Microsoft's new CEO and his first-100-days plan

Corporate strategy experts spell out what Nadella should do to kick off his tenure, and kick Microsoft into gear

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Once priorities are set, said Ottinger, Nadella and other executives must drum up support -- that's what Ottinger meant by "creating urgency" -- with the 100,000 that Microsoft employs. By engaging workers in discussions about the new opportunities, upper management can get them behind the new regime and its strategy.

"What you're asking for is more engagement than input," Ottinger acknowledged. "But Nadella and others must get them on both a head and hearts level, not just data and numbers. If you can engage people in the 'heart' of Microsoft, that's like the 12th Man," he added, referring to the term used for sports fans, particularly those of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, Ottinger's local team.

"As soon as you're clear about the opportunities, this is where you can get a lot of people engaged with the transformation," Ottinger argued.

Ottinger and Gregory both stressed that Nadella will have to outline how his strategy, how the opportunities he spotlights, drive innovation at Microsoft. Critics have lambasted the firm for lacking innovation, and Nadella must demolish that reputation.

All this advice, however, assumes that Nadella will decide that Microsoft is not on the right path, does not have the right strategy, is not executing on the best opportunities. He gave no hint Tuesday that he thought any of those things.

From everything he said Tuesday, whether in an email to employees or a short interview, Nadella is behind Ballmer's "devices and services" strategy, believes that the company can be a major player not only in the enterprise -- its historic and still biggest strength -- but also in the consumer market, and looked forward to the addition of Nokia's handset business. All those moves by Ballmer, the last after he had announced his retirement, have been criticized by Wall Street, industry analysts and other pundits.

There was no hint yesterday that Nadella will rock the boat, will produce a dramatically different strategy, or even a new execution of that strategy.

His biggest contribution Tuesday was to the discussion about innovation, and then simply because he used the word so frequently. He called on it or a derivative three times in his email, four times in a short video the company posted on its website, seven times in a 16-minute staged interview.

What goes on behind the scenes over the next 99 days will be more important than what Nadella said yesterday. "The corporate brand is more than just the communicating, it's also baked into the company, and its business practices and operations," said Gregory. "If [Nadella's] vision can take hold and have long-lasting effects, the culture and business process and communications all work hand-in-hand to grow the brand."

But Nadella will be graded by everyone on his first few months, Ottinger contended, whether its employees looking for clarity on their priorities or investors trying to decode Nadella's progress.

Ottinger was upbeat about the new CEO's chances. "I'd be a bettor on Microsoft," he said. "I'm a total believer that Microsoft has got the capability, the skills, the partners, everything to really take it to the next level."

Time will tell. But that time is short.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com..

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