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Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction
July 17, 2014 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Microsoft Just Laid Off Thousands of Employees With a Hilariously Bad Memo, Robotic letter is an unfortunately normal example of how companies talk to employees.
posted by KokuRyu (95 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The vast majority of employees whose jobs will be eliminated will be notified over the next six months."

So: we’re going to fire almost 20,000 people, but you might not know if you’re one of them for six months.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:24 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Companies do this because don't face repercussions, or at least none that don't affect their bottom line in a meaningful way. Literally, it's, "no one's going to stop buying our products because of this, or fine us, so we don't have to worry about it."

Some people would say that and mean it like a defense, but I don't. People should be willing to get madder at jerks, whether they're a single guy or a CEO.
posted by JHarris at 6:30 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


"We bought Nokia, we grossly miscalculated and fucked that up so now we're trashing half the fucking workforce. PEACE OUT!"
posted by Talez at 6:32 PM on July 17 [33 favorites]


When you're getting laid off, these are the sorts of things you want to know:
* Am I getting paid?
* For how long?
* How are my retirement/shares/etc going to be handled?
* How long is my health insurance covered?
* Who else is as fucked as me?

The last thing you care about is the company's strategic planning. Even if you were up until that minute the person responsible for corporate strategic planning. Because it had instantly become completely irrelevant to you. Forever.
posted by ardgedee at 6:33 PM on July 17 [128 favorites]


From the second link:

There’s a name for this kind of uninformative spin-talk: it’s known as "ducking and fucking."

This is arguably the most useful thing I've learned all day.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:36 PM on July 17 [39 favorites]


Microsoft’s strategy is focused on productivity and our desire to help people “do more.”

With that in mind, here's a bunch of free time!
posted by Sys Rq at 6:37 PM on July 17 [18 favorites]


Executives seem to looooooove horseshit business speak in times like these. I worked for a company once that did a mass layoff (while the CEO was on a 2-week African safari) and the COO waited until the end of the day and after a several-hours-long corporate gossip chain to send out an email announcement that was, if anything, worse than that one. They didn't fire anyone, they realigned their business model to meet with changing forces in an ever-evolving market.

I'm guessing they've never been among the hoi polloi when stuff like this goes down, because how could you see that as anything other than the worst possible idea.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:39 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


#notallCEOs
posted by maxwelton at 6:41 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


#justaCEOthing
posted by sourcequench at 6:42 PM on July 17


I have no love for Microsoft or its products, but I feel bad for the 18,000 people out of a job. Also, CEOs can eat a fat dick.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:43 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


I like how Xbox was listed as an example of how Microsoft is going to help people "get things done"
posted by Hoopo at 6:45 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


"The vast majority of employees whose jobs will be eliminated will be notified over the next six months."

Ugh, why the hell doesn't anyone at a megacorp ever see what a godawful idea this is.

Instead of making a hard decision and freeing up people to look for new jobs as soon as possible, you completely fuck over morale in every department for half a year as everyone spends all their time working on their resumes and taking sick days to go interview.

There has never been a hard decision that has been improved by stretching out its impact over half of a year.
posted by murphy slaw at 6:45 PM on July 17 [34 favorites]


I guess I'm just numb to corporate jargon but I found nymag's commentary way more obnoxious than the letter itself.
posted by zixyer at 6:46 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


As the comments say, that wasn't the actual memo. This was.
posted by daninnj at 6:47 PM on July 17 [10 favorites]


The last thing you care about is the company's strategic planning.

Didn't you read the memo? It is all about them, not anyone else! They spin with no off-button, trying to sell you something even as they turn your life upside down.

That has to be the most patronizing and inefficient piece of garbage I have read in a long time -- and I have seen some doozies...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:48 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Ugh, why the hell doesn't anyone at a megacorp ever see what a godawful idea this is.

I agree, but I think it's because most of the employees they'd fire end up leaving, thus not having to be paid severance. Back in the good old days when severance was a thing, anyway.
posted by winna at 6:48 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


So: we’re going to fire almost 20,000 people, but you might not know if you’re one of them for six months.

So work harder, peons!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:49 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I assume they're still going to need that H1B expansion. Because they just, you know, can't find anyone to fill the positions.
posted by underflow at 7:02 PM on July 17 [35 favorites]


As the comments say, that wasn't the actual memo. This was.

Yes, the Nadella memo at least gets straight to the point in para 2. Although it falls into a mire of meaningless buzzword bizspeak in para 4:
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. This includes flattening organizations and increasing the span of control of people managers. In addition, our business processes and support models will be more lean and efficient with greater trust between teams. The overall result of these changes will be more productive, impactful teams across Microsoft. These changes will affect both the Microsoft workforce and our vendor staff. Each organization is starting at different points and moving at different paces.
The Elop email is the followup-from-your-manager promised by "Later today your Senior Leadership Team member will share more on what to expect in your organization."

