Microsoft wants you to work. Your life is just an afterthought.
In an email to Microsoft employees today, CEO Satya Nadella outlined the core of the company’s strategy and vision and focus for the coming years. Nadella underscored his message to the world from earlier this year that Microsoft is a company focused on “ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence” in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. Today, Nadella took those vague basic concepts a step further.
Microsoft provides computers, software and operating systems so you can get your shit done.
At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.
Productivity is the name of the game throughout Nadella’s 3,186-word statement, with the rest of your life somehow tacked on as an afterthought to everything else Microsoft is doing. The word “productivity” shows up in Nadella’s message 20 times; variations of the word “work” make 27 appearances. He says that Microsoft must be a company hyper-focused on its customers. But the tenor and tone of the missive makes one thing abundantly clear.
You and I are not the customers he is thinking about.
Here Comes The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss
Nadella’s pitch is not to the average consumer, the normal person working an everyday job that uses a computer and a smartphone to get things done. No, we are just a consequence. Nadella is really pitching the IT departments of the world, the decision makers who ostensibly choose the devices we will use to be productive.
Nadella seems to forget that the biggest that the biggest trend in the employee/gadget realm over the last seven years has been “bring your own device.” Over that time, many—OK, the vast majority—of those devices have not come from Microsoft.
We will deliver digital work and life experiences that are reinvented for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. First and foremost, these experiences will shine for productivity. As a result, people will meet and collaborate more easily and effectively.
It’s hard to say that Nadella’s focus on productivity is a winning message in the mobile-first world he keeps talking about. In his vision, people are apparently employees first and people second. Throughout Nadella’s statement, the notion of your personal life always comes second after the notion of productivity. A division of Microsoft is even called “Digital Work & Life Experiences”—and the order in which those terms appear is no accident.
We think about productivity for people, teams and the business processes of entire organizations as one interconnected digital substrate. We also think about interconnected platforms for individuals, IT and developers. This comprehensive view enables us to solve the more complex, nuanced and real-world day-to-day challenges in an increasingly digital world. It also opens the door to massive growth opportunity – technology spend as a total percentage of GDP will grow with the digitization of nearly everything in life and work.
Microsoft biggest competitors on the device, operating system, cloud and services fronts are Apple and Google. Nadella doesn’t mention either by name, but the insistence on work and productivity is Microsoft’s way of setting itself apart from Apple and Google’s finely tuned machines.
The difference is that Apple and Google focus on people—Apple more so than Google. Through Mac OS X and iOS, Apple provides quality products first; if people want to take them to work and be productive with them, that’s their prerogative.
That’s been a fantastically successful strategy for Apple, one that played a huge role as it clawed itself back from the brink of death in the mid-to-late 1990s. Now enough people have carried iPhones and iPads into the workplace that IT departments have been forced to adapt to employees rather than the other way around. Google has also had this same effect through pure volume: it ships so many Android devices that people across the globe are bound to use them for work.
Microsoft doesn’t have the benefit of Google’s volume—at least outside of largely desktop-bound Windows systems—or Apple’s style. Hence Nadella has to focus on selling his company’s core products and services inside-out from the model its rivals have perfected. In other words, as far as Microsoft is concerned, you work all the time. Its job is just to make it easier for you to work.
Microsoft: Same As It Ever Was
The work/life balance message has always been at the heart of the difference between Apple and Microsoft. In the 1980s and 1990s—when IT departments held all the power of which device people used—this was a winning message for Microsoft. But that world is mostly gone. Apple has proven that it can win by putting people and experiences first and force the IT department to adapt.
Google’s take on this dichotomy is a little different, as befits the fact that it’s fundamentally an advertising company. Google just wants as many people on the Web as possible; everything it does serves that purpose, especially Android. Google doesn’t necessarily serve people or employees first—it serves the Web, which ties everything together (including, of course, its advertisers).
Nadella, in noting how Microsoft’s employee culture needs to change, hammers the company’s focus:
We have clarity in purpose to empower every individual and organization to do more and achieve more. We have the right capabilities to reinvent productivity and platforms for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. Now, we must build the right culture to take advantage of our huge opportunity.
Microsoft may have a new CEO, a new culture and a new worldview on software development and distribution. But at heart, it’s still really the same old company.
Lead image by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite