Thursday, May 25, 2006

That's Just Plain Crazy Crisis Talk!

Layoffs? Mass firings? RIF'ing with wild abandon? That's just plain crazy crisis talk!

From day zero of this blog, and as reflected in the oh so delightful name, I've been pushing for Microsoft to get smaller. To minimize. I've been ranting that we've hired too many people we don't need and the integrated coordination and geometric bureaucratic process is hindering our execution. Our excellence is not defined by employee size, and is fact hindered by it. Plus, it doesn't help when during the last two Town Halls we have our leadership musing over the office-space crowding problem, puzzled and surprised to find we hired so many people so quickly.

So I offer the simplistic, crazy solution: layoffs. Down sizing. Right sizing. Mini-mizing. Village destruction in order to save it. Get rid of whole product groups with dim hopes for profit and cheer on our partners to go make money without worrying about us there. Collapse and merge and layoff redundancy. And reduce HR and Finance proportionally given that less such representation will be needed with a smaller company.

Simple. Shallow. Crazy. But it switches your thinking into crisis mode, right? Maybe you're like several folks as of late, taking a moment to think a wee bit deeper than myself that layoffs and massive RIF'ing isn't the best solution and, in turn, coming up with other ideas...

First problem: the folks decided who should be the R in RIF are the ones who themselves should be moved on. Alyosha` comments:

Don't have too much faith that Microsoft's best medicine is an across-the-board RIF. It's not an established fact that "too much dead weight" is Microsoft's worst pathology. If it is, then keep in mind that a good number of that "dead weight" will be the ones choosing who gets the axe -- and a lot of good talent getting caught up in a frenzied purge. No, Microsoft has always had a reputation of hiring bright people, and a lot of them are still around -- although sure some groups are lousy with incompetents, don't deduce that the whole company so suffers from such a small sample. What we have, I believe, is world-class talent that's being misused, mislead, and misdirected.

Even if we were so lucky as to have a fair layoff based entirely on merit and not politics, the loss of good will and morale of "the survivors" will quickly eat up any savings gained by removing the unproductive. Massive firings are traumatic to an organization -- and like an equally traumatic massive hiring spree, the destabilizion they cause rarely results in improvement.

I'm with Mini only as far as we should end our drunken hiring binge of the past few years and bring our headcount delta under control. But I part ways when it comes to advocating a large RIF. To get rid of the dead weight, nothing but a slow, calm, and steady campaign of 2.5ing the critters will do.

Emerging from that is Moe's comment:

How self-serving is Mini? Would Mini be one of the people to be fired in a massive lay-off? What of people who have been hired in the past few years who have all the good intentions of working and making MSFT be the company they dream it to be? Do we really think that the non-compus-mentus management will be in the first, second or even third wave of people that are pounding the pavement? I find it somewhat disingenuous that I should be working with people who would rejoice in the demise of fellow employees. Perhap the reason my OHI scores are in the crapper is that.

Following up on that and the CSG seven-work-day furlough:

The point of this parable is to emphasize that the problem is not the people -- the so-called "individual contributors" -- it is the sociopathic nature of the company originally established up by BillG and SteveB. They were able to conceal its anti-social behavior becuase of their "faux" success. Now that the market for software has been irreversibly altered the company cannot change its fundemental ideology. Mini's expression of riffing people with no concern of the how their life plans have been structured by the promises the company made to them demonstrates the sociopathic mentality one must have to "succeed" at Microsoft. Notice that once Microsoft employees leave that environment that they often actually do great work and retain some semblance of their humanity.

(Sociopathic mentality? Excuse me while I go make some crazy faces in the mirror... "Grr... Grr... You're fired! Bwah-ha-ha!") Okay... from Cheopys:

I have one reason for not being on board Mini's passion for RIF: there are too many enclaves at Microsoft where many talented people cannot achieve.

And lastly:

The RIF has already started in our group. We were told the product is over. [...] Mini, the RIF is true. Starts with contractors and product teams that can't really prove their existence, read: don't have any friends in the partner community. The management, partners and VPs are not getting kicked out and the only folks affected are PMs, Devs and Testers. No partner will be harmed in the making of the myMicrosoft Service Pack 1.

So one fundamental problem with my big layoffs idea is that the folks who have been responsible for us getting to this stage are most likely not going to be swept up in any house cleaning, but rather it will be the people that they have led. It reminds me of that scene in Secret of My Success where the nervous execs of a company being taken over, finding out there'd be mass firings, are re-assured by Fred Gwynne's character that executive management of course would be alright. Whew! Well, everything's okay then.

But why even start this crazy layoff idea? Because I believe Microsoft, for all of its excellence, is in trouble. It's not operating at its full-potential and is encumbered with bad decisions and leadership focusing on all the finer details in screwing things up and slipping and slipping. I want less "D'oh!"s and more dineros.

Maybe you disagree with me. Maybe you don't think Microsoft is in any trouble and hasn't had any execution problems as of late. Perhaps you believe the leadership we have in place should be the very ones leading us into the next generation of services, products, sales, marketing, and support. If so, I'm open to hearing your point of view.

Maybe you agree with me. But, damn, go on a firing rampage? Is it that much of a crisis? My lone voice says so. Surely, perhaps you think, there's something better we can do. As I flip through Mr. Lencioni's book Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars I come to appreciate the clarity that comes from crisis thinking. And that's what little ole me is claiming we need right now: not incremental thinking, not service pack thinking, but whole hog roto-tilling fiefdom breaking dysfunction tearing crisis solving.

And perhaps I have to compromise. Maybe Mini-Microsoft 2.0 is mini in the mind by becoming a flattened agile organization with greater number of directs for managers and less managers, leading to less hierarchy, and more front-line decision making and responsibility. An organization where you can easily adjust people around the organization to focus on immediate challenges. The new compensation model is going to illuminate which managers are excellent at dealing with the curve-less performance world and which managers are going to fall flat down without that curved crutch. We need to have a manager repatriation movement, giving managers the chance to become team-members again or engage in lateral moves to some other individual-based role. Or, maybe, given a sweet-enough deal to move on.

I've had extreme fortune to spend time with those who will potentially be the future leaders of Microsoft. The next generation that have been through The Bench program and who have already taken on great challenges for Microsoft and succeeded. And these people do indeed get it. Ask them what Microsoft's challenges and problems are and they'll enumerate every problem ever brought up on the Mini-Microsoft blog along with some we've never thought of. There is a level of deep understanding of the issues we have and how best to take them on, it's just something gets dropped along the way when it comes to corporate execution.

Whatever it is in the system that's dropping and losing such great thinking needs to be fired. What kind of system? Perhaps this kind, shared by crunchie:

The VP shut me up because I showed him in gory detail how we were gonna have our lunches eaten. My GM told me "you need to tone this down" when I built a presentation with specific data about how we're getting our butts kicked. My director told me "you're too honest, you can't be like that here". My second director tells me I can't present "important information" to other managers without going through him. After about 2 years of fighting and refusing to do their bidding, no other option. Of course, everything I told them came true but none of that matters. The rest of the team's gone too (at least the ones that did real work).

I wonder if Bill & Steve know they're being fed stories at reviews and meetings.

I wonder if they know how much time is spent preparing for each and every meeting with them to ensure everyone is singing to the same tune.

I wonder if they know that managers place 80% importance in presenting up the chain and waving self declared victories than doing what's right for the field/customers/partners and actually executing rather than just talking.


Follow-ups from last time...

Gold stars? There's some interesting sharing about awarded Gold Stars in the last post, most of them delivered with a hushed, "Do not speak of this with anyone." Weird. How can you benefit from a reward system that no one knows about? Seems like a bad idea to me, especially after you get one and then do even better work and don't get a second. It just seems like VP pixie dust to scatter about. Perhaps it would be better to take that budget and just roll it into the merit budget and get away from Gold Stars.

