Sunday, October 2, 2005

Jumping the Shark

Some random things to comment on - looks like I might post more while out of town than in it... well, not much else to do in this here stretch of Podunk.

First, Dare has a heartbreaking post that speaks some truth: Some Thoughts on the Mini-Microsoft blog. I've certainly been thinking about a lot of the same issues. I could understand if Dare unsubscribed. He has my lasting thanks for being this little blog's early adopter. He was one of the first cool kids to take notice and even drop by with the occasional thoughtful comment. It's probably time for him to move on to a new cool thing.

As I noticed in the previous entry, things are a bit on the grumbling side here. Lots of surprising things happened all at once with the two negative articles, the Slashdotting, the reorganization, and the Company Meeting. It was a pipeline of revelations. Better, I say, than The Fonze waterskiing over a shark, but still it leads a bit of a gap afterwards. How the heck do you follow that? Right now, I just have an image of this blog's persona being a cranky parrot: "Rwak! Mini wants a layoff! Rwak!"

In fact, to grow productively with the current momentum, a blog isn't the best medium right now. I'd rather have something that was the combination of a blog, a community discussion space, and a wiki. As of now, folks continue to add comments to posts from long, long ago. But who sees them? Like Roy said, it's like tears in rain. I get to read every new comment that comes in and I'd like to elevate them to something worth reading vs. just having to create a new blog post.

The absolute best consequence of everything that has happened is that executive management finally got asked some really hard questions. And once enough blood was in the water, ever the most gracious of Microsoft-beat reporters asked the hard questions. Still sunshine and smoke with-respect-to the answers, but that was a big shift and the questions have been asked at all levels and the extraordinary public focus it brought. The fact that those questions came up makes me want to tip my hat and pedal into the sunset.

Other consequences might be as short lived as sparks: folks starting up their own blogs "in the spirit of Mini-Microsoft." I can only say, be sure you have an agenda worth more than ten weekly posts. It's one thing to have an ax to grind, and another to want to make a better ax.

As for recent comments...

Mini, have you ever stopped to consider that some of the "dead wood" could be turned into very high performers in the hands of better managers?

Well, let's talk about talented people who have ratings indicating that they are poor-performers. In this case, I've considered that those people could be turned around. That, however, is not the practical culture of Microsoft management. Look, if you can effectively turn someone around into a very-good to great performer, you just saved Microsoft a whole bunch of cash vs. hiring, moving, and training a new person. But that's not the day-to-day management philosophy except in rare pockets of Microsoft. I'm hands on, personally, but I was talking with a dev manager recently about how much time managers spend on their reports and his philosophy was: I put all my focus and energy on my 4.0s. They are going to deliver results no one else can. My 3.0s can come to me for help, but I'm not going to actively mentor them. I wish I had a picture of my face at that moment just to know what my face looks like when I'm thinking: Dork.

And the big question floated up (or driven down) when considering poor-performers or people who have hit a plateau: would you rather keep them on the team or get a hot new smart college hire? That's a bait and switch.

A pro-curve comment is a good read. Bits and pieces:

I do not want to work at any company that does not have a curve. We need to reward performance, individual performance. If our managers are not using the system correctly, lets improve the management, not get rid of the system. Frankly, we should target 10% good attrition at every level of the company, every year.

10% of the VPs get the boot.
10% of the partners get the boot.
10% of the rank and file get the boot.


Also, most people probably don't realize what we have with our latest head of HR. Lisa has a long career at Microsoft as the head of product groups. She has relentlessly focused on management and people development within her organization, and is considered one of the top 5 managers in the company. Steve was very smart when he chose her to lead HR...Give her some time to work on the issues. I can guarantee that she will push very hard on improving how our managers manage. On holding them accountable, and on getting rid of the ones who should not be managing people.

Sounds like a Righteous Bloody Curve to me. I look forward to hearing more from Lisa and I'm looking forward to a deep impact on the company. But when? Anyway, I'm still no fan of the curve, and neither is the fellow in this comment (who was kind enough to note his lifetime average to show he's not a career 3.0):

Here's a little story: I wasn't performing well because I came in to a group towards the end of its ship cycle and basically had nothing to do (we were in full triage lock-down for about 6 months). I was on track for a 3.0. So I started doing informational interviews to find a group where there was work for me and where I wouldn't be screwing myself into a crappy review because of lack of work.

My manager wouldn't give me permission to interview, because -- in his words -- they needed someone to fill the bottom of the curve.

That's a manager that Microsoft can do without asap. And if Lisa is working to get rid of managers who can't manage, how can I help? Another comment doing a reality check:

Looking from the outside, I think the stack rating system is the wrong place to start. What I have gotten from reading this blog is that the problems started around 2000 or 2001 when Ballmer became CEO, and Microsoft hired a lot of new managers who weren't very good. And that in turn seems to be because Microsoft wanted to get a lot larger.


I think most of the people here are taking the wrong approach. You can't straighten things out working from the (bottom) up if things are fouled-up due to a big strategic decision made at the top.

P.S. Dare: oh, I knew the ship-date of VS (and hell, all of us can to go http://msweb/ and directly pull up the ship dates of all sorts of products). But I also knew how friggin' late VS was running in reaching the golden bits. Embarrassing. And my email address is within the posts. Motivated folks have managed to find it. ;-)

P.P.S. Josh, thanks for the laugh. Whew! I didn't even know the Mini C9Soft page existed. If Ballmer had said, "I'm WhoDaPunk!" then maybe one of those roaming camera persons would have caught my outraged, "Hey!?!?"



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