Business Strategy Technology

How Do You Change A Company?

Once you realize that you have to change your team, your department, your division or an entire company, how do you do that?

Changing the strategic focus of even the smallest organizations can be difficult. This is even more difficult when you have a successful product that defines your company.

To sideline that product, to create a strategy where that product is not the North Star, is very difficult. Naturally people will be resistant: why not just maintain? Why risk money and resources on something that might fail?

And this only gets more difficult the the bigger your company.

What the Fall of Windows Can Teach You

Recently, Microsoft announced a reorganization in which the Windows operating system is no longer its own division within the company.

Think about that: the most successful product at Microsoft will no longer be its own division. Instead it will be part of supporting various other divisions: business applications, commerce, AI, etc;

How does that happen? What kind of crazy political maneuvering happens in the background? Does Satya Nadella just decree it because he’s the CEO? (No).

Studying Microsoft’s pivot to a new strategy can help anyone trying to make even the smallest changes at their company.

Luckily for us this change is well documented at the excellent Stratechery blog. If you aren’t already reading this blog, you need to start! The author Ben Howe offers some excellent insights every week into the technology sector and business.

Important Lessons

  • Easy Wins – as soon as he was promoted, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the Office Suite of products available on iPad. This was an easy win for one part of his vision: Microsoft Services on non-Windows platforms
  • Communicate the Strategy Early and Often – In an email from early in his tenure, Nadella does a great job (see the original here) outlining the strategy and clearly calls out the vision:

“We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.”

  • Correcting The Sins of the Past – In a series of re-organizations Nadella moved the company from a structure focused on supporting one strategy (Windows) to a structure where various divisions could build their own businesses:

“With this new reorganization, Windows is off in the corner where it belongs, leaving the Cloud and Enterprise team and Applications and Services Group free to focus on building their businesses on top of all platforms.” – Ben Thomas

  • Spend Political Capital Wisely – Instead of killing the Windows phone Nadella left it in the Windows division. Consequently, facing non-existent demand, the division had to admit defeat.

Nadella has managed to move an older company without hitting an iceberg (yet) and we can all learn from that.

You don’t have to work at Microsoft or a technology company to apply the simple lessons I outlined above. In my experience, leaders fail when they do not have a clear vision for change. Microsoft’s recent moves demonstrate how smoothly organizational change can happen when there is a clear vision for change.

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