And it is even more terrible knowing that it's a followup to Nadella's "here comes the axe" memo. The employees receiving Elop's email already know that their division is going to take the brunt of the layoffs. But as NYMag notes he spends 10 paragraphs waffling about strategy before finally getting to the "so, about your jobs" stuff in para 11.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:04 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


The Microsoft acquisition of Nokia is going to go down as just as baffling a decision as Google buying Motorola. I mean it's not quite AOL Time Warner baffling, but it's baffling.

The weirdest part of that deal is Microsoft didn't even get the mapping part of Nokia, something they rely on heavily as part of their web strategy.
posted by Nelson at 7:07 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I think this beats hearing that your entire division is being axed...on the radio.

While driving in to work.
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 7:07 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Tailkinker, is that in reference to something specific? It sounds depressing.
posted by dumbland at 7:09 PM on July 17


this is how they talk because this is how they think

this is how they fail

this is how our economy fails, under the leadership of people who don't know how to talk, think or succeed and bury us under reams of meaningless drivel as they do so

"dear civilization -

due to continued discontinuities in the day to day operations and adjustment strategies, we have experienced enough shortcomings of synergy and effective team building, that the viabilities of previously optimized best practices have proven no longer appropo, etc etc etc"

TRANSLATION - CAN YOU EAT ROCKS, YOU POOR BASTARDS?? CAN YOU??

regards
your leadership team
posted by pyramid termite at 7:15 PM on July 17 [22 favorites]


I don't know. I mean, this is a cynical website, right?

Sure, Satya is a corporate weasel. But the actual letter is pretty straight shooting. You learn intro paragraphs in 3rd grade. After that he just stabs you right through the letterhead with the bad news.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:30 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


This was so nuts, it even brought Mini-Microsoft out of hiding for the first time since Balmer announced he was fired retiring.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:31 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I have no love for Microsoft or its products, but I feel bad for the 18,000 people out of a job. Also, CEOs can eat a fat dick.


That's so kind of you to worry about where the CEOs next meal is coming from when 18000 people are going to be out of work.

How about they fire two CEOs and keep 6000 jobs?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:36 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


When the sword of Damocles is hanging over your head, you look for another job where it won't be. Moves like this certainly cost a lot of people that'd the company would want to keep. Brilliant.
posted by introp at 7:39 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


I'm sure there's a little shop in Cupertino that is hiring talented engineers, coders, and support/admin staff.
posted by spitbull at 7:42 PM on July 17


We just had division-wide "townhall meeting" that had pretty much the same content and the same weasel language as Elop's email. They're doing this "we're not firing anyone but people have to re-interview for their jobs" thing. My job isn't threatened but it doesn't exactly make my morale soar to know that they're making many of my co-workers who have been there for decades re-apply for their own jobs.

I'd start looking but I've only been there six months and I'd like not to look like a job-jumper but we'll see how long I last.
posted by octothorpe at 7:43 PM on July 17


this is how they talk because this is how they think

this is how they fail

this is how our economy fails, under the leadership of people who


have excelled in the realm of Management. They have studied the problem at length, yet it continues to perplex them. Because the problem is them.
posted by philip-random at 7:47 PM on July 17 [15 favorites]


TRANSLATION - CAN YOU EAT ROCKS, YOU POOR BASTARDS?? CAN YOU??

regards
your leadership team
posted by pyramid termite


sounds like somebody has optimized his synergies in order to maximize his throughput in the brave new stone-digesting world...
posted by hap_hazard at 7:54 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


In my long career I have encountered a number of people who beleive that marketing has cargo cult like powers to summon forth good things by intoning the right phrases. They only succeed in destorying credibility and trust. Marketing and PR work when you have an honest story at the center.
posted by humanfont at 7:55 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


And to think, I actually hoped Microsoft had turned a corner after Nadella replaced Ballmer. Now it looks like they're turning the corner and slamming into the wall. (But you won't know if you're hurt for 6 months.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:58 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Man, I just actually read Elop's letter all the way through. Among other thing it approaches an extremely low threshold of basic literacy. No fucking wonder they are going under if there is this much wool in the brains at the top. I mean, it's beyond the obfuscatory words and concepts. The actual sentence grammar is something I'd send back for revision if I got it from a college student in one of my classes. "Turgid" is not a sufficient descriptor. That writing is downright constipated.

I thought CEOs were smart and that's why they got the big bucks for thinking Hard Thoughts. This is the prose of someone who can't think very clearly.

What a tell.
posted by spitbull at 7:58 PM on July 17 [25 favorites]


By which I mean, I think I'll sell whatever MSFT I have left tomorrow.
posted by spitbull at 7:59 PM on July 17


The Microsoft acquisition of Nokia is going to go down as just as baffling a decision as Google buying Motorola.

The Motorola thing made complete sense to anyone who was paying attention. And the subsequent sale to Lenova, sans most patents, only confirms it.
posted by sbutler at 8:06 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Ugh, why the hell doesn't anyone at a megacorp ever see what a godawful idea this is.

