Can a CEO be brutally honest?
Everyone from sales clerks to CEO’s have been talking about the ‘burning platform memo’ from Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop. In the memo, Elop points out where the company is failing compared to its competitors and effectively asks what the staff plans to do about it. ( Read the full memo here, here.) In the memo, Elop takes a hard and critical look at Nokia and its performance. The memo begs the question, can honesty propel innovation?
More often than not, innovation springs from neccessity. Your product is not moving fast enough, your competitor has found the next big thing; things seem to be happening to everyone but you. Motivating employees is a tricky situation, can honesty really work? I think that it can, if you stick to these guidelines.
If you are going to be honest, stick with the facts.
One thing that Elop did was hinge his honesty on the facts. He referenced when the first Iphone arrived, how Android has come on the scene, market share gains and how Nokia hasn’t been able to keep up with the innovation. Some people have voiced concern that he is rubbing employee’s noses in a company failure, but I believe there is an inherent want to keep up with your competition and he did a good job of tapping into that.
Acknowledge the things that are out of your control.
The memo talks candidly about the complexity involved in attracting and retaining developer talent. It talks about how the failure to do so has caused the company to suffer a lack of innovation and it highlights that Elop understands this lack often ties the hands of his staff. He challenges them to create ways to work around this restraint.
Don’t speak about company frustrations, speak about your frustrations.
Elop is candid about his frustrations with getting innovative new products to market and that frustration can show his employees a passionate CEO. All too often we view CEOs as part of the corporate beast ,only available when absolutely necessary and only to a select few. This memo shows the Elop is in touch with his company and their challenges. He makes this memo very personal and even though the memo is about the company, it’s mostly about the people.
State your expectations.
Elop points out the various points of failure within Nokia, but he doesn’t call the staff failures. I think this is very important point. Most CEOs are quick to deflect to staff or division lack of capabilities, but Elop asks the question ‘What are we going to do about it’? He let’s the staff know that he is in this situation with them and conversly he will be searching for the solution with them. This is a very strong motivational statement and one that I feel will work in Nokia’s favor.
P.S. Jones says
There’s a difference between a “heads will roll” dressing down and a frank discussion of the company. (Which I thought the memo was.) I think a CEO has a duty to be brutally honest to both the employees and shareholders. Because if she’s not brutally honest with them, who can she be honest with?
Leona Charles says
I think you make an excellent point. Is there ever an instance where ‘a heads will roll dressing down’ is the clear winner?