Ta-da! Oh, and as for that whole exploration of Mini popping out of a big cake at the next executive retreat or next March 24th: consider that sufficiently explored. Just a wee bit of imbalance thrown into the regular posting... blogging on one buttock, so to say. And if you really need a nail for that coffin, well:

Mini - regarding shedding your mask of anonymity, be very careful. According to well placed sources in LCA, exec management considers you public enemy #1 and the day you are outed is the day you'll join the unemployment line followed by a massive lawsuit. Make no bones about it, there's a bounty on your head and no shortage of slimy company attorneys who want to be the one with your head mounted in their trophy case. The last thing management wants are more Minis running loose tell them how to run their business. That's why they're so keen on making a very ugly example of you.

So please, for the sake of all of us who actually believe you're doing some good, stay in the shadows. You're far more effective as Batman than as Bruce Wayne...

Sounds like a public circus of extensive Lose-Lose all around - it's the last thing Microsoft needs right now and it's certainly not on my Amazon wish list - and there's no reason to force it. And I really, really doubt Microsoft has to worry about the Mini-blogging-hydra. It hasn't happened so far, other than a few false starts.


115 comments:

Anonymous said...

the folks that will do the RIF'ing - our leaders: they are our problem. by the time you become a partner, you have to think like everyone else and be part of the boys' secret society. if you want to be different, you'll quickly realize that it's impossible and leave the company much like hadi partovi. hadi tried to make a difference, but he realized it wasn't an easy undertaking. look at our leaders - our CFO is a complete embarassment. Ballmer is still puzzled why the stock has dropped $5! (meanwhile they are starting to reward us by giving us more of our cheap stock, coincidence? ) and all the other ones are too busy sucking up to Bill and Steve. we need true leaders that are here to make a difference, more people like Lisa - and I can't think of a single senior exec that is here for doing right by the customer instead of right by Bill and Steve.

Anonymous said...

So one way to approach a RIF (which I'm generally negative on, yes would be too traumatic) as well as getting rid of some of that bad bloated management layer as well as underperformers would be too RIF management with poor manager feedback/manager ratings/OHI combos.

The other thing that might work would be to put on a hiring freeze and open up the interview process allowing managers to do more internal recruiting. See if we can shake things up and unlock some of those pockets of hidden talent and really let people get into the right roles through a more free/open interview process.

Anonymous said...

A few small comments:

1) Does anyone realize that, rolling back 6-7 years, we have just about everything that myMicrosoft promised to bring us now and more?

2) About massive layoffs - I also agree in principle that MS as a whole is one bloated blimp travels at 5 miles per hour - if you look at how people in this company are getting themselves promoted through the management chain, it's all about 'building an empire below you'. Managers (or manager wannabes) are busily recruiting, persuading to get more headcounts that they can hire below them so that they can 'prop' themselves up to the next level. Some examples I see:

a) for some small project, the lead requests what I think is 2-3x of the headcounts who are really required to do the work, fill them all, and then after a while, he gets promoted to manager because he has simply too many direct reports - and hires a few more leads to report to him to manage these people

b) The VP restructures the org, putting 'planning for the future and new releases' on the forefront (oh yes they always say shipping the current product is most important - but as usual in the org wide meetings it's always about the next big thing). Commissions hirings of tons of new people to form a brandnew suborg to work on this 'planning thing', all of a sudden the VP now has another 7-8 new reports, and a new sub orgs or two, and them hires a technical assistant also in the process. Viola! we now have 2-3X double the size inthe organization! All of them are not contributing to any product that MS is currently shipping!

c) then the PUM in the org does the same, get a brand new sub group, hires more people who does nothing...

etc. etc. You see things like that going on all the time, at every level, everyone is out ot build their own little piece of the 'empire'. And the current bloated MS is the result.

ps. this is in the windows org, I rejoice the decision that was made to 'pull everyone back into Vista work' - my estimation is that at least 40% of the org was not working on Vista. I do not know what they can contribute to Vista in this late stage of the game though. :P

And I sure do hope there is a massive layoff when Vista ships - Windows division as a whole needs to be downsized.

RealityCheck said...

1) I want more details about The Bench program. How can I get in on this?

2) Now we will sit back and watch as 120 comments show up saying how "That -other- group needs a major rif." Because, as we all know, all the dumbasses and bloat are never in your own team - heck your own team is always understaffed. But strangely, all the teams around you are overstaffed.

3) All this talk about hiring too many people and rest-and-vesters. Yeah - my sources at Google say they've reached that point too. It's inevitable. A major rif only treats the symptoms, not the problem. You're wishing for the wrong thing.

4) If there were a major RIF though, that'd do wonders for the stock. Nobody cheers layoffs like Wall St! Hopefully, the gain in stock price will cover the massive drop in your house price that comes with layoffs. Glad I'm renting. :)

5) BTW, all those comments about how we don't listen to our customers. Well, if we really wanted to identify with our customers, we'd be using Office XP, on 1.5 Ghz machines, with no admin privs, and every website would be lock out - so that we could feel their pain.

Oh... that's too painful isn't it?

Anonymous said...

RIF the number of partners by 25-30% first. Then remove the pyramids in marketing, HR, finance. Dont replace the attrition. Merge windows and MSN common groups. Make the divisions not making money more accountable. Dont allow hiring without prototypes or solid plans.

Anonymous said...

The point of this parable is to emphasize that the problem is not the people -- the so-called "individual contributors" -- it is the sociopathic nature of the company originally established up by BillG and SteveB. They were able to conceal its anti-social behavior because of their "faux" success. Now that the market for software has been irreversibly altered the company cannot change its fundamental ideology.

There is a good story around this. A couple of years ago, (so I’ve read) Steve pored in great detail over the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. The essence of the book is that if great companies want to remain great then they need to go back to their root, to what made them successful in the first place. The irony is that the thing that made Microsoft successful in the first place was the way they snookered IBM on a licensing deal (so far, so good) and then laid siege to an industry using a motivated (you said sociopathic, I didn’t) army of stock-enriched foot soldiers. The problem? Microsoft has no honored roots to fall back on. After reading the book, Steve might have thought it was time to make software ‘like we did back in the old days.’ But the tank is empty. We can’t sneak up on anyone. There is no new monopoly to hit the market with. The greed carrot can’t be dangled. Any spare brutality can only be turned on employees and contractors. To that end, we need to (at least think about) coming up with a baseline for what/who we are as a company. To get there requires insight, integrity, honesty and more honesty and more honesty. As the original quote points out, our leaders are better known for their capacity to assimilate and bully. Not a great way to start.

Anonymous said...

Mini said "Perhaps it would be better to take that budget and just roll it into the merit budget and get away from Gold Stars"

Aah, Mini has joined the bandwagon clamoring for a communist Microsoft state. A Gold star is not directly related to the level of yearly productivity per employee, that's what the merit reviews are for. A Gold star is just a pat on the back, an atta boy, to encourage you to continue your good work. And it was never meant to be distributed equitably. Several people are nominated for a gold star but only a few get it, as the bugdet allows.

It is not something you expect every time you do a killer job. Or something you lobby for. You can finish your career with an LRA of 4.0 (okay, 'exceeds') and never get a gold star. That doesn't make you a lesser person

No thanks to Mini, everybody is now lamenting not recieving a Gold star. See why the founding fathers made this award a top secret thing? Still we need something to tell a few people, yeah we notice what you are doing and that we likey. A gold star is one of those tools.

Anonymous said...

