Corporate language has a particular style, often difficult to understand for those outside an organisation. On the surface they can appear fairly banal, but employees, contractors and analysts can extract remarkable amounts of information from them.
Let’s take a recent example, the emails sent during the changing of the CEO at HP.
HP is sadly in all sorts of trouble, where the board kicked out 1 year CEO Léo Apotheker and appointed fellow HP board member, former eBay CEO failed Republican California governor candidate Meg Whitman to replace him.
It’s been messy.
The departure and arrival letters are wonderful example of corporation speak, so let’s get going in our deciphering exercise:
First up the letter from Léo:
TO/ All HP Employees
One of the few powers a CEO has is the ability to email everybody in the company. I am exercising that power on my final day. Watch out.
FROM/ Léo Apotheker
The accent on Léo is important – as I am sure every employee knows by now. Get it right in all of your communications
Dear HP Employees:
No contractors or suppliers are on this message, so it can be a little more ‘insider’. However I hope that some staff will pass on the message, and it will get out to the public.
This afternoon, HP issued a press release announcing my resignation as president and CEO,
Today I was fired, and I didn’t like it
positions I have held with great honor this past year.
I, at least, respected the company and the role
Meg Whitman will assume the role of president and CEO.
I don’t agree with Meg as the new CEO.
As you know, Meg is a technology visionary with a proven track record of execution and has served HP well as a member of the board for the past eight months.
You already know about Meg, and she has only been here for 8 months and is part of the board that has pushed the failed strategy.
Meg will be supported by a broad and deep management team, and I have the utmost confidence that HP will succeed in executing its strategic evolution.
At least your manager will be ok, and hopefully HP will get along despite the shuffling at the top.
On a personal level, I cannot begin to express the admiration I have for all of you—and what you have accomplished together.
It’s been amazing to be CEO, and I really appreciate the chance to run such a huge organisation. I felt a bit out of my depth but never said that I was a dictator. It was not about me – it is about you.
Over the past year, we were tasked with developing a strategic vision for HP and I know we have made important contributions to the company’s future.
The board told me to do this strategic vision, which I don’t really agree with any more and looks increasingly stupid. Thanks for your help during this sad exercise
Your efforts on behalf of HP and your dedication to our customers have inspired me—and I am confident that HP has a bright future because of the talented people that come to work here every day.
You guys rock, and HP will succeed, if it does, because of you and despite the board who set the strategy and just fired me. They who don’t come to work every day (the board) need to go.
Thank you for your commitment to HP and for your dedication in serving HP’s customers and partners.
Its about the customers and you.
It has been a tremendous honor and a pleasure to work with you here at HP.
It has been an honour – I hope you make it through this board. I’m not sure you will
While I was made to write this, I managed to get what I wanted to say out without the board even realising.
Mashable found Meg Whitman’s email:
TO/ All HP Employees
Léo is gone, we have the conch now
FROM/ Meg Whitman and Ray Lane
We are writing today as the new CEO and executive chairman of HP.
Writing this together will show we are aligned.
While Meg and Ray think this shows a coherent approach, the joint email shows to staff that Ray is the one calling the shots. Meg is not really in control.
First let us say that we are true believers in the future of HP.
Despite a clusterfuck of recent events we still think our strategy is right. Meg is only new and is happy to be in a CEO role again, and may change her mind if the board is moved on.
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.
HP is just one of several companies we could be running. Ray and Meg have not demonstrated that they understand how HP is different from every other company they could run.
We look forward to working with you as we take HP to the next level.
We are impatient to get started.
By saying ‘as we take’ Ray and Meg make it sound like the success of HP will be due to them, not to the people who are ding the work. It may be a grammar typo, but it comes across very arrogantly.
As you may have seen in the press release we issued earlier today, Leo Apotheker has stepped down as president, chief executive officer and resigned as a director of the company.
We fired Léo. They either didn’t understand that he is called Léo and not Leo, are being deliberately vicious or cannot figure out how to make an “é”.
We very much appreciate Leo’s efforts and his service to HP since his appointment last year.
He tried hard but the company went rather spectacularly backwards. However by not mentioning anything that he actually did they are giving a backhanded insult to him.
In addition, Ray Lane has been appointed executive chairman of the board of directors.
Ray is running the show now. Executive means he works here closer to full time.
This means that Ray will play a more active role in guiding the company.
We repeat: Ray is running the show now.
To ensure good governance practices, HP also intends to appoint a lead independent director soon.
Having an executive Chairman AND a CEO is very strange, so we need a third party to keep things straight with shareholders. There is no clear boss. Will Meg be the person making decisions, or will he be second guessed by Ray all of the time. It is really unclear. The lead independent director may end up being the arbiter between the two, which bodes poorly.
