Sunday, June 24, 2007

Guy Kawasaki for Microsoft's Next CEO

So my first reaction at Terry Semel be booted from Yahoo! after shareholders complained about lackluster results was, "What, you mean you just have to demand accountability?!?!" What a concept! Hopefully any of our Microsoft shareholders who have done even the most shallow technical analysis of MSFT will start clearing their throats and find their voice, too.

But it seems for now most analysts are in the "eh," stage of looking at what Yahoo! decided to do post-Semel, though re-orgs seem to be popping up here and there. I was hoping for something bolder that would cause YHOO to shoot up, just to serve as an example of good decision making. Part of this criticism was choosing Yang to step into the CEO role.

It made me wonder about who would be my choice for our next CEO, when that day comes. Maybe that day will be soon, maybe that day will be far, far from now. Will it be someone from the inside, accustom to our culture and well-connected through-out the company? Or an outsider? Someone with a clear, focused vision not blurred by years of integrated, innovative Kool-Aid splurting out the sun-shine product pipeline? Who do you think it should be?

Who do I think?

Guy Kawasaki. Someone suggested this recently and it stuck in my little head. Crazy to the Mac-head world, I know, but what would Guy Kawasaki do? Like Brian Boitano, I imagine he would kick an ass or two. Built in BS meter, a committed focus on passionate users, a deep desire to break out of any hegemony, and ready rules for firing people. Someone like Guy would serve as a nice sledgehammer and bring a fresh air of start-up fever to Microsoft.

I've very tempted to ask Mr. Kawasaki to be my friend on Facebook - wait... maybe... maybe if a bunch of Microsofties launched a be-my-friend surge on Facebook, we could start a Be My Guy! campaign to warm Mr. Kawasaki over to the idea. You know. Should opportunity come a knockin'.

Speaking of Facebook: I'm still loving it. Come on, be Mini's friend. I'd also invite you to be my enemy, if they had that feature, for you folks - like the orange-scarfed-dementor-brigade - who aren't that cool on me. Actually, an enemies list feature isn't all that bad of an idea. Hold your friends close but your enemies closer, eh? I didn't really (holding my hands up and making air-quotes) get social networking sites until the latest Facebook iteration. The applications layer is brilliant and provides rich interaction between my content and what my friends are doing. My Facebook page is practically my new desktop. I futz with it endlessly. There's so much potential, like if they go and add private groups then - bang - suddenly they have a collaboration space. Roaming synchronization of Facebook application content for off-line access?

Woof! I haven't been this excited since I learned C.

So who knew? Crazy Uncle Mark Canter was right about opening it all up.

Speaking of opening up: while enjoying some nice Redmond Saturday Market food on a recent Saturday, I overhead a lunch conversation with someone from a company's HR department: what's the first thing they do with a promising potential hire nowadays: zip over to Facebook or MySpace looking for them, and quickly drop the applicant if there's anything fishy or disturbing associated with them. You'd better be careful how you end up being tagged (and have real fun tagging your enemies with crazy photos) and ensure what ever you're building in Facebook puts your best forward. If you care.

I'm sure Caustic Phil wouldn't care, and he'd explain in deeply profane and eloquent prose just how much he didn't care about Facebook and if he had a Facebook account. Never read causticTech? Oh, you're in for a treat, because Caustic Phil has a new one up: the interview zoo - a must read for anyone doing technical interviews, covering both sides of the process.

And speaking of interviews, Packet Storm has a link to a must-read story off of Worse Than Failure: Does this remind you of Microsoft - actually, it makes me appreciate that our bureaucracy isn't that bad and that there is actually a fate worse than being stuck in your current sucky job. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't change what we have. People need to be able to find their new spot in Microsoft easier than just deciding to interview outside, as this comment illustrates:

Permission to interview always caused me anxiety, even after the 10+ years I've been at Microsoft. Even considering that I've moved groups several times.