You see things like that going on all the time, at every level, everyone is out ot build their own little piece of the 'empire'. And the current bloated MS is the result.

The biggest bloat is in the PM teams across MSN. All they do is re-report status and "communicate" with PMs in other teams.

Anonymous said...

if you look at how people in this company are getting themselves promoted through the management chain, it's all about 'building an empire below you'.

Sounds like a pyramid scheme. :-)

Anonymous said...

As someone who recently turned down a very lucrative job offer to accept a position at Microsoft, I find reading Mini's blog & the comments rather disturbing (since the company sounds like a disfunctional mess), and promising (because I get the impression that lot of people really do care).

What I don't understand is why everyone is so helpless in affecting change. I've worked in large techs before, and I agree that it can be difficult to have your voice heard at the top, but you should be able to make the right decisions in your immediate team by letting your managers know what you expect from them. If you think your team is hiring for positions that aren't needed, tell your manager. If you think that a couple of guys down the hall aren't pulling weight, tell your manager, or call them out. If you don't understand the importance of funding project XYZ, ask. I'm not suggesting that you be a pain in the ass, but don't be afraid to tactfully & respectfully call bullshit. And if you don't feel like your comments are being heard, leave. Trust me, there are a *ton* of companies hiring out there right now.

Anonymous said...

Groups that need a major rif:

AutoPC, Dynamics, Windows Mobile, MSR, HR, Fiance, "Business Development"

Anonymous said...

All this talk about layoffs is plain BS. Mini, Don't you get tired of repeating the same broken record over and over? Why are so keen on seeing people's lives and livelihoods destroyed?

I agree that there's deadwood across company. There doesn't have to a massive RIF, just a proper house-cleaning to get rid of the underachievers. As others have pointed out, the odds of that happening are very slim. Chances are, many undeserving people will get caught in this process.

If there's to be layoffs, I sure hope you're one of the people included. :\

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand, and I'd love someone from inside Microsoft to explain to me, is how all this 'dead wood' and 2.5/3.0 cruft made it thru the infamous Microsoft interview process?

I'm referring to the wonderful "solve this puzzle" or "reverse a string" while hopping on one foot for the interviewer - wasn't this filter supposed to ensure that only the creme-de-la-creme would gain access to the hallowed halls of Microsoft?

Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Re: I've had extreme fortune to spend time with those who will potentially be the future leaders of Microsoft. The next generation that have been through The Bench program and who have already taken on great challenges for Microsoft and succeeded. And these people do indeed get it. Ask them what Microsoft's challenges and problems are and they'll enumerate every problem ever brought up on the Mini-Microsoft blog along with some we've never thought of. There is a level of deep understanding of the issues we have and how best to take them on, it's just something gets dropped along the way when it comes to corporate execution.

What are you smoking dude? Did someone pay you to say that? Are you the same Mini-Microsoft who we have counted on to be the voice of “the real Microsoft”? While I am generally in support of your opinions, I think this is your worst post ever for the following reasons.

--Yes, I agree it is important to right size the company so that we are more efficient, but the company needs to do it right. Massive layoffs without humanity are just going to result in an even worse culture, with more mistrust, more viciousness, and more gaming of the system by managers and employees just to keep from getting fired.

-- Your statement above sounds like something that Steve Ballmer would say. Listen to yourself! Maybe you have had the opportunity to work with the people in the Bench program, but you have not met every single person at Microsoft. How do you know that someone in a subsidiary will not become the best thing that ever happened to this company? Or how about someone from another company? Or maybe me? (Hey, you never know, and I know you haven’t met me.)

Show some compassion Mini, or we may fire you as our voice.

Anonymous said...

we need true leaders

I am afraid that is not going to happen. Why?

World's richest company, a monopoly, not driven by desire to make a difference but driven by fear, fear of extinction. Every competitor is seen as an affront by the leaders, always reacting to others. Is that leadership?

Is it leadership to expect well fed middle aged former stars to score that winning touchdown? Not in my books.

Somebody said Lisa is a true leader. I dont see how, she merely reacted to the out of hand morale situation by last years stupidity to manadate a rigid curve?

Microsoft is in trouble, which I think is a bad thing for the industry. The only way to fix it is to split into pieces. Let the pieces survive and prosper through real competitive hunger.
You cant go hire somebody and say fix it.

Anonymous said...

Mini,

I've been reading your blog for over a year now, after I joined msft fresh out of school. I'm glad to have discovered it and learned many things I wouldn't have otherwise. But I'm really disappointed and disheartened by this last post. You state that the RIF won't really affect the management, the GM, directors, and VPs to whom you attribute much of the bloat. And you also agree that the RIF will hit most ICs, including a lowly junior person like me. Yet, you advocate for a layoff. Why? If it's not going to help the problem, why are you advocating it? You sound like quite a senior person in the company, and prbably have quite a bit sway (at least access into) how things are executed. If I was a potential recruit (and I was not too long ago), I'd be sorely disappointed to learn this is how msft management thinks of us. Why would I, or any of my friends from college, want to come work here, if that's how my managers really feel behind closed doors?

Anonymous said...

Reality Check:

1) Make 68 and ask again . . .

2) GOOG isn't there yet, but there are strong signs that they're considering un-flattening their hierarchy which would help feed the same kind of empire-building beasts we see inside Microsoft already. Not that they don't have cults of personality, mind you. That just seems to be every leader in out industry.

3)I think you only caught part of Mini's point. A RIF combined with pushing some of those managers back into IC positions might do the company some good. That's where the mangers were suprerstars initially, after all. As management, they often exemplify the Peter Principle and clearly at the same time they're folks who were once hired because they had talent. Talent that was competitive back when our hiring was stricter. Make 'em code again and see what happens! I'd bet it's good for the company.

4)Um . . . I bet there'd be an upward blip for a little while and then a longer big downsurge. Consider Windows and Office. The cash cows. They're slated to ship for the consumer market in January. Assuming that rumored slip doesn't happen, of course. Have you ever been through a layoff? I have seen coworkers there one day and gone the next. It put my personal morale in the crapper. And *I* still had a job. Imagine everyone on Office and Windows demoralized and also having to pick up the work of the fired people. Not good. Not good for profits as we edge into the end of the year. RIFs there should maybe happen, but not until closer to October, IMHO.

5) Again, IMHO, we should only *selectively* listen to customers (and yes, I'm actually very much pro-customer!) because most customers don't know what they want in the first place. And when they ask "how do I . . ." they usually mean something entirely different. And the way most behavior seems to work when we observe customers trying to use our software . . . Well, I'm just not so sure this holds water. Redefine the "customers" we should listen to and maybe I'll buy some argument like this. Until then, I rest assured that our customers are most people on the planet who use compuets and to them computer means "Windows" and internet means "Internet Explorer" and document means "Word .doc" etc. I can (or maybe can't) tell stories abotu pacifying the IT gurus at an oil company or making things better for the DOD or fixing my mom's PC. Even if I hadn't, they'd still be using Windows and Office. Sure, there may be complaints, but they're still our customers. And probably would be regardless. We're how most people know computing. Welcome to Microsoft!

In closing I ask "Does Apple delight customers?" Answer: "Yes".
And I ask "Do they listen to their customers?" Answer: "No. Apple gives them what Apple thinks they'll fall in love with and buy. It has nothing to do with what the customers are actually asking for at the time."
We can learn from that. We probably won't, but we can. (Scoble is far more in tune with the zeitgeist than I am and I'm sure would state that in more diplomatic terms, btw.) So far we only seem to have the "not listening: part figured out. Maybe the understanding of consumer love will happen later. Office 12 seems to have a huge learning curve and Vista is both difficult for many tasks and offers no compelling reasons for adoption except that every new PC will soon have it installed by default. Eventually, both will change the way most people use their computers. For the better. But initially, they're not happy changes. Just this humble dogfooder's opinon, of course.

