AOL’s Tim Armstrong rallies troops

Given the straits in which AOL finds itself, CEO Tim Armstrong has plenty of motivation to get his people fired up. The company’s stock has tanked this year and there’s been all kinds of bad buzz about reconfiguring the whole shebang. And, of course, there’s always a lot of talk about money-losing hyperlocal network Patch.

Hence a year-ending rah-rah note to his “AOLers.” Below is the text of the note, which hit AOL e-mail accounts early this afternoon. Armstrong’s text in italics; analysis in bold.

AOLers –

I wanted to thank you for all of your hard work during Q4. While we still have more to do, we got a lot accomplished so far and it has given us a great lead into 2012.

There are a number of important events happening next week that I wanted to make sure you put on your calendar. Also, I have also included a quick recap of the leadership and planning time we spent with General McChrystal, General Nixon, and key leaders from Seal Team 6 and the Rangers this week – many of you asked about it and some summary notes are below.

Oh, no---AOL is going to invade some country?

We have two important all-company meetings next week. The first meeting is the last of our four part series on the planning for 2012 – Advertising / Revenue Products. We will hold this call at the same time we have held the other three - 11 AM ET. We will also cover the normal topics we review in the global executive leadership weekly calls. You can find all the details on INSIDE here.

The second important meeting is the end of the year all-hands video call. We will cover a recap of 2011, review the major strategy areas for 2012, and walk through the global operating rhythm and updates that will start in January.

Rhythm? Is Patch launching a music site or something?

The company meeting will also detail the output from the global operating meeting next week, as well as the topics that will be covered at the year-end board of directors meeting. We will also announce and celebrate the Blue Monster Award winners – we have another group of incredible people to celebrate who demonstrate our values and reflect our company culture. You can find all the details on INSIDE here.

One of my goals for 2012 is to have our market opportunities tightly align with our consumer and revenue product development and goals and to have our leadership operate the company to build the products and talent that will continue to put AOL at the forefront of where the Web is going.

Any biz school dean would be proud of that sentence.

It is in that spirit that we have been working closely with the McChrystal Group, led by General Stan McChrystal and an elite team of Special Forces leadership.

Oh, so “Stan” is helping with the whole Web thing.

Over the last three months, we have put together a very detailed and cohesive plan for 2012. The work with the McChrystal Group is aimed at taking the plans, goals and metrics and doing two things. The first is creating a shared consciousness and purpose to what we are trying to accomplish – in simple terms, a defined mission and values. The second is creating and executing a clear and consistent operating model that will allow all groups in the company to work toward accomplishing our mission. You will see the output of this work next week and immediately see the benefits.

Another aspect of the McChrystal Group is leadership training and teamwork. Many of things we covered will be helpful to our business, but the most helpful part may have been the sharing of ideas and communication. There were a number of bullet points that popped out during the sessions and here is a few of the big ones that we can all learn from:

- Accomplishing significant outcomes requires a team of teams. In the complex world we live and compete in, we need to be great at supporting and connecting teams, not just connecting people to people. Sounds like a lot of bureaucracy, Tim. Republican prez candidates wouldn’t like the whole “team of teams” idea. .

- Everyone must get a common view of a situation and transparency is an important aspect of letting teams and people take ownership and accountability. We can do a better job of giving people a common view into the areas that are most important for us to focus on

Everyone must get a common view of a situation? Isn’t that what Lenin said?

- In achieving very tough goals, leadership is more important than management. Leaders must communicate at every level, have a disciplined strategy, decentralize decision-making, crank up transparency, constantly adapt the organization to the situation, publish and follow an operating rhythm. Leaders also are a strategic weapon and their time and calendars need to match their potential to only do what leaders can do. Sounds like leadership is management. Not to be too technical about things here.

- Organizations without a common mission and an operating process to accomplish the goals turn into stovepipe businesses (where groups are kept in separate stacks) that under-leverage the benefits of working together. Metrics and people start to work against each other instead of the marketplace. Perhaps the first time in history that “metrics and people” form the subject of a sentence.

- Accept that fact that plans may need to change. There was a great quote that no battle plan design makes it through the first contact with the enemy. Enemy? Armstrong, you’ve been talking to “Stan” too much. Who’s the enemy here? Business Insider?

- There is a formula to accomplish a mission: A+B+C=D. “D” is the mission. “A”, “B”, and “C” are the objectives that need to be met to reach the mission. In our case the mission is growth. The objectives are delivering outstanding consumer and revenue products for us to meet our mission. Right on. This is a good one.

- Never Again: What lessons do you learn as an organization that teaches you to never fall into the same trap?

- Set high expectations and figure it out: The Special Forces set incredibly high expectations and they deliver on them. They also have an attitude that everything can be figured out and accomplished. It was very inspiring to hear how they led people to accomplish objectives that seemed out of reach and our of scope

There were a number of outcomes that you will see and we will put in place for 2012. We will also take the leadership lessons as individuals back to work. We have a big mission and a big opportunity. I will see you next week - let’s finish off strong - TA

Bolded snark notwithstanding, this is a fine letter to staff. Armstrong writes with way too much biz-school jargon, but his enthusiasm comes through, which is the most important point.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.

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