Jeff Weiner’s creepy letter to staff about the LinkedIn acquisition

jeff weiner
Photo: Jeff Weiner via Wisdom 2.0

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner emailed his staff when Microsoft bought the company. His email is discursive, full of platitudes, and fails to answer the employee’s most important question: what’s going to happen to me?

LinkedIn has 10,000 employees, 433 million members, and no profits. And now it’s got a new owner. If you work there, you’re wondering what life will be like as part of Microsoft. Somewhere in Jeff Weiner’s 1700-word email to staff is the answer to that question, but it’s surrounded by birds chirping and Julie Andrews singing, so it’s hard to pick out. Let’s take a look. At the end of this post, I provide my own version what this email should have said.

Jeff Weiner’s letter, commentary, and translation

Excerpts below. Commentary (in brackets) and translation are mine.

December 15th, 2008, marked the first day of the best job I’ve ever had. My rationale for joining LinkedIn was simple: The opportunity to work with Reid Hoffman, a founder I greatly admired and respected; to join an extremely talented and dedicated team; and to massively scale LinkedIn’s membership and business, both of which had the potential to fundamentally transform the way the world connects to opportunity. Never in my wildest dreams, could I have imagined what would happen in the next 7½ years. Our team has grown from 338 people to over 10,000, our membership from 32M to over 433M and our revenue from $78M to over $3 billion. [Pro-tip: when talking about an acquisition that will affect 10,000 people, start by talking about them, not about yourself.]

Translation: We’ve grown a lot in the last eight years — big enough to compete with Facebook, but not to beat them.

Despite those accomplishments, we’ve only just begun to realize our full potential and purpose: Our mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful, and our vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.

Today’s announcement, that LinkedIn will be combining forces with Microsoft, marks the next step in our journey together, the next stepping stone toward realizing our mission and vision, and in remaining CEO of the company, the next chapter in the greatest professional experience of my life.

Translation: As your CEO, I have to remind you of our mission and vision at every opportunity, even if what you care most about is whether you’ll still have a job in a year. I will, even though I can’t write a grammatical sentence about myself.

No matter what you’re feeling now, give yourself some time to process the news. You might feel a sense of excitement, fear, sadness, or some combination of all of those emotions. Every member of the exec team has experienced the same, but we’ve had months to process. Regardless of the ups and downs, we’ve come out the other side knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the best thing for our company.

Translation: I’d like to give you facts, but first, how about a hug.

Let me explain why. Every day I come to work, I’m primarily guided by two things:

First, realizing our mission and vision. While this has always been top of mind for me, it’s never been more so than now. Remember that dystopian view of the future in which technology displaces millions of people from their jobs? It’s happening. In the last three weeks alone, Foxconn announced it will replace 60,000 factory workers with robots, a former CEO of McDonald’s said given rising wages, the same would happen throughout their franchises, Walmart announced plans to start testing drones in its warehouses, and Elon Musk predicted fully autonomous car technology would arrive within two years.  [People often lose jobs after an acquisition. It’s no such a good idea to write extensively and analytically about job losses until you’ve explained the fate of their own jobs.]

Whether it’s worker displacement, the skills gap, youth unemployment, or socio-economic stratification, the impact on society will be staggering. I’ve said it on multiple occasions and believe it even more so every day: creating economic opportunity will be the defining issue of our time. That’s why I’m here and why I can’t imagine doing any other job. Simply put, what we do matters, and matters more than ever.

The second thing I focus on every day is making our culture and values come to life. Ten years ago, had you asked me about culture and values I would have rolled my eyes and recited a line from Dilbert. But when I started as CEO I began to appreciate just how important they were. Culture and values provide the foundation upon which everything else is built. They are arguably our most important competitive advantage, and something that has grown to define us. It’s one thing to change the world. It’s another to do it in our own unique way: Members first. Relationships matter. Be open, honest and constructive. Demand excellence. Take intelligent risks. Act like an owner.

That’s who we are. That’s LinkedIn.

Translation: You may be worried, but I’m feeling philosophical. At length. Look at the words I can use. Skills gap. Culture. Relationships. Dilbert. Dilbert! Will I be the subject of his next strip?

 

[Transition text deleted]

At this point, some of you may be thinking this sounds completely counterintuitive: How will we be more likely to control our own destiny after being acquired? The answer lies in both the way in which the world has been evolving and the unique way in which this deal will be structured.

Imagine a world where we’re no longer looking up at Tech Titans such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, and wondering what it would be like to operate at their extraordinary scale — because we’re one of them.

Imagine a world where we’re not reacting to the intensifying competitive landscape — we’re leading it with advantages most companies can only dream of leveraging.

Imagine a world where we’re not pressured to compromise on long-term investment, hesitant to disrupt ourselves, or hamstrung in the way we can reward and acquire new talent due to stock price concerns, but consistently investing intelligently toward the realization of our mission and vision.

And imagine a world where a global economic downturn doesn’t limit our ability to execute, but reinforces the essential quality of our purpose and actually strengthens our resolve when people need us most.

Translation: We sold our soul for the money and scale to compete with the big guys. While you can imagine whatever you want about that, the reality is we’ve got a new boss.

