Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mini, a Devil, and Fine Whine

'So,' I wondered to myself, trying to get comfortable after a couple of weekends of digging and planting and valiant blackberry fighting, 'what kind of headlines do we have in Mini world?'

(1) Ballmer calls Google's growth plans 'insane' :

"They are trying to double in a year," Ballmer told a crowd of Stanford Graduate School of Business students on Thursday. "That's insane in my opinion."

(2) A comment on the Microsoft TCN award event in San Francisco:

In case people didn’t realize, the Microsoft award weekend event this past weekend in San Francisco was a big huge L68+ Partner boondoggle - 2nd annual boondoggle - for the Partners and their spouses to network and enjoy extravagance after extravagance, all expenses paid.

And give out some achievement awards and invite the nominees and their spouses to enjoy the extravagance, too (just, shh!, don't tell anyone else - seriously!).

Once upon a time, we invested money in making the employees happy as part of sharing "Hey, we appreciate you and the hard work you do. Let's party!." We had great entertainment at the Company Meeting, for instance. Now we supply the entertainment ourselves with employees up on stage singing to us. Great. Yes, let's save all that money for the Partners so that they can go to the Fairmont and enjoy Penn & Teller and meet George Lucas.

Sure. We'll eat cake.

(3) A multi-studded comment including this bit on the Career Compass tool:

Career Compass:

HR hates it as much as the rest of the company, they just don't want to piss of their fearless (and ex-developer) leader. Its true purpose is to provide documentation for use when employees start suing for being terminated or held back due to discrimination, and to provide ammo for the "why you will never reach Partner level" discussions that are going on all across the Collective.

About then, there was a little *pop* on my left shoulder and there stood my personal little editing Devil. "Oh, baby," he chuckled, bending down and rubbing his hands together, leaning in closer, "sometimes this stuff just writes itself!"

"Shouldn't you be out with Master Shake and Meatwad?" I asked. He jumped down and zoomed up to full size.

"You know I don't like those Frylock jokes. Hey, here's something else. Do you have one of the freebies - Seattle Weekly or The Stranger, or the Sunday paper?"

"Yeah, yeah," I started shuffling through the newspapers. He said to look for page twenty-seven or eleven and to read the groovy Microsoft Maps ad to him. "Here we go: '6 o'clock drinks. 6 miles from work. 6 doors down from that hammering statue thingy. one search.' Oh, I get it, six-six-six."

"They're not even making it hard. And you'd think someone in the paper's advertising department would say, 'Gee Microsoft, uh, you sure you want an ad with those three sixes lining up?' Ho-lee-crap! Anyway, I'm going to run downstairs and get a bottle of Col Solare. We're going to enjoy this post!"

Well, let's see. Mary Jo Foley already covered the Ballmer comment pretty well, though I was going to say something like Ballmer shouldn't be throwing black chairs around his overly crowded glass house. It's become exceptionally tough to recruit exceptional talent once Google gets in the picture. I know of more than one recent offer that the recruit initially accepted and then dropped once their Google ship sailed in.

As for the big award event - which in no means, according to leadership, was a L68+ Partner event (bull) - I really don't want to beat that poor dead horse again. First of all, I know some exceptional Partners. I might be an out-of-the-box thinker, but they think and deliver in an extra dimension compared to me and have obviously worked hard and had success to reach a Partner level. I'll have to have at least five more years of varied and harrowing adventures inside of Microsoft before I feel like I can have an honest conversation about being on the bench and being considered at that level. And it will probably really, really suck to be a Partner by then.

As for Career Compass: now here, we have a problem. And by problem, I do not mean something that can be solved by adding another process or tool to solve it. The Commitments Tool combined with the Career Compass is a cluster-f multiplied by a train wreck. Somewhere, some excellent folks got together and came up with a theory regarding how all the careers at Microsoft could be boxed up and measured with very specific calipers. And then they made a database and a tool on-top of it. And in the midst of Microsoft desperately needing to be efficient and agile day-to-day, we pooped out this time-sucking, burdensome, poorly aligned process and tool that messages people that they need to dedicate a huge chunk of time to managing their careers and laying down a database stream of just how limited they might be. All while the competitions, unencumbered by such inspired dreck, passes us by.

