12:06 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman

RIM Employee Blasts Leadership In Letter, RIM Responds

A well-placed manager at Research In Motion has published a letter to the company's executives, beseeching them to make the bold decisions needed to save the company. Late Thursday, RIM responded.

"I have lost confidence," an anonymous RIM employee writes. "While I hide it at work, my passion has been sapped. I know I am not alone--the sentiment is widespread and it includes people within your own teams."

Thus begins a from-the-heart letter directed at RIM's senior executives about the problems facing the maker of BlackBerrys. The author, which says it was able to verify works at RIM, reveals a lot in the letter, much of which would likely get him or her fired. But the letter doesn't simply lambaste RIM's co-CEOs. The author took the time to lay out an eight-step plan that he/she believes could help turn the company around. Many of them gel with what analysts and media watchers of RIM have been saying for some time.

"We are in the middle of major 'transition' and things have never been more chaotic. Almost every project is falling further and further behind schedule at a time when we absolutely must deliver great, solid products on time. We urge you to make bold decisions about our organizational structure, about our culture and most importantly our products."

Let's look at each of the points.

1. Focus On The End User Experience

In a word, yes! The letter suggests that RIM needs to stop kowtowing to wireless network operator demands and make a device that offers a stellar user experience. This is exactly what many of us media types have been saying for years now. The author notes that rather than continue to make fun of the Android and iOS platforms--while trying to reach feature parity with those platforms--RIM needs to bring new features to the fold.

"When was the last time we pushed out a significant new experience or feature that wasn't already on other platforms?" the author asks. Good question, indeed.

2. Recruit Senior Software Leaders & Enable Decision-Making

"We need some heavy hitters at RIM when it comes to software management. Teams still aren't talking together properly, no one is making or can make critical decisions, all the while everyone is working crazy hours and still far behind. We are demotivated."

The author points to Apple, Google, and Microsoft and the accomplishments these companies have made in the last few years and then notes that RIM has hardly created any innovative software by comparison.

RIM truly needs some internal leaders who have vision and the authority to act.

3. Cut Projects To The Bone

I alluded to this in my post Wednesday about a QNX-based superphone from RIM. It needs to follow Apple's model here--at least in the short terms--and get one absolutely killer product to market ASAP.

"We need to be disciplined here. We can't afford any more initiatives based on carrier requests to squeeze out slightly more volume. Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do. ... We simply must stop shipping incomplete products that aren't ready for the end user. It is hurting our brand tremendously. It takes guts to not allow a product to launch that may be 90% ready with a quarter end in sight, but it will pay off in the long term."

RIM needs to focus as many resources as possible on getting one perfect device to market. After it does that, it can expand its depth with more variants.

4. Developers, Not Carriers, Can Make Or Break Us

This has never been truer. While having distribution points via the major wireless network operators is critical, it isn't everything. The smartphone space has transitioned to one of ecosystems, and right now Apple, Google, and Microsoft are in the lead.

Scathingly, the author writes, "We urgently need to invest like we never have before in becoming developer friendly. The return will be worth every cent. There is no polite way to say this, but it's true--BlackBerry smartphone apps suck. Even PlayBook, with all its glorious power, looks like a Fisher Price toy with its Adobe AIR/Flash apps."

The author wants to get easier-to-use tools into the hands of developers ASAP so they'll be interested in writing for BlackBerrys.

"If we create great tools, we will see great work. Offer [crap] tools and we shouldn't be surprised when we see [crap] apps."

5. Much Better Marketing

The author calls out what he/she believes to be bad product marketing on RIM's part. Rather than focus on technical features that no one appears to care about, it should be focusing on the overall experience.

"A product's technical superiority does not equal desire, and therefore sales. ... How many Linux laptops are getting sold? How did Betamax go? My mother wants an iPad and iPhone because it is simple and appeals to her. Powerful multitasking doesn't."

Entice end-users to care about investing in the entire ecosystem based on compelling features, and sales will follow.

