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Nadella: The Person for Tomorrow Satya Nadella-the Microsoft CEO By Darnell Lattal The appointment of Satya Nadella as Microsoft CEO offers an opportunity to reflect on his capabilities and what he needs to do to enhance the company’s performance. It also provides a lens for evaluating the broader matter of transition at the top. For Microsoft, the CEO selection was highly sensitive as this organization had had only two CEOs in its nearly 40-year history. In most situations, such announcing before replacing, especially over many months, can cause discord among employees. That could have been a particularly sticky issue for Microsoft due to its poorly performing stock and other corporate wounds that the incoming chief would have to repair. However, the appointment of Satya Nadella appears to match Microsoft’s needs brilliantly at this time, for several reasons. The most critical mindset in setting up succession success is to understand that at the moment of hand-off, whoever follows the leader today will do things differently tomorrow. Nadella is the person for tomorrow, with key traits including a keen understanding of the competitive landscape, comprehension of human behavior and his effects on others, flexibility, acceptance of responsibility, building of trust, a penchant for learning, and ability to sort out what needs to remain and what needs to change. As a Microsoft insider, Nadella respects the company’s history with a willing embrace of a rapidly-changing technological future, including insight regarding the global competitive environment that Microsoft faces. He has worked at Microsoft for 22 years, demonstrating “hard-core engineering skills, business vision, and the ability to bring people together,” said Microsoft founder and board member Bill Gates, who has taken on a larger advisory role. Each of these traits shows up in what Nadella says and does— his appointment was not based on hopeful speculation of how he would perform but on evaluation of how he has performed across changing conditions. The selection was not about wishes or hopes or passionate words but about credible and measurable behavior, a strong lesson for all who wish to increase their chance of succession success. Although Nadella is described as low-key and likable, his interpersonal skills were shaped by what he did while embroiled in the varied challenges facing the business along the way. In a brief letter to employees on the day of his appointment, he talked about amplifying what was done at Microsoft over the past decade, not negating it. While he likely will forge new paths, he seems well aware of the response cost of employees in working to stabilize and grow Microsoft to meet changing demands. New CEOs need to map out a careful transition plan. Nadella did not come in on Day 1 and distance himself from those actions, whatever he may have thought along the way. He understands the pace and the need for change—and sends a strong message of respect for the conditions that led to one decision over another. He understands new paradigms of computing and partnerships, and is ready to explore their meaning for Microsoft more fully. This is another key ingredient in building the relationships and trust to achieve the goals of the new organization. Interactive He talks of “renewing ourselves”—an inclusive word that encompasses the need for regeneration. Small words like “ourselves” have big meaning inside a company such as Microsoft. The fact that Bill Gates will be close at hand and involved again in operations may be seen as reassuring. But there is no hint that Nadella needs Gates for an absence of skills; rather, it indicates that the new CEO understands well the process of seeking and giving advice, and that he, Gates and others can partner quickly for the benefit of their company. In succession planning, it pays for a CEO candidate to have the opportunity to evaluate key internal executives, to learn what major decisions are in progress and to understand which leadership styles work or don’t. Armed with that knowledge, the new CEO can make tough changes against that institutional knowledge when current behavior patterns don’t work. Nadella has such knowledge as he participated in developing it — one of the true benefits of hiring internally. Although, Nadella has so many behavior-based qualities that companies need for success, it also would be wise for him to look at others for guidance. A strong example of leadership traits is Mary Barra. The new CEO of GM has received much praise since her appointment. Coming up through the company for 33 years, Barra has seen it all (the good, bad and ugly), and her expertise lies in her ability to bring people together, understanding that superior business results are directly tied to people. Her knowledge of how to shape, maintain and accelerate behavior change underlies her success. While it’s too early to write Barra’s final story, the fact that she is focused on employees doing the right things in the right ways to implement success indicate she is headed in the right direction. It is too early to predict Nadella’s success as well, but he has all the right attributes to do his extraordinarily complex job very well indeed. And Microsoft’s and GM’s approach to CEO succession — seeing the person in action within the company first — is a path worth considering for other organizations. LE Darnell Lattal, Ph.D., is Chair of the Board of Directors of Aubrey Daniels International, author of A Good Day’s Work, and an expert in coaching behavior change to further organizational goals. Visit www.aubreydaniels.com Email adlattal@aubreydaniels.com 6 Steps To Ensure Nadella’s Success at Microsoft Creating a Culture of SUCCESSION READINESS leadership excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 04.2014 32


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