We know that change is difficult.
We’ve heard that change is difficult.
The decision to change the leadership of HP is one the board took seriously.
The board does not meet that often, but we consider that we spent a lot of time on this. In reality it appears that this is only hours or days, and that no real search was undertaken to find a new CEO. Moreover it also appears that the major decisions made recently were also under-considered by the board. It’s time to look at the individual board members and wonder just who will break ranks and tell it a it is.
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.
Something had to happen – the knives were out on Wall St. So the board made a quick decision.
HP is a leading technology company with a real purpose and the ability to positively impact the way the world works.
This is more evidence that we are not really bought in to an HP customer cause. This sentence could also be construed to mean that Ray and Meg are going to change the purpose of the company. That said, the corporate objectives and shared values are don’t mention anything about customer purpose beyond quality and value.
We all recognize that the technology landscape is changing rapidly and we have to do more than simply adapt.
If we don’t do something quickly our heads are next. However it seems clear that Meg and Ray are not really clear exactly what to do.
We must invest in innovation
We are losing to Apple and other competitors. This is a motherhood statement that may be a laugh-line for many in the business. HP already has a value of “Meaningful Innovation: We are the technology company that invents the useful and the significant.”, and Ray and meg should be reflecting back to these values.
, leverage the strength of our core businesses, enhance our software capabilities and integrate our assets to maximize the value of our investments.
We have to use our muscle to grow, diversifying away from the lousy low margin businesses that are getting increasingly commoditised. We are also thinking of combining some of the divisons, and we are treating our intent to buy Autonomy as a done deal – we need to absorb them.
This is confusing and misleading. The biggest business-line is actually in PCs, and the board wants to sell that. Next biggest is Services, but Enterprise Servers, Storage, Networking and printing are bigger than services. Software is 2.9% of our overall business right now. So HPs core businesses are making things, and Services ‘leverage’ off that. The recent move to spend a huge amount of money on services and sell the world’s largest P company seem to be contrary to this sentence.
We believe in HP’s strategy,
Actually it’s the board’s strategy, and Ray controls the board. Despite analyst cries employees won’t see any other way forward until the board is changed, and Ray and Meg are asserting their power throughout this email.
and we are confident that together, with renewed focus and energy, we will deliver on our priorities for our stockholders, customers and other stakeholders.
The main priority is to deliver returns to shareholders. Again we see real purpose for HP to exist in the email.
Our hallways are filled with the industry’s brightest and most talented people.
We know there are great people working here, but are signaling that we have not really met many of them.
We believe we all understand that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.
You – each of you – will work hard.
Each and every one of you contributes to our success.
Those not contributing to success (such as the entire PC division) will be moved on. We have not had much success – so be prepared for redundancies.
The board wants to continue proving to our customers, partners and stockholders why HP is—and should remain—a leader in our industry.
The board wants the company to stay huge, regardless of what we do.
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 will use this crisis to create a wave of ‘restructuring’ and a performance culture based on fear
We need you to be the ambassadors of HP and work both collaboratively and effectively to usher HP into the future.
Stay on message or leave HP
To reach that goal, we need your best work and a focus on execution.
Again, work hard and you may stay.
We believe that HP matters. It matters to Silicon Valley, California, the United States and the world.
HP matters to shareholders only. There is no evidence that Ray and Meg understand why HP matters.
We will maintain and build upon our proud and deep-rooted legacy.
Ray and Meg really do believe in the strategy. They really have no idea of the damage we have caused and are causing to the great legacy that is HP.
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.
Ray and Meg are are going to keep pushing this demonstrably stupid strategy without apology. They are not able to articulate the goals.
We want to hear directly from you.
Apparently we need to ‘engage’ with you.
Good ideas come from everyone, so please send any thoughts you would like to share to employee survey.
All of our ideas are good, some of yours may be deemed to be good. This will come across as a good way to end your career (if the sugestions are named) or a black hole (unnamed) or both.
We also invite you to join Meg tomorrow at 9 a.m. Pacific Time as we discuss this announcement. Details for the meeting will follow shortly.
We are having a mandatory meeting tomorrow so Meg can demonstrate her common touch with the people, just like at eBay. This won’t be looked upon favourably, except in an observing the train wreck kind of way.
We look forward to working with all of you. Thank you for your ongoing and deep commitment to HP.
We think this is enough to get you motivated and raring to work. Meg and Ray don’t understand that this is 100 million miles away from what would really work, that the message could have been written and been just as ineffectual at any corporation and that staff are shaken up. AFAIK neither are engineers, so they will struggle to earn respect from many.
Meg and Ray
Using our first names makes us feel less threatening to everyone. Seeing the two names feels incredibly false.