6. Hold Employees Accountable For Failure

"Canadians are too nice," says the author, pointing out that tons of under-performing employees remain with the company despite their lack of contributions.

"No one is accountable. Where is the guy responsible for the 9530 software? Still with us, still running some important software initiative. We will never achieve excellence with this culture. Just because someone may have been a loyal RIM employee for 7 years, it doesn't mean they are the best Manager/Director/VP for that role. It's time to change the culture to deliver or move on and get out."

I would say this point ties back well with point number two about giving managers more authority and control over their products. Managers who are held responsible for their teams' output need to, in turn, hold their employees responsible for the teams' output, as well.

7. Stop Being Arrogant

The author acknowledges that the press is making the CEOs angry. Rather than get snippy with press and analysts, the author suggest now might be the time for RIM's leaders to show a little humility "with a dash of paranoia."

RIM's co-CEOs made it clear during their recent quarterly earnings call that they are out of touch with reality and think everyone but themselves is crazy.

"Overconfidence clouds good decision-making. We missed not boldly reacting to the threat of iPhone when we saw it in January over four years ago. We laughed and said they are trying to put a computer on a phone, that it won't work. We should have made the QNX-like transition then. We are now 3-4 years too late. That is the painful truth ... it was a major strategic oversight and we know who is responsible."

The author believes that fresh thinking is need. While he doesn't explicitly say that the two CEOs need to go, he/she says that a change in their responsibilities might be a good idea. I wholeheartedly agree.

8. Democratise. Engage And Interact With Employees

"Reach out to all employees asking them on how we can make RIM better. Encourage input from ground-level teams--without repercussions--to seek out honest feedback and really absorb it. Lastly, we're all reading the news and many are extremely nervous, especially when we see people get fired. We need an injection of confidence: share your strategy and ask us for support."

Company leaders who don't listen to their employees are asking for trouble. Given the number of stumbles RIM's leaders have made in recent quarters, they need to listen to their smart, dedicated employees now more than ever. While the truth often hurts to hear, it's also best to hear it from those who care about the outcomes.

RIM has responded to the letter quickly, and posted a few paragraphs on the InsideBlackBerry Blog.

Here's RIM's unedited response [emphases mine]:

An 'Open Letter' to RIM's senior management was published anonymously on the web today and it was attributed to an unnamed person described as a 'high level employee'. It is obviously difficult to address anonymous commentary and it is particularly difficult to believe that a 'high level employee' in good standing with the company would choose to anonymously publish a letter on the web rather than engage their fellow executives in a constructive manner, but regardless of whether the letter is real, fake, exaggerated or written with ulterior motivations, it is fair to say that the senior management team at RIM is nonetheless fully aware of and aggressively addressing both the company’s challenges and its opportunities.

RIM recently confirmed that it is nearing the end of a major business and technology transition. Although this transition has taken longer than anticipated, there is much excitement and optimism within the company about the new products that are lined up for the coming months. There is a fundamental business reality however that following an extended period of hyper growth (during which RIM nearly quadrupled in size over the past 5 years alone), it has become necessary for the company to streamline its operations in order to allow it to grow its business profitably while pursuing newer strategic opportunities.

Again, RIM's management team takes these challenges seriously and is actively addressing the situation. The company is thankfully in a solid business and financial position to tackle the opportunities ahead with a solid balance sheet (nearly $3 billion in cash and no debt), strong profitability (RIM's net income last quarter was $695 million) and substantial international growth (international revenue in Q1 grew 67% over the same quarter last year). In fact, while growth has slowed in the U.S., RIM still shipped 13.2 million BlackBerry smartphones last quarter (which is about 100 smartphones per minute, 24 hours per day) and RIM is more committed than ever to serving its loyal customers and partners around the world.


I am glad to see that RIM's management decided to respond so quickly, but the comments shared by RIM do nothing to address the content of the letter. In fact, by pointing out the company's solid financial position (which continues to defy the odds), the company is still trying to put lipstick on the same old pig.

C'mon, guys, wake up!

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