Microsoft culture is toxic because the way they treat their employees is toxic:
We were mostly white, and all men. Each of us had between three and six “direct reports”: nonmanager programmers who we oversaw. We were the direct reports of our manager. There were lots and lots of managers at Microsoft—it was the only path to advancement, so the company structure became more and more steeply vertical. Once or twice a year, we would all get together and decide how good each of our reports was, by ordering them from best to worst.

The system was called the stack rank.

Following Friday’s news of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s imminent retirement, postmortems of his lackluster 13-year reign have pointed to stack ranking—which, to be entirely fair, predated him—as both a cause and a symptom of the corporation’s decline. As a software developer and later development lead at Microsoft between 1998–2003, I had to evaluate others and be evaluated myself under this system. And I can say that yes, stack ranking is as toxic for innovation and integrity and morale as media reports made it out to be, and then some.

Each report’s name was written on an index card and put on the table. It was a two-step process. First, reports were broadly sorted into four buckets: excellent, good, mediocre, and awful. Then, within each bucket, people were paired for comparison and bubbled up or down. Managers would argue whether a particular report was better or worse than some other manager’s report in the same bucket. Our manager would adjudicate the debates. Some managers were better fighters than others.
The guy who now runs Microsoft is a product of this environment. What else would you expect but a soulless, hopeless, self-absorbed robot of algorithms? He's so in tune with the corporate mindset that he's able to put the bottom line above human decency without considering it to be impolite.
posted by tripping daisy at 8:08 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


So it appears that Stephen Elop first worked for Microsoft, then became CEO of Nokia, then ran the company into the ground, then sold it for scrap to Microsoft, and then returned to Microsoft. He did also get a $6 million signing bonus for taking the CEO position at Nokia, and another $16 million bonus package when he sold the company to Microsoft.
posted by dmh at 8:21 PM on July 17 [24 favorites]


The Microsoft acquisition of Nokia is going to go down as just as baffling a decision as Google buying Motorola. I mean it's not quite AOL Time Warner baffling, but it's baffling.

I think that the IP that Motorola and Nokia held were huge incentives for both of the mergers, same with Apple and Nortel. The mobile industry is a minefield of lawsuits and patent trolls at this point, and everybody is scrambling for patents to fill their warchests.

The whole MS/Nokia saga has been strange from the beginning. MS installed Elop to sabotage Nokia and lower the price for the buyout, but now MS is stuck with the remains of a sabotaged company. Nadela is trying to cut the losses from this, and it's terrible that workers at the Nokia are the ones paying the price.
posted by ceebee at 8:23 PM on July 17


So it appears that Stephen Elop first worked for Microsoft, then became CEO of Nokia, then ran the company into the ground, then sold it for scrap to Microsoft, and then returned to Microsoft. He did also get a $6 million signing bonus for taking the CEO position at Nokia, and another $16 million bonus package when he sold the company to Microsoft.

A Great American Success Story.

When will the workers learn that memos announcing layoffs are not intended to the workers, laid off or not, they're for Wall Street.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:40 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


It's unpleasant that people are losing their jobs, but Microsoft really needs to do something like this or they're going to be laying off even more in the future. Hopefully they make the right choices about who to keep and give those they're laying off good post-employment support.
posted by michaelh at 8:47 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I do need to admit I have no reason to think they will do the layoffs correctly. It seems like getting rid of stack ranking, learning a fairer evaluation system and then using it to do layoffs would be better. It's too late for that now, though.
posted by michaelh at 8:48 PM on July 17


Executives seem to looooooove horseshit business speak in times like these.

They don't write these memos for the fired employees because they don't care what the fired employees think.

They don't write these memos for the remaining employees because the remaining employees only care that they weren't fired.

They write them for the media, where they care about having nothing that can be made into a bad pull-quote, and for stock analysts who find this drone reassuring.

On preview, what oneswellfoop said
posted by tyllwin at 9:04 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I'd start looking but I've only been there six months and I'd like not to look like a job-jumper but we'll see how long I last.

I can all but guarantee that nobody will hold it against you if you get the fuck away from Microsoft within the next six months, no matter how long you've been there. Recruiters at the other Big Five companies (Facebook, Google, Apple, and Yahoo) are gonna be having some VERY busy times ahead.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:11 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


dmh: "So it appears that Stephen Elop first worked for Microsoft, then became CEO of Nokia, then ran the company into the ground, then sold it for scrap to Microsoft, and then returned to Microsoft. He did also get a $6 million signing bonus for taking the CEO position at Nokia, and another $16 million bonus package when he sold the company to Microsoft."


A lot of people seem to want to spin this as a story about Microsoft's failures at home, about stack ranking, etc. But this has been a layoff in the making for several years. With the ink dried on the purchase agreement, Elop can dismantle Nokia safely from Redmond with far less risk of interference from Helsinki.

