So which four-word utterance – plus a lot of screaming – has had over five-and-a-half million views on YouTube? The answer: “I… Love… This… Company”, famously shouted by Steve Ballmer at a Microsoft presentation in 2008. Larger than life, Ballmer has recently announced his retirement. Immediately, Microsoft’s share price rose by 8%.
So why this reaction to a CEO that had outperformed Dell, HP and Intel in terms of share price, trebled turnover, and doubled profits since his appointment? Apparently it’s because the share price has also been pretty flat, he presided over the mistakes that were Windows Vista and Windows 8, and Apple has out performed Microsoft.
More damning, perhaps, is the introduction of an appraisal system that ranked (and therefore set) people against each other. This was good for Goldman Sachs, but terrible for a creative IT environment. As a former Microsoft engineer put it:
Performance reviews became much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about profit and improving my visibility among other managers.
Internal competition and profit replaced a desire to produce better world beating products. In consequence; many of Microsoft’s top people now work for Google and elsewhere.
So, in spite of his exuberance, his fierce company loyalty and his drive for growth and profit, Ballmer is deemed to have been subtracting rather than adding value. The hope is that a change at the top heralds changes to come that will enable Microsoft to ‘catch up’ with Apple’s iProducts and other mobile providers.
The lesson for other leaders is clear:
Just how are you adding value to your business? And how do you know that you are not subtracting it?
External analysts will tell you, but in their absence, especially if you’re an SME, your peers outside your business will be just as good.