(I guess this is the acronym post... FAQ, FAM, CSP, and SPSA all in one place!)
Well, that FAQ struck a nerve in the comment world. The comment stream is worth taking a scan if you have a strong belief system about what it takes to succeed at Microsoft (or similar company) and want to add to the conversation. The reactions ranged from pathetic to masterpiece. My comment in the post about why I posted it in the first place:
I don't agree with the spirit of the FAQ but I can begrudgingly accept that it works. Is it wrong to reveal the perspective? Is it wrong to perpetuate that? By showing that it is "a way" to succeed that just burns your biscuits does it motivate you, whether you work at Microsoft or some other company where this is true, to try to fix it?
The FAQ is, in my opinion, highly relevant to the team members / individual contributors of the world trying to figure out how to be recognized and rewarded. Maybe it's the path to the dark side. If so, what is the other path? Does it work as well or better?
A commenter from Saturday morning that slapped the FAQ and me up and down:
This "FAQ" should be called "FAQ for no talent bottom feeders." It's pathetic. Thank god my my group is most excellent and our bottom feeding, do noting chip on their shoulder inefectual boat anchors have all been eliminated. Yeah the curve sucks. Deal with it. Wha wha wha. Mini, you should be ashamed, this is not how you make MSFT leaner and better. The loser who wrote this is the same kind of people you advoacte firing. Don't be a hypocrite and post their drivel.
I'm not ashamed.
I believe playing the system is a problem and both the system and the players need to be corrected. I'd much rather have people focused on doing a great job and getting rewarded justly to their individual merits and never even have to think of demoralizing atrocities like The Curve or Stack Ranking or, "Golly, what do I have to do to get me one of them Gold Stars?" And you know what, a lot of people do just focus on doing a great job! Some of the most successful people I've had the privilege to work with just come in and work well and hard, having a strong sense of self and knowing their own good work is accomplishment enough.
But other employees - I think understandably - invest great trust and respect in their leadership and authority and they see this investment of trust and respect returned to them come review and feedback time. And the system as it is today has built-in disappointment for those people. I want to change the system. In the meantime, such a disillusioned person finds they need to change themselves because The Curve does not respect you and doesn't care for your investment of trust and respect.
One change is to play the system, another is to build a stronger sense of self and ignore the system, and I'm sure there are other paths.
Do all managers recognize when their reports are playing the system and focused on the system vs. doing just doing a great job? Sadly, I have to admit, I've been played. If I'd seen a write-up like this, would I have been more savvy and have put that person on a more productive career path (vs. burning bridges to play career-advance ladder hoping... too bad we have so many bridges that you can burn through quite a few and it doesn't matter)? I'd like to think I would have done a better job.
Change the system. Recognize the system-players. Correct them, if not move them on.
Let's say you walk into your office one morning. You reflect on your team before going through the morning email and have the realization that one of your reports (who perhaps has done a good job making you feel like an excellent manager) was in fact playing the system like this FAQ calls out. Or worse.
WWMMD? Fire them if confrontational career mentoring was too late.
What would you do?
FAM: I am thinking and hoping that this July's Financial Analysts Meeting at Microsoft might shape into an honest, hard discussion devoid of sunshine and rainbows but rather full of hard realities with accountability and a commitment to performance thrown in. I know, I know... my FAM hopes for an analyst uprising are a bit like Linus van Pelt and the Great Pumpkin. In Friday's article TechWeek The Trouble With Being Microsoft, the following observation is made:
[...] But investors are running out of patience with the company, and it had better show some results -- or at least convince investors that good results are coming before too long.
"I'm going to give Microsoft a few more quarters," says Daniel Morgan, portfolio manager for Synovus Investment Advisors. Asked why he can't a bit more patient, Morgan spoke for many hard-pressed managers, saying: "I'm judged on my results and I've been in this stock for a long time."