In short: RIF away! Once we (Office and Windows) all ship, that is. It couldn't hurt in the long run and it might even flatten things out and help us a little. Maybe the company could focus on this "Live" thing for real . . .

- Short Timer

Anonymous said...

The group that needs a kick in the ass or a RIF is Office Business Applications (OBA)

Yes, I'm in OBA under LewisL and we have shipped one product in 4 years. But we keep hiring more and more people and getting nothing done.

Products start and get cancelled. Products start then start then change the name the stop then start again.

The management sucks. I won't mention anyone by name except the VP who is a public figure. But the un-named leaders have no vision. Talk about building empires. This group is all about building empires and not about shipping software.

There are rumors of a big re-org coming up with MBS. Maybe we can get rid of some of the middle managers who just want to build empires. NOT! What will really happen is that we will keep everyone and we will have overlap and everyone will be building 3 versions of the same product and we will spend 12-18 months to create a vision and to strategize.

I’m sick of wasting time!

I’m sick of GPMs sending out how great we are doing when nothing is getting done!

I’m sick of GMs responding to those GPMs saying good job!

Office Business Application!!!! OBA! Get your act together! SHIP something. Why does it take 3+ years to ship a business application? I will tell you why. Management! Managers who can’t make a decision. Managers who don’t know how to build business applications. Managers who just want to build their empires.

Get this we had a GPM “decide” to leave the org and he sat in his office for 6+ months looking for an internal job! Really. He had no direct reports. No real job. But he would come to work every day for 6+ months and sit in his office looking for a job. Talk about someone who should get RIF’d. if that had been an IC someone who actually did work they would have been fired!

We (OBA/Microsoft) have soooooo much potential but all I see is a bunch of managers patting each other on the back about how great they are yet no software ever ships.

When is someone (STEVEB!) going to RIF management that can't manage.

When is someone (STEVEB) going to realize that we don't need to be like GE.

When is someone (STEVEB) going say..."We need to be more agile, mobile, tactile" (tactile does not make much sense but i wanted something that rhymed.

L.S.

Anonymous said...

Ken lay found guilty on all charges, to spend the rest of his life in prison:

After destroying billions of shaerholder value, Lay and Skilling were convicted for fraud, even though there is no direct evidence linking them to the lies of Fastow.

This sends a strong message to all CEOs: whether you are evil or just plain incompetent, you will be held responsible for mistreating shareholder money. Wonder how SteveB took this news.

Anonymous said...

Yeah -- Mini is back.
I was afraid the last initiatives from Lisa, although positives but minor, made you loose your focus. You started to talk weird -- take a 2 months blogging break, revealing myself....

The militant Mini is back.
We are in a crisis and nothing is closed to be solved.
Lets keep a vibrant Mini blog alive and make sure that people up there know that we are not lured by towels.

Anonymous said...

Cut back DRAMATICALLY on contingent staff and let nature take its course ...

Hmmm ... what I mean was, the FTEs would have to plan, prioritize, work, and deliver ... but we'd probably see an upsurge in FTE hiring ... not good.

TAKE TWO
Cut back DRAMATICALLY on contingent staff and put a ceiling on FTE headcount, and let nature take its course ...

40%-45% of the heads at Microsoft at vendors or contractors -- force a "must not exceed 25%" position.

Are we really so ham-handed at planning that we can prioritize or staff with FTEs? The vendors I work with are great, and some have been here for years (why aren't they PermaTemps??), but most move on, and take their IP with them

Anonymous said...

Microsoft's problem is that it is larger than most state governments. It can't possibly be creative, innovative, and productive any more than a government can be. Its focus is no longer on producing real results for real customers. The focus is on continuing to exist for the sake of continuing to exist for the sake of continuing to exist .... A government can use force of arms, fraud, extortion, and treats of prison to get its "customers" to pay. Microsoft can't. If Microsoft is going to have paying customers, it must produce a product worth paying for.

I have long held that to create and innovate, one can do the work of four, two can do the work of three, three can do the work of two, and four can do the work of one. Beyond that, productivity goes negative. All the effort goes into creating CO2 and heat (aka meetings, reports, white papers, and the like) with nothing going into producing real results. If that is all Microsoft wants to accomplish, just buy a bunch of heating pads and leaky CO2 cylinders. It would be a lot cheaper and just as productive.

AlohaGuy said...

I don't think RIF would work, unless the RIFed parties are GMs, PUMs, directors, and VPs (I have no visability to the work of EVPs and SVPs, so I will lay off of them for today). And maybe a CEO and a chief architect or two, if that's not too much to ask.

Any RIF in the ranks of developers would just waste the good will of the un-RIFed employees, and achieve nothing... I have seem more than one middling-performing coworker become a star elsewhere. It's the system, not the grunts.

But the problem is self-correcting; as soon as the stock hits 10.52 or abouts, in 5-6 years, there will be some real shareholder pressure to actually manage the company. MSFT is not managed right now, it is a collection of fiefdoms and baronies.

But will the stock hit $10? I think it will. MSFT has been showing slowing revenue growth. How will the market take the first negative revenue growth year? or do you think any of us did such exemplary work as to actually expect increased revenue growth - with Linux and Google doing just fine, thank you?

..time to go sell some ESPP, shorting stocks is expensive.

Anonymous said...

I think a RIF pilot should be done in HR first as opposed to a product team. Not only were tons of idiots hired from companies like Home Depot and Safeway, more job openings are showing up every day for HR generalists and so called consultants at L62 or higher. Not only are the HR generalists over compensated compared to the industry, they are calcifying the company with unneeded bureuacracy.

Anonymous said...

And reduce HR and Finance proportionally given that less such representation will be needed with a smaller company.

-

Mini you got this right. Our HR group is very large. We have special HR people to handle HR people now.

Unfortunately, I dont see a future for this company without a large and painful RIF.

Anonymous said...

You guys are missing the point on the RIF.

The reason we need a major RIF, badly, is that we have LOTS of poor performers who are dragging the company down who need to go.

I am talking at the IC level. I'm an IC, so this is not some management hubris.

The problem with these people is they just don't get it. They're here for a paycheck. You talk to them and realize they're not into software. They're not excited about building something that's tight, fast, elegant, and freakin' cool.

If you're on an engineering team, look around. Think of which people on the team are always installing new tools and trying things out and sending links to interesting tech stories and ranting about bad software design and so on.

Now think of all the people on the team who aren't like that. Imagine a little blinking "RIF" over their heads.

Get it now?

Yes, middle management fiefdom beuraucracy is a problem that needs to be addressed. But that's another issue.

First we need to get rid of all the people who aren't software geeks. There were a lot of non-geek fortune seekers who came on board in '99 - '00 who have proven some of us right and have turned out to be terrible long term hires for the company.

You have to get software. The reason we need a RIF is to get rid of the masses who have joined up who don't have that techie mentality, attitude, and yes passion.

Get the RIF on! Then let's deal with the fiefdom problem.

Who da'Punk said...

Sigh. User slip. I pressed "Reject" a second time right after rejecting some comments, meaning to press "Publish."

*Poof*

I'm going to repost them next.

Mini.

Anonymous said...

Well, glad I've never got a gold star then - sounds too much like being patronized.

Perhaps RIFing something like IBM's actions in the nineties - dumping various non-productive or semi-productive product groups.

And of course, kicking out the non-productive senior management ... good grief, this is sounding more and more like nineties IBM every day. Anybody ever read Dvorak's mid-nineties book "Dvorak Predicts"? If he bothers to re-read it, he'd be laughing fit to bust!

