RIM gets handed open letter from disgruntled employee, quickly responds in kind

One of the blessings -- and curses -- of this World Wide Web is that it creates a forum for open discussion, where we can communicate anything that our heart desires and feel like someone is listening to us. BGR published an open letter reportedly written by a senior executive at Research in Motion, chastising upper management for its inability to make bold business decisions as it continues to consistently lose market share. The anonymous author listed out several suggestions on how their company could improve its status and work its way back up to the top of the smartphone totem pole. As it turns out, the disgruntled employee was successful in that RIM published a response to the anonymous communication. What exactly were this employee's suggestions, and how did the folks in Waterloo respond? We'll break down the letters after the break.

The open letter, which can be found in its entirety at the source link below, discusses eight recommendations that the anonymous employee feels would help get RIM regain its position at the top of the class. We'd like to break each one down and highlight some of the major points found within.

Focus on the End User experience

We often make product decisions based on strategic alignment, partner requests or even legal advice - the end user doesn't care. We simply have to admit that Apple is nailing this and it is one of the reasons they have people lining up overnight at stores around the world, and products sold out for months. These people aren't hypnotized zombies, they simply love beautifully designed products that are user centric and work how they are supposed to work.

The author did the unthinkable thing for a RIM employee to do: admit that Apple is doing something better. Apparently, the author says, there's a method to Cupertino's madness, and it's directly correlated to why RIM is falling behind -- the user experience is simply better. The employee even goes on to recommend that key decision makers use competitors' products as their primary device for a week to understand why one-time "CrackBerry" users are starting to jump ship.

Recruit Senior Software Leaders and enable decision-making

We need some heavy hitters at RIM when it comes to software management. Teams still aren't talking together properly, no one is making or can make critical decisions, all the while everyone is working crazy hours and still far behind. We are demotivated.

It seems like a lot of RIM's troubles are being caused by a lack of communication among senior-level leadership. Essentially, the author is saying: if everyone is the key decision maker, nobody is. In addition, it's important to recruit leaders that have extensive experience in the industry, insinuating that many in the company's management just don't have the background to cut it.

Cut projects to the bone

We simply must stop shipping incomplete products that aren't ready for the end user. It is hurting our brand tremendously. It takes guts to not allow a product to launch that may be 90% ready with a quarter end in sight, but it will pay off in the long term.

This is intriguing; a RIM employee is acknowledging its products are incomplete at the time of shipment, and the brand's hurting as a result. It's not too often we hear something so bold from someone inside this company.

Developers, not Carriers, can now make or break us

There is no polite way to say this, but it's true - BlackBerry smartphone apps suck. Even PlayBook, with all its glorious power, looks like a Fisher Price toy with its Adobe AIR/Flash apps.

The truth is, no one in RIM dares to tell management how bad our tools still are.

In the US, especially, carriers rule over the OEM with an iron fist, but the author insists that RIM spends way too much time worrying about how it looks to the networks and not focusing on creating the right tools that make the product look good to consumers.

Need for serious marketing punch to create end user desire

A product's technical superiority does not equal desire, and therefore sales... How many Linux laptops are getting sold? How did Betamax go? My mother wants an iPad and iPhone because it is simple and appeals to her. Powerful multitasking doesn't.

People buy into a brand / product not just because of features, but because of what it stands for and what it delivers to them. People don't buy "what you do," people buy "why you do it."

This basically sums everything up. RIM talks up its technical superiority, but consumers don't care about that. They care about what's in it for them, and why they should buy into something. The author mentions strange marketing campaigns "from a barber shop to a horse wrangler" that didn't connect with its intended audience. Create an inventive and engaging campaign, the letter says, that focuses on what BlackBerry products are about.

No accountability - Canadians are too nice

Just because someone may have been a loyal RIM employee for 7 years, it doesn't mean they are the best Manager / Director / VP for that role. It's time to change the culture to deliver or move on and get out.

If something's not broke, don't fix it.

In this case, it's time for something to get fixed. Instead of rewarding loyalty, it's time to give incentives to those employees actually performing well. Separate the wheat from the chaff.

