3. Don’t let them call you crazy.
Dark though your company’s future may be, you don’t want to be written off as a doomsayer.
That may mean watering things down, just a little. For his cri de coeur at Yahoo, Garlinghouse revised his projection of how many jobs he thought Yahoo needed to cut. He suspected that the company would have to lay off as much as 40 percent of its staff, but he thought saying that would be too provocative. “We must reduce our headcount by 15-20 percent,” Garlinghouse wrote instead. “You want to make sure people hear the signal and don’t get distracted by the red herring,” he says now. “I was worried if I said 40 percent headcount reduction, people would fixate on that.”
If you’re actually CEO, starker language could be in order. Last winter, facing brutal competition in the smart-phone market, Nokia’s Stephen Elop wrote to tens of thousands of employees saying that the company was like a man about to burn to death on an oil platform. Ozzie says Elop’s dramatic approach was appropriate to the situation, given that Elop was about to carry out layoffs and other overhauls. By comparison, Ozzie used much more measured language in his message to Microsoft in 2005: “For all our great progress, our efforts have not always led to the degree that perhaps they could have.” Ozzie feared that if he was too bombastic, it might get some people’s attention but prompt other people to “write this clown off.” He saved the heavy rhetoric for follow-up meetings. “My style is to be a little bit more measured in tone and then, face to face, quite dramatic,” he says.
4. Let your boss see it first.
Don’t let your employer be the last to know your big memo is about to pop.
Garlinghouse recalls how he wrote the Peanut Butter Manifesto over a few days with help from two junior colleagues. But then he took a step back and forwarded it to Yahoo’s founders, Jerry Yang and David Filo. Filo suggested sending it to Yahoo’s chief operating officer, and “within three weeks 30, 40 people had it,” Garlinghouse says. Ozzie says that before sending his 2005 memo to top staff he had gotten input from Gates, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and the presidents of Microsoft’s product divisions. The lesson: don’t blindside or alienate people you’ll need to work with if you want your advice carried out.
5. Even your mother will read it.
As you sit down to explain all that is wrong with your company, keep in mind that it’s likely to become public.
That’s what happened this fall to Google engineer Steve Yegge. He posted to his Google+ account a 4,500-word description of how Amazon, where he once worked, was doing a much better job than Google at developing a broad computing platform. “Stevey’s Google Platforms Rant” was meant only for colleagues, but when Yegge accidentally posted it to a public page, technology news sites soon swarmed to dissect his detailed insider’s analysis of Google’s competitive weaknesses.
Ozzie and Garlinghouse say their memos leaked to the press after circulating among top management (both deny being the leakers). Ozzie says he was prepared. “It was written in a way that in case it escaped, it wasn’t disclosing anything that was damaging or proprietary information,” he says. And he sees an upside to having memos get reported in the press: “In most organizations that size, in many cases employees listen more to things coming in from the outside.”