Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shared Sacrifice and Microsoft Free Radicals

How have you been doing? Me, I've been doing some kind of wonderful.

Since I pressed the pause button (a button I'm going to be enjoying quite often) a lot has happened yet not happened. Sort of like those layoffs. Just like you and your fellow Microsofties, I talked to a lot of people who where either affected by the 1,400 cut or who had a friend affected. From just my perspective, everyone I know or know-of through someone in Redmond was... rehired.

When's a layoff not a layoff?

I mean, even the folks I muttered, "Whew, thank goodness they took their badge and finally got rid of 'em" got rehired. Sheesh. We can't even do layoffs right. For at least the slice of people I know of, this was more a rebalancing than a layoff. Sorry, Ms. Bick, I guess I don't know the folks you wrote about.

Also during this time, both Toyota and HP made interesting moves to deal with the impact of the crisis on their business. I pay attention to Toyota thanks to writings like those of Mary Poppendieck's that look at Toyota's approach to empowering its engineering employees to make direct front-line team decisions, sort of like the feature teams various product groups at Microsoft have. And of course, HP is a big Microsoft partner. Both went down the path of avoiding layoffs. Both cut salaries vs. having layoffs, a "shared sacrifice" in Toyota's word (more on Toyota: Japan's management approaches offer lessons for U.S. corporations).

Mark Hurd's memo about the HP salary cuts should have been the memo that Ballmer wrote. Why? Because in it Mr. Hurd reviewed how they already had done due diligence to become a lean and mean company, and that further cut-backs didn't make sense. Also - call it a token gesture if you will - he and the executives took the biggest salary cut. Yet he re-emphasized that HP will pay for performance. None of our executives had said anything about taking a cut back, but rather just re-iterating that their SPSA payout will be less because the company's bottom line is suffering just like everyone else in this crisis. But zero details other than "significantly less."

Winking while we stuff our pockets AIG-style.

So yes, HP will have restructuring, but they don't have 3,600 additional cuts hanging over people's heads.

Do you think that the concept of shared sacrifice would work at Microsoft? If it still felt like a company driven by the employees, probably so. That's my perspective. I think if we still felt like the drive and ambition of the front-line employees shaped the company and defined it, then helping one another would make sense. But the huge growth shattered that sense of employee ownership, abetted by the abysmal Microsoft stock performance we've had since, yes, Mr. Ballmer became CEO. With that all these layers and organizational obstacles spread about and it went from a different, special place for crazy-happy geeks to a jay-oh-bee.

Mr. Mundie recently reflected on a number of topics. One idea was the desire for Microsofties to move around in the company more effectively. I love it. If someone, like, oh, our Senior VP of HR, was to take a moment and muse, "Now's a great time to go back to basics and focus on what it is to be a Microsoftie" one of the keystones should be job movement through the company as part of following your passion and ambition. Maybe it was easier to take risks, be bold, and honestly do what the hell you really wanted to back in the mythic days of FYIFV. And gee, guess what? What do you get when you have people doing what they want to do? Great results.

Obviously we've got about zero job movement right now, so that has to be fixed first. Microsoft gorged itself at the buffet bar of mediocre hires. And now we're bursting at the seams and deadlocked. We are stagnant right when we have two major product releases coming in for landing - Windows and Office - and you'd like those people to be ready to move around Microsoft and cross-pollinate good engineering. Especially those responsible for the obvious success of Win7. Maybe some movement will happen within Windows and Office themselves, but not across the company and probably not into their groups from other parts of the company. Hell, you have people in Windows worried that the Senior Leadership Team is waiting for them to get to a safe RTM harbor so that the 3,600 quota can start getting taken care of. Do you expect people to look around - to take risks - in that environment?


Zero attrition. Stagnation. Organizational constipation. Nothing good comes out of that but corporate sepsis. Given that our leadership team has had their cage rattled by the global crisis, has examined all sorts of horrible past economic situations, and has locked down on the hiring and gotten on-board with some odd variant of firing, you'd expect they are playing out the forward-looking implications for the product groups and other Microsoft divisions, right?

I'd hope so. But it's not based in any sort confidence based on past results. And it's certainly not based on our leadership engaging with us as we work and live through this crisis. Things are certainly uncomfortably quiet. It's the worst side of "best of times, worst of times" but one hell of an opportunity for re-birth and re-engagement and truly building a stronger Microsoft. A few challenges and opportunities I'm thinking of ahead of Microsoft:

EU: you say "ee-you", I say, "ewwww!" As long as the Microsoft ATM continues shooting out cash fines the EU is going to keep mashing our buttons. Kudos to the folks in Office for demonstrating foresight to jump on documenting their file formats and protocols, even enduring the inevitable attrition such onerous work forced upon the team and the delays to O14 it caused. I'd say, at the end of the day, this saved a large chunk of a billion dollars in fines that the EU would have gone after. You talk about people who deserve to be in The Circle of Excellence? If they head off another EU money-hunt, it's the O14 crew. And good job, Win7, in making IE8 removable. Now, what's the next EU target?

Review Reset: as organizations look to clear out the recent mediocre hires to make room to hire excellent people suddenly really interested in working at Microsoft, middle management is discovering that the review tools have really screwed them over. Told you. To keep everything clear and accounted for, I spend four times the amount of energy dealing with the new review tools through the entire year to get the same results before with the Word form. The current system is wasteful. If it can't be modified to spit out some fixed commitments based on your level, it should be replaced with the old simple Word form.

Free Radical Career: I'm pondering ideas about making employees more mobile within Microsoft. The one I've come up recently is to let anyone who has reached a certain career achievement (Exceeded/20, or just in the top 20%) to be free to move to another part of the company and to have their headcount and associated budget go with them. E.g., the destination team doesn't even have to have open headcount, they just have to be willing to have this new (great) employee come over and join. Okay, they do have to have office space. Sucks for the former team, great for the new team. I know, my first worry there is that you get one crazy charismatic leader and suddenly everyone is working on BoonDoggle '12. But my goal is that if you're great, you can literally write your own ticket to be where you want to be in Microsoft. We need something to break the career stagnation because I know of folks already dorking with their organization is small, petty ways, and remarking, "Well, where are they going to go?"

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