Don't snap at the press, now is the time for humility with a dash of paranoia

However, overconfidence clouds good decision-making. We missed not boldly reacting to the threat of iPhone when we saw it in January over four years ago. We laughed and said they are trying to put a computer on a phone, that it won't work. We should have made the QNX-like transition then. We are now 3-4 years too late. That is the painful truth... it was a major strategic oversight and we know who is responsible.

Perhaps it is time to seriously consider a new, fresh thinking, experienced CEO. There is no shame in no longer being a CEO. Mike, you could focus on innovation. Jim, you could focus on our carriers/customers.

Talk about calling upper management out on the carpet -- admitting RIM made a huge mistake by getting overconfident and not preparing itself for the onslaught of innovative competition is a monster statement. Of course, it's easy for this author to say in 2011; hindsight, as they say, is always 20 / 20. What's most interesting to us about this section, however, is that this is allegedly a senior executive stating he or she isn't happy with the current dual-CEO management structure. Apparently, not everyone agrees with Mike and Jim about the way things should be run at their company.

Democratise. Engage and interact with your employees -- please!

Encourage input from ground-level teams-without repercussions-to seek out honest feedback and really absorb it.

The headhunters have already started circling and we are at risk of losing our best people.

Some of our offices feel like Soviet-era government workplaces.

Ouch. The eighth and final bullet point paints an extremely dire picture of the average RIM employee. Basically, the author is saying here that the morale in Waterloo's headquarters has become intolerable and those who haven't been laid off are considering a departure from the company. The only way to reverse that trend, the letter suggests, is to reach out to employees and do everything possible to re-energize the workplace.

The long and short of it is that not everything in BlackBerry World is peachy, and some desperate measures need to be taken for the company to get back on the right track. The anonymous senior executive doesn't feel like they can speak their mind and be heard without some type of consequence. This time, however, the scribe was heard. Here's RIM's response:

An "Open Letter" to RIM's senior management was published anonymously on the web today and it was attributed to an unnamed person described as a 'high level employee". It is obviously difficult to address anonymous commentary and it is particularly difficult to believe that a "high level employee" in good standing with the company would choose to anonymously publish a letter on the web rather than engage their fellow executives in a constructive manner, but regardless of whether the letter is real, fake, exaggerated or written with ulterior motivations, it is fair to say that the senior management team at RIM is nonetheless fully aware of and aggressively addressing both the company's challenges and its opportunities.

RIM recently confirmed that it is nearing the end of a major business and technology transition. Although this transition has taken longer than anticipated, there is much excitement and optimism within the company about the new products that are lined up for the coming months. There is a fundamental business reality however that following an extended period of hyper growth (during which RIM nearly quadrupled in size over the past 5 years alone), it has become necessary for the company to streamline its operations in order to allow it to grow its business profitably while pursuing newer strategic opportunities. Again, RIM's management team takes these challenges seriously and is actively addressing the situation. The company is thankfully in a solid business and financial position to tackle the opportunities ahead with a solid balance sheet (nearly $3 billion in cash and no debt), strong profitability (RIM's net income last quarter was $695 million) and substantial international growth (international revenue in Q1 grew 67% over the same quarter last year). In fact, while growth has slowed in the US, RIM still shipped 13.2 million BlackBerry smartphones last quarter (which is about 100 smartphones per minute, 24 hours per day) and RIM is more committed than ever to serving its loyal customers and partners around the world.

It's ironic, and perhaps tragic, that in responding to a letter in which it's called out for not listening to its employees, RIM completely dismisses the matter altogether and tries to paint itself in a flowery manner. Nothing was learned or resolved, and certainly conditions there can't expect to get any better. RIM seems to not believe the letter is truly from one of its own fold -- we can't be completely certain either, to be honest -- and instead of directly addressing the criticism, insists it already is working to resolve many of these issues discussed at length. The company is optimistic about how everything will turn out at the end of this "major business and technology transition," but unless the fine folks in Canada ditch the rose-colored glasses, the outlook could have a very different hue.

Update: BGR is reporting that even more employees at RIM are crying foul. Obviously all is not well in Waterloo.