I've been at my new group less than a year and don't like it (micromanagement and bureaucracy are the main issues). Rather than wait the full year to ask permission to interview, I am leaving the company. I now realize that it was easier to ignore all the nonsense when the stock was moving up.

I was nervous, but in the interviews outside the company I blew them away. Microsoft alumni are well respected and valued outside the company, I can tell you that for sure! I was surprised that some companies have better benefits, too.

MSFTExtremeMakeover posted Who us - leadership Nah, we just vest here as a review of the various odd leadership-less decisions Microsoft has made. I'm telling you, Guy would kick some ass here. We at least wouldn't have to deal with Fake Steve Jobs calling us a pussy when we blinked at Google's pulling on our consent-decree nipple ring. And guess what? Looks like Google is ready for another yank or two.

Speaking of vesting: so we know about the urban legend of Microsofties with buttons decorated with FYIFV. I guess nowadays, looking at all the expiring options that die underwater, it'd be more appropriate to have a FMIFV button. Anyway, I was thinking of this for two reasons: (1) Ben Smith popped up here briefly and posted a comment about the Mini-Microsoft site here that was also cross-posted on some internal mailing list. (2) A comment made the observation that when things were good for employees (financially) that they were fearless and not so review and reward focus. It didn't matter. It was a completely different culture than today.

Ben's comment covers a good amount of ground looking at things here over time, including the negative implications of transparency. The culture part is near the end: aspect of Mini that I find very troubling is what I see as a culture of victimization and disempowerment. At Microsoft, this is the beginning of a vicious feedback cycle because we have a culture and comp system that favors creative, ambitious, results driven technical and management leaders. Frankly put, people who are self-disempowering aren’t going to get a lot of helping hands (maybe to a fault). Microsoft is a company of opportunities if you don’t take them, someone else will. As a lawyer here once told me, Microsoft’s internal slogan would aptly be “Who’s eating your lunch today?” To be clear, this does not mean we each need to be sharks looking for the bloody water; rather to excel at Microsoft each of us must find our own way to contribute to the great products and services we build.

MSS provides this insight:

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a manager here (not at Microsoft). He said, essentially, that if you have large compensation changes between levels, it causes politics.

There's two ways this works. First, it makes people badly want to be promoted, and therefore more willing to engage in behavior that is destructive to the organization if it helps them individually. Second, it gives the managers great power - they get to choose the lucky ones. From both sides, this drives toward political behavior.

Now, in the past at Microsoft, this was mitigated by everybody having options and the stock climbing through the roof. This meant that employees didn't have to have the promotion, because the stock was going to take care of them. They were better off just helping the company as a whole do well. But when the stock went flat, it also quit being a counterbalance to the steep compensation curve, and political behavior ran wild.

If this is the correct root cause of the politics, the only way to fix the situation - and save Microsoft from what it is becoming - is to flatten the compensation curve.

I certainly don't see myself as the patron saint of the disempowered victim. I understand some steam gets let loose here, much like when InsideMS went through a meltdown. But there's plenty of productive conversation, too, and I don't understand if you can fix a problem without calling out there's a problem first. I do now recognize, however, that change - like corporate culture change - is irrelevant unless you can identify where your culture is, what problems it has, what change you intend to make, and why that change will be beneficial.

As a small example: it would be good to drive away anything justifying fear within the company. Fear of changing jobs because of your H1B status. Fear of providing frank feedback about your management hierarchy. Fear of sharing constructive criticism regarding why you're leaving Microsoft for another job. Fear leads to silence. And silence leads to fortifying the status quo, stagnation, and competitive disadvantage.

Fear is not a Microsoftie trait. Nor a trait of any corporation that aims to be a success. If we accept there are people being silent due to fear then we can reassure that it's not justified, that their insight and feedback is important and that their input be used to make the company better. And successes here would lead to trust.

Oh, and memo to Microsoft PR: stop worrying about me and pay a little closer attention to any pieces you approve for BusinessWeek, perhaps thinking it's quite the coup. Holy crap. Look at that comment stream. Did we just pants ourselves?

That takes talent.

Really, really bad talent.

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