As CEO of your company, your words are important. The messages that you deliver in public are evaluated by your investors, staff, suppliers, customers, competitors, marketplace and media. People will judge you and your company by your words. They might misjudge your message. That’s why it’s important to thoughtfully choose your words to convey the right intended message. This advice applies to both spoken and written messages.
This statement from Meg Whitman, CEO of HP Enterprise, offers a practical review of what not to say. It wasn’t an idle retort. This appeared as a status update on her Linkedin profile. The smiling photo that accompanied the message suggests that she was both comfortable and pleased with the statement. She might feel differently after reading this review.
Let’s analyze her words and explore the possible unintended messages.
“I want to be crystal clear”
That seems like a good opening statement. Unfortunately, the rest of the statement drastically clashes with this well-sounding promise.
“HPE is not getting out of software”
That’s easy to understand and sounds clear. If she had stopped at this point, it would have been crystal clear, believable and memorable.
But she continues and muddies it up. By the time you read the full statement you’re likely confused and annoyed. When you glance back at the innocent looking opening phrase (I want to be crystal clear) you would be justified in labeling it a lie. If the first statement is shown to be a lie then everything else is deemed to be part of the lie.
This phrase is an overused cliché that is meaningless. It adds nothing of value or understanding to the message. It’s a silly phrase because it suggests that we might also move backward. If you’re feeling bold, the next time a speaker starts their sentence with this phrase, interrupt the person and ask, “And what are your plans for moving backward?”
I suggest that this phrase be banned from your lexicon. Park it alongside the verbal nuisances umm and ah.
“we will double down”
This curious phrase is from Black Jack. When a player chooses to “doubles down” she is doubling her bet and agreeing to accept only one more card. Is Meg using this analogy to suggest that HPE will double their investment in some part of the business? Was she talking about Research and Development, Marketing or executive compensation?
It that’s what she meant, it would have been clear to say “We will double our investment in product development”.
Perhaps Meg got her Black Jack analogies confused. Maybe she was referring to the splitting of the company into two separate entities, HP INC and HP Enterprise. That Black Jack move is called “splitting pairs”.
What did she really mean by saying “double down”? Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted the Black Jack analogy and she was merely thinking about a KFC sandwich.
“on the software capabilities”
This phrase follows the “double down” comment. The noun here is “capabilities”. Does she mean that they will double the capabilities of their software? Will they make it twice as fast?
Will each software product expand to have twice the number of features or capabilities? Will they simply double the fees?
“that power and differentiate our infrastructure solutions”
This appears to be a phrase clearly intended to confuse the reader and obfuscate the message. Because it continues the sentence, this phrase is a qualifier for the preceding part. In other words, she’s only talking about doubling down on software capabilities that power and differentiates the infrastructure solutions – but none of the other software capabilities. I don’t know if there are others, but there must be if she needs to qualify the capabilities with this phrase.
I don’t understand what the word “power” means in this context. The word “differentiate” suggests that she’s only talking about HPE products that are distinct within the market. Does that mean she plans to discontinue products for which there are competitive alternatives? “Infrastructure solutions” sounds like a wiring problem or a blown fuse.
“and are critical in a cloud environment”
This is an additional qualifier to the software capabilities. That suggests that the only capabilities she’s addressing are the ones that satisfy the previous criteria plus this one. Again, I don’t know the intended context here. Perhaps she means security. If you mean security, say security. If you’re not sure what you mean, say nothing. Imagine how refreshing that would be.
Time to Examine the Cards
What did Meg Whitman really mean? Who knows? We don’t know what the intended message was or who it was intended to influence. What was the purpose of issuing this statement? What precipitated this statement? From my perspective, the message was confusing, annoying and dishonest. Perhaps we’ll soon see a retraction or clarification of this “crystal clear” message.
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