Sunday, January 25, 2009

3,600 Microsoft Shoes Waiting to Drop

A profound thanks to all the people who spent time writing heart-felt and high-quality comments over the past few posts. When big events like this layoff happen at Microsoft, it shakes loose collective thoughts that have been building for a while, many of which exceed anything I've written here. There are some gems within the most recent 1,200+ comments. If you're not a typical Mini-Microsoft comment reader, you should spend some time reading over the last three posts' comments, the last two especially:

Now you'll see some random and non-high-quality comments are in there, too. I had to flip moderation back on when the conversation about Microsoft H1Bs got downright nasty. I acknowledge there is concern about citizens losing their jobs at a company that has historically been on the forefront pushing for H1B visas. Going forward, I expect that Microsoft U.S. H1B hiring comes to a near halt.

OHAI: The elephant. There's a rather terse looking elephant in the room staring at me right now and pointing at its laptop screen. What's it got here... let's see. Ah. Blast off for Mini-Microsoft! And some text is highlighted...

  • Microsoft needs to reduce employee size. It’s too big. It doesn’t need a quicky Atkins-equivalent. No, it needs to get itself on a corporate exercise program that will shed itself of unwanted groups and employees. And stay on that.
  • Microsoft needs to stop hiring. It’s hard enough finding the scarcest of treasured corporate resources: the talented individual suitable for working at Microsoft. Stop hiring, trim down, and rebalance those precious scare employees inside to where they can be more productive and make products that delight our customers.

So before I get all thankful that this blog has provided a community-style water-cooler for discussing and ruminating over these layoffs together, I have to acknowledge that yes, I support reducing the company size. Big time. Back when I wrote the above in 2004 I felt we were already too big and encumbered with mismanagement due to our size. Over the years, rather than it being a blast off for a mini-Microsoft it became a blast off for a MAXI-Microsoft. When I wrote the above, I wanted a common sense realignment of our people and groups to focus deeply on the products we needed to be involved with. I also wanted the under-achievers moved on.

Instead: now we get the achievement-ignorant crash diet of this past week and we'll try to keep on that diet for the next 18 months, with the occasional binge. Yeah, good luck with your corporate ketosis level. I believe we need to smartly right-size downwards at least another 10,000 globally and lock down hiring. Emphasis on smartly. Going forward, we risk going through spurts of layoffs now given that we over-reached and will continue to over-reach.

Getting back to community: looks like there are Facebook groups for people affected by the recent events to get together and network with each other and with possible local recruiters (good for the recruiters since talented people got the pink slip). Here's what I've found so far:

  • Help Microsoft Friends Find a Job
  • Microsoft January 2009 Alumni
  • The Microsoft 1400
  • 2009 Microsoft Laid Off Workers

Employee Town Hall: if you watched this Town Hall to get some comfort, Mr. Ballmer's opening remarks certainly popped your balloon of hope. As already reported elsewhere, Mr. Ballmer thinks it's another year or two until hitting bottom in the current economic crisis, and when it does bottom out, the subsequent level of spending reached will be well below the glory spend days.

Tip of the hat to the two questioners: bad hires + accountability and seeking that corporate "I'm sorry."

My biggest issue is that Mr. Ballmer reiterated that his unabated ambition drives what we do and that we're going to continue to go big and broad. "Forward down the field! Faster down the field! Move! Forward forward forward forward!" (slap my forehead as some of his front-row half-backs chuckle for their man) Oy! Going big and broad and trying to enter and dominate every possible software market is exactly what resulted in Microsoft having reactive and broad, shallow features that are rushed out lacking polish and usually lead to user frustration as the shallow experience putters out.

We should not go broad. We must rebalance and go deep, without redundant teams and teams working on products with no chance to see a release. Now is the perfect time to drop compete in some markets where the teams in place just are not going to succeed and drop those groups. I'm not happy with our portfolio. And I'm surprised that the Microsoft Board of Directors can't smell the rotting fish in the portfolio. Well, then again, given our Board's results, maybe I'm not surprised.

I've been revisiting Good to Great lately. Some joke that Mr. Ballmer read it backwards. Now more than ever it is so incredibly frustrating to read about the Level 5 CEO leader and think about the gap we have between where we are and a leader like that. I'm also disappointed that the potential LisaB started out with in her Listening Tours and the early InsideMS employee participation has been squandered and lost. I know... she proposed changes to Ballmer and Ballmer said "No way!" Well, keep driving at it. Keep having the conversation and leverage the employees to make it happen. Creating a new way to be an employee in an IQ-driven 21st century corporation is still possible. In the meantime, we've slapped on superficial ideas that might have scaled and been manageable with a 1990s 20,000 employee company, but in this age those ideas no longer work, let alone apply to our huge employee base.

So we'll continue with our divisive stack ranking and celebrating the individual over the group. I realize that none of this is going to change while Mr. Ballmer is in charge. And when do you expect that to change? Unless the Board sees the villagers shareholders running at them with pitchforks and can feel the heat of the torches on their neck, that is not going to happen any time soon.

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