The media focus on Microsoft of late has certainly got business and HR figures talking. With a CEO set to leave and a decision yet to be made on his successor, it’s certainly fair to say that the company is facing a long period of change. However, one element of this saga concerns me that many haven’t necessarily considered; how can HR teams keep their leaders motivated in such situations?
When we look at the background of Ballmer’s career at Microsoft, he has certainly faced a barrage of challenges and indeed criticism for his approach. As the company faced on-going competition from Apple, the CEO’s attempts to turn the business around led to calls for his dismissal. The new “services and devises” strategy that he attempted to implement at Microsoft was met with on-going scepticism from stakeholders, and continues to be an area of discontent for investors.
The pressure has continuously grown for the CEO as the investment environment changed: the news this year of ValueAct Capital Management, an activist shareholder, taking a sizeable stake of the business is a prime example. And, on top of this, he has faced influential shareholders going to Microsoft’s directors to voice concerns.
While I cannot claim to know the intricacies of the company’s business plans or details of the conversations that undoubtedly took place behind closed doors, it does strike me that our business leaders should be given the backing and support needed to implement change. Ballmer was obviously given the job initially as the stakeholders saw something valuable in him – I’m sure he would not have been awarded the position if this was not the case. But, for any business leader to enter a large global organisation that is facing increasing competition, a level of change is necessary. And for any senior figure, facing a constant battle for change is certain to lead to a dip in motivation.
While the ultimate result of a resignation may have been unavoidable, it does serve as a case in point for HR Professionals. Employee motivation has long been a topic of discussion, but it is all too easy to overlook the senior team in these considerations. More often than not, the leaders in an organisation will be under immense pressure and facing daunting targets. And while this top talent is likely to have reached this level of seniority through demonstrating their ability to remain calm and controlled, constant attack will eventually grind them down.
So if businesses are to not only retain their top talent, but also maintain the high level of performance we’ve come to expect from senior leaders, motivation and engagement at this level should be part of the HR strategy. Otherwise, organisations risk damaging their relationship with investors and shareholders, and potentially disrupting the workforce through the loss of a high profile individual.
Darren Timmins is Head of Otravida Search, an executive search and selection organisation delivering bespoke and agile talent solutions.