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A few months after she took over as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) last September, Meg Whitman held one in a series of get-to-know-you meetings with employees. To say the audience, a group of software engineers and managers, was sullen would be an understatement. As Whitman spoke, many of them glared at her. Others weren't making eye contact with their new boss. Their heads were down, and they were tapping furiously on handheld devices.
"Your comments are being live-blogged," one employee told her defiantly. Whitman challenged the man. "You all have taken leaking to a new art form," she said. "It's a sign of an unhappy company. You wish HP ill." The tapping suddenly stopped, and as the room fell silent, the mobile devices were lowered.
The employees' open contempt for the head of the company and Whitman's acknowledgment of their misery were signs of just how dire things had gotten inside the technology titan after a humiliating series of epic stumbles last year. [...]
The saga of HP's 11 months under Léo Apotheker begins in November 2010. To understand it, you need to appreciate what he found and how HP got to that point. The company seemed strong at that moment, its swagger restored during the five years Mark Hurd had been in charge. Earnings per share had quadrupled. The stock price had doubled. HP was No. 1 in PC shipments, No. 1 in printers, No. 1 in servers.
But just under the surface was a very different reality: HP was traumatized, its employees disengaged. Internal "voice of the company" surveys revealed that morale had cratered. One top executive told Apotheker she felt "maimed" by Hurd's hard-charging style. A company hailed for its vaunted "HP way" — which emphasized employee autonomy — had stifled creativity to the point where workers now had a rueful phrase to describe the way they tuned out and pretended to be clueless when executives asked them to do something: "flipping the bozo bit."