Thursday, August 25, 2005

Was it Good for You?

So, as you get your reviews and numbers, what do you think? Around this part of campus, there are some happy people bouncing around my hallway. And some rather unhappy people with loud voices behind closed doors. And some generally miffed: And Then?

One commenter says:

Got my review back today.

You are a good reliable employee that met all your commitments and does everything that is asked of you. 3.0....0% pay raise...0 grants...$0 bonus

This sucks

(Just as I cracked my knuckles to type up a reply, in comes a post way better written than anything I could bang out - snippet:

I have to hold my tongue, but let me just say this: there are 2 kinds of 3.0s. One is for the employee who does meet expectations and is trending upward (I know you guys will hate that phrase). These, in my experience, generally get rewards--not great, but not nothing. The other is for someone whose performance has neither improved or declined, but is still not failing to meet the minimum bar. These get 3.0s with no rewards. I disagree with it, and I think that MSFT should institute a policy of 3% annual cost-of-living-adjustments, on top of which they would then structure rewards. [...]

The most pronounced change I've noticed in my 8 years here is this: when I came to MS, I felt like my executives and I were on the same team--we all worked hard and worked together to achieve common goals, for which people were rewarded in proportion to their contribution. This is no longer the case. The executives live in a whole other realm and see employees more as a cost than as a resource. Hell--this is true even with some middle managers.

Well worth the full read. Thanks for taking so much time to post that.)

I know there are a lot of 4.0s out there who exclaim, "Geez! Why do you spend so much time talking about the 3.0s! They get what they deserve. You need to focus on your exceptional contributors and reward them for results that the 3.0s never will be able to accomplish." Yah, you know when you're robbing Peter to pay Paul, you can always rely on Paul's full support.

I am just tired of our busted review model. Stack ranking is just plain wrong. Yes, you need to have a yearly review system. I absolutely believe that. You need to reward the super contributors well. But the amount of angst and anger that goes into the getting the review model done poisons all of us. If my report decides, "Dang it, I'm getting a 4.0 by any means necessary," well, they are going to find some very easy ways to get that 4.0, and most of those easy ways are going to be self-centric and focused around decreasing / inhibiting the performance of their peers so that they can have better results:

There is also the problem with team members competing with each other on teams. By making team members compete with each other, we weaken teams. On my last team, team members would withhold information from other team members in order to slow them down in their work and make it easier to beat in the stack rankings (as I said, there was a lot of work and any delay in getting things done could impact the deadline).

(Thanks for taking time for that comment, too)

I've seen people do this, no doubt you have to. I've busted a few heads and have had to kick a few butts around the public square when I've stumbled across people creating their own little 4.0 fortress to the detriment of the product. Which shareholder wants this kind of Darwinian environment? What kind of products do you think we produce from that? Or, not produce... and slip and slip and slip until we have one big orgasm of RTM'd bits produced from heavy cuts and harsh triage. Buggy and slow? Don't care. Ship.

Back to the current crop of review numbers. If you don't like your results, your numbers, and / or have serious problems with the review system, now is an appropriate time to get a skip level one-on-one with your manager's manager and have a reasoned, deep discussion. Sit down, read comments here, comments elsewhere, talk about it with your Microsoftie buddies, and come up with a series of hard questions.

You might want to float a few pass the manager before hand so that they can give you better quality answers rather than ramble off the top of their head the HR-speak we whip out when cornered.

Example areas to discuss:

  • If you got a 3.0, ask them if this was a solid 3.0 or a trended 3.0. Why?
  • Why are there two kinds of 3.0s?
  • What stuck out in their mind regarding your accomplishments this pass year (delve into your manager's defense of you)?
  • (If you're below price-of-living) Why are you working for less effective pay this year than last year?
  • Are new hires really coming in earning more than you?
  • Do they agree with the stack ranking system? Why / why not?
  • How can you improve? What are your peers doing better than you?
  • What short term results would the manager like to see from you?

Now given all of this, there is another question you have to ask yourself: is Microsoft the right company for you? Maybe not. Maybe you should add it to the list above to have a discussion about. I've worked with some smart people who luuuv the programming, but they failed at Microsoft in a train-wreck sort of way. Like most corporations, it takes a certain kind of personality to succeed within the eco-system the corporation has. Personally, I think our eco-system has been contaminated over the years, but the core is still there. And there are some people who will constantly mean to do well but not succeed.

If that's you (and perhaps your first bad review is an indication), take a moment to channel your disappointment into an updated resume (something that should make really feel good about yourself) that you start to sprinkle around the area. Take a mental health day and do an interview. It will at least help add clarity to your life. And maybe you'll find that while Microsoft's Darwinian eco-system just isn't right for you, company Bar is fantastic and you get to fall in luuuv all over again.

Two additional random things:

One: probably most people read the article It's not all love for Google these days but I especially noticed this little snippet:

Google, Hoffman said, has caused "across the board a 25 to 50 percent salary inflation for engineers in Silicon Valley" -- or at least those in a position to weigh competing offers. A sought-after computer programmer can now expect to make more than $150,000 a year.

