Sunday, May 21, 2006

Commitment Zero and Reactions to the Big Microsoft Changes

There is lots of good discussion regarding the refreshing change in direction announced by LisaB on May 18th. Let's see... almost 280 comments since Thursday morning. I will touch on some of the comments that caught my eye below, but I believe it's worth any Microsoftie's time to read through the entire sequence of comments.

Some of the various blog entries and articles around the Microsoft changes:

While it showed up on techmeme the news didn't get too far from there, especially in light of the wrangling going on with Symantec. Frustrated folks who obsess over this just being about towels and how spoiled Microsofties are just need to take a moment to concentrate and see the deeper aspects of what's going on. Ask most Microsofties about the towels and you'll learn two things (1) They had no idea we had towel service when it was discontinued, and (2) They'll most likely rarely ever use the restored towel service. I will, and now I get to leave my Finding Nemo towel at home.

The negative reaction to the towel imbroglio is just how smart, good-looking people react to dumb decisions. Long ago, I gave my perspective about cost cutting here: Mini-Microsoft Performance Tuning MSFT.exe (or, How to Save Microsoft $1,000,000,000 Now).

Fire people.

Get your RIF on.

(RIF = Reduction in force - layoffs.)

And along that theme, one commenter has this to say:

I got wind today that a MASSIVE Windows RIF is in the works. It's real folks. Hundreds and hundreds of jobs. The good news is that other parts of MS will be able to absorb it. But if you want your pick of what's out there, beat the rush and don't wait for review time.

True? All I can add is a bit ago, I was hanging out with a small group of excellent Microsofties and one of the people there said that they had been involved in counseling executive leadership about dealing with a large layoff. Two things happened right then: (1) My eyes dilated big and black, just like as if I had an eye exam, (2) The person realized they had said something they shouldn't have (probably signaled by my big, happy, black eyes), and moved on.

Today: curve-fitted performance review gone? Tomorrow: layoffs? I'm not going to have a damn thing to blog about.

Okay Mini, this is the right time to go on a 2 month blog break. Let us all get to doing some work now that the towels are back for the masses.

Like others said, thanks for providing the vehicle for the message. The ball is in my and others court now, and we will continue to deliver.

It's tempting. I'm probably going to slip into clip-mode for a while... noting interesting articles and comments. Personally, I'm more thinking about Mini-Microsoft 2.0 right now and what kind of positive change we can focus on and what silos and fiefdoms need to be broken down... and how we can do it. In addition to deadwood needing to be fired, I think we have some bad systems and habits also needing the boot just as badly as any process-ridden dot-commer clinging to their job.

Sure, there is a lot more that LisaB and the leadership working with her has on their plate. You can't do everything all at once, and I'm damn surprised and elated they pulled off what they did for this review cycle. Damn surprised. There had to be a big bat swinging because I seriously doubt most VPs at the recent executive retreat were excited about these changes. Kudos to all the HR tool builders, too. That's a lot of mission-critical, high-scale global software to pull together. Their story is something I hope they take on the road internal to Microsoft. Well, after a successful review season is wrapped up come mid-September.

My immediate issue: we still have stack ranking and will continue to have stack ranking given our renewed commitment to differentiation. The managers will still get together and rank their reports and people are going to realize they are still compared to their peers and are competing for dollars and stock based on their individual success over their team success. And while we have decoupled the performance review from the stack rank, I picked up from both LisaB and my leadership that, hey, you need to ration out how many exceeds you give out. So there'll still be pushback and there will most likely be cases when someone is on the border and the feedback given to them is fitted to meet compensation needs in dispersing the budget.

But it's a lot less likely and you don't have to go and dork someone just to meet a 3.0 quota. Great! Still, the idealist in me would prefer everyone to have a clear idea through the year what their performance is looking like and what kind of commiserate compensation they can expect. We still have the three month mystery from when you submit your review until you get the results back.

As for people concerned that their reports or peers will turn in their review and expect a resounding, "Exceeds! Gimme!" because they nailed their easy set of fluffy commitments, well, all I can share is my perspective: everyone has by default Commitment Zero. What's that? It's that you are committed to getting full or exceptional results in your career stage profile, perhaps even getting full results in the next profile up if you're near promotion. When it comes time for me to be a reviewer, the first thing I'm going over for each report is their performance against their CSP, then moving on to their additional commitments for more specific items.