It seems clear that Elop's mission plan was always to sell to Microsoft, and that the Nokia board of directors probably understood this when he was hired. The Burning Memo was not written for employees, or middle management; it was written for investors to explain why they needed to partner with Microsoft. And I imagine Microsoft understood the value for their end -- a large patent portfolio, some supply chains, maybe a few vendor channels. I don't think they grossly miscalculated one bit. Mass layoffs were simply the plan all along. Layoffs that could well bump Finland's unemployment rate from 8.5 percent to 9.0 percent by the end of 2014. Probably higher as former hardware engineers tighten their belts and spend less.
posted by pwnguin at 9:12 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Since corporations are now people, where do I go to give this one a square kick in the jim-jams?
posted by Spatch at 9:16 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


"My promise to you is that we will go through this process in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible."

My CEO tends to say prima facie stupid shit like this in his corporate-wide blasts. I mean, I think this is a fairly entrenched pattern we're blatantly choosing to put up and live with. W T F ?!?

Do we have a Madame DeFarge somewhere, knitting names, and if so is she sponsored and co-opted by Big Yarn, silently seething at her own latest missive from upper management?
posted by riverlife at 9:19 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


They don't write these memos for the remaining employees because the remaining employees only care that they weren't fired.

I find that after a few months of protracted layoffs, the living begin to envy the dead.
posted by wotsac at 10:00 PM on July 17 [11 favorites]


I once had a fairly interesting project where I worked with HR managers from tech companies around town. As a spin-off of the project, I help set up an "HR round table", where HR managers came and talked about HR stuff. They were the most squirrelly people I ever met.

They have absolutely no political capital within their organizations. They are pure service, and if they make a misstep (hiring the wrong person) it's bad for them. So they were very nervous.

They talk a lot about building company culture and employee retention, and professional training plans or whatever, but at the end of the day they also have to fire people, and the smarmy pop-psychology they use is just irritating (I have been laid off).

Rip off the bandaid please. And please don't organize staff picnics where I have to introduce my kids to the CEO who will eventually fire me.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:19 PM on July 17


When I started out as an employee at a large company, an older grizzled but very experienced employee took me under his wing. From him, I learned to survive big company politics. For example, he told me that he almost never got raises but that he didn't mind because that meant that he was too cheap to lay off. He survived many large layoffs similar to this one at Microsoft.

He had a cartoon in his cube (I think it was Shoe) that always stuck with me. It was a CEO giving a speech to his employees. It went something like this:

I'm here to talk about the strength of our company.
Our company's strength comes from its employees:
Creative people...
Dedicated people...
Hard working people...
Fewer people...
posted by eye of newt at 10:21 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


Well now they've cooked up a situation where nobody feels their job is safe, so everyone is going to quietly look for another job, and the good people are all going to find one.
A few months from now Microsoft will just have the losers who failed to get an offer elsewhere. They should have announced all the layoffs at once, and then maybe they could have kept the people they want to keep.

Even worse I know why they didn't announce all the layoffs at once. They want carte blanche to fire a lot of people they don't like, without getting into discrimination lawsuits, e.g. we didn't fire you because you're 48, or because you're pregnant, or because you made a complaint about sexual harassment, we fired you because we're doing layoffs right now.
posted by w0mbat at 10:57 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


> I like how Xbox was listed as an example of how Microsoft is going to help people "get things done"

Well sure, if by "people" they mean the NSA, and by "get things done" they mean surreptitiously watch semi-drunk 40 year olds play Grand Theft Auto IV in their underwear.
posted by toofuture at 10:59 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


That memo from Elop is just hilariously bad. I had to keep rechecking the URL to make sure I wasn't reading The Onion or something.

Also, CEOs can eat a fat dick.

question: how do i become a CEO the benefits seem good
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:29 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


Where I work we have "transition" meetings to inform those who have been chosen to, um, transition out of their current position into a new one that's located just outside the front gate.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:33 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


It's a lot more straightforward in the culinary world. "Get out of my kitchen."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:34 PM on July 17


Hairy Lobster: "those who have been chosen to, um, transition"

Sounds like "Carousel" from "Logan's Run."
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:38 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Hasn't MS's whole shtick been that their pay is a bit low, but they offer rock solid job security? Isn't it going to be hard to hire top notch people if they can't make that promise?
posted by miyabo at 11:52 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


MS hasn't been able to hire top notch people for a while, I think, with the exception of MS Research.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:14 AM on July 18


Microsoft? That's the company that made $20 billion in profit in 2013 right? They're on the brink of going out of business people!
posted by PenDevil at 12:23 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Also, CEOs can eat a fat dick.

question: how do i become a CEO the benefits seem good


Yeah, seriously. Don't reward bad behaviour.
posted by Drexen at 2:22 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


This is exactly how big takeovers work and they probably knew this would happen from the due diligence stage. Giving people 6 months warning makes it cheaper for the execs (people leave voluntarily). Waffle-speak is par for the course when bad news needs to be sent.
posted by memebake at 2:23 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Your future is postponed indefinitely.

Thank you for your continued interest in the present.

--Your Overlords.
posted by Pudhoho at 2:45 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Oh goody, is it finally time I get to talk about my years as a Nokia serf?

I spent a little over 7 years at Nokia. I started in San Diego in their doomed-from-the-start CDMA division. What this basically meant was that Nokia as a primarily GSM device manufacturer (and having historic and flat out majority success in the rest of the world) was trying to crack the US market and take on Verizon.