Anonymous said...

Just curious, if mini is so eager to work for a smaller company (I want too just happen to have some visa challenges) why not quit and join one?
Even better start your own mini me... it would be a lot of fun trust me

You’ll probably answer that you want your MS to get rid of all the dead wood (which in your mind you’re not part of)

Another question if MS starts a massive RIF, what would happen to all the H1Bs / L1 visa holders (hundreds maybe thousands) that don’t have GCs yet and get the axe?

MS would need to relocate all of them back to their countries or otherwise make them subject to deportation… What a mess!!!


Mini me

Anonymous said...

(Really from Just My 2¢)

Regarding the fears that the foxes will be in charge of RIFing the chickens...

People have to realize that downsizing will be a process with many layoffs. Based on my previous experience with this, I can just about guarantee that the first round will be portrayed as painful; cutting through the fat and deeply into the meat of the organization. It will really be window dressing. After a few months, the stock market will realize that nothing substantial has changed. Then things will start to get serious.

In my own experience as an engineer with downsizing a major oil company in the 1980's, ineffective department managers didn't get the axe until after 2 years of almost monthly staff reductions.

You might be able to BS your corporate management, but you can't BS the stock market. They'll tell you when your reorganization has begun to pay off. Fortunately, that lesson sticks to the survivors. Note that even with high profits, oil companies aren't on hiring frenzy.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

"Maybe you don't think Microsoft is in any trouble and hasn't had any execution problems as of late. Perhaps you believe the leadership we have in place should be the very ones leading us into the next generation of services, products, sales, marketing, and support. If so, I'm open to hearing your point of view."

I believe this. For the record though, I also believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, I'm in OBA under LewisL and we have shipped one product in 4 years. But we keep hiring more and more people and getting nothing done."

This is an embarassment. Mini, one thing you could do with your spotlight is shine it directly on groups like this by dedicating a post to it. If in fact the track record is this atrocious, a big spotlight and some media picking up the story would probably get senior management off their asses and fixing it. Fix one dysfunctional group via this method and pretty soon all the other ones will start cleaning up their act for fear of being next. Pretty soon, you have a company on the mend...

Anonymous said...

Some of us who are advocating a RIF have actually been RIFfed before and come out better on the other side. I was let go from another company when it decided to close one of its underperforming divisions. I'm still grateful for it because it's how I arrived at Microsoft in the first place. Imagine the morale of continuing to work in a division losing market share to its competitors! Yes, it was an upheaval, but certainly ended up being for the better.

If I'm RIFfed in a Microsoft RIF then I'm okay with that. I have the confidence that I'll land on my feet. Why? Because I don't follow the FAQ listed in a previous post. I make sure that wherever I am, I listen to customers, understand their true needs, and engineer solutions to meet those needs.

There are RIFs done right and RIFs done wrong. A RIF done right looks like this:

* A realistic assessment is made of the number of people and the skill types of the people needed to efficiently run a business.

* An inventory is made of the skill types of the people currently in the group.

* A list is made of the excess people who lack the skills sufficiently to make that group succeed.

* Those people are given plenty of time, opportunity and help to find a better match within the company for their skills and business need.

* If, and only if, they're unable to find such a match, they are let go.

In all cases, when I've kept in touch with the people in the last bucket, they end up very much on their feet. One guy I know is living it up in San Diego.

Don't fear the RIFfer unless you're a political game player.

Anonymous said...

As someone who recently turned down a very lucrative job offer to accept a position at Microsoft, I find reading Mini's blog & the comments rather disturbing (since the company sounds like a disfunctional mess), and promising (because I get the impression that lot of people really do care).

There is a lot of truth in what is said here, but it's not all gospel. Minimsft is an open forum on what is wrong with Microsoft, and that attracts both the idealists who seek postive change and the malcontents and losers who whine about how they were wronged by the system. And, as Who 'da Punk can attest, it also attracts trolling from the open source losers. (I call them losers because the people who are actually living their credo by building open source software (the best of which are superior to our equivalents) don't waste their time trolling.) The latter two categories outnumber the former greatly.

There *are* problems at Microsoft and a lot of them pretty severe. There *are* teams and entire orgs where the rot is deeply embedded. There isn't any question about that. But overall, I still do believe we are still the best organized institution for putting out software on the planet, and, if you're willing to expend the effort to look for them, the best opportunites to grow in your profession anywhere. If we weren't, I wouldn't be working here.

Keep your eyes open, make your own judgements, and stand up and do your part to make sure your org from becoming a topic here.

Ry Jones said...

Taking risks (MSR, Windows Mobile) gets us into new, expanding markets. Why leave those markets to startups?

Anonymous said...

If you're on an engineering team, look around. Think of which people on the team are always installing new tools and trying things out and sending links to interesting tech stories and ranting about bad software design and so on.

I've got a name for you guys--"Microsoft dorks." You've got your Tablet PCs and iPAQs and smartphones and Media Centers and SPOT watches and Design Patterns textbooks and you spend your time reading about the .NET framework and tweaking your registry and you couldn't possibly be more out of touch with the rest of humanity if you tried.

You're the guy who thinks it's a great idea to make a new thread that calls a new DLL to do some COM interop and some data marshalling to call the WipeMyButt() function that's only in the alpha version of the CLR. Congrats, you just created something that's not debuggable by humans and requires your customers to spend 18 hours downloading Windows updates, but hey, it sure is "elegant." Aren't you "smart"!

Microsoft needs fewer devs who "get software" and more devs who can make quality products.

Who da'Punk said...

(I was ready to reject that post until the whole WipeMyButt() API call. It made me smile.)

Anonymous said...

Vampires go where the blood is.

By which I mean: Money-hungry no-talent empire-builders go where the money is. Microsoft is where a lot of money is.

How do you fix it? Simple. Have less money.

I hear you screaming, "But we don't want to do that! We want Microsoft to be more profitable, not less!" But I'm not talking about MS as a whole. I'm talking about at a team, product, or project level.

See, the problem is that each project doesn't have to live like a startup, so they can accumulate all these empire-building leaches because they have all of Microsoft's bank account to draw on. If the project had to turn a profit on it's own, apart from the rest of Microsoft, then it would have to staff much leaner, or it would collapse under the weight of the payroll. And that would embarrass the managers of the project. So the only way for them to build an empire at all would be for them to run a successful, lean program.

This plays nicely into one of the most eloquent things I've read here: one can do the work of four, two can do the work of three, three can do the work of two, and four can do the work of one. Beyond that, productivity goes negative."

Nicely said, anonymous. To put it differently: Small teams are the way you get something done.

But this goes against the "integrate everything including the kitchen sink" product philosophy. Well, I have to say, that philosophy is a straitjacket that is strangling development at Microsoft. You want to be able to move faster? Have fewer dependencies.

Anonymous said...

When is a RIF going to happen, though?

- Now? Um, we have Windows and Office to finish. It'd be too distracting.
- After Windows and Office finish? Um, laying people off right at the holidays is just freakin' cold.
- Early next calendar year? Maybe.

Anonymous said...

Here's an even crazier idea, that accomplishes the same things...

Rather than RIFs, spin off portions of the company.

If there's whole businesses we've invested in that are just taking up too much people / time / distraction, break them off and have them rent their current space and resources from MSFT. Fund them according to what their FY07 budget asks were. Break off a corresponding piece of whatever section of HR and Legal serviced them. Shove them all collectively into some of the new buildings we've been buying from SafeCo or wherever, so that MSFT corporate campus still fits on the original main campus. Translate outstanding options and stock awards into options in whatever the new company is.