Yes, now we all have our own personal bureaucratic system to manage.

"I'm back!" Ooo! Clinking glasses and the nice *pongk* of a bottle of wine being opened. "Allow me to pour. Okaaay, let's see what we've got so far-r-r-r-r-what the hell? I like the Career Compass bit but come-on, Ballmer pissed at Google for reckless hiring and the Partners and their spouses traveling to San Francisco for their second big social event? With the guests and the luxurious accommodations and fantastic awards that's probably nearly 1,800 people for two-thousand a head! That's easily over three-and-a-half million dollars! Take them towels and shove it! No, no, write that down: 'Take them towels and shove it!' Don't you take a sip until you do!"

Tempting. I'd do just about anything for a nice full glass of Col Solare. But then. "This is rabble rousing. And it's a bit of whining. I don't disagree that the Partners have fallen when it comes to fiscal leadership. The stock is flat and their rewards are not in sync with shareholder value. Their rewards should be transparently tied to the measurable results they are responsible for delivering. But to ding them for a party, well... hey, did you read Anthony B. Robinson's column Saturday in the Seattle P-I?"

"The, ah, spiritual columnist?" Sip. "No, doggone it, I somehow missed that."

"So it was titled The unfortunate age of entitlement in America and it's worth a read. And it got me thinking. First of all, since the Microsoft stock sucks and pay-raises and bonuses are the only way to get rewarded in a meaningful fashion, people have decided that they are going to focus their career on being a Microsoft level 68-plus Partner so that they can get what they deserve. The thing is, what, one-percent of the employee base is level 68-plus?"

"Well," he pursed his lips and thought, "more than one percent. So far."

"And people haven't figured out that they are not going to be Partner. Or maybe they have. And they are pissed about not getting compensated well enough. Now conventional thinking is that I never can be compensated well enough and that I deserve so much more for just being me. And to see people in the company enjoying the good life is a personal affront to me."

"So...?" My Devil shrugged.

"So I don't feel like fanning the flames over a party. It was a wasteful indulgence but it's not a defining problem. The problem is that there's a growing gap between those below level 65 and those above level 68. And very little being done to bridge that gap. Stuff like the Town Hall meetings help a lot. Where there is true exchange of what we're doing and why, there's understanding and the banishment of speculative grousing and whining. I think every Partner should have a blog where they post every couple of weeks regarding decisions that they've driven and the reasoning behind it. It would help explain why they do what they do and help everyone else understand and raise their level of enlightenment."

"Hmm, they could make a... process out of that blogging!"

"Funny." I was thinking about adding a Borat accented "NOT!" when my Devil continued:

"The thing I want to know is - and feel free to enjoy your glass, I was just funning with you - so why be so secretive about it? And why defend it saying 'Hey, whoa now, this wasn't a Partner event at all, it was a celebration of technical achievers... just you know, celebrated exclusively with the Partners and their spouses in a luxurious location in an out-of-state city.' Fiscal responsibility my butt! To be truthful, the memo should be rewritten: 'Weenies For You, Shrimp For Me.' And all of this is happening in the middle of what should be the redefinition of Microsoft as a company. It's shameful. And it shows the leadership at the top do not realize that appearances matter. It's a big 'screw you' message."

I enjoyed my sip and looked out the window at the newly planted shrubs. My Devil asked, "What's your little first rule of being an effective manager?"

"If the team has to suck-it up and eat a shit-sandwich to get the job done, I take the first and biggest bite."

"Not very tasteful, but it gets the point across. And do you see leadership taking that bite?"