Judged on his results. Hmm... perhaps even held accountable? The unfortunate thing is that there's a lot of time between the reality shaking surprise of FY06Q3 and the FAM. Lots of time for Jedi mind tricks on a crowd that probably is quite willing to continue to hear that all is well, they are doing a good job sticking with Microsoft, and that the product pipeline of plenty is about to gush forth with great results. I'll sit in my pumpkin patch in the meantime, waiting for the analyst uprising. I have faith.
Transparency: I'm still thinking about this one:
Hey Mini, you should take a look at the new CSPs over here in Office that will be applied to the rest of the company over time. Now that we all have titles that let you know within a level or two where someone's at, we see that Dev & PM are generally two levels higher than test. Hmm.. interesting.
Do you know someone in Office? Well, look them up in the Outlook address book. Their title pretty much shows directly what their Career Stage Profile is, which is a rough bucketing of their level. Wow. And, why yes, you can find out who the partners are (though you'd probably better off using the *trax program vs. clicking around all day in Outlook hunting). Offhand, I think this is good and I don't know why only Office is engaging in this. It is coming to the rest of Microsoft? When? Curious.
It's a reality check and perhaps a way to start holding folks accountable for the results they should be delivering at their level. This certainly seems like a step in the right direction. If your group did this, what would it mean to you?
Shared Performance Stock Award program: regarding such Partners as the Office ones and elsewhere in the company, the following comment comes up on the SPSA Partner-focused award coming up:
Its times like these that its GREAT to be a Partner!!!
Can't wait till August when my first slug of SPSA stock comes due! I get $1m in this round because we met all of our targets that we set out to meet three years ago when this program started!
Seriously though... This place sucks at time. The above is true, BUT it sure doesn't feel right.
An ex-Partner's reaction:
[I wish that Ballmer] would set your SPSA multiplier to 1% and screw you all. The company has missed all reasonable expectations of targets these past three years. To claim otherwise is a crime! So, do I think a crime will be committed this August? You bet! I know for fact that Microsoft is going to claim to have met the SPSA target metrics and will reward the partners with 100% allocations. Those of you on the inside can check for yourselves...
The Compensation Committee will determine the final percentage in the exercise of its discretion. The Committee may amend the program to take into account significant changes in business or business strategy.
I would like to see shared with the employees and shareholders just what the goals are and how well the goals have been met. All we have is something like:
The SPSA program is designed to focus our top leaders on shared business goals to guide our long term growth and address our biggest challenges by rewarding participants based on growth in customer satisfaction, unit volumes of our Windows products and usage of our development tools, and desktop application deployment over a multi-year performance period. Metrics were developed to measure performance in each of these areas. For the Named Executive Officers, the performance period is the two-and-one-half year period ending June 30, 2006.
Doesn't the senior leadership believe, if they want to build trust between the employees and executive leadership, that this would be a key foundation of that trust? We've got folks not making cost of living and our stock just took a huge hit because we surprised Wall Street (even I know: surprise bad.). Products slip and no-one is being held publicly accountable. We're distracted... chasing the tail-lights of Google, Yahoo, and Apple like a dim rural dog that goes rabid over the scent of other people's money. And the L68+ employees are potentially about to be lavishly rewarded for all of this.
Share the goals, because perhaps I'm a dim dog, too, and perhaps the more I know the more I can understand there's more to Microsoft's business than what I'm yapping about. Share the specific SPSA goals and explain why leadership has met or exceeded them. I'd even like the employees to rate leadership on those goals, not the Compensation Committee. You see, as of now, I believe there is room for improvement. And senior leadership damn well better not expect us to tighten our belts and enjoy another serving of weenies while the same leadership loads their plate up with shrimp.
And you know, I'm okay with weenies. I've developed a taste for weenies. Just not of the leadership sort.
In the meantime, start thinking of what kind of casual questions you can ask your Partners come September regarding how they are going to enjoy their SPSA grant. Maybe come September 15th, when your new pay raise, if any, is in effect.