That gives people and projects a fighting chance to really prove themselves, rather than just an out-and-out cold-hearted RIF.

It lets MSFT shed some dead weight, getting to Mini's lean-and-mean sort of thing.

It has the potential, if even one or two of these things actually thrives, of giving MSFT a slight look of being a technology incubator.

Bets of all, it gives some of the fiefdom-happy kingdom-building managers the worst possible thing: exactly what they wanted.

*THEN* you can take a look at the company that remains, and truly "manage-up-or-out" the people that are getting in the way in the core businesses.

Anonymous said...

The biggest bloat is in the PM teams across MSN. All they do is re-report status and "communicate" with PMs in other teams.

Dude, I know you feel sad that no one has fallen for your endless 'role warfare' bait. Sorry. Your level of discourse (and potentially, intellect) is at a level no one wants to stoop to. You have posted several shades of MSN PM bashing notes, still everyone has ignored you. Take a cue.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that a massive RIF is the way forward.

MS has a lot of talented people within the ranks, the key is getting them to actually live up to that potential - and whilst RIFs are definitely focussing, they undermine morale significantly - which IMO hurts productivity even more. I think a major re-org would be a better solution.

There should be smaller, more focussed and more autonomous teams. I agree, things are just getting too big. Reduce the bloat. Get back to the skunkworks type mentality. Perhaps the displaced workers should be put into new startup projects - small teams given their own head to build the next generation of products. Sure Windows, Office etc are where the money is - but they're continuations of existing lines, where's the innovation?

Anonymous said...

although i haven't joined Microsoft but and i can't really agree or disagree with what mini is saying. However, Microsoft has been inspiration to me since my first ever PC and the excitment i have and long list of ideas are endless. Why would i be deprived from my dreams. Why wouldn't you give a chance for new blood to flow in the vains of Microsoft that will do their best to drive this company to greater success. I am not worried about the problems Microsoft has, i am more worried on how to fix them up, and how to put my ideas, passion and love for technology to use.

Anonymous said...

RIF ? You must be kidding.

Microsoft has been the biggest recruiter, by far, on campuses this year. Moreover, from what I've seen at my campus, quality of the new hires isn't exactly awe-inspiring.

For the record, I got in. But so did a lot of my friends who weren't on anybody's list of star performers. Worse, the candidates I met during the onsite interviews sounded like they were closer to the bottom of their class than the top.

I took up the offer...(it's only slightly less competitive than Google, Amazon etc) but I'm not super excited.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft Takes Manhattan

"Microsoft's (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) chief financial officer, was initially scheduled to speak at the Bernstein event. Ballmer took his slot after Microsoft's stock took a 15% beating in the first week of May--the same week it told Wall Street that it would be spending $2 billion more than analysts had expected."

Talk about bolting the barn door long after the horse has already escaped. But at least he's getting on a plane and going to see Wall St. for the first time that I can recall vs just granting them a Redmond audience once/year. Anyone still doubting that he's starting to feel at least some pressure? Unfortunately, I suspect he'll pack his usual bag of bullshit -deniability of any/all past problems and everything "poised" for success (as it was in 01, 02, 03, 04, 05...). I wonder if he'll start off the meeting with his now infamous message to shareholders that "he's never really viewed the stock as a barometer of success"? If so, that ought to set the right tone. Not!

I agree with the author; If he wades in there with the usual spiel rather than demonstrating some new found awareness and sensitivity to the streets' concerns and willingness to start addressing them, look for an ugly post meeting selloff. Then again, just about any time Ballmer opens his mouth there's a selloff so I'm not really going out on a limb with that call.

Anonymous said...

"Fire Steve Ballmer NowWednesday, May 24, 2006, 10:29:03 PM - noemail@noemail.org (pk)
With today's news that Microsoft's Vista could indeed slip further into next year, as I had promised would happen, there is only one rational response from Microsoft's board: Fire Steve Ballmer. He has long been an erratic force inside the company -- someone with real strengths, but also horrible deficiencies (among which is being utterly tonedeaf) -- and it is finally clear that the latter permanently outweigh the former.

Of course, Ballmer had any decency he would simply resign. The odds of that happening, however, are very low.

[Update] As expected, Ballmer is now hedging the above comments, but it seems clear there is a lot of work to do in Vista Beta 2. I note that Goldman Sachs is saying this morning that their model reflects a two-month delay in general availability to early March."

And the drum beat gets a little louder...

Anonymous said...

I worked in an iron foundry that had developed a large middle management infrastructure. They were one of the few actual foundries that still dealt in large industrial iron since all the other ones either went out of business or converted to cater to artists and really small projects. Still there were 4 very powerful VP's and each one had their circle of Yes men who had their circle of Yes men and so on.

A japanese company wanted to buy up the company in a hostile takeover and this gave the impetus to really trip the middle managers.

They chose to start from the bottom up. Starting with the month before, you were rated by the number of months since you were part of the production of an iron casting. If you hadn't been actually had your hands in production doing sand analysis, pouring iron, or building forms during the past year, your score was 10x the number of weeks since you last supervised production directly. Then 100x if you only supervised the supervisors and so forth.

This made a metric of how close to the production process you were (the lower your score, the better). This wasn't the only metric of course, but it did give people a real number they could see who might become less productive if they had to manage someone closer to the product they actually produced rather than other managers.

I think the head count reduction was carried out objecitvely and fairly. Even the CEO's son was cut and that completely suprised everyone. I know production of a software product is more abstract (does GUI design count as production?) but the basic idea of coming up with a bottom-up, distance-from-our-product metric is worth considering before any layoffs.

Who da'Punk said...

Aah, Mini has joined the bandwagon clamoring for a communist Microsoft state. A Gold star is not directly related to the level of yearly productivity per employee, that's what the merit reviews are for. A Gold star is just a pat on the back, an atta boy, to encourage you to continue your good work.

A confusing pat on the back that no one knows about or sees coming? Something to be "kept between you and me?" Are we talking about a reward here or creepy Uncle Walt?

I'm a guns a'blazing capitalist. But a hidden reward program is an ineffective reward program, and a waste of money. And that burns the capitalist in me bad!

I'd much rather see the money put to good use than where it's going now.

Unless we're going to start putting Gold Stars on people's door or something...

Who da'Punk said...

If there's to be layoffs, I sure hope you're one of the people included. :\

Yes, I know, that would certainly be an ironic "success" that I could do nothing but laugh about.

So, opposed to a heartless massive RIF, how do you recommend finding the deadwood and ensuring they're out?

Who da'Punk said...

What are you smoking dude? Did someone pay you to say that? Are you the same Mini-Microsoft who we have counted on to be the voice of “the real Microsoft”? While I am generally in support of your opinions, I think this is your worst post ever for the following reasons.

Ooo, whoa there. I'd certainly never take up the mantle as a voice of Microsoft. I'm just one voice putting ideas out there and exceptionally interested in hearing other points of views. Like yours. And you might be taking this post a bit too seriously. The main theme is to put a harsh crazy idea out there (you know, fire without compassion and screw up a bunch of wonderful people's lives) and see what better solutions there are. Because I of course would want something better than sorrow.

Microsoft does not have one voice. It is a chorus of involved, focused employees.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is all very interesting, specially for me, working on MS but on a sub down south. Talking about getting in touch with customers and tech geeks, I remember the first year I was in MS working as a local pss engineer, I had to deal with a dev that said, and I quote "please, you call me as I dont know how to dial long distance". Well, I am sure that that guy could not possible develop a product that connected to customers reality (I am too ashamed to put what product it was, sorry, but yes, it did not work very well).
Its important that managers never forget who are we working for, and it seems they do sometimes.
I read that UPS does a flip in roles once in a while and put managers to drive vans and deliver mail, just so they connect to the real thing
I would love to see that happen more inside MS, I know there are still people around that cant dial an international code...