Now this was back in like, 2003. The Motorola Razr had caused a storm. *EVERYONE* who owned a mobile phone had a silver flip phone. Everyone. I remember my first "all-hands" yearly company meeting where the CEO at the time Jorma Ollila came to speak at it and the standout line from the speech was thus:

"Nokia will never make a flip phone."

I think he meant for it to be a rousing sense of pride in How Nokia Makes Phones. But this event was full of Americans who, you know, had eyes and could see what the market looked like. You could practically hear the forehead slaps going through the auditorium.

I like telling this story because it really illustrates what I think was the key to Nokia's downfall: Misplaced pride and arrogance. Oh and also, they don't know how to build software. Never could.

So we go back to work, which for the software division that I was in (as a UI Designer) basically meant taking Verizon and Sprint specs and translating them into the Nokia UI guidelines set forth in Finland. Ooh boy that was fun.

Particularly when a year later we were tasked to build Nokia's first flip phone. Yup, they caved. And jeebus cripes it was an ugly bastard. It looked like two square biscuits attached with a hinge on the side. And the prototype was blue. Not silver, blue. And remember when I said they couldn't do software right? And the arrogance? So Nokia is like years behind the flip phone market and they decide they're going to somehow make a better flip phone by pretty much reinventing every wheel and spoke. There were days we were actually arguing with the product team as to why a call should end when you closed the phone. It was unbelievably damned difficult to explain to them this was one of the reasons why flip phones were so g-damned popular. People liked that they were sure the call ended. It was even more unbelievably difficult to explain to them no, it doesn't always have to kill the current process (ie if you're listening to music don't turn that off, duh) and what do you mean it's "too hard" to make rules depending on context?

Then the phone got cancelled. Then the first round of layoffs began.

I volunteered for internal transfer to take some of the pressure off the local team. I had been there almost the longest so I knew if there were layoffs I wouldn't be the first to go. So I thought if I went somewhere else, someone else could stay in their job. Ok I wasn't as virtuous as I make myself sound, I also thought it would be pretty sweet to move to another country on someone else's dime. And thus a new chapter in sunny England!

I thought things would perk up with the move. I was now designing for GSM phones! Closer to the mothership! Finally got to make proper phones! Uh no. Instead of towing to Verizon and Sprint, it was same ol' shit, just dancing to T-Mobile Europe and, yup, Microsoft. I worked on S40 phones, but this was the time of the N97, which was an awful piece of kit before it even went out the door. Another harbinger of doom - Nokia was at the very least known for their durable hardware builds and they now produced this fragile, fiddly, annoying piece of crap.

So as the hardware was going down they also somehow managed to mess up software in a craptacular fashion. Enter Ovi. Derided by internal employees from the beginning it really was another milestone in Nokia's Trail of Tears. Not only unpronounceable the main problem was "why??" Why brand your core services in this way? It's like if Apple called their appstore "Blormschaft" or some such nonsense. Why didn't they just call it Nokia Music, Nokia Maps, Nokia Mail? I can't answer that and I doubt anyone can. It all failed miserably in user testing. Nobody understood why this stuff was on their Nokia phones. And their usability sucked anyway.

Now around this time all the internal chatter was "When is Apple going to launch their phone". Everyone knew it was coming. Everyone knew it was going to be a touch device. Everyone everyone everyone. Sooo let me think, when did Nokia come out with their first touch device? I think Apple was on their Apple 3g. I invite you to compare the two side by side. The crazy thing is that this isn't technically Nokia's first touch device. They had been making touch devices for years (check out the 7710 from 2004)! What is appalling is that they hadn't really learned from it. The software never really embraced the touch environment and they decided to go with a resistive rather than capacitive screen, which meant you basically had to use your fingernail (reported countless times during usability testing).

More grumblings of layoffs. Enter Stephen Elop.

I won't go so far as to say I personally called it, but I wasn't the only one whispering "trojan horse" pretty much starting with his inaugural speech. He was treated with askance and skepticism from the beginning. A little prior to this was when internal engineers started lobbying for Nokia to build an Android phone. But this was also when Nokia started investing in Maemo, or more specifically developing MeeGo.

Elop organises on a video conference. This was the infamous "burning platforms" speech. What did it mean? Were we finally going to make an Android phone??

Not quite. The platform that was going to save us? Windows 8.

We were not impressed.

I had enough. During my entire time at Nokia I was always in that weirdly fortunate position where I knew I wasn't going to be in the group that got laid off. There was no point waiting around for a sweet severance package that was never going to come. I started looking around for a job in web/e-commerce. Recruiters shook their heads at me, didn't I know that mobile was hot? I had enough.

Since I have left I have watched my dear ex-colleagues and now friends for life get jerked around time and time again. Let me stress that again, I think Nokia had some fantastic employees. Don't get me wrong, it is a huge company that has been around for a while so there were also a lot of duds and dead weights, but I personally look very fondly back at my teams. We shared this common optimism that things were just about to get better. Product program got cancelled? Again? No worries, it was for a good reason, this is our opportunity to start again better than ever. This Time It Will Be Different.

