Sunday, February 25, 2007

Quest for Happiness

Following up on Ballmer and the Stock: the post Steve Ballmer's Horrible, Rotten, Awful, Really Bad Day by Owen Thomas has this reported overheard Steve Ballmer conversation after the financial analysts meeting:

Ballmer: "That didn't go over so well."

Flunky: "The reaction seemed about 50-50."

Ballmer: "At best."

Kevin Kelleher refers to the above conversation in his interesting write-up Microsoft Gives Up the Grail and has the best analogy I read all week (one so good that I wish I had written it). Snippet:

[Ballmer] uttered those magical, market-cap-killing words about the company's new Vista operating system: "Perhaps people are somewhat too bullish."

On Wall Street, of course, that's the same thing as wandering down a dark alley and wondering aloud if you have too many $100 bills in your wallet.

Interesting comments: first up: a simple question - "Do we get paid to ship process or features?"

Which is more important? Meeting some commitment and junk that HR came up with or shipping a quality product? Customers won't be forgiving if my (very critical) area's quality is crap because I took a whole bunch of time out to focus on "career development".

Around Vista ship expectations and what Mr. Ballmer has said, Charles shares the following:

Seriously, Ballmer himself is responsible for setting unrealistic expectations in the first place when he said:

"We think in the next three months, we'll probably sell five times as many copies of Windows Vista as we ever did with (Windows 95) in the equivalent period of time," he said. "We'll probably go double what we did with Windows XP."

Notes From the Field has an excellent comment (once again) that if you haven't read you should just do right now to see a take on Vista features and how relevant to the real world they are. A nice summary (as opposed to the lengthy technical list on Wikipedia - can we get a consumer friendly version of that?). Around the Ballmer Vista comments:

Even though I think Ballmer was totally incompetent in his communication of the message, I think many analysts were overly optimistic on the early Vista successes. Yes, there was a spike in PC shipments when Vista released to consumers. It was a one-time event and many analysts used it as a basis.

I still question why Ballmer felt the need for a press conference instead of just "whispering" the data to the key analysts. That would make for a softer landing.

BizDog's take on the message content and the messenger:

Does Ballmer need to be accurate and honest with investors - YES. Does he need to be accurate and honest with employees - YES. Does he need to be accurate and honest with partners and customers - YES. Does he do a good job at this, ABSOLUTELY NOT.

There was a lot of back and forth discussion regarding the problem of major technology providers - like Creative and nVidia - having their drivers actually done and at a high-quality level for Vista ship. Who's problem is that? Microsoft's:

If all a user does is buy and install a Microsoft product and it causes his machine to not work as well, then who can possibly be to blame besides Microsoft? If Microsoft didn't sell the product or encourage users to upgrade, people wouldn't have these issues. Creative and nVidia are not the companies trying to sell Vista.

And one last comment to put some distant thunder in your day:

There are a number of high-level departures that have already been announced or soon will be. There is a major org shake up in process that will dwarf any others in the company's past, and many of the exec's don't like the looks of it.

Scoble and Microsoft: I was pleasantly surprised to see a post from Mr. Scoble that meandered back into deep MSFT territory: Microsoft has no innovator’s dillema. The comment stream is interesting, too, though to hmmm me up and say that Mini-Microsoft is to blame for any malaise at Microsoft is, in my opinion, like taking a ol' big bite from the dumb-ass tree fruit and saying, "Hey, let's beat that kid up that pointed out that the emperor is naked!" Things were not right. People moved on. Change happened and is still happening. More change is needed, but I'd say the company is in a far better position than it was two-and-a-half years ago.

Anyway, back to Mr. Scoble's post: an interesting snippet regarding the departure from Microsoft of Chandu Thota :

But, yet again, another developer left Microsoft (this time Chandu Thota, on the Virtual Earth team, who is starting up his own company). Just remember, happy workers don’t leave. And the continual flow of smart developers leaving Microsoft tells me that Microsoft has deep managerial problems that are going to prove challenging to overcome.

At least for now it seems that Mr. Thota's new endeavor will be building on Microsoft technology... and he'll probably reap far more rewards outside of Microsoft than he could inside. Good for him. I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

As for happiness at Microsoft... well, in my circle of associates the trend has been to realize Microsoft is indeed a huge company doing many things and if you're not happy doing what you are doing now, you can pretty easily find something amazingly interesting to do elsewhere, even if it's just cold-calling a cool group and building your own opportunity. Talented, motivated people are in short supply. Maybe it was the whole intent-to-interview change or maybe it's just the timing of big releases, but I'd say half the people at Microsoft I know are someplace radically different this year compared to last.

And happier.

And all this comes as risk of losing their career momentum and not limiting yourself to just being savvy at the politics of the internal review system.

I imagine they'll stay at Microsoft - and stay happier - only if they see the risk of moving to where they're happier pay off and not come back to bite them.

And note that I said "happier." Not sunshine and bunnies bursting all-out happy. There's still a melancholy sense all-about, which I personally think is directly due to the flat stock price and the two self-inflicted foot-shots we've taken to the stock price during the past year. Thank goodness we're out of feet to shoot... right?

Quest for Firing: from what I'm told, it looks like the L68+ Partners are getting an update on The Quests from DavidV. Have you been so, err, lucky to be involved in a Quest yet? It ain't no Puzzle Hunt, but it's quite puzzling (as in: Must. Not. Roll. Eyes.). Perhaps one of the Quests can be for finding properly aligned growth goals to be associated with SPSA cha-ching payouts. Nah. Might as well throw a party in San Francisco and invite the significant-others to enjoy schmoozing and fiddle playing by the open pit fire.

Analysis of Mini-Microsoft Discussion of Stack Ranking: derived knowledge is interesting to muse over, especially when it's a Microsoft outsider analyzing the discussion here and elsewhere regarding Stack Ranking and its effect on a corporate work force: Human Resource Management - Steve Gall at Walden University - Stack Ranking in the Performance Appraisal at Microsoft. Snippet of the conclusions:

  • The stack ranking system, if not implemented carefully, can result in legal issues being raised
  • The use of the stack ranking method may have value as an internal tool for Human Resources when used as a tool to evaluate the effectiveness of the overall employee review system, but as a performance measurement that is shared with individual employees, it is shown to have far-reaching unintended consequences. Employees are smart, and they quickly figure-out how to manipulate the system to their least disadvantage.
  • Stack ranking provides questionable value as to insight into an individual’s actual job performance. Its use highly politicizes an organization. The rank number is most often based on unsubstantiated subjective judgment by an evaluator who may feel pressured to respond according to a narrow set of guidelines.

What do you think of the write-up and conclusions and alternatives, especially given the changes implemented in CY06? Stack Ranking is of course not the term to be used anymore. It's calibration. New lipstick. Same pig. Same little piggy games.

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