Joann Lublin presents a balanced view of Nortel and Mike Z's progress at turning the company around in a page 1 feature of today's Wall Street Journal. (subscription required). Realistic tone, and tons of anecdotes about the failings and trials of this once great innovator and Canadian technology icon. It has been a pretty rough year for Nortel.

Clearly, Mike Z is positioned as a Hurculean, working 100 hour days and commuting Toronto-Chicago each week. But is it all about him?

I saw a quote from Ann Fuller (Ann started in 1995 in the data networks division just as I was moving to Dallas), "the industry is at a key inflection point that plays in Nortel's favor. In 2006, Nortel completed the heavy lifting on the foundational changes that will re-establish Nortel as a great company."

I really hope so, but sadly doubt it. Nortel is many things, but above all, it is an innovation products company. Nortel must align its resources to drive growth and abandon initiatives with lesser potential. It's a strategic assessment that needs to define the company's new position and new goals.

Last month, my employer held an off-site for the leadership team. We listened to a CD of Jim Collins, the author of "From Good to Great," who emphasized the process of a turnaround as 'First who, then what." Choose who the team is first, then what you decide to do will be more quickly, more easily and more vigorously pursued. The what must be centered around the 'hedgehog concept.' Jim explained that singular focus on the one thing that the firm is to be the best in the world at, is the core of the hedgehog concept. It's not necessarily glamorous, but it's great.

Then you define the operational factors that the organization can push to the wall or higher.

Nortel needs this framework injection badly. What do you want to be the best in the world at? This can't be a marketing story. Mike Z must step up and define that for the company. It's future depends on it. 

Disclaimer: I may own shares in Nortel.

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