Ballmer's chance of changing Microsoft? Don't bet on it
Failed attempts to change corporate culture litter the business landscape, says expert, citing research into fiascos
Computerworld - Microsoft's attempt to transform its dog-eat-dog corporate culture into a kinder, gentler cooperative climate is likely doomed, an expert in failed business strategies said today.
"If you look at the research into failures, culture is very resilient to change," said Paul Carroll, co-founder of the Devil's Advocate Group and co-author of Billion-Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years. "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Carroll's book, which he wrote with fellow Devil's Advocate co-founder Chunka Mui, conducted postmortems on some of the most famous business failures, and is based on research into 2,500 enterprise flops. Devil's Advocate, meanwhile, is an alliance of experts who help corporations evaluate strategy shifts.
That research, and Carroll's 17 years as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, where he profiled CEO Steve Ballmer and interviewed him several times, gave him interesting insights into the changes that Ballmer has spelled out for Microsoft.
He isn't optimistic.
"In all our research, we did not find an example of a company able to address the problems that Steve [Ballmer] is trying to address," said Carroll. "I just don't think it bodes well for Microsoft if they do the conventional kind of stuff."
Last week, Ballmer unveiled a corporate overhaul that will take Microsoft, which for decades used a "divisional" organization -- one where each product line was run as a miniature company with significant autonomy -- to a "functional" structure, where, for instance, an engineering group handles all product development, and where other responsibilities, like marketing and finance, are centralized.
Functionally-structured companies with multiple products are rare; Apple is one of the few that rely on that organization.
Because a functional org chart requires much more cooperation -- theoretically, internal competition between groups has been downplayed or eliminated outright with the death of product-specific divisions -- Ballmer also said that Microsoft must and would change its corporate culture, which for decades notoriously pitted groups against each other as leaders battled to meet financial goals.
"You role model it from the top, you talk about it a lot, you pinch yourself and remind yourself when you're not doing better, you measure it in the employee poll," Ballmer said in a Saturday interview with the Seattle Times when asked how cooperation would be instilled in the company.
Carroll wasn't impressed with the top-down idea, saying that he couldn't come up with an example where it worked.
But he had plenty of examples of CEOs who thought they could force-feed workers a new philosophy. One who was notable, he said, was Robert Nardelli, who in 2000 took the reigns of Home Depot after he was passed over for the replacement of General Electric's top spot when Jack Welch stepped down.
- 15 Non-Certified IT Skills Growing in Demand
- How 19 Tech Titans Target Healthcare
- Twitter Suffering From Growing Pains (and Facebook Comparisons)
- Agile Comes to Data Integration
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- Future Focus: What's Coming in Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) Find out why Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions that are truly future-ready must be designed to enable Machine-to-Machine (M2M) capabilities and much more.
- The CIO's Guide to Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) This guide will help those making an EMM platform decision make the best choice for their organization.
- Yankee Group: BlackBerry Results Refute Rumors of its Demise Yankee Group: BlackBerry® is stronger than the press makes it out to be.
- Your New EMM Platform: How to Streamline the Migration Smartphone migration can be resource-intensive and challenging. Find out how outsourcing the process can save significant time and money.
- Live Webcast Increasing the Value of Your Reports and Dashboards Learn how incorporating other analytical capabilities such as predictive modeling and visualization can increase the value of your reports and dashboards by providing...
- Testimonial: Cystic Fibrosis Trust Peter Hawkins, the Head of IT for Cystic Fibrosis Trust, discusses the role CommVault's Simpana software platform plays in improving the company's information...
- Increasing the Value of Your Reports and Dashboards Learn how incorporating other analytical capabilities such as predictive modeling and visualization can increase the value of your reports and dashboards by providing... All Management White Papers | Webcasts