[Stuff about Microsoft-LinkedIn synergy deleted]

 

Both of us [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Weiner] recognized that combining these assets would be unique and had the potential to unlock some enormous opportunities. For example: [in what follows here, I’ve highlighted weasel words and jargon in bold italic]

  • Massively scaling the reach and engagement of LinkedIn by using the network to power the social and identity layers of Microsoft’s ecosystem of over one billion customers. Think about things like LinkedIn’s graph interwoven throughout Outlook, Calendar, Active Directory, Office, Windows, Skype, Dynamics, Cortana, Bing and more.
  • Accelerating our objective to transform learning and development by deeply integrating the Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning solution in Office alongside some of the most popular productivity apps on the planet (note: 6 of the top 25 most popular Lynda.com courses are related to Microsoft products).
  • Realizing LinkedIn’s full potential to truly change the way the world works by partnering with Microsoft to innovate on solutions within the enterprise that are ripest for disruption, e.g., the corporate directory, company news dissemination, collaboration, productivity tools, distribution of business intelligence and employee voice, etc. [Whoa, what a long sentence!]
  • Expanding beyond recruiting and learning & development to create value for any part of an organization involved with hiring, managing, motivating or leading employees. This human capital area is a massive business opportunity and an entirely new one for Microsoft.
  • Giving Sponsored Content customers the ability to reach Microsoft users anywhere across the Microsoft ecosystem, unlocking significant untapped inventory.
  • Redefining social selling through the combination of Sales Navigator and Dynamics.
  • Leveraging our subscription capabilities to provide opportunities to the massive number of freelancers and independent service providers that use Microsoft’s apps to run their business on a daily basis.

And these are just some of the ideas that have been discussed since our first meeting.

Translation: Microsoft is going to exploit the hell out of our database, and we’re going to exploit the hell of out if it’s being embedded in everything knowledge workers do. I’m so excited about this, I’ve used the word “massive” three different times!

[Explanation of reporting structures deleted]

Now onto the most important question: What does this mean for you specifically as an employee of LinkedIn? [Talk about burying the lede — he left this to the last two paragraphs of a 1700-word email.]

Given our ability to operate independently, little is expected to change: You’ll have the same title, the same manager, and the same role you currently have. The one exception: For those members of the team whose jobs are entirely focused on maintaining LinkedIn’s status as a publicly traded company, we’ll be helping you find your next play. In terms of everything else, it should be business as usual. We have the same mission and vision; we have the same culture and values; and I’m still the CEO of LinkedIn.

Translation: If you’re in finance, you probably just lost your job — but I’ll share no details about that. And for the rest of you, it all stays the same. Until we decide to reorganize, that is.

I wanted to conclude on a familiar note. One of the most memorable moments I’ve experienced at LinkedIn was ringing the bell at the NYSE. I remember the All Hands we had following the event like it was yesterday. During that meeting, we reinforced the fact that becoming public was not the end game, but rather a stepping stone in the process of our ultimate objectives. We finished the All Hands with two words that have become LinkedIn’s unofficial mantra: “Next play.” In other words, don’t dwell on the past, lingering for too long on a lesson learned, or the celebration of a special accomplishment, but rather focus on the task at hand. It’s a mantra that’s served us well.

So, here’s to the next stepping stone.

Next play.

Translation: Change is good, especially if you’re at the top.

A better version of this email

If I were LinkedIn’s CEO, I’d want to address the concerns of the employees. My letter to staff would focus, not on platitudes, but on what they care about: the future. Here’s my version:

From: Your CEO
To: All staff
Re: Microsoft will acquire LinkedIn — what it means for you

LinkedIn today agreed to be acquired by Microsoft.

Here’s the deal: we’ve gotten a lot bigger, but we can no longer go it alone. We own people’s work relationships, but our strategy to look and act like a social network wasn’t profitable enough.

Agreeing to the buyout by Microsoft is the best option for our future. Our knowledge of workers and their relationships is extremely valuable to any company that sells to businesses — and Microsoft is one of the biggest. Plus, they have huge capital assets. We’ll do better as part of Microsoft than we ever could alone.

LinkedIn will remain an independent entity with Microsoft, with me as CEO. Except for finance jobs that relate to being a public company, I have no current plans to reorganize. (If you’re in one of those finance jobs, thanks for your hard work, and we’ll be in touch about severance.)

Our mission — to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful — remains the same. We can do that a lot better with the resources of Microsoft.

Realistically, it’s going to be rough as we try to align the needs of a global software and cloud giant with a social networking company. Your success in the future will depend on your agility in finding opportunities within that new reality. If you think nothing will change, you’re probably not going to enjoy the next few years.

Oh, one more thing. If you have stock, it’s worth a lot more today that it was yesterday. You’re welcome.

8 responses to “Jeff Weiner’s creepy letter to staff about the LinkedIn acquisition

  1. He is too focused on himself. I would have taken a slightly different tact with something along the following lines:

    “I wish I could thank you all personally for the role you have played over the years in bringing LI up to the scale and success that has become. With over 400M members, we are at the heart of reshaping the economic social graph. It is befitting to your efforts and this success that we are now joining MSFT, a company that has already fundamentally shaped the world in this new information age, and with us, can continue to do so.

    “Together, we’ve steered through some rough waters in the past months: the markets especailly haven’t been so kind. But we are heading into better waters, with a larger fleet at our side. We we aim to retain our ship, our organisation, and your roles, and continue our mission of shaping the world. We want, and hope, that you will still be a part of that, and apart from some necessary changes in our finance team (noted below), we have no plans to alter or cease your roles. But we are business, and circumstances do change, however in my continuing my role as your CEO, I will also continue to be your ears, your voice, and your champion for what’s best to keep you engaged and executing to bring us even more such finest hours.

    “Let’s never forget, that LinkedIn has always been fundamentally, about people, whether they are outside the busines, or inside it. It is what got us here today, and we aim to keep it that way.

    “You will no doubt have concerns and questions, and for that reason, you will see in your calendars a number of town halls, and forums, where we’ll do our best to address them. Your people managers and our people teams are also here, before and after those events, to assist you.

  2. Boy, the Iron Imperative sure took a beating there. 🙁
    And “helping you find your next play” ranks right up there with United Airlines’ “re-accommodate.”

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