$150K for a new hire?!? Now then, I know it is in a much more expensive local market, but how much more expensive than Seattle? What does a 94043 $150K translate to in 98052? All I can say is, "Go Google!" and we'd better see this in next year's adjusted industry pay 2/3s point.

Two: there's an interesting read over at Ms. Mary Jo Foley's Microsoft Watch: If I Were Steve Ballmer (hmm, that's just dyin' to be put to the theme of "If I had a hammer"... I see a new funny video!). There are some good re-org ideas there (well, unless you're in MSN, in which case you get lumped into the Everything Else division). Note that Ms. Foley is interested in more ideas (email address in the article) so please share with here some of those great ideas you have, whether they sum up to ten or not.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ready, Set, GO!

As of Monday August 15th the review model is done, wrapped up, closed, fini. And already one senior person on my team is saying "See ya, wouldn't want to be ya!" and is leaving Microsoft. All I can say is, if you are leaving Microsoft and like your manager and haven't told your manager yet, give your manager a little gift and say, "You know, you don't have to write my review because I'm going to be leaving for another company." "Bless you!" will be on of the things unsaid, simply because you just gave them back a few hours in their life.

If, however, you truly dislike your manager, be sure to ask their manager to push your manager into giving very detailed review feedback and a strong career path message, especially focused around that new snazzy Career Stage Profiles. Something that would take at least half a day, if not more, to write up.

As far as the year goes, this is one of those inflection points that folks starting making major moves around:

  • Looking for a new position internally.
  • Networking to find new people to join their group.
  • Getting the heck out of Microsoft.

If you're thinking about moving to a different team, this is the best time because it at least gives you the better part of a whole year to prove yourself against your new peers (vs. joining later and needing your former manager to say how great you are and fitting into the new team’s review model - most people just say "fudge it" and get mightily tempted to whip out a 'welcome!' 3.0). And if you wait too long and too many key contributors move on, you might find your team locked down for a while and will have to wait to get that transfer at a non-optimal time.

I'm interested in gaining visibility into:

  • Good divisions / product groups to be in.
  • Bad divisions / product groups to be in.
  • Good groups looking to hire stellar internal transfers.
  • Groups currently locked down and not allowing transfers.

(This is for a, ah, good friend of mine.)

One of the recent comments made a great observation: the mspoll / OHI numbers should be available for everyone so that you can look into a potential group's poll results, up the chain, to see what state of mind your new potential peers are in. In fact, I'd add it to the list of queries against a new group: "Tell me about your poll results and how they compare." Shoot, ask them to bring the poll results up on their screen so you can look at them.

As for the continuing series of comments about racism and preferential treatment maybe / not / definitely existing at Microsoft: if you have an honest, serious concern over a specific occurrence, you should in this case really contact your HR generalist (no, really). This, in all things, is something they should take serious simply because it could result in a lawsuit (bad press, loss of money, yada yada).

I have never seen anything that's triggered such a bias concern and have only seen folks exhibiting exemplary decision making for promoting and rewarding contributors based on their accomplishments.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

Marching Towards Mediocrity

I enjoyed this comment in the last post so much I wanted to repeat it here:

First, to be perfectly fair, you should add the promo budget to the merit budget to get the real average raise across the company. Though honestly, HR is doing some creative math since they say 1.7% + 2.0% = 4.9%. And even 4.9% is thin stuff. Oh, yeah, it’s a lot better than some folks have gotten over the last few years, but the thing is, MSFT needs the best people it can find in order to compete. The software market is very, very lucrative, and that attracts competitors. MSFT with average employees is a sitting duck waiting to be taken down.

And the company is crossed up and going the wrong direction with the compensation package. Salaries at MSFT are better than average, but not outstanding (and this is by design – the company targets the 67th percentile, meaning roughly a third of software companies will pay better salaries). So, all else being equal, the company will get employees that are better than average, but not outstanding. That means companies that can attract outstanding employees will eventually eat Microsoft’s lunch. Unless the company can find some other advantages in hiring.

Well, MSFT does have two things going for it there. Great benefits and financial security. Now, what sort of employee is going to value great benefits and financial security? A guy with a wife and a couple of kids. So, with better-than-average salary, great benefits, and financial security, MSFT could attract outstanding married employees with kids. But a guy with a wife and kids wants to go home while it’s still light out, and wants to spend weekends with his family. This guy also maybe is more interested in a good steady job than in grubbing his way up the corporate ladder. He’ll do good work and contribute to a solid product, but isn’t interested in working 80 hour weeks to get a 4.0 and a promo.

But the company clearly isn’t interested in that sort of employee. We want aggressive, ambitious people who will bust their butts to stand out and get ahead. People who will take risks to grab the brass ring.

Only, we aren’t attractive to those people any longer. Not the best ones anyway. The guy willing to take a flyer to make it big isn’t impressed with financial security – he’s a risk taker. He wants salary and stock options, and we don’t pay enough for the best ones any longer.

