The problem with Microsoft isn't their technology, their people or even their leadership. While I don't think Steve Ballmer was the ideal candidate to lead Microsoft, his leadership was not the root cause. People want to believe in something important. When it comes to a major brand like Microsoft, they want to know what that brand represents. What does Microsoft represents? Currently nothing. 15 years ago the mission was clear.
"...We talked about a computer on every desk and in every home. It’s been amazing to see so much of that dream become a reality and touch so many lives...” - Bill Gates
It was a good vision, but one that was misplaced. The problem with the vision is it doesn't answer a core question:
To give a company purpose, everyone from the employees to the customers needs to understand the meaning of the vision. The purpose for the company should be clear. If Microsoft can't answer the "Why" behind its mission/vision then what hope could anyone else? In fact, the mission by many outsiders was observed to: "become the most powerful technology company and crush competition." Certainly not a noble mission, and one that dubbed the company the moniker "evil empire." Internally the lack of vision led to many misguided projects: Live, MSN, Passport, Bing, WebTV, Hotmail and many others. Why? Because of Google, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook.
Purpose and Vision
When Bill Gates left Microsoft he dedicated himself to a more noble pursuit of saving lives through his charity: The Gates Foundation. The foundation has the following vision outlined on its homepage:
We believe every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life.
What if something like this was the purpose and vision for Microsoft?
Vision and mission reframe the purpose of what we do and why we do it. Maybe "health" isn't a great fit for Microsoft but productivity certainly is. If every action the company takes and every product they produce lives true to that vision it allows them to make better decisions and focus on the right products. Hire people who believe in the purpose and get customers passionate about the company and brand.
Currently, Microsoft can't release productivity tools on iOS or Android for fear that it will give Google/Apple leverage against the operating system business. Talk about shortsighted.
Saving Microsoft in 5 Steps
- Great leadership.
- Vision for the next 20 years.
- Kill/Sell products that don't line up with the vision.
- Buy/Build products that do line up with the vision.