already happened, and instead continue to bear down hard on creating a new Microsoft that's unconditionally committed to openness and customer choice and is hell-bent on becoming a world leader in cloud computing.
And that lets its employees use iPhones. Because that'd be a powerful sign of strength and confidence to the entire market as well as to your employees.