Anonymous said...

Who I would RIF in windows alone.

1) Anyone who ever worked on WTT. This does not include the poor SOBs who try desperately to get their tests to run with it because of brain dead exec mandates.

2) 80% of quality gates teams. All of their management.

3) 75% of PMs through the division. All shell PMs and LUA designers.

4) All of SE. Let the product groups fix their messes. They do it anyway, since SE does jack squat, and it makes sure product teams understand how they stuff they shipped is working in the real world.

5) All partners.

silentandnowhappy said...

Don't RIF people, kill teams of useless/unprofitable technologies. All members of those teams will have to look for other positions. The good ones will find them, the bad ones won't and will be fired. The net effect is that people aren't singled out for being bad by people on their current team (who might be no better than they are), but rather for not being good enough by people on another team.

Now, finding smart enough management to figure out which teams to kill.... sigh. I guess this was a bad idea after all.

Anonymous said...

MS has a lot of talented people within the ranks, the key is getting them to actually live up to that potential - and whilst RIFs are definitely focussing, they undermine morale significantly - which IMO hurts productivity even more. I think a major re-org would be a better solution.

A major reorg! Why hasn't MSFT used the reorg process to fix the problem? What's that you say? There's one EVERY FALL? Oh. Yeah. Right.

Look, maybe a RIF will fix things or it won't. It depends on what the actual problem is:

1. There are too many poor performing IC's and Leads who write crappy specs, poor code, or couldn't find a bug staring them in the face, etc. These poor performers are collectively causing us to take too much time iterating on quality of the products to ship on time.

2. Middle management fiefdoms create political jockeying and unnecessary process in order to justify their existence. These middle managers have lost all sight of the goal: ship tight and desireable software on time. In place of that goal are individual goals of increasing spheres of influence and the appearance of "leading" in that they seem to be at the head of new process ideas or market initiatives but have the follow-thru of a golfer in traction.

Now the reality is that it's probably a mixture of the two, but the message that is sent to the company by a RIF is very different depending on which of the two management wants to pursue first/hardest.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I know you feel sad that no one has fallen for your endless 'role warfare' bait

-

I am a PM. I agree there is a lot of useless PM in MSN that brings bad name to good PM.

Anonymous said...

"So, opposed to a heartless massive RIF, how do you recommend finding the deadwood and ensuring they're out?"

There's no easy answer here. Years of politics means that individual review scores for employees are suspect and in the management chain, you're often dealing with layer upon layer of deadwood who've helped each other up the ladder over the years and have each others back. If you go with employee or peer feedback, as some have suggested, you're never going to know if this person scored poorly because they're a screw up or because they dared to take-on/ignore/kick the ass of the very people who need to go. I think the only LT solution comes down to clear, aggressive mandates for each department with a healthy bottom line focus and an understanding that success will be rewarded and failure penalized. When those are in place, there's a built-in bias to [over time] get rid of weak performers, incapable managers, excess headcount, cut unnecessary costs/waste, etc. MSFT's problem is that for many years money was coming in by the truckload and as a result, a lot of the rigors that typify older tech titans like IBM, HPQ, etc never got built. Now, as the money train has slowed and headcount mushroomed, too many departments exist with loosely defined mandates and limited or non-existent financial return components, which allows folks to engage in empire building and substituting looking productive for being productive. In the short term though, I don't think MSFT can afford to sit around and wait for that to kick in. So while a RIF will be ugly and will take some of the wrong people while missing most of the right ones, I think it's absolutely required. MSFT could even improve the latter by mandating X% reductions for the partners and middle-management levels so that they don't avoid the axe (esp when many of them deserve it the most). A decent RIF (5% or more) while imperfect and likely to result in some disruption/morale loss, would send a huge message that it's no longer business as usual. Plus, it increasingly looks unavoidable - so better to do it now while it's still elective vs being forced into it in a year or two when circumstances give the company no other choice - which will virtually guarantee that it will be poorly executed and unfairly implemented.

Anonymous said...

All company culture starts at the top. No solution is viable without it starting there.

Unlike the rank and file, Steve And Bill are no longer hungry. $2.4B is an unimaginable amount of money to ordinary people (ie. just about everyone), but it's just a fraction of these guys' personal worth. These guys are stunned by the market reaction to the spend the way I'd be stunned if Third World countries protested me buying a pizza (after all, $20 is a King's Ransom to some people).

On that point, some people have criticised the rank and file for wanting better compensation without a success to justify it. Can you blame the rank and file for wanting to follow their leaders' example of being rewarded for failure?

It all sounds like the plot from Animal Farm. All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others. The pigs, with their noses in the trough, are squealing for the workhorses to STFU and eat their chickenfeed. ;)

Good luck with the challenge, Who Da, but you really don't have a snowball's chance while your leadership won't admit failures.

M.

(A non-Softie escapee from similar executive necrosis.)

Anonymous said...

I think a RIF pilot should be done in HR first as opposed to a product team. Not only were tons of idiots hired from companies like Home Depot and Safeway, more job openings are showing up every day for HR generalists and so called consultants at L62 or higher. Not only are the HR generalists over compensated compared to the industry, they are calcifying the company with unneeded bureuacracy.

Are you kidding? I'd bet dollars to donuts that the HR headcount, both full-time and temp, will GROW during the lead-up to and during any RIF, in order to deal with the increased workload associated with clearing out all that 'deadwood' (a euphamism which generally means 'people who have no well-placed champion within the organization').

So, if you want to know when the RIF is coming, just watch the activities of the HR department. A timeless and well-tested technique!

Anonymous said...

"See, the problem is that each project doesn't have to live like a startup, so they can accumulate all these empire-building leaches because they have all of Microsoft's bank account to draw on. If the project had to turn a profit on it's own, apart from the rest of Microsoft, then it would have to staff much leaner, or it would collapse under the weight of the payroll. And that would embarrass the managers of the project. So the only way for them to build an empire at all would be for them to run a successful, lean program."

Absolutely agree. Force the emerging businesses/pet projects to act like startups and either perform or get cut. Ideally, spin them off completely and let the market decide what they're worth and what capital to allocate to them. Right now, the market says they're collectively worthless and while they're collectively unprofitable, they obviously represent some rather substantial value. Meanwhile, take the relatively mature businesses (I hate to say that because I actually think there's no such thing - just a lack of creativity) and reward them based on their ability to crank out great products, on time while constantly improving their cost structures. They're effectively software factories after all and should be ultra efficient ones - not industry jokes. Meanwhile, assemble a dozen or so teams of 10-20 folks and put them on skunk-work developments with a cut of the action if they create something successful. Shit, give them enough financial benefit and they could probably just comb the halls of MSR and the product groups finding tons of cool shit that's already been created/developed but is sitting gathering cob webs instead of driving earnings. And yes, I know the licensing group is supposed to be doing that but give me a break.

Anonymous said...

MSFT has now 70000 full time and 9000 open heads. On to 100000 full time employees.

Anonymous said...

RIF ? You must be kidding.

Microsoft has been the biggest recruiter, by far, on campuses this year. Moreover, from what I've seen at my campus, quality of the new hires isn't exactly awe-inspiring.


i agree that it is hard to hire people these days, at least the past few candidates i have suck big time.

how do we fix this problem? here's what i think to do, no need a big RIF.

1. anyone with career review avg of about less or equal than 3.0, will be automatically tagged as "layoff" -able. this will then up to the VP to decide to keep or not. If VP wants to keep then reset his flag. this should be ongoing after every review season.