"No. But whining about it accomplishes what? If I don't like it, I either accept it as the way it is and push up my concerns within the political corporate system or I move on to another company. Hell, I'm like a lot of people with Google executive recruiting and head hunters checking in with my non-Mini self to see, quote-unquote how things are going at Microsoft and if I'm interested in talking. I'm here because I want to be here. Complaining about every offense that comes my way means that I've made the wrong decision in staying. And that I should move on to where I'm not bothered with such silly messes."

"Well," my Devil says, finishing his glass and placing the bottle on my end table, "there's one more step in that direction. Let's wrap this up."

*Poof* Dang, he disappeared before I had a chance to mention the Microsoft Channel 9 article in Wired 15.04 and if, given that Microsoft had a dossier on Fred Vogelstein, my Devil could track down any dossier on me. Ah, well. Next time.

What else? The last post certainly had a number of interesting conversations going on in the comments, ranging from Microsoft Research's place in the company (worthy of its own post), the business of Xbox, and a lawn-mower selling experiment. Hey, I hope Mr. Barr sells it. I'm just not that sure that the comments are an effective Microsoftie watering hole, but, ooo!, there's news with respect to comments! You now have a comment feed per post! I'm sure there's some Blogger gadget I could put in here to make it obvious, but for now you're going to have to use your RSS feed auto-detection mechanism when you visit the individual blog-post web page and subscribe to what should be the third item to get the comment feed.

Some other items from that multi-studded comment above:

A few more tidbits from deep within the management ranks of the company:

Exec reorg: Stay tuned, there's lots more to come. The Blake Irving-Alex Payne-Satya Nadella three-step is just the opening moves in a very extensive executive dance. Look for several more big names (i.e., ones that Mary Jo loves to toss around at parties) to either decide to spend more time with their families, or move to roles for which they are as equally unfit for as their current ones.


HR: There's lots of dissatisfaction within the HR world, and lots of personell changes happening there, as well. Note that most of the recent mangement hires within HR have been from the outside. That tells you something about their reputation within the company.

Mini and InsideMS: Management is even more pissed about the fact that this blog continues to thrive than they ever have been. It's beyond the level of chair throwing, and well into the foaming-at-the-mouth stage. Lisa's blog is a disaster, and she is trying to get permission to kill it. Anonymity has been removed (never really was there), and Partners are being notified about inflammatory posts from their employees. Also, it's sad to see Dawn-Marie leave.

Exec Re-org: it's always better to do big changes quickly and together versus having an ongoing stream of randomizing changes that induce anxiety over what the next change might be and starts stalling out important initiatives.

As for this blog and InsideMS: well, this blog and its conversation changed pretty dramatically when InsideMS came on the internal Microsoftie scene and there's no denying that. And it provided me an opportunity to change the direction of this blog, which I don't think I've been effective in doing. Yet. I was trying my best to hit the big pause button here anyway and await my Mini 2.0 muse. To tell you the truth, reading the comments on the InsideMS blog also depressed the hell out of me and it was a little mirror of some-kind of justice held up to me to see another's point-of-view of what's been happening here.

My suggestion would be to shelve InsideMS ("Jealous much?"), Career Compass, and the Commitments Tool and... do what? (1) Replace InsideMS with a leadership blog where L68+ Partners / VPs communicate with the company what recent decisions they've made and the reasoning there (and, call me a hypocrite, but no anonymous comments), and (2) determine that high-maintenance, process-focused, bureaucratic management of your career is not efficient, agile, or effective and go back to the (a) What went well, (b) What could have gone better, and (c) What is your future plans for growth review form.

I have come to deeply appreciate the flexibility of a simple, mostly blank and wide-open Word review form.

Of course, this would involve admitting mistakes. Somehow, that is the anti-matter to everyday business at Microsoft.

P.S.: fill out your MS Poll form! And use the comments to provide frank, brief feedback regarding what's going well and how things could be better.

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