Who is our new CEO?

When I saw that HP had appointed Meg Whiteman as its new CEO and that her first email to employees had been shared on the internet, I was eager to read it and see if it was a good or bad example of leadership communication.

I’ve written my fair share of these types of emails as senior leaders leave and new ones arrive. They’re not easy to write and I’m sure I have my own bad examples. Often, the final effort has been subjected to several rounds of sign-off and no longer resembles the original, or the company plays it so safe that the email doesn’t actually say anything.

Perhaps this is what happened here.

An email to all employees about a new CEO is likely to be one of the few emails that are actually read. But if the feeling, after reading it, is that it was just another bland and jargon-fuelled email, people are less likely to tune in next time. I think this is likely to have been the outcome here.

There are a few things I’d change about this email. Small things such as starting with ‘We are writing today as…’ This type of opener is used often but not only is it is a lazy way in, it’s unnecessary. Yep, it’s an email. I know you’re writing to me. Lose five words and get to the point.

But the main problem is that this email could be from anyone. The combination of corporate jargon and lack of personal message make it remarkably similar to millions of other corporate emails.

A new CEO is a big deal. I want to know who this person is, what they’re like, what’s their background, why they joined the company, what they’ll do now they’ve arrived and how they’ll change the company I work for.

Ok, there’s only so much you can say in your first few days but if you take out the ‘from’ field and remove the references to HP, it would be hard for an HP employee to know this was a message for them.

It mentions the future, a purpose, strategy and priorities but doesn’t say what these are. You could assume that all of HP’s employees are so well-versed in the company vision that they don’t need to be reminded here, but I doubt it.

Another reason this email sounds like it could be from anyone is the jargon. How’s this for a game of buzzword bingo?

‘True believers’, ‘take HP to the next level’, ‘a real purpose’, ‘technology landscape’, ‘leverage the strength of our core business’, ‘enhance our capabilities’, ‘integrate our assets’, ‘maximise the value of our investments’, ‘deliver on our priorities’, ‘refocus the energy of the organisation on our mission’, ‘work both collaboratively and effectively to usher HP into the future’ and ‘execute our strategy’.

I also dislike ‘to ensure good governance practices, HP also intends to appoint a lead independent director soon’. I understand what this means and why it’s important for governance, but I doubt that employees breathed a sigh of relief at this news. I’m sure it could’ve been left out.

I do like the fact that the email was followed up with a call or meeting with Meg the next day and maybe this is where some of the more personal messages were covered off.

I also like that there’s an invitation to get in touch but it feels a bit half-hearted and it would take a brave employee to share their views with the new CEO off the back of one email. ‘Good ideas come from everyone, so please send any thoughts’ is a bit vague.

As I say, these types of emails aren’t easy to write but by stripping out the jargon, using plain language and adding a personal touch, this opening gambit could have been much more successful in demonstrating why Meg’s the right woman for the job.

Here’s the email.

TO/ All HP Employees
FROM/ Meg Whitman and Ray Lane

We are writing today as the new CEO and executive chairman of HP.
First let us say that we are true believers in the future of HP. We have always had enormous respect for HP and its well-earned iconic status as one of the most important technology companies in the world. We look forward to working with you as we take HP to the next level.

As you may have seen in the press release we issued earlier today, Léo Apotheker has stepped down as president, chief executive officer and resigned as a director of the company. We very much appreciate Léo’s efforts and his service to HP since his appointment last year.

In addition, Ray Lane has been appointed executive chairman of the board of directors. This means that Ray will play a more active role in guiding the company. To ensure good governance practices, HP also intends to appoint a lead independent director soon.

We know that change is difficult. The decision to change the leadership of HP is one the board took seriously. We assure you that it was a difficult decision – and one that was made after careful and thoughtful deliberation – but one the board believes is absolutely necessary for the success of the company.

HP is a leading technology company with a real purpose and the ability to positively impact the way the world works. We all recognize that the technology landscape is changing rapidly and we have to do more than simply adapt. We must invest in innovation, leverage the strength of our core businesses, enhance our software capabilities and integrate our assets to maximize the value of our investments. We believe in HP’s strategy, and we are confident that together, with renewed focus and energy, we will deliver on our priorities for our stockholders, customers and other stakeholders.

Our hallways are filled with the industry’s brightest and most talented people. We believe we all understand that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. Each and every one of you contributes to our success. The board wants to continue proving to our customers, partners and stockholders why HP is – and should remain – a leader in our industry.

A top priority for us will be to refocus the energy of the organization on our mission and on the performance necessary to accomplish it. We need you to be the ambassadors of HP and work both collaboratively and effectively to usher HP into the future. To reach that goal, we need your best work and a focus on execution.

We believe that HP matters. It matters to Silicon Valley, California, the United States and the world. We will maintain and build upon our proud and deep-rooted legacy. We understand the strength of this company, and we know we have the right tools and the talented people to achieve our goals and execute our strategy.

We want to hear directly from you. Good ideas come from everyone, so please send any thoughts you would like to share to employee survey. We also invite you to join Meg tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time as we discuss this announcement. Details for the meeting will follow shortly.

We look forward to working with all of you. Thank you for your ongoing and deep commitment to HP.

Sincerely,

Meg and Ray

Posted on September 28th, 2011.  0 Comments


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