Is Nokia ready for change?


This is not going to become the weekly Nokia blog, but as there are a lot of people interested in the topic of Nokia’s future, me included, I thought it’d be worth a bit more exploration.

Guessing the real currency of Nokia’s transformation from the outside is like guessing the true currency of someone else’s marriage – it’s often different to what you might assume and not worth over-analysis in the main.

That said, when it comes to Boards and their attitudes to change, I have a couple of tests.

One thing is certain: the note sent round Nokia by the CEO will have had the Board’s full support. This matters and was the first test. A Board wanting change has to see the world as it is, not as they want it to be. When I joined Psion, I was told big change was needed. But did the Board mean it? I’ve been in the position where you take a job and well, some directors start to convince themselves: “You know, it’s not that bad”. In fact, “Surely, you’re exaggerating?” is a phrase I look for when I take on a new job.

So that Nokia email might as well have been signed by the whole Board. They are surely all up for it, and that bodes well. They see their world as it is. I guess that over the past few years, they squeezed the old model harder and harder: it’s then no easy thing to declare it’s all wrong. People work harder and harder in the old model. But increasingly, they are all just painting a rusty car. And everyone hopes incremental change will bring reward.

Right at the outset of changing our company, I looked to set the tone early with a couple of decisions that while perhaps slightly painful, were fully thought through and right for the business. The Psion Board passed muster on this. Their support for my plan gave me immediate confidence in their shared determination.

Nokia’s CEO will have needed that support and confidence to do what he did. It’s been no easy ride since for us, so I think all our stakeholders who have kept confidence in us will feel a deserved satisfaction when our successes go to the bottom line. And profit is the point of it: no profits means less choices and investment for the business. Nokia’s Board has acted big and in due course, not soon, will feel deserved satisfaction.

And here’s where you get to a second test. The reality is that unless a CEO declares ‘stop’ with the old ways, people stick bandaids on top of plasters on top of bandages just to squeeze that little bit more out of the old model. And for one year, it works. Even two years – no big deal. But after that, more and more moss gathers year by year. And what was not working or wrong, say four years back, gets into a really awful state when persistently left unaddressed.

Here’s a golden rule that might apply to Nokia: the big thing that happens in a turnaround is that there are rarely any good surprises. You just turn over rock, after rock, after rock and it’s always something less or worse than you hoped. Well, also some of your fixes go wrong and the CEO or Board should accept that some things will go wrong. A really good measure of a Board is if they stick with your changes even when you’re finding nothing but bad news under those rocks. The willingness of a Board to stick with it is vital and it’s a second measure of the worthiness of a Board.

When you get to this stage, it’s no longer about incremental change. We’re talking big, outrageous, upsetting and cataclysmic change. And it’s risky. But what’s the risk of doing the same as before? Like I told my company, the old definition of insanity is doing the same things year after year and expecting a different result. The key is to always plan to do enough that the things going right far outweigh the things going wrong.

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John Conoley joined Psion in 2008 and has 25 years experience in the technology industry. John has significant experience of working with both direct channels to market and also channel partners such as Value Added Resellers (VARs), Distributors, Systems Integrators and Developers. Before joining Psion, John was head of energy company EON’s Corporate Business Division, responsible for improving the performance and profitability of a division with sales of £1.5bn. Prior to this, John spent many years growing or turning round technology businesses as CEO.