Plus, I expect to roll down some pretty strenuous commitments of my own. No, my only immediate angst is that I'm too much of a hard ass, and that manager next door to me is waving his wand-of-exceeds on all of his reports and I'm giving out the constructive tough-love. So it will be incumbent on my boss to do more work to ensure parity. And that seems right.

Oh, and as always, if you still feel jolted and disrespected and you just don't think Microsoft is the right place for you, well, Alyosha` says it well:

The HR changes are good for Microsoft. To those who bemoan the absence of an across-the-board pay raise ... put your money where your mouth is. If you don't think you're being fairly compensated at Microsoft, find another company who's willing to pay what you think you're worth.

When are you going to find a better time than now? Like, never!

Comment round-up: one of the Partner-level Microsofties posting here occasionally apologizes near the end of their post - it wasn't all sunshine, like:

Great disappointment with the senior team. Even a L68 like me feels a tremendous sense of foreboding. With the exception of perhaps Robbie Bach, that gang came across as a bunch of tone deaf people who are out of touch with reality with all their funny math. Steve is so financially unsavvy that it is embarassing - he actually seemed puzzled (and not in a pleasant grandfatherly kind of way) with the stock gyrations - his comments had me cringing. What an idiot! I can't believe I have to kiss up to these people.

One person does a good breakdown of their immediate reaction, including:

Compensation: Dismal. NO mention of raising a COLA bar or of increasing our 65th percentile. This has got to be hard on recruiting. We are just NOT competitive in base pay.

Some had their "leaving now" clocks reset:

[...] I love the work I do and am truly amazed by most of the people I work with on a daily basis. It is just a thrill to work with people who are smart and totally committed. I also love the fact that anything we do always has the potential of changing people's lives. I just wish that we could get more competitive in our compensation, our customer sat numbers and less competitive with our peers. I am willing to give the company my best efforts another year or two to see if we can truly change for the better.

A common theme of "what was missing?" was accountability, like:

While there were certainly problems with compensation, review curves, and employee services at Microsoft, and while it's certainly true that some of these problems were addressed yesterday, it still doesn't change the fundamental fact that the real problem continues to remain: A bloated, ineffective, self-serving rank of senior and executive managers who can't make good decisions quickly enough and who perpetuate a bureaucracy that makes it absolutely untenable for the next generation of leaders to thrive.

MSDecade put together a report card, including:

Incent collaboration, team-building, making each other great My grade: D-. Absolute performance vs. relative performance review is a great step, don't get me wrong. But the curve does still exist, which means that calibration still happens and performance envaluation is likely to stay as subjective as before. Team-based rewards will need to happen in the next round of changes.

Generally, people in their comments were exceptionally happy with Lisa Brummel. Kevin Johnson comes in a very distant second. Grumbles that BillG didn't show up. Exceptional dislike over Ballmer asking Google users to raise their hands (Mr. Ballmer, if you need to know that, ask Microsoft IT department to roll-up some statistics from our proxy servers based on unique login-names. You can even get a pretty chart to compare usage over time with MSN and such. We have the technology!). Wonder over whether the MSPoll will be disregarded given that it was before this change. General agreement, it seems, to start referring to me as "she." Agreement that the old ESPP would be much appreciated and would bind us back to the success of the company. Gold Star discussion more than usual... have you ever been awarded a Gold Star?

Oh, and off-topic, but keeping an interesting conspiracy theory alive:

I was researching MSFT’s SEC filings and I have come to the conclusion that the stock price is being intentionally manipulated to help MSFT’s bottom line. As long as the stock price remains below $28.73 by December 2006, the company will not have to book the $2.21 billion in stock option expense on the shares that were sold to JPMorgan.

Administrivia: comment moderation clarification time: okay, I've had it with the "whiner" comments. The kind with the core comment being just whining that everyone else is whining and throwing in the occasional wit-free "whaa!" Say something deeper than that... at least put some effort into a counter-point. But don't just fling prose poo around and expect your rhetoric to be posted.

PS: while I toy with the very unlikely idea of coming out from the realm of anonymity and scheme about how to turn Mini-Microsoft into an internal dialogue for honestly improving from within, maybe you've gone and figured out who Mini is. I can't imagine it's that hard. After you get over the quizzical bit of "Who?" why don't you drop on by my office location and we can talk over some espresso.

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