The dramatic arrival of Meg Whitman as HP's CEO has dominated the tech media in recent days, and not for all of the right reasons.
Whitman takes charge just 11 months after HP named Leo Apotheker as its CEO; the German departs after poorly communicating his plan to focus on software and services, rather than HP's core PC and devices operations. HP's share price plunged by almost 50 percent during Apotheker's tenure.
Apotheker is the not the first HP CEO to depart under a cloud. Last year, former CEO Mark Hurd left the company after misrepresenting his travel and expenses.
Whitman, meanwhile, arrives at the company after running a business of a very different size and nature. As Text 100 CEO Aedhmar Hynes details below, the former Ebay CEO needs to focus on HP's corporate character, its key stakeholders, and avoid the media spotlight if she hopes to succeed.
Aedhmar Hynes, CEO, Text 100
The big opportunity for Meg Whitman is to focus on a small number of key strategies and embrace social media tools to listen, engage and act upon direct interaction with her core constituents.
1. Reestablish the corporate character of HP
Meg needs to start by reestablishing a clear definition of HP’s unique beliefs and values, its enduring and defining characteristics that compel HP’s customers to buy from them. She may well start by reading “The HP Way” by David Packard. Despite the HP of today being hundreds of thousands of employees (many of whom joined through acquisition), it’s critical that she understands the unique culture that was the fuel of HP’s early success. Leveraging this past she should use social media tools to enable employees to discuss and have a hand in creating 'The New Way' – HPs future purpose and values. Meg will need to establish metrics that measure the gaps between HP’s character and what people actually experience today under the many different CEOs. From there use this gap analysis as the basis for an ongoing transformation effort.
2. Make employees, customers and investors her priority
The dialogue and discussion with employees must be an ongoing part of her strategy. Study-after-study, and our own experience and intuition, tell us that employees are most engaged when they trust their leadership, understand the vision and strategy and are equipped to make a contribution. Meg and team need to listen, chart a clear course, and have an ongoing conversation with employees. Decide what the company stands for and how it will succeed moving forward. Look to how Lou Gerstner masterfully did this when he took the helm at IBM during tumultuous times. He brought the company a focused strategy and bet the future on e-commerce and services. What’s the HP equivalent? Enable them to become advocates and relationship builders through social media and personal interactions.
Customers are confused. And that confusion is damaging HP’s business. There’s no better PR in the short-term than Meg immediately meeting with every one of HP’s top accounts. She needs to engage these key stakeholders to understand their beliefs and figure out where the company is falling short. Make a commitment to listen, to support existing investments in HP and to eliminate surprises and confusing statements to the market. In addition to the key accounts she needs to ensure there are established ways to engage with all customers through social media. They need to interact effectively with each other and with HP so that she can build an army of advocates outside the company as well.
In terms of investors, Meg needs to quickly demonstrate mastery of HP’s business model and a clear vision for future financial success. She needs to commit to clear communication with the street - after HP leadership is aligned and plans are in place to execute well on those decisions. Without doubt she needs to underpromise and overdeliver on results.
3. Stay out of the media spotlight and let the results speak for themselves
Meg needs to remember that this is not about Meg Whitman and this all about HP. She would do well to adopt the position of servant leader and work diligently to start producing the result that will speak far louder and more authentically than she ever could. She should look to lessons from Anne Mulcahy of Xerox and how she kept her personal profile to a minimum while delivering a hugely effective turnaround strategy for her company.