Job 1 for Microsoft is to figure out it’s mission

At Microsoft, our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential

Microsoft Corporate web site

Eh. This could be the mission statement of GE. Of Procter & Gamble. Of a bank.

When I joined Microsoft in the late 80s, the mission was “a PC on every desk and in every home”. And this was exciting at the time. When I started my work career in the 80s, I was doing spreadsheets on paper, we were typing up documents on typewriters. It was thrilling to work on all the software pieces needed to bring PCs to everyone, I was thrilled to go to work every day. Decision making at work was pretty easy, everyone was pulling on the same oar. Recruiting was easy, people were drawn to the mission. Customers were excited. Developer partners were excited. The energy level was palpable.

And it wasn’t about the money. I took a 50% salary cut to join Microsoft and had no idea the stock would go on a decade long run. I was there for the thrill of it.

By the late 90s tho, the mission had been completed. And since then the company has done well, but the spark is gone. People have left. Infighting has increased. Developer interest has waned. I attribute this directly to the lack of a compelling mission (or missions, separate parts of the company might need separate missions). The current mission is just an umbrella statement to smear over everything, it compels no one, any action can be justified under it. And it doesn’t force any hard choices — no efforts can be focused or trimmed. Microsoft could justify making sunscreen and student loans as part of this mission.

This isn’t solely a SteveB issue. Sure he has been CEO and so ultimately he bears responsibility. But he hasn’t been working alone in a closet. The board has been there the last decade, including Bill, while the company has rumbled along without a mission, and seen its relevance erode. If the board has decided that change is needed, then they need to look at themselves too, as they have been complicit in the direction of the enterprise.

Changing the leadership isn’t going to help the company unless there is a commitment to work on the mission with all that means — organizational fallout, potential divestments, etc.