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Adjunct Professor, Public Relations and Communications Graduate Program,
Georgetown University, and
CEO, EnviroComm International
February 10, 2011
"We have multiple points of scorching heat that are fueling a blazing fire around us."
The Nokia CEO's now-widely publicized letter to employees prompts three questions. What was he thinking? Was it an effective letter? And did he have help from a professional communicator?
By the time you read this, it could be clear that CEO Stephen Elop's unorthodox, seemingly desperate missive was an effective preamble for pursuing a deal that will lead to corporate success.
What was he thinking? Recently arrived from Microsoft, the Nokia chief had concluded that the company was so disadvantaged in its markets that it required radical change. It was time, before the investor briefing set for February 11, to spell it out to his leadership team and employees.
Was the letter effective? Elop opens his 1,300-word internal memo by easing the tension he knew accompanies a memo from the boss. "Hello there," he says casually.
He immediately launches a communications device which is on the rise in the language of leadership: story telling.
He tells the tale of a man working on an oil platform. It is night. The platform, in the North Sea, stands 30 meters high, with dark and icy waters far below. Suddenly there is an explosion. A horrible fire breaks out. The worker retreats to the edge of the platform. He is trapped, facing deathly fire. The man hesitates. Stay and be burned. Jump and risk freezing. Desperate, the frightened worker jumps. And...he survives.
This man understands, Elop concludes, how a "burning platform" can lead to survival and change. He is rescued and he is wiser:
Did Mr. Elop have the benefit of a CCO or counselor in the unorthodox letter, thought to have been "leaked" and in any event produced startling publicity and social media reaction? Were such external consequences intended?
As a New York Times 'Deal Book' piece speculated before the investors' meeting, Elop's "burning platform" allusion set the stage for management's strategy to pursue one or more potential deals, with Nokia as either buyer or seller, turning a desperate situation into the leap that saves and enlightens.
I think, but don't know, that a professional communicator's hand was involved. Maybe someone knows and can comment?
Bruce Harrison is an adjunct professor in the master's program at
Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He and Judith Muhlberger teach
courses in leadership communications and corporate crisis communications.
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