Thursday, May 18, 2006

Microsoft's May 18th 2006 - a Big Turning Point (?)

Pre-Town Hall: Is May 18th a big turning point of a day? Is it my first big step into the sunset of blog obsolescence?

I'd love Microsoft to start its big internal defrag today, shrugging off the past of dysfunctional competitive reviews unattached to team success. I'd love Microsofties to stop focusing on succeeding by gaming the system and to start justly succeeding by producing great customer-focused results. I'd personally love to get back to just writing about making Microsoft smaller and efficient versus bemoaning trended 3.0s and The Curve and, oy, the injustice of it all.

I'd love our review and compensation system to be so straightforward and fair that it just fades into the background of everyday worklife.

There is risk. If the changes are as big as rumored in my building's hallways, there is great potential for a stunned backlash. You know, folks like to talk about change but don't like change when it happens. Employees also don't like having a bunch of unanswered questions. While it takes super leadership to rise up and push for the change, it takes extraordinary fantastic leadership to realize big change day-to-day from here forward. Each and everyone one of us, if we accept that the change is right, has to get behind it and ensure it's as good as it can be, and tweak and revise and adapt.

Fingers crossed...

Post-Town Hall:

It's a good start.

"Should have just done the towels and called it a day!" - Lisa Brummel, May 18th 2006.

You know, one moment of reflection: the circle is now complete. My second post to this blog was on July 6th, 2004. It was right after an impromptu employee meeting with Ballmer and Gates and as part of that, Mr. Ballmer justified the unfortunate recent benefit cuts, the main two points of ire being the towels and the ESPP revamp. Now, two years later, we're getting our towels back.

Has it always just been about the towels?

(Possible book title flashes through my mind.)

It's not like we're sweaty work-out animals always in need of a shower and fresh towel. No. What riled us was the bone-headed way the towel cut-back was handled, explained, and justified. It truly made us wonder just who are these people in charge and just who do they think they are leading? The towels became the symbol of poor leadership. That and the office-supply hide-and-seek.

Someone should send Ms. Brummel a golden towel award. I'd like my old ESPP back, too.

So, I'm going to skip over Ballmer's presentation along with the other presidents. I liked hearing from them and what's going on in the groups. I guess we'll next hear more at the Company Meeting. The star of the show, and I'd say of the entire company right now, was Lisa Brummel. If I had my old paper notebook, I'd be drawing little hearts around her name. Personally, I think she's a fantastic role model.

"I think some people will think it's fabulous, some people will think it's great, some people will be completely confused by it, and some people won't like it."

Peer-relative review ranking via fitting The Curve is gone. The trended 3.0 review score is gone. Your review rating is now an honest assessment based on what it is you should be doing and how well you did it. There are a lot of posts and comments here that, over time, are going to seem archaic. Good.

(Allow me to hang the disco ball, switch on the party lights, and put on some happy funk music...)

What's unclear and what time will reveal is that there still probably is Stack Ranking which feeds into a Compensation Curve. The poor manager with the review tool in front of them still has to figure out how to divvy up their merit increases. Either they make dictatorial decisions or stack ranks everyone. What's great, though, is they have the power to decide that, "Hey, everyone did great" and evenly spread out the budget vs. meeting a forced distribution.

Dixie's BBQ? Typhoon? Excellent! I will need that towel now that I have to work off all of those calories (or, wipe the sweat from my brow from a good dose of The Man sauce). The rest of the tools and the focusing on managers is a long-term investment sort-of-thing. We'll have to see how that goes and if there are issues, how they can be improved. I think there was a passive aggressive message to all managers: if you became a manager just to get promoted faster, we're going to find you and weed you out. It would have been nice for that to be clearer.

The one big thing missing out of all the rumors I heard was base-pay adjustment. The nicest biggest rumor was that we were going to be moving from 65 percentile based pay to 75 percentile based pay. That would have made incredible sense given the current competitive market and the salary compression people are dealing with. Salary compression hasn't been addressed at all. Maybe executive leadership is betting on another bubble burst?

Coming soon: we'll find out if we're on track for a cost-of-living-adjustment or not for the target merit budget.

And for you shareholders freaking out over the prospects of Microsoft blowing money on its employees: senior leadership made it clear that all of this was productivity based, and that they were expecting a great return on investment. Personally, I wouldn't have minded a mass-exodus from Microsoft of all the talented people because that indeed would have forced a Mini-Microsoft to be realized. These people are just doing their best to avoid that and to get excellent results in doing so.

So, going back to basics, does any of this get us closer to a Mini-Microsoft. Nope. A non-distracted Microsoft, perhaps, but some fundamental issues still remain with respect to us being so incredibly big that we still stumble over ourselves and suffer horrible, horrible waste in time and effort. I know Mr. Johnson is trying to make all the "<<fill in the blank>> Live" stuff seem like we're finally nimble and all that but it's one thing to throw the wonderful Sanaz and team up on the stage and exclaim, "Ooo, yeah, agility!" and another to make Windows, Office, Dynamics, and VS agile.

Lastly... what difference did this blog make? Would all of this had happened naturally once LisaB was in the house?

My feeling is that we were on our commute bike, but off the paved trail, going down a steep gravel path with potholes and horse apples (much like, say, the Tolt Pipeline trail). Some folks, rattling along the way, saw another smoother path and scooted over to that, leaving Microsoft. As of today, we're back on the smooth path. Ah! It's got some tight turns and we can't see what's around the corner, but it's a hell of a lot better.

"A non-toothache is a very pleasant thing." I like that saying. We're back to being able to focus on what's important, not being angst ridden over a busted review system. Yes, there's new angst in the interim but I have faith we can work through it, make good decisions, and network together to make the best decisions within this new model into best practices.

Looking back now: so many years... so many years people complained about trended review results, especially the dreaded trended 3.0, and you'd always hear, "There's nothing you can do. It's just how it is." So - eventually - I brought it up here as something I thought was fairly uncool, dysfunctional, and hampering our ability to get exceptional customer-focus, profit-making results let alone truly fire the people who needed to be moved on.

You don't need your 3.0 performers anymore to serve as a review foundation to prop up the rest of your team. Fire them!

And, well, the public complaining and dialogue that went on, along with potential candidates saying, "I don't want any of that crazy system!" added up. It got a very big ball rolling. The internal discussions of people getting a clear view into the smoky rooms of the stack rank and curve modeling helped a lot, too.

Thanks, Mr. Scoble, for your kind words (Scobleizer - Microsoft Geek Blogger » Missed big HR meeting (MyMicrosoft is now improved)).

Oh, and thanks Mini! These changes are due in no small part to you. Even if you don't get official props in the press releases.

Can one person change a huge company? Mini did. And we don't even know his name.

So, I'm going to make the claim that this blog, and all of those who participated in it and followed up on its contents, made a difference. If you agree, well, you can buy me a beer one day. And if you think there's a lot more work to do: the system is in play. All the cards have been thrown into the air. Get to work to make the new changes even better.

You: So what do you think? Good? bad? I'd love to hear some constructive thoughts. Maybe even just what questions you have at this point.

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