Whenever I meet a fellow ex-Nokian I know we have a common experience to share. It really does affect you. It has affected how I view software development and leadership and I honestly think I have made wiser choices in my career because of this experience.

I wish the employees of Nokia (particularly the ones that got moved to Microsoft in this sham of a "deal") all the best; they don't deserve this shit on a stick.
posted by like_neon at 2:51 AM on July 18 [61 favorites]


Fuckheads don't plan ahead.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:26 AM on July 18


The amazing thing is that Microsoft has been working on mobile devices for almost two decades now and spent billions on them but can only manage a couple of percentage points of market share after all that effort.
posted by octothorpe at 4:19 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


It might be remembered that as an international company Microsoft is required by the laws of different countries to give advance notice of mass layoffs--this can range from 1 months to more than 4 months depending on the employees length of employment. I believe WARN in the US requires sixty days. Advance warning is a mixed blessing but all in all gives the employees the the most flexibility in their personal planning--it also provides an opportunity for some employees, who would have been laid off to remain as there are usually a number of voluntary resignations, people accepting other positions or simply leaving the work force.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:29 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Basically this was a warning that everyone in an administrative position at Nokia is going to get fired. Which they should have known anyway.
posted by empath at 4:52 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I thought CEOs were smart and that's why they got the big bucks for thinking Hard Thoughts.

The only way you could still think this in 2014 is if you hadn't been paying attention at all. For years.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:37 AM on July 18


It seems like getting rid of stack ranking, learning a fairer evaluation system and then using it to do layoffs would be better. It's too late for that now, though.

As far as I understand it, this is exactly what Microsoft is trying to do; they're trying to remove the numerous layers of middle management that amplify internal politics.
posted by suedehead at 5:57 AM on July 18


Executives seem to looooooove horseshit business speak in times like these.

Right. If I ever hear the word* "right-size" again, I'll probably flip out. By flip out, I think I mean puke onto whoever says it. It makes me so uncomfortable to hear you say a word* that clearly indicates you know you are trying to deceive me into thinking that I should feel sympathy with the corporate entity that is about to fuck me over.



*I refuse to acknowledge that it's an actual word.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:50 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I wish the employees of Nokia (particularly the ones that got moved to Microsoft in this sham of a "deal") all the best; they don't deserve this shit on a stick.

Let's not go too far. January 9th 2007 Nokia had a nuclear bomb dropped on it. All of a sudden, overnight, all of their shit was antiquated and they were two years behind the curve. Because they had been busy working to the carrier's bidding instead of pushing mobile tech forward. But Apple also gave them a gift, a six month head start.

What should have happened:
1) Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo should have said "oh fuck"
2) He should have immediately pulled his best and brightest engineers into a room
3) He should have directed the software engineers to rewrite all of the Symbian UI code to hardware compositing and write a proper fucking web browser
4) He should have told the hardware engineers to take a GPU, stick it in a phone with a capacitive touch screen
5) You have six months to get a working prototype we can show off to the media

What actually happened
1) Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said "hold the course, the carriers have got our back"
2) He did nothing
3) They eventually introduced the N97 which looked great in press videos but turned out to be a big heaping pile of shit
4) The carriers said "fuck this, Nokia who?" once they knew they could sell obsolete smart phone hardware as cheap as a feature phone

Elop saved Nokia from certain bankruptcy by selling it to Microsoft. Kallasvuo already ran the ship into the ground with nobody stepping up to say "hey the captain is fucking drunk at the wheel here". Elop salvaged it for scrap and let some of Nokia keep their jobs.
posted by Talez at 6:54 AM on July 18 [8 favorites]


He had a cartoon in his cube (I think it was Shoe) that always stuck with me. It was a CEO giving a speech to his employees. It went something like this . . . Fewer people

It was Shoe. From the 1980s. I still have that one, cut from the local newspaper.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:09 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Just as a point of information, MS didn't get Nokia's IP with the deal. It got a ten year licence, but the remains of Nokia keeps the patents.

Yeah. Me neither.
posted by Devonian at 7:09 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


As far as I understand it, this is exactly what Microsoft is trying to do; they're trying to remove the numerous layers of middle management that amplify internal politics.
The revolution is successful. But survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives means slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is . . .
Oh, wait, that was somewhen else.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:15 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


So how long before MS starts lobbying for more H1-B visas?
posted by PenDevil at 7:18 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


I spent two hellish, soul-killing years in the Windows Phone division, got the fuck out as fast as my little legs would carry me, and have been waiting for something like this to happen ever since. Feels weird to watch from the outside.
posted by palomar at 7:24 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Talez, I totally agree with you about the OPK assessment. I actually didn't mention him much in my post because, well it was getting into GYOB territory as it was and I didn't want to get too long-winded. But yes, your rundown of that legacy is pretty spot on.

Elop salvaged it for scrap and let some of Nokia keep their jobs.

