Saturday, December 10, 2005

Confidential Mercurial Comments

Corporate Confidential

Yes, I recommend the book. I didn't realize that I still had strong personal attachment to meritocracy and workplace justice until I read through all of Ms. Shapiro's secrets and ended up feeling corporate career naive, even for all my years. I'm sure if Ms. Shapiro looked through the comments here from folks complaining when brown-nosers succeed while they feel punished for speaking their mind, she'd give a matter-of-fact, "Yep. That's the way it is. Everywhere."

Some of this you can see in action in your own career. For instance, right now (allow me to polish-prep my nose) I have the best boss in the world and someone who makes a huge, positive impact at Microsoft. So it's very easy for me to sing praises for my boss and support my boss vocally and with great passion and loyalty. Everyone should be so fortunate. I can see in retrospect why things work out well for me more often than not given my transparent, enthusiastic support. It comes very easily. When I've had bosses in the past that I've been honest about my lack of admiration for, well... no soup for me. The book serves as one way to calibrate your own personal "duh!" meter.

I strongly recommend chapter five for all managers, especially if you've been recently promoted to a lead position.

If you want to comfort your scorn over lack of recognition for your merits as you strategize for the future, you should read this or a similar book. It's sort of the Art of War for cogs in the machine that want to run the machine one day, and perhaps change what they thought as unfair or poorly run. It does go to an extreme of disempowering the employee in some cases (vacations and leaves of absence, for example), and not all the lessons apply to Microsoft. However, as long as Microsoft continues ranking and rewarding people the busted way it does, the majority of the lessons are pretty on target.

(Oh, and a word to the wise: the Microsoft mid-point review is coming up and most groups do an informal stack rank to check-in on how people are looking going towards the major review. Where are you in your team's stack rank? If you can't answer that question authoritatively, you're probably lower than you think.)

Lisa Brummel Listening Tour

So, continuing the HR theme here, Ms. Brummel will be doing a listening tour to hear employee concerns. After reading Ms. Shapiro's book, I personally visualize such information gathering as Wile E. Coyote hiding behind a bolder as the Road Runner notices a pile of bird seed in the middle of a lasso trap beneath a gently swaying suspended bolder. Yes, please, speak your mind. Are you deft enough to get away with a "Meep! Meep!?"

The thing is, what actionable changes does Ms. Brummel see herself empowered to effect at Microsoft? I'd like to think a lot, but I can't count the number of times HR representatives tell a group of employees the way it should be and later management comes in says the way it's really gonna be, and HR falls in line.

I'd be thrilled to the dickens to see changes (like in compensation, recognition, streamlining, and the busted review model) but those changes have to be enacted from up on high. I can only hope Ms. Brummel has exceptional negotiation skills. A number of people here have enthusiastically sung Ms. Brummel's old-school-Microsoftie capabilities but still I don't have any insight into her plans to improve the Microsoft experience for the employees (and, as a result, for our customers and partners and shareholders). Other than the Company Meeting presentation, her agenda has been opaque to the rest of us.

Listening tour? What kind of feedback will you or did you provide?

Partners, the Bench, Gold Stars, and Blue Chips

No, Bubba, I don't know what they are and probably wouldn't be told as part of my eventual exit interview. But, some follow-up comments were kind enough to shed some light on these Microsoft career distinguishers:

(1) Partner is 68+ and has a special profit-sharing performance-based compensation plan.

Blue-chip is a classification given to highly-desirable candidates. What it translates to, I don't know.

(2) the bench - this is the set of partners who can take over vp job

gold stars - special award ( a golden star ) given to people.

blue chips - special award for chosen people given by HR

(3) gold stars - special award ( a golden star ) given to people

More specifically, it's an award that recognizes someone who is at or near the top of their team. Someone who will likely have (or currently has) a huge impact on the future of that team. The reward can be substantial, such as a year's worth (for a top performer of stock.

Profit sharing? Yowza. Big rewards for some kind of above-and-beyond efforts? Sounds like upper management should not only share the cash-infused love down a little lower, but also share some level of information here to inspire results. Wouldn't it be better if all reward systems we have in-place are not enshrouded in mystery until you reach the 33rd degree of level 68?

The Maniacally Mercurial Man from Michigan

(Alliteration - always fun when done well!)

Kurt G. was kind enough to share his parting thoughts he sent to SteveB. It's a long comment but it's well worth the read: KurtG's letter to SteveB. Here's a snippet from near the end:

Does trimming the fat mean splitting Microsoft up into different companies, selling off portions of the business, or just making massive leadership cuts? I will not say I know the answer, but I do know that Microsoft is getting too big for its own good, both from a product and management perspective. And I’m not taking about reorgs here; God knows we’ve done enough of those. I am talking about making hardcore cuts. It would be a shame to see Microsoft become another Digital due to smaller yet leaner and meaner competitors like Google, WebEx, Adobe, and others who continue to team up for battle.

In closing, I will be announcing my departure today, and unfortunately, I am really happy. Not that it even matters, as there are many folks who leave Microsoft on a regular basis, but therein lies part of the problem. Great talent isn’t being lost because competitors appear that much more attractive; it is because Microsoft is becoming that much more unattractive.

Four Random Things

(1) As far as I can count, there are eight papers from Think Week declaring severe problems that Microsoft is currently facing, including the review system, potential for innovation, efficiency of development, quality of products, and revenue growth. Wink to Sanaz and Bubba for the mentions of Mini-Microsoft. And here's a general confused, mesmerized Blue Dog stare for the EEG leaders' ideas (I agree with the statement of problems, though).

(2) An interesting short post from Matt Stoller at MyDD: Unions in the 21st Century. I, ah, think it overstates the impact of Mini-Microsoft, though. I'm pretty sure at least a few dozen Microsofties read this blog, I'm not sure beyond that (and, in a crazy way, I really don't want to know). But I do agree that non-lead team members have started talking with increased savvy over the past year about what it takes to succeed professionally working at Microsoft, given the shared insights into stack ranking and the compensation curve.

(3) If you do read Mini-Microsoft, you might also enjoy...

(4) Interesting comments continue coming in on the last two posts. I'll do a comment summary soon, but in the meantime:

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