Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Where do we go from here?

Let's see... here in the West the aspens are turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. No, no, not right. How about: recently, while propping my forearms on a tilted rake handle, I watched the big-leaf maple leaves swirling down around me and meditated on the various concerns of how the postings, conversations, and focus of the little Mini-Microsoft blog seems to be way off topic from its early days. How did the focus end up (look to left, look to right) here? Is it way off the path I was beating?

What's up with the focus on stack ranking, The Curve, process, and bureaucracy? What does that have to do with making Microsoft a leaner, agile organization that's able to shed off accumulations of dead drift-wood and get back to quickly producing fan-damn-tastic software products and services that brings in boat-loads of cash and makes shareholders clap their hands together, looking upward, shouting, "I believe again!"

So, yes, the original blast off post didn't have those topics on my agenda-radar. When I talked about stack ranking, it was more about how to play the game and get a good score vs. what a brain-dead ancient industrial-era performance appraisal device stack ranking (aka rank and yank) is.

(Short story time: when I was an individual contributor, I didn't know there was a stack rank. I learned a little bit about stack ranking from my first good manager. It wasn't until I was a lead and I was told to show up as some long meeting that I found out the full story of what the process involved. If only it also involved us puffing cigars and sitting in plush leather seats. Well, after I found out about stack ranking, I went on a mission to spread the word about how performance evaluation works to my reports, just so that they could understand what I meant by "visibility" and what goes on behind closed shades. Over time, more and more people have learned how our performance appraisal works. Even more so, I hope, due to the postings and conversations here. Still, though, I'll run across people that I'm giving career advice to and they'll respond back to me, quizzically, "The what-rank?")

When you turn your focus on one thing - say, finding out why Microsoft has been stumbling over itself and losing key talent - other items and issues you might have ignored in the past flare up and get your attention. You read business books and magazines and web sites vs. learning XQuery (fortunately, no loss there).

  • What does it mean to grow rapidly?
  • What are the consequences?
  • What common problems that exist in other corporations might exist in a maturing Microsoft?
  • What strategies exist to recover from these problems?

Usually, I say Microsoft's key assets are the people working for it. Actually, Microsoft's key asset is probably the monopolistic domination of desktop software and office software and cash that currently brings in. So people are next in line as Microsoft's key asset. And as the quality of hires and their day-to-day accomplishments suffer, so does Microsoft. Our engines of creation sit between our ears and are wired to the ten digit money makers clicking away on our keyboards. We all work on a team of some sort, and our work is interconnected when it comes to delivering quality results. Heh, maybe Scooter's aspens are an appropriate analogy... anyway, anything that impedes quality results impedes delivering fan-damn-tastic results and shareholder value.

Low quality, bad hires and bad acquisitions poison our company. Increased size results in increased management levels meaning that mid to upper management needs new processes to understand what's happening where. Lack of annual dynamic restructuring creates fiefdoms and cronyism and a complete breakdown in responsibility and accountability. Curve fitting results in folks doing what's best for themselves vs. what's best for their product and the shareholders. Forced review results rob people of their passion to do a good job. People playing the system keep around poor performers to ease their review model.

But, I've said all that before. What else is there to say, now that the public light has been shined all over those gripes?

I feel naive in making this remark, but... there's no justice. I want justice. Justice is a funny thing to ask for in a corporate world, I know. But as of late, justice seems to be sorely lacking at Microsoft and it is sucking the passion and inspiration out of people.

I want those who have screwed up to be shown the door. I want those who have done an excellent job this past week to be told, "Hey, that's a great job!" vs. their manager holding their tongue, aware that the curve might trend their report downward. I want folks to speak their mind and help start putting forth proactive change. I want VPs and GMs to go without the new big pay-raise incentive bonus until after everyone else have been given reasonable compensation. I want less VPs and GMs. I want a flattening of all organizations with a goal, within the next few months, to remove one layer of management cross-company. I want a corporate efficiency-cop that people can bring in to help streamline their org.

I want Microsoft's re-invention into a blazing, just 21st century company to be the innovative turn-around that books get written about for many years to come.

And, yes, I also want a milkshake. Preferably, one from Fat Burger. Oh, and less posters.

But what's an individual to do in seeking justice and cutting back on inefficiencies and bureaucracies? It's great to have all these desires and to pontificate upon them, but what can you actually *do*? What has worked for you? Have you done something proactive that turned out well? Have you chucked your sabot into some dumb process and where able to get back to being productive?

Random shallow ideas from the tips of my fingers:

Destroy all meetings. If you can't outright decline meetings, try to coalesce them. Always challenge the organizer for an agenda and goals. If they push back, remind them and their lead how much money every meeting costs Microsoft. Be an ass in meetings: ensure people take ownership for problems discussed before leaving, instead of having a bunch of good intentions that require another meeting later to dole out. With a bit of basic behavioral modification, you can unmake those meeting-happy contributors.

Cause trouble now. Eh, you've got about a month to cause trouble until you have to slip into hyper achievement mode going into the mid-year review. An informal stack rank is usually done then and you have to do the usually visibility games right before that to remind people about how great you are. But if you have an idea that might cause all hell to break lose, best to try it now. Write the VP with your ideas of how things could be a lot better. Now's the time for taking risks. And again after the mid-year is over. Then it's back to being a shinning cog above all other cogs.

Learn. Read some books about successful software development patterns and adopt them with fierce visibility. If there's a good group on campus that people brag about how well they do, drop in and learn more. Bring it back to your group. If feature-crews are da bomb, see if you can get your group to learn and adopt them. Bring in ideas for techniques that reduce waste and rob people of doing the job we hired them to do.

Leave. As always, I have to present this option. I'm putting down my little pied-pipe and reminding you of my meta-purpose: a smaller Microsoft. That probably means you, as good looking as smart as you are, are someone I'd prefer to see work elsewhere. And justice and satisfaction are usually a lot easier to find in smaller companies. If you leave, don't do so in a vacuum. I'd certainly appreciate a comment here on why you left, or at least a link to your own post.

So, back to meditating around the falling leaves, how did I end up here, griping about process and other crap? I realized the growth of Microsoft has fostered a negative environment flourishing in process engineered by a growing middle management to keep itself busy. This is something the smaller Microsoft never had to deal with, yet we're still applying ideas and concepts from a smaller Microsoft. If I was smarter, I'd have better ideas to apply to the big Microsoft. Right now, I just want a big shake up that shines the light of responsibility on everyone, president to new-hire, and if your contributions to Microsoft's bottom-line aren't up to snuff, well, it's time to move on to find a better fit. And trend towards a smaller Microsoft.

This all said, I probably won't be posting about meta-problems like bureaucracy for a while unless something egregious comes my way. I'm going to dial the knob back and, if I post anytime soon, be on more direct smaller topics. I've been meaning to write my anti-CLR post for a while (ooo, that's a gonna be a fun one!). And I'm entering my own phase of shining above my peers so I'll be spending less time here and more time at what pays the bills. Take care.


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