Nokia CEO Wonders Whatever Happened to Nokia

Stephen Elop penned a brutally honest internal memo about the mobile phone company's lackluster performance, likening its current situation to standing on a "burning platform"

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In an internal memo obtained by Engadget, Nokia's new CEO, Stephen Elop, bluntly informed his employees that they were "standing on a 'burning platform'" that they themselves had doused with gasoline, with competitors like Apple and Google transforming the mobile market and leaving the Finnish cellphone maker in the dust. He noted the iPhone's user experience is superior to anything Nokia offers, Android has managed to surpass Nokia in smartphone volume in only two years, and Chinese manufacturers are pumping out devices faster than Nokia employees can polish PowerPoint presentations.

The communication comes ahead of a Nokia analyst briefing on Friday in London in which Elop, formerly of Microsoft, is expected to shake up the company's strategy and leadership team and possibly announce a partnership with Microsoft or Google to use their mobile operating systems.

Elop's "burning platform" metaphor (he actually likened Nokia to a man leaping off a blazing oil platform into the icy waters of the North Sea) is not new; in the business world, it refers to a situation in which a company must take a risk because cleaving to the status quo is suicidal. But what is novel is a CEO doling out such tough medicine to his staff. Will the memo inspire the troops or incite a revolt? So far, the management experts and fellow CEOs we've seen weighing in on the story are siding with Elop:

  • This Is True Leadership, states Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget. Elop's memo could scare or anger employees, temporarily harm productivity, and frighten suppliers and customers, Blodget concedes. But his "shock treatment" gives him instant credibility, enables him to act urgently and ambitiously, and "paves the way for him to slay sacred cows, fire popular but obstructionist managers, and give orders that might otherwise result in quiet mutiny."
  • Identifying Problem Is First Step, states Emma Haslett at Management Today: "As alcoholics are fond of saying: 'the first step to recovery is knowing you have a problem.' And Elop is very clear on what that problem is."
  • Elop Is Building 'Competitive Intelligence', argues leadership consultant Eric Garland: "It all comes down to whether your organization can handle good news AND bad news, or just the happy 'We're number one!' sunshine reports.
  • Other CEOs Should Pay Close Attention, points out executive education professor Aneil Mishra: "Does your company need or have a burning platform, and if so, do your colleagues understand it?"

Have you come across any leadership experts denouncing Elop's strategy? If so, send their comments our way.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.