Thursday, May 25, 2006

That's Just Plain Crazy Crisis Talk!

Layoffs? Mass firings? RIF'ing with wild abandon? That's just plain crazy crisis talk!

From day zero of this blog, and as reflected in the oh so delightful name, I've been pushing for Microsoft to get smaller. To minimize. I've been ranting that we've hired too many people we don't need and the integrated coordination and geometric bureaucratic process is hindering our execution. Our excellence is not defined by employee size, and is fact hindered by it. Plus, it doesn't help when during the last two Town Halls we have our leadership musing over the office-space crowding problem, puzzled and surprised to find we hired so many people so quickly.

So I offer the simplistic, crazy solution: layoffs. Down sizing. Right sizing. Mini-mizing. Village destruction in order to save it. Get rid of whole product groups with dim hopes for profit and cheer on our partners to go make money without worrying about us there. Collapse and merge and layoff redundancy. And reduce HR and Finance proportionally given that less such representation will be needed with a smaller company.

Simple. Shallow. Crazy. But it switches your thinking into crisis mode, right? Maybe you're like several folks as of late, taking a moment to think a wee bit deeper than myself that layoffs and massive RIF'ing isn't the best solution and, in turn, coming up with other ideas...

First problem: the folks decided who should be the R in RIF are the ones who themselves should be moved on. Alyosha` comments:

Don't have too much faith that Microsoft's best medicine is an across-the-board RIF. It's not an established fact that "too much dead weight" is Microsoft's worst pathology. If it is, then keep in mind that a good number of that "dead weight" will be the ones choosing who gets the axe -- and a lot of good talent getting caught up in a frenzied purge.

No, Microsoft has always had a reputation of hiring bright people, and a lot of them are still around -- although sure some groups are lousy with incompetents, don't deduce that the whole company so suffers from such a small sample. What we have, I believe, is world-class talent that's being misused, mislead, and misdirected.

Even if we were so lucky as to have a fair layoff based entirely on merit and not politics, the loss of good will and morale of "the survivors" will quickly eat up any savings gained by removing the unproductive. Massive firings are traumatic to an organization -- and like an equally traumatic massive hiring spree, the destabilizion they cause rarely results in improvement.

I'm with Mini only as far as we should end our drunken hiring binge of the past few years and bring our headcount delta under control. But I part ways when it comes to advocating a large RIF. To get rid of the dead weight, nothing but a slow, calm, and steady campaign of 2.5ing the critters will do.

Emerging from that is Moe's comment:

How self-serving is Mini? Would Mini be one of the people to be fired in a massive lay-off? What of people who have been hired in the past few years who have all the good intentions of working and making MSFT be the company they dream it to be? Do we really think that the non-compus-mentus management will be in the first, second or even third wave of people that are pounding the pavement? I find it somewhat disingenuous that I should be working with people who would rejoice in the demise of fellow employees. Perhap the reason my OHI scores are in the crapper is that.

Following up on that and the CSG seven-work-day furlough:

The point of this parable is to emphasize that the problem is not the people -- the so-called "individual contributors" -- it is the sociopathic nature of the company originally established up by BillG and SteveB. They were able to conceal its anti-social behavior becuase of their "faux" success. Now that the market for software has been irreversibly altered the company cannot change its fundemental ideology. Mini's expression of riffing people with no concern of the how their life plans have been structured by the promises the company made to them demonstrates the sociopathic mentality one must have to "succeed" at Microsoft. Notice that once Microsoft employees leave that environment that they often actually do great work and retain some semblance of their humanity.

(Sociopathic mentality? Excuse me while I go make some crazy faces in the mirror... "Grr... Grr... You're fired! Bwah-ha-ha!") Okay... from Cheopys:

I have one reason for not being on board Mini's passion for RIF: there are too many enclaves at Microsoft where many talented people cannot achieve.

And lastly:

The RIF has already started in our group. We were told the product is over. [...] Mini, the RIF is true. Starts with contractors and product teams that can't really prove their existence, read: don't have any friends in the partner community. The management, partners and VPs are not getting kicked out and the only folks affected are PMs, Devs and Testers. No partner will be harmed in the making of the myMicrosoft Service Pack 1.

So one fundamental problem with my big layoffs idea is that the folks who have been responsible for us getting to this stage are most likely not going to be swept up in any house cleaning, but rather it will be the people that they have led. It reminds me of that scene in Secret of My Success where the nervous execs of a company being taken over, finding out there'd be mass firings, are re-assured by Fred Gwynne's character that executive management of course would be alright. Whew! Well, everything's okay then.

