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Microsoft's Indirect Layoff Email

Microsoft logoMicrosoft's long layoff email is a great example of how the indirect style simply doesn't work for many bad-news messages. Starting with "Hello there" and ending with the predictable "our success in the future," the email has 1,111 words, 14 paragraphs, and no headings.

NY Magazine writer Kevin Roose did a great job editorializing the message, voicing the reader's frustration. In this segment, he criticizes the jargon and begs for the main point: 

"'Financial envelope'? You don't literally keep all of Microsoft's cash in a big envelope, do you? Anyway, 'changes.' I know what that's supposed to mean. Now, please, give it to me straight: tell me I'm fired."

The news is finally clear in the 11th paragraph of Stephen Elop's email. Elop is the executive vice president of Microsoft's Devices & Services.

"We plan that this would result in an estimated reduction of 12,500 factory direct and professional employees over the next year. These decisions are difficult for the team, and we plan to support departing team members’ with severance benefits."

The email is a jargon- and slang-filled bore. In addition, Elop would benefit from a more natural, conversational style, avoiding words such as "whereas" and "unto." Here's a paragraph that a business communication student could easily revise:

"As part of the effort, we plan to select the appropriate business model approach for our sales markets while continuing to offer our products in all markets with a strong focus on maintaining business continuity. We will determine each market approach based on local market dynamics, our ability to profitably deliver local variants, current Lumia momentum and the strategic importance of the market to Microsoft. This will all be balanced with our overall capability to invest."

Discussion Starters: 

  • What advice would you give Elop as he plans his next email to staff? Consider principles in Chapter 4 in the text.
  • Just for fun, rewrite Elop's email. Imagine that you're his corporate communication VP, and he asks for your advice. Reorganize and try to make the message sound more, well, human.