I don't think Nokia employees feel that grateful to Elop for this. Elop et.al. were also so blatantly disingenuous about it. They really were acting as if they had Nokia's back, championed it, thought we could fight back - not "salvage it for scrap". I can't speak for everyone but I certainly felt very had.

Maybe you can say that I was being naive and it's just business. But we really did believe that Nokia was a brand worth fighting for.
posted by like_neon at 7:57 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


*raises glass to palomar*

Hello fellow comrade!
posted by like_neon at 8:08 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I would love to read an informed MeFi post about Tizen, Samsung's new mobile OS. Scuttlebutt I hear is it's a real thing with a lot of investment, but also not great and really just a backup plan for Samsung so they have some option other than being dependent on Google's Android. But I don't really know.

It's sad to me how Nokia lost the momentum they had with Symbian. Maybe it was too legacy to modernize.
posted by Nelson at 8:31 AM on July 18


Makes getting laid-off by Bank of America seem Panglossian by comparison.
posted by mikelieman at 8:32 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


From Om Malik's latest column:
Think of it this way — since Elop took over as Nokia CEO, the company has cut over 50,000 jobs (if you include today’s announcement.) That is just mind boggling. That bumbling strategy which was the hallmark of Elop’s Nokia tenure still continues — in other words, Microsoft doesn’t really have a Nokia strategy.
Via Om Malik, from ... "Charles Fitzgerald who worked at Microsoft and doesn’t suffer fools has a brilliant ex-insider take on Elop:"
His resume is that of a short-tenured opportunist who has left little mark on his employers except of course Nokia where he presided over the company’s collapse and ultimate exit from the mobile handset business.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:44 AM on July 18


> I would love to read an informed MeFi post about Tizen, Samsung's new mobile OS. Scuttlebutt I hear is it's a real thing with a lot of investment

Samsung had Bada, their internally-developed smartphone OS, and was shipping phones with it in South Korea, concurrent with their Android OS phones internationally.

For its part, Tizen is basically a third-stream open-source mobile OS whose primary reason for existence is that it's outside of Google control. Even though it has its roots as a Nokia product (Maemo and MeeGo), it's currently championed by Intel, who probably doesn't want to shackle their fortunes exclusively to Google's product strategy any more than any other major multinational does these days.

Dropping Bada in favor of Tizen indicates to me mostly that as a corporation, Samsung continues to be ambivalent about how to move forward with their mobile products. Samsung wants to own the whole user ecology, Apple-style, but they're wary of the massive investment in design and development necessary, as well as fearful of the obstacles it might put in the way of consumer uptake, since Android has a brand and a UI that consumers are familiar with and seek out. Within South Korea, things are different in the sense that the OS is less of a sought-after brand than the handset manufacturer. Otherwise Bada would not have been able to last as long as it had.
posted by ardgedee at 8:58 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


tl;dr version of my previous comment: Samsung might only want Tizen for their South Korea-only mobile devices, and continue using Android internationally. Doing so would conform with precedent. But it would probably allow them more possibilities in the international markets than Bada did.
posted by ardgedee at 9:05 AM on July 18


I don't think Nokia employees feel that grateful to Elop for this. Elop et.al. were also so blatantly disingenuous about it. They really were acting as if they had Nokia's back, championed it, thought we could fight back - not "salvage it for scrap". I can't speak for everyone but I certainly felt very had.

I'm sure if Windows Phone had been a hit and started draining market share from iOS/Android we would have had a happier ending but going with an OS that's two years behind iOS then dropping that OS for a completely new architecture just as soon you brought out Windows Phone 7? That pretty much scarred some people from buying Windows phones ever again even though the chance of it happening is non-existent.

Nokia really had no other options besides all-in on the Windows Phone platform and it backfired no thanks to the Windows Phone team's complete ineptitude in managing the platform's evolution. Hopefully after this they can rebuild with a smaller team and start earning back public trust. Given the current climate? I doubt it.
posted by Talez at 9:56 AM on July 18


Microsoft quietly kills their 3D Touch Windows Phone codenamed 'McLaren'. (TIL there are whole blogs dedicated to covering Windows Phone.)
posted by Nelson at 10:44 AM on July 18


I thought CEOs were smart and that's why they got the big bucks for thinking Hard Thoughts.

The only way you could still think this in 2014 is if you hadn't been paying attention at all. For years.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man


Obviously, I thought, with my Title Case Hard Thoughts, I was making a "surely this" joke about the self-evident lack of intellect in an acclaimed CEO.

They keep telling us they get paid for being smart, so it's always fun to tweak them about it when it is obvious they are morons.
posted by spitbull at 10:51 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Windows Phone. There's always one guy in the office who has it, and he holds up every damn meeting, before he ends up making excuses for it by blaming his fucking phone.
posted by spitbull at 10:58 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Oh god, the windows phone people. I knew one loud mouthed guy who worked for msft who was all gung-ho about it -- did the whole ipad = large iphone criticism spiel when I told him I bought an ipad, etc. I always felt like taking him down a notch, but he was stuck with a windows phone, so I thought that his comeuppance was pretty much assured anyway.
posted by smidgen at 11:11 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


So it appears that Stephen Elop first worked for Microsoft, then became CEO of Nokia, then ran the company into the ground, then sold it for scrap to Microsoft, and then returned to Microsoft. He did also get a $6 million signing bonus for taking the CEO position at Nokia, and another $16 million bonus package when he sold the company to Microsoft.

