Recently, Microsoft realised “oops – we desperately need to give the arse to many many thousands of employees”. Last week, they left the job of telling these people to a man by the name of Stephen Elop, the Vice-President of Microsoft Devices & Services.
The email he wrote to staff was 1113 words and 14 paragraphs long and, when it became public, received much negative media attention. You can read it here (but set aside a good ten to twelve hours):
I decided I’d drop him an electronic line.
Hello there Mr Elop,
You’ve probably heard of me. I’m one of the world’s finest exponents of the email. I’m writing this one to you because I think you might appreciate my expertise.
First things first, can I call you Stevo?
Stevo, recently, you wrote an email to thousands of employees about radical changes to the division of Microsoft you’re in charge of, including a huge number of imminent sackings. I’m only telling you this in case you forgot – it was such a long email I imagine it took several years to write and you may only remember parts or the very end of it.
Now, people have called it “the worst email ever“, “the cruellest corporate memo in history”, “a creation of psychopathic coldness”, “about as useful as Windows Vista”, “a revolting broth of management verbiage and meaningless buzzwords”, “a four-metre tall shit sandwich”, the work of a “corporate jargon-monkey“, “an assemblage of evasive weasel words randomly glued together with thick drivel”, “bullshit of the richest, foulest-smelling variety”, “a letter only a total arsehole could have written”, “douche mail”, “slime in email form”, “a road to nowhere with several giant camel turds along the way”, “the rambling inanity of a man too scared to tell the truth”, “the kind of writing that makes you want to fly kick the author in the larynx”, “a shitnado”, “no less repulsive than the discharge from a squashed fly” and “vigorous executive masturbation without the money shot”.
This is, of course, a gross overreaction to a very fine piece of corporate communication. The bleeding hearts who have said these things wouldn’t know the first thing about running a multi-billion dollar operation like you and I do.
Having said that, I do feel that to a small extent, you brought this on yourself. How? You said it yourself in paragraph 14: “We will work to provide as much clarity and information as possible.”
I believe you inadvertently provoked this reaction, but not because your email was too verbose or esoteric (as some self-proclaimed “experts” are saying). On the contrary, they attacked you because you gave them too much. Stevo, you were too damned generous with your language.
Here, for what it’s worth (a great deal), is where I think you erred and what I would have done instead.
1. You went with a ratio of about 1:1 of vaguely comprehensible English to management blob-fishery. A mistake, if you don’t mind me saying.
What your detractors, and the broader population, don’t understand is that people like you (and me) are the First Estate of the 21st century. Like the clergymen before us, we will speak and write in whatever language we choose, and if members of the lower castes can’t understand it, so be it. In short, you were too democratic in your thinking.
If I were you I would have written the email using 90 percent managementese. And 10 percent French just because if I were you I would be a crazy Canadian sonofabitch and that would just be the way I rolled.
2. “We plan to right-size our manufacturing operations to align to the new strategy and take advantage of integration opportunities.” To me, this is just a gorgeous sentence. So raw. So human. So beautifully crafted. If I had to liken it to a food, it would be a Christmas pudding. But Stevo – it’s missing the brandy sauce.
Where’s the “going forward” brandy sauce?
One of the reasons people attacked you is because they didn’t get a sense of progress or forwardisation (as I like to call it) from your email.
I would have used “going forward” as many times as you mentioned focus (twelve) and at the very least no fewer times than you mentioned alignment (six).
3. You were widely ridiculed for beginning your email with “Hello there”. To be honest, I thought this was entirely appropriate.
Appropriate but not perfect.
If it had been me, I probably would have gone with “Hey dudes”, “Whattup peeps” or “Yo yo yo erstwhile colleagues”.
4. You are a Vice-President at the world’s largest software company. You are a god; you have a right – nay, a responsibility – to make up and re-engineer words.
Where were these words?
When I had to re-optimalise haught.com.au a couple of years back, I told the 18,000 staff I had to de-employ that I was “making alternative organisational tessellations to betterise the business and squirt synergism into the dry sales funnel”. They loved me for it. They saw me for the wordrepreneur I am. They applauded as I water-cannoned them out of the meeting hall.
By driving in-email innovation, going forward, you could have been applauded too.
5. You only mentioned that a change was happening at the end of the third paragraph. The first mention of job losses was eleven (gloriously bulbous) paragraphs down. Why so early?
Indeed, why mention these extraneous details at all? Although your email was nominally about 12,500 people losing their jobs and their livelihoods, the far more important subject was value addeds and the appropriateness of financial envelopes.
I would have removed (or “ramped down”, as a great man once put it (LOL – you)) any mention of redundancies and let people read between the lines. They may be peasants, they may not understand our language, they may be unworthy of our sincerity or any dignity at all, but
(Breaking even: I began that sentence without having the faintest idea how I was going to finish it. That’s a little bit embarrassing, but I reckon if anyone can empathise, it’s you, Stevo.)
So there you have it. A few minor tweaks that could have turned your exquisite but controversial poem into an idyll for the ages. And, to show that this is as much an homage as it is a tutorial, I did it in exactly the same number of words as your email!
I hope you outtook some key learnings from my humble advice.
Also, the XBox One is a piece of shit. What the fuck happened there?
Yours in generosity,
Wouldn’t it be brilliant if he handwrote me a letter in reply?
…or choose one that takes your fancy from the list below:
My email to Yarra Trams
My email to Metro Trains
My email to Facebook
My email to Coles
My (unsent) email to the Victorian Department of Transport
My email to Alan Jones
My email to Kyle Sandilands
My email to Gasp Jeans
My email to Jim Beam
My email to Ben Polis
My email to Hoo haa Bar
My email to Weis ice creams
My email to some tobacco companies
My email to Margaret Court
My email to KFC