The CEO’s right to rant

An infographic published on Paid Content underlines just how far Nokia’s fall from grace has been in the developed world. The graphic, developed by iCrossing, shows Nokia has lost out hugely to iOS and Android across the US, Canada and key territories in Europe. At best it’s running a distant third, at worst it doesn’t even figure in a top four list by country.

The significant shift has resulted from competitor companies doing it better, faster and cheaper than Nokia – a sentiment echoed by the company’s CEO Stephen Elop in a memo to employees earlier this month. Of competitors, he stated:

“They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us”

Was Elop right to send a memo such as this to his employees? John Conoley, chief executive at Psion, thinks so. In an opinion piece published by BBC Online, he states:

“…the only reason to be angry with your CEO is if he is not prepared to take tough decisions. Some jobs are going to go. Do nothing, and all the jobs go. If you look carefully at his letter, he is clear on the direction of the company and he can see the beginnings of renewed differentiation in the future. He cares about success for your company”.

The argument does carry some weight, there is something to be said for facing hard times head on. If you truly believe your employees are not pushing hard to win against stiff competition, it’s up to numero uno to step in and get things moving forward. Which is what I believe Elop was trying to achieve.

From the PR perspective, one point niggles at my mind. The comment from Conoley reading:

“You have a boss who has just told you how it is. He treated you like adults and he did not care who outside the company knew it.”

Telling it like it is, fine. Treating you like adults, very fine. But not caring who outside the organisation knows it, not fine. Such careless behaviour opens a whole can of media and stakeholder speculation, covering how Nokia is being run, employee morale and general questions on the company’s long term future. Nokia is already facing rift rumour and downbeat coverage. This kind of uncontrolled media speculation will do nothing to enhance the company’s reputation – or employee enthusiasm.

Moreover, it opens all Nokia employees to unwanted questions from business contacts, partners and even friends and family. Imagine being a Nokia sales guy and trying to close a deal when you’re buyer turns and says “I read online even your CEO thinks your competitors are doing a better job, so why should I buy from you?” With your record breaking deal lost, you slink to the comfort of the pub only to be asked unwanted questions by friends over a pint, before heading home to a spouse who is worried about your long term career prospects.

The slightly cynical flip side of this particular coin is the entire situation was a carefully orchestrated plot to demonstrate the CEO is fully in control of a company seemingly in desperate need of some direction and ‘tough love’. The timing of the leak, in the immediate run up to Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile show in the world, adds some credence to this theory. A wake up call for a complacent workforce, albeit arguably inappropriately public.

This may be an exaggeration, but from the communications perspective such situations and discussions should be at the discretion of individual employees and not decided by one man in a suit – regardless of his position.