The American way. There are people who watch Breaking Bad and say that's a great business model, except he should have went into legalized crime, high finance and business, or politics of course. I believe a recent presidential candidate was heavily involved with a company that would buy out companies and shut them down.

Well now they've cooked up a situation where nobody feels their job is safe, so everyone is going to quietly look for another job, and the good people are all going to find one.
A few months from now Microsoft will just have the losers who failed to get an offer elsewhere. They should have announced all the layoffs at once, and then maybe they could have kept the people they want to keep.


Although the warning was far to vague, from an employee standpoint, I'd appreciate the warning nonetheless so I could do just as you mention, look for alternatives while still earning a wage for an unspecified time. Much better then the scenario I'm familiar with which is you're out, today, bye.

I don't think you can call people who failed to find employment elsewhere losers. It's a tough "job market" out there right now, and it doesn't seem it will get any easier in the future.

The amazing thing is that Microsoft has been working on mobile devices for almost two decades now and spent billions on them but can only manage a couple of percentage points of market share after all that effort.

Well Apple had a pretty small share of the desktop market for years, but they persevered and are up to about 7.5 to 11% depending on what you read. Android's share used to be pretty small as well. History is littered with big money invested but not getting a large market share so I fail to see how this is amazing in Microsoft's case. This is an example of a corporation expending a lot of energy and expense and not being very successful at it. One of the few things corporations have in common with the common people, many of whom work their assess off and try to move up and get into a better situation, but cannot

Right. If I ever hear the word* "right-size" again, I'll probably flip out. By flip out, I think I mean puke onto whoever says it.

I'm always reminded of the Wire's Baltimore Sun narrative and management cutting people with the slogan "Do more with less".
posted by juiceCake at 11:35 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Obviously, I thought, with my Title Case Hard Thoughts, I was making a "surely this" joke about the self-evident lack of intellect in an acclaimed CEO.

They keep telling us they get paid for being smart, so it's always fun to tweak them about it when it is obvious they are morons.


Oh, uh...yeah. Um.

I guess I should change my title to CEO. xD
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:49 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


So it appears that Stephen Elop first worked for Microsoft, then became CEO of Nokia, then ran the company into the ground, then sold it for scrap to Microsoft, and then returned to Microsoft.

Nokia was already in the toilet before MS bought them. I'm sure the board brought him on board with the expectation that he was there to manage the merger with microsoft.
posted by empath at 1:49 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Nokia was a troubled company well before Elop showed up and I do see how Nokia did benefit from the acquisition. It solved their cashflow problems and gave them a strategy, at least a chimera. It is possible that Nokia would have fared worse without Microsoft's involvement and I agree that the board wanted Elop to manage the merger. I don't think that justifies the extent of mismanagement (Forbes claims that the company lost $20B in value during Elop's leadership) and, especially in light of this memo, the perverse incentives of the reward structure for Elop himself.
posted by dmh at 3:56 PM on July 18


Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction as a productivity and platform company.

I'm quite a soft-hearted compassionate sort of person, but do sincerely believe that anyone who writes a sentence like that should be subject to some kind of banishment to the salt mines, or maybe just put in a town square for normal people who speak like humans to laugh at and poke with sticks.
posted by reynir at 2:44 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


I'll bet one of these tbd layoffs will be Elop. It is pretty typical to eliminate the old manavement team within 18 months of the takeover. First they will move him from an operational to an advisory role. Then he'll leave to become CEO of some smaller company or join a venture capital firm.
posted by humanfont at 12:37 PM on July 19


humanfont: "I'll bet one of these tbd layoffs will be Elop. It is pretty typical to eliminate the old manavement team within 18 months of the takeover. First they will move him from an operational to an advisory role. Then he'll leave to become CEO of some smaller company or join a venture capital firm."

That may be, but not because Elop is 'the old management team'. Elop worked at Microsoft for two years as head of the Business Products division, and then accepted an offer at NOK, presumably to broker the sale to MSFT. Before that he was the CEO that sold Macromedia to Adobe. Elop is not a long time manager at Nokia that needs to be retained because he knows the company culture, partners, where the bodies are buried, etc.

As such, he was on the shortlist for CEO when Ballmer announced impending retirement. Elop's resume at this point is a siren call for boards of directors looking to sell their company. If he leaves Microsoft, it'll be because a) Nadella isn't going anywhere anytime soon and b) he is recruited to broker another sale. It's possible that he'd be recruited by a VC firm, specifically to find 'exits' for their startups, but his rolodex may not be the best fit for say recent Y Combinator startups.
posted by pwnguin at 2:06 PM on July 19


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