Sunday, November 26, 2006

Limited Round-Up, New Souls, and Old Problems

It's a holiday season copy-and-paste special!

Going back to the issues over Limited Scenario II, a couple of folks wrote in describing why it is the way it is and that it's a good thing. First: my main issue is with calling a good, solid person on your team "limited." L-i-m-i-t-e-d. I do hope you got that. Slapping a "II" on it doesn't make it better. And if you're okay with that designation, do you go and give them a head-nooggie right after reviewing their numbers? E.g., does repeating this - perhaps in an increasingly louder voice - make things better:

Limited II: "Consistent performer who has met expectations".


Seriously, though: I'd like to see what you think the text of such a message is like, as if you were delivering it to someone you was important to the team, solid, but not expected to advance to the next level and therefore Limited II. How do you deliver such a firm message that doesn't grind their motivation and morale under your heel?

The ever reliable Alyosha` has an interesting insight:

[...] But this sort of nonsense wouldn't happen were it not for Microsoft's corporate philosophy of differentiated rewards.

Differentiation creates winners and losers. And because it's nigh impossible to distinguish performance from potential, capability from visibility, and perceived performance from real performance -- some of those "losers" ought to have been winners, and some of the "winners" ought to have been losers.

You insist on differentiation, you get exactly this sort of crap.

You get rid of differentiation, you get a totally different set of crap. Some people start coasting, other people get offended because they consider themselves a unique special snowflake that deserves much more compensation than their base pay.

But you know what? Most people just take their COLA and keep chugging on. In the end, I'd be willing to bet that non-differentiation is the lesser of the two evils.

Alyosha`'s comment does make me wonder: what if we had unbalanced differentiated rewards: keep the high-end and drop the low-end? Continue to reward the super-contributors and people who obviously committed a lot of time and effort to get excellent results far beyond their peers. But drop the hunt for finding the Kims of the workforce. More time goes into protecting people who are solid contributors but at risk of getting zero or mediocre rewards. Why? Because we have a statistical need, it seems, to ensure somebody gets zilch. Because surely there are a batch of people in your team deserving of zilch. Don't make us statistically decide that people deserve the zilch. But reward groups who move on the obvious zilchie deadwood, Microsoft-mismatches, and low-contributors through-out the year. Otherwise, we'll continue keeping them around to ensure the bottom is properly zilch-padded.

Regarding Limited II, one commenter wonders if it's basically process-based age-discrimination :

Not only is it bad management, it's also ILLEGAL! It's a violation of both state and federal law to have management policies that favor younger workers over older ones. This is age discrimination, plain and simple. The higher level you are at, the more difficult it is to earn a level increase.

Notes From the Field has a great comment that starts off as follows (I urge you to read the whole comment - it's great and gives insight into what customers are responding to):

No, *I* am Kim.

Several people I've worked with for a number of years are Kim too. If I were to start my own business tomorrow, these are the people I would want to take with me to Kims Inc. These are the people that close deals and make customers and partners happy. These are the people that have instant credibility and know how to take control of a situation. These are the people that know their stuff, but don't need extra wide doors for their egos. Sure I would want some of the rising stars, but the majority of my company would be the strong performers with business maturity - the Kims.

If your in a dark mood reflecting over being a corporate cog, this is the comment for you. The teaser:

I'm probably missing a few other important notes here, but having said that, here's some guaranteed ways for you to get ahead at MSFT, if you have the balls to swing it [...]

In the midst of all of this, the Intel Perspective anonymous blog has a couple of posts up regarding their Intel Focal review process:

One thing that's interesting: Intel employees get what seems like a 360 review by recommending peers and stakeholders to their manager to get feedback on the employee's performance. An even worse political drama than what we have? Maybe. But I think team work might have to be elevated to some degree in order to get positive feedback (even if you both wash each others' hands, there might be some good for the company and customer as a side-product). I would at least like a system for year-around non-anonymous feedback open to anyone.

And, as always, I have to highlight any comment that is summed up as: let your resume set you free:

It should be obvious to anyone reading the internal blog and observing the changes over the last year that there is unfairness in our compensation system but nobody is going to do anything about it - if only because there is no fair system to correct the status quo.

If you have issues, don't whine, go jobhunting and post your success stories instead.

Elsewhere in the land of the letter J...

Jay and J: Jay Greene at Business Week has an edgy thinker J Allard focused cover story piece: The Soul Of A New Microsoft (strangely iTunes obsessed sound-cast also). This came out around the same time as:

Anyway. Props to J for the refreshing dose of determined culture and actually endeavoring to make a new image for Microsoft and probably cause Sony to shoot all of its toes off with platinum bullets. But how does the bottom line and results come up for J and Microsoft? So far, our new soul seems obsessed with blowing all of our money. Dividends? Buy-backs? Hell no. Let them play Xbox!

Nero's got a new fiddle.

More interesting to me in the article are the changes being called out at Microsoft. Snippet:

Lately, some outsiders who work with Microsoft detect signs that the culture is slowly shifting as well. "They're definitely in the middle of a strategy re-look," says Hewlett-Packard Co. chief strategy and technical officer Shane V. Robison, who chats with Microsoft brass. "It will be a fairly orderly evolution, but there's a lot of new discussion that I'm seeing."

Joel and the menu of doom: Joel Spolsky grumbles about the revised Vista shutdown options. Moishe Lettvin follows up with the more interesting post-MSFT inside perspective of what it was like to try and design some menu options: moblog The Windows Shutdown crapfest which is a more interesting read given that it discusses the meeting-cluster-flub Microsoft seems to be obsessed with. Or perhaps that was old bad bureaucratically obsessed Microsoft. Joel followed up on that. Even post-MSFT-Scoble followed-up with a big thumbs down / hard-to-dance-to all the Microsoft committees.

How to avoid that cluster-flubbing in the future? You've got to trust your individual contributor feature owners and let them revel in having the courage to make decisions on their own. And compensate them well for their successes. Plus, wipe out all those meeting obsessed management layers. This was a small dose of Philip Su all over again.

The small bit of Microsoft culture you have to figure out what to do with: our obsession with consensus. Maybe you've had success at avoiding it (like a new webcast a few of us watched recently by Microsoftie Josh Ledgard). How do you get it done right, Microsoft-style?

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