Saturday, January 20, 2007

Thinking About the Microsoft 2007 Mid Year Career Discussion

The 2007 Mid Year Career Discussion is here. And it's new and shiny. Well, retooled. Here are some thoughts about MYCD, and I'd like to hear what you think works well around managing the discussion, too, but I've got to tell you, I'm a little hesitant...

Processed Into Submission: one reason I'm less inclined to complain at the start of this year is that it seems everytime something is complained about, HR's solution is to create a new process or website or training to, quote-unquote, make it better. Perhaps it's brilliant negative reinforcement. Everything around this year's Mid Year Career Discussion looks daunting to me, given the amount of time and energy required to do a good job preparing and running the discussion. My initial reaction: yeah, the Career Compass is good idea, but is there a way we can ease into it?

Has anyone taken a moment to assess what the average Microsoftie, attempting to succeed relative to their peers, has to do during the year as part of the process of managing their career? The average manager? Dude, I want to own my career, not have my career 0wn m3. And realize this: my group gives us two-hours to work on our review, mid-year or major. One hundred and twenty minutes, twice a year. Including giving manager feedback. That's maybe a quarter of the time to do a good job in order to really have a productive discussion.

Maybe we're on our way to push-button career management. But we're not there, yet.

Well Stacked: we still do stack ranks. Some people thought that stack ranking - aka calibration aka rank and yank - went away with the new review system and were busy praisin' Lisa for their demise. Not at all. Leads still get together to figure who is on top, who is on bottom, and what's the linear ordering in-between. You are still in competition with your peers, and this competition continues to not be in the best interest of our customers and shareholders.

Our HR leader said one of the fundamentals the company holds dear is differentiation. That means stack ranking, which then feeds into the blurry curve we have (and I'll still take blurry over quotas).

If we're going to have stack ranking, I believe we should provide the results to anyone who asks for them. How can you find out how to truly best succeed in your group? See who is on top and valued. Oh, you could snap Headtrax from time to time and see who crossed a CSP boundary, sure. That's not as good, though, as seeing where you are within your team's savanna.

At the very least, we should provide people the information like, "You are number six in a peer group of thirty." I agree, you are not a number. But you are ranked.

Interesting discussion points to have with your manager:

Time to Promotion: there's a ticking clock and it happens as soon as you hit your career ladder level. For some people, it might be set to twelve months. Others, eighteen months. And maybe thirty months for others. Once that clock goes off, if you're sitting at the same career ladder and not supported for promotion, HR has decided it's time to cast your limited butt aside because something is obviously wrong with you. You're such a Kim. Get out of here.

Now maybe your group has the determination to give HR the finger and say that's not the right way to do business and to manage and grow people. Do you know where your group stands? If your clock is ticking down, it's time to start driving that discussion around promotion. Because unless you find an enlightened group, "Limited" is the new toxic career kiss of death among hiring managers.

And the more painful, awkward conversations that are had around HR's clock, the more that clock will get hammered to bits from the bottom up.

Stack Rank: where am I? You really need to have this conversation before your team's calibration. Assert where you think you are. Influence your manager and win them over to your point of view. Because your savvy peers will be doing just that. And your lead's peers will be tearing you down in order to raise their people up. In all my years at Microsoft and all the calibration meetings I've been in, almost every lead comes in with their people pinned to the very top of the stack, in determination to stick them high and make everyone fight to get them lower.

And of course, the more of your lead's peers that are also supporting you, the better. What do your lead's peers think of you?

After the stack rank is over, you have to try to pin down with your manager where you landed. And who is above you. And what you need to do in your group to achieve success higher up in the rank.

Of course, only you want to. I hate that this advice is still relevant and I think it represents a fundamental failure of any myMicrosoft overhaul. That and not getting the old ESPP back.

Commitments vs. CSP: remember, for all those wonderful commitments that you list, your first responsibility is to commitment zero: your career stage profile and the expectation that you do a strong, exceptional job there. Maybe you have a bunch of soft commitments. If you blow them all out of the park, are you exceeded? No, and you certainly don't want that surprise come the end of summer. You should first focus on how you're doing within your CSP before moving onto the refined icing that are your commitments.

The fact that HR is allowing this confusing disconnect to continue is a pain. To remove this confusion, there should be a hard-coded commitment that appears in everyone's commitment plan about doing exceptionally well within the expectations of their profile.

Additional Opinions: I'm actually warming up to the Career Compass. I think it is a tool that's part of a multi-year corporate culture shift (like valuing the Good Managers and running off the toxic managers). You can invite additional opinions on your abilities via the Career Compass... a sort of lightweight 360 evaluation. If there are differences between what other people say and what your manager says, what does that mean?

But in order for it to be a useful tool and not a yada-yada-click-click-clickity-submit tool, the information there has to align with what your group rewards and recognizes. If you're kicking butt in the Career Compass numbers but slapped with a weak review, what the heck does that mean?

What really matters: there's what HR says and then what matters. What matters to exceed in your group? Are managers still evaluated based on their individual contributions with management seen as a nice side-line job ("Oh, you grew your people. How nice.")?

Upcoming: MSFT financial numbers come out this Thursday. Other than the $1,500,000,000 deferral, I'm hoping that we have great optimism in our presentation. Because if not now... when?

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