So, there’s a mismatch between what the company is willing to offer and what it expects in return. The end result is that we’ll drive away the outstanding people who would be willing to work for 80% of the salary they could make somewhere else in exchange for great health coverage for the family and the stability to stay in the same place long enough to put the kids through high school. And we’ll replace them with the second-best of the young-and-hungry kids, because we’re paying second-best salaries and not offering stock options any longer.

It’s just plain stupid. We’re not using our competitive advantages and instead playing a game that belongs to other companies now.

I'm disappointed.

For some reason, pasting this in made me think of an old-time Microsoftie I used to work with who kept a balanced, fun life and managed to be incredibly productive and effective at work. I wish Microsoft would study his work day to better understand how all of us can get great things done with the lightest of touch. Even when he scaled up to be a super GM, he was having "this attached routine would give you better results" or "from this profile, this code path could be massively sped up" moments that made the rest of us wonder how in the world he managed to do that. He continued to mentor us at key points and have tremendous impact on the product, bits up. He's quite an inspiration... like Mel.

It would be much better for all of us currently working for Microsoft to be super efficient like that with our collective wisdom versus trying to hire every hot batch of newly graduated potential, desperately hoping that the new shiny cog will work better than that old, mediocre cog who just keeps hanging around the group and (dang!) just won't move on no matter how few 0% raises we give 'em.

Anyway, lots of comments around the previous posting. Unfortunately, lots of those were comment spam that I haven't cleaned up yet. And a few were debating about racism / favoritism at Microsoft. From my experience, Microsoft is an exceptionally fair place where people are making decisions around money. When you're trying to make a profit, you're trying to assemble the best contributors there are. Period. Capitalism can make you color blind to everything except for the crisp green Benjamins.

Now Malcolm Gladwell might say we are still inclined to choose based on unconscious bias (like how my building oddly seems to only hire from Ivy League schools). But I personally haven't seen racial bias. In fact, rather than favoritism amongst similar groups, the only time I've had concern of discrimination was between folks of the same group holding their reports to an extremely high standard and perhaps being more lax towards the rest of us who sort of stumbled through a hazy, beer-infused American education.

So whatever bias we may or may not have is just a fleeting shadow to what I've been exposed to living and working elsewhere in the country. At Microsoft, flipping the Bozo Bit is much more prevalent, and I rarely ever see that unflipped. That flip usually manifests itself with your first 3.0 review rating, and if you get a second 3.0, you might as well realize that the bit has been really flipped and unless you're going to unflip it yourself, you should either move to another group or be like the rest of the cool kids and get the heck out of Microsoft.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

6% raise? I want to work for Dilbert's company!

Holy whatsa, Alice got a 6% raise? I'd seriously consider hanging out in the bushes near Google-Kirkland with my aluminum bat to totally Tonya-Hardin-up some delicate competitive fingers just to get a 6% raise.

If you're a lead, you can bring up the manager review tool and check-in on how your reports are doing within The Model. Maybe some bits and pieces will move around, but the review model is pretty much done now and set to go into effect the 1st of September, with the mid-September paycheck showing any benefits.

One thing I've noticed kvetching with other managers is that once again, pay raises are minimal. I'm talking 2%-ish for a 3.5 review. That's barely keeping up with cost-of-living / inflation for doing more than is expected up of you. And of course, 3.0s, for the most part, get nothing. That's right: you're losing buying power for making a 3.0 - doing what's expected of you.

I watch the teams I work with lavish attention and interesting work on our summer interns to convince them what a fantastic place Microsoft is (it is, pretty much, but not that fantastic). I regale interns about my early days, too. Thing is, once you're signed on it's like that old joke where we go, "Oh, that was just the demo." So-so pay with marginal pay-increases and two, that's right, two whole weeks of vacation for you automatic-3.0 newbies!

It's as if someone is actually on my side and is all about getting people to either quit or not come work here to begin with... I think they have the resplendently passive-aggressive long-view.

Some other random things:

  • Gretchen's Josh posted a very nice "Ten Crazy Ideas"-themed item:
  • I've actually been spending more time bopping around various web forums defending Microsoft and ripping dumb-butt online journalists and posters new ones when they can't manage to put a moment in to get their story right. Sometimes, it's easy pickings, like the recent skirt-lifting "OMG! VIRUS!" being shouted out about Monad. One thing I notice out of this: I think there's a tangible favorable shift happening towards Microsoft and the technology we're putting out. If Microsoft is going to be saved, it's certainly going to happen from the bottom up.
  • Speaking of tangible favorable shifts: How 'bout dat stock price last week! Yep, sure enough: when you actually get around to shipping software, people think favorably of you. One thing that surprised me, listening to a couple of Wall Street analysts post-FAM, was how much they buy / echo what we're telling them. Huh!
  • FAM again: The biggest takeaway from the "Word from Wall Street" meeting was this recommendation (one that made Colleen Healy look fairly nervous) to get buyers interested in MSFT again: stop with the unpredictable dividends and commit to a predictable dividend schedule. That would get more investors onboard for investing in MSFT.
  • The weather's nice, I'm spending more time correcting egregious errors in cyberspace, and there's nothing fresh or interesting off the top of my head usually to post. Ergo there's not much currently happening here - so go on, enjoy the outdoors!