But why even start this crazy layoff idea? Because I believe Microsoft, for all of its excellence, is in trouble. It's not operating at its full-potential and is encumbered with bad decisions and leadership focusing on all the finer details in screwing things up and slipping and slipping. I want less "D'oh!"s and more dineros.

Maybe you disagree with me. Maybe you don't think Microsoft is in any trouble and hasn't had any execution problems as of late. Perhaps you believe the leadership we have in place should be the very ones leading us into the next generation of services, products, sales, marketing, and support. If so, I'm open to hearing your point of view.

Maybe you agree with me. But, damn, go on a firing rampage? Is it that much of a crisis? My lone voice says so. Surely, perhaps you think, there's something better we can do. As I flip through Mr. Lencioni's book Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars I come to appreciate the clarity that comes from crisis thinking. And that's what little ole me is claiming we need right now: not incremental thinking, not service pack thinking, but whole hog roto-tilling fiefdom breaking dysfunction tearing crisis solving.

And perhaps I have to compromise. Maybe Mini-Microsoft 2.0 is mini in the mind by becoming a flattened agile organization with greater number of directs for managers and less managers, leading to less hierarchy, and more front-line decision making and responsibility. An organization where you can easily adjust people around the organization to focus on immediate challenges. The new compensation model is going to illuminate which managers are excellent at dealing with the curve-less performance world and which managers are going to fall flat down without that curved crutch. We need to have a manager repatriation movement, giving managers the chance to become team-members again or engage in lateral moves to some other individual-based role. Or, maybe, given a sweet-enough deal to move on.

I've had extreme fortune to spend time with those who will potentially be the future leaders of Microsoft. The next generation that have been through The Bench program and who have already taken on great challenges for Microsoft and succeeded. And these people do indeed get it. Ask them what Microsoft's challenges and problems are and they'll enumerate every problem ever brought up on the Mini-Microsoft blog along with some we've never thought of. There is a level of deep understanding of the issues we have and how best to take them on, it's just something gets dropped along the way when it comes to corporate execution.

Whatever it is in the system that's dropping and losing such great thinking needs to be fired. What kind of system? Perhaps this kind, shared by crunchie:

The VP shut me up because I showed him in gory detail how we were gonna have our lunches eaten. My GM told me "you need to tone this down" when I built a presentation with specific data about how we're getting our butts kicked. My director told me "you're too honest, you can't be like that here". My second director tells me I can't present "important information" to other managers without going through him. After about 2 years of fighting and refusing to do their bidding, no other option. Of course, everything I told them came true but none of that matters. The rest of the team's gone too (at least the ones that did real work).

I wonder if Bill & Steve know they're being fed stories at reviews and meetings.

I wonder if they know how much time is spent preparing for each and every meeting with them to ensure everyone is singing to the same tune.

I wonder if they know that managers place 80% importance in presenting up the chain and waving self declared victories than doing what's right for the field/customers/partners and actually executing rather than just talking.

Follow-ups from last time...

Gold stars? There's some interesting sharing about awarded Gold Stars in the last post, most of them delivered with a hushed, "Do not speak of this with anyone." Weird. How can you benefit from a reward system that no one knows about? Seems like a bad idea to me, especially after you get one and then do even better work and don't get a second. It just seems like VP pixie dust to scatter about. Perhaps it would be better to take that budget and just roll it into the merit budget and get away from Gold Stars.

Ta-da! Oh, and as for that whole exploration of Mini popping out of a big cake at the next executive retreat or next March 24th: consider that sufficiently explored. Just a wee bit of imbalance thrown into the regular posting... blogging on one buttock, so to say. And if you really need a nail for that coffin, well:

Mini - regarding shedding your mask of anonymity, be very careful. According to well placed sources in LCA, exec management considers you public enemy #1 and the day you are outed is the day you'll join the unemployment line followed by a massive lawsuit. Make no bones about it, there's a bounty on your head and no shortage of slimy company attorneys who want to be the one with your head mounted in their trophy case. The last thing management wants are more Minis running loose tell them how to run their business. That's why they're so keen on making a very ugly example of you.

So please, for the sake of all of us who actually believe you're doing some good, stay in the shadows. You're far more effective as Batman than as Bruce Wayne...

Sounds like a public circus of extensive Lose-Lose all around - it's the last thing Microsoft needs right now and it's certainly not on my Amazon wish list - and there's no reason to force it. And I really, really doubt Microsoft has to worry about the Mini-blogging-hydra. It hasn't happened so far, other than a few false starts.

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