I’ve read a lot of corporate comms over the years. I’ve written quite a bit of it myself as well, here and there. As a result, I probably read these things rather differently to how many other people do. There are countless words, phrases and patterns that crop up over and over.

So, here’s more or less what went through my mind when I read this week’s “A Message from M Linden” …

Greetings,

Yesterday was a challenging but historic and important day for Linden Lab. We undertook a strategic restructuring to strengthen our business and enable us to move faster and with more focus on the things that matter. While it will have important ramifications down the line for Second Life, rest assured that there are no fundamental changes planned to our experience or platform, and that both the company and the inworld economy remain in a very strong position.

“challenging but historic and important day” : This is bad news.

“a strategic restructuring to strengthen our business and enable us to move faster and with more focus on the things that matter” : We dumped a bunch of staff. But only the ones who don’t matter.

There a number of reasons why a company might restructure and lay off staff. There’s also a pattern to the reasons stated as compared to the actual reason.

Frequently the reasons actually given are:

1. Cost-cutting

2. Focus on consumers (which most often means ‘cost-cutting’)

3. Focus on core strengths/values/business (which most often means ‘cost-cutting’)

Go Google some press releases. The ones you see with the key word ‘focus’ in the given reason generally boil down to cost-cutting. Check out the related news subsequent to those releases and you’ll see that the pattern holds pretty well.

Other common reasons for mass layoffs involve the company having made ghastly strategic mistakes that have gone on too long to be backed out of any other way – and that usually means the company has to cut costs and refocus.

Our decision to restructure the company was based on our feeling that we were moving too slowly on important strategic initiatives, so we have decided to consolidate software development in the US and combine our product and technology organizations into one.

This paragraph sounds like nonsense to me. Why? Because this is the same reason given for decentralizing and placing Linden Lab offices, and slices of software development and QA outside of the USA. I don’t think it is feasible to cite the same reason for both doing it and then undoing it. Not in the world of logic, anyway.

We have also streamlined customer support so that it can scale economically as we add users.

“economically” is a cost-cutting word. The majority of customer support is already outsourced last time the Lab told us anything about what was going on there, so apparently ‘streamlining’ here means ‘getting rid of any in-house customer support’. They’re more expensive anyway.

These decisions resulted in significant job eliminations and this tends to be what press and bloggers focus on because of the human dimension. It is indeed difficult for us to see our colleagues leaving.

Let’s assume, just for the moment, that this doesn’t involve cost-cutting. If you have a major strategic change of direction (rather than, say, cost-cutting), the first goal is to make sure that you can accommodate as many of your existing staff as you are able, even if it is in new roles and locations.

Because shedding a huge chunk of your headcount because you made a strategic error would be, you know, unethical.

I am writing to you directly because I want you to know that Second Life – and Linden Lab itself – is in very good shape. As a company, Linden Lab remains financially very stable. Our balance sheet is strong and we are well-capitalized. We will close this year with record revenue and hopefully record users, and – with your help – record user-to-user transactions and record landmass.

We shed staff in April, we shed staff in May, we laid off about 35% of our staff in June, and we’ve got ten more weeks of layoffs coming up and they’re wondering how they’re going to feed their families in this economic climate. But hey! It’s okay because we’re rolling in money!

This whole paragraph comes off as unbelievably cruel, especially juxtaposed with its predecessor.

In May, we recorded more than 1 million logged-in Residents, 37 million user hours, US$52.8 million in user-to-user transactions and 31,800 enabled regions. Second Life is sound.

Non sequitur. The conclusion does not logically follow from the provided premises. I cannot decide if it is intentional deception or just an honest mistake, so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is a genuinely wrong-headed error.

As a platform for the world’s most robust virtual economy, Second Life remains as vibrant and healthy as ever.

Really? Facts not in evidence.

By bringing new people to Second Life, and by increasing the ways in which people can interact with the world and with the people, places, and things within it, we are paving the way for more growth.

Alas, this has not been happening in 2010. Not successfully at any rate. Plus, you promised in the first paragraph that there would be “no fundamental changes planned to our experience or platform.”

We remain committed to supporting and improving the SL Marketplace, to pushing forward on IP protection, and to growing the number of Residents that participate in the inworld economy.

Well, obviously. Otherwise the business goes under, right? The statement is irrelevant.

It is during times like this that partnerships are tested and I – as CEO – want you to know that we value our partnership with you and that Second Life and Linden Lab are solid.

Linden Lab has never treated us, the users, like partners. Maybe they believe it, but if so it would behoove them to act like it once in a while. Most of the time, we’re more like battered spouses. Hard to believe that this statement is made with any seriousness whatsoever.

This kind of transition is difficult for any company, but it need not be difficult for our customers.

But it is going to be, isn’t it?

Our restructuring leaves Linden Lab in a stronger position; Second Life remains the creative and inspiring platform it always has been.

Bland, upbeat signoff; means nothing.

So there you have it. That’s how I interpreted this message when it hit my inbox earlier this week.

It’s a good thing I am fond of the source of the message, right? Otherwise I might have thought rather more, well …  harshly of the contents.



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