2. making internal transfer easier - if you worked in a team for more than 24 months then you can interview in any internal team you want. no need to ask permission from manager. if there's an offer then manager can try to keep the person.

3. make internal interview 2 interviews only. this will save time and since hiring manager can ultimaly decide hire or not, why go thru 5 interviews. 2 interviews- the hiring manager and hiring manager's manager. this will help to encourage people to explore new opportunities within the company.

4. any product team floating around without a product/service will be terminated.

5. There are suprising many many internal apps team (non product group) within the company. often redundant and sometimes self-serving (building tool for that the same team to report status). 1 MASSIVE reorg for all these internal app teams and form a INTRANET group. You'll be suprise how effective this will be.

6. Change all leads, director etc without reports to IC - either PM,dev,test,se etc..

7. Putting MS in the front queue for H1b people. Have massive recruitment in top universities outside US/Canada 3-4 months before h1b season starts. Like the UK, Aust, NZ, Denmark, Germany, India, China etc.. Then take the as many initial H1b numbers for the year by MS. What happen now is that leach companies hire these h1b and sell them to MS. We can save $$$ hiring the best with this.

8. Hire thru subsidiary. MS has subsidiaries around the world. Hire these people by using subsidiary - from MS India, MS Aust, MS Denmark, MS Hungary etc.. then relocate these people over after 12 months. This is the L1 program. During the initial 12 months, they work from remote, learning the system etc... How many times have i seen top talent not making it here because of visa numbers.

9. Set a dateline for shipping software - i say 3 years. if they can't ship a single version in 3 years - disband the team. Give them all 4 weeks to find new position.

10. Bring back old ESPP schemes.

11. Don't hire new college grad with higher level but same level and give them bigger signing bonus over 3 years. This won't upset current employees with all these level inflation etc..

Anonymous said...

RIF? You THINK? Duh! Man, it would be soooo easy to just go down the hall in my building, and point into the offices of people who don't add any value whatsoever to the company:

- "You're useless, go home"

- (next office) "You're funny, but you haven't done anything useful in 2 years... go home"

- (next office) "You can stay"

- (next office) "Useless... leave."

etc. Soooo easy. But only a dream.

Anonymous said...

misc. thoughts:

- message sent by laying off 1k CSGs for a week, one week after announcing myMicrosoft: "you saw the carrot, and we have sticks too - you decide"

- what does Gates' card game during the big SteveB/LisaB presentation mean? either that it's Steve's issue to sort out (and Steve really is The Man), or that Bill doesn't think morale is a significant issue, or that Bill wants to keep his distance from this solution in case it doesn't work out. I vote for all 3

- to outsiders thinking of joining us: for most groups morale is not nearly as bad as all this navel gazing may suggest. Even where it is, if you're good enough to change the world, you're good enough to change your group or division. And why would anyone join Microsoft except to change the world? (ok, the medical benefits are great, but otherwise why would you?)

- and FWIW, my idea for the solution?: management of all high levels has to get out and about and talk to the workers. 7 years at this company, in 5 different buildings, and I've never seen SteveB, BillG, or any VP walk down the hallways by my office, let alone drop in to B.S. Even managers 3 levels above are a very rare siting. Everything I do gets to them through so many levels of managerial filtering that it must make no sense at all by the time it gets there. I don't expect them to help with my challenges, but getting a vague idea of what we workers do would surely help them do what they do better.

Anonymous said...

Mini>I'm a guns a'blazing capitalist. But a hidden reward program is an ineffective reward program, and a waste of money. And that burns the capitalist in me bad!

Wait... wasn't it you who posted the link to the site that talked about why cash rewards are a terrible way to motivate employees?

Can't find it right now... argh.

Anonymous said...

The group that needs a kick in the ass or a RIF is Office Business Applications (OBA)

Damn right!! This group needs to go. OBA has not shipped anything!! The one product they have shipped (BSM)....they got from some other group and its sucking win in terms of revenue/traction!! All they do is suck up to JeffR... who has absolutely no clue!! With groups and leaders like this, we are doomed!!

Anonymous said...

2) Now we will sit back and watch as 120 comments show up saying how "That -other- group needs a major rif." Because, as we all know, all the dumbasses and bloat are never in your own team - heck your own team is always understaffed. But strangely, all the teams around you are overstaffed.

My small team is understaffed. The larger team (VP/PUM level) is definitely overstaffed. There's a below average number of dumbasses though. Is that good?

RIF the number of partners by 25-30% first. Then remove the pyramids in marketing, HR, finance. Dont replace the attrition.

I like both ideas.

Merge windows and MSN common groups.

Now I think you're nuts.

Dont allow hiring without prototypes or solid plans.

Prototypes aren't created by magic. They need resources to make them reality. If someone has a good idea, they should get a small team to try to figure it out. But set a reasonable date for producing something. If they don't miss it, blow up the team and let someone else have a shot at innovating.

No thanks to Mini, everybody is now lamenting not recieving a Gold star. See why the founding fathers made this award a top secret thing? Still we need something to tell a few people, yeah we notice what you are doing and that we likey. A gold star is one of those tools.

A secret reward is not a motivational tool. The fact that people are told not to tell anyone else about it makes it worse. If it's a bone that you're throwing to top performers, call them out in front of the group.

What I don't understand, and I'd love someone from inside Microsoft to explain to me, is how all this 'dead wood' and 2.5/3.0 cruft made it thru the infamous Microsoft interview process?

They were good before. Major life events happen. People change and burn out.

When is a RIF going to happen, though?

- Now? Um, we have Windows and Office to finish. It'd be too distracting.
- After Windows and Office finish? Um, laying people off right at the holidays is just freakin' cold.
- Early next calendar year? Maybe.


Well, the point would probably be to get rid of the dead wood. It shouldn't be too distracting for the grunts. Just a lot of managers having meetings to decide who stays and who goes. We should not wait for next calendar year.

RIF ? You must be kidding.

Microsoft has been the biggest recruiter, by far, on campuses this year. Moreover, from what I've seen at my campus, quality of the new hires isn't exactly awe-inspiring.


I'd bet someone sent out a request that we try to re-energize with fresh blood. That's why there was focus on college hires. Some will work, some won't. The most important thing is that we're keeping this talent away from the competition.

I took up the offer...(it's only slightly less competitive than Google, Amazon etc) but I'm not super excited.

Then do us all a favor and quit now. We have enough jerks like you who are only here for a paycheck and don't care about the impact they could make if they did their job well.

Who I would RIF in windows alone.

1) Anyone who ever worked on WTT. This does not include the poor SOBs who try desperately to get their tests to run with it because of brain dead exec mandates.

2) 80% of quality gates teams. All of their management.

3) 75% of PMs through the division. All shell PMs and LUA designers.

4) All of SE. Let the product groups fix their messes. They do it anyway, since SE does jack squat, and it makes sure product teams understand how they stuff they shipped is working in the real world.

5) All partners.


1, Not all of them are evil. I think they keep it broken on purpose, to justify the size of the org.

2. Aren't these just virtual teams (meaning that quality gates aren't their normal job)?

3. Without Shell PM's, we have no product innovation in each release ;)

4. Great idea. Put the Windows OS on a better schedule, and do regular releases (2x per year).

5. Like WTT people, not ALL of the partners are evil.


how do we fix this problem? here's what i think to do, no need a big RIF.

1. anyone with career review avg of about less or equal than 3.0, will be automatically tagged as "layoff" -able. this will then up to the VP to decide to keep or not. If VP wants to keep then reset his flag. this should be ongoing after every review season.

2. making internal transfer easier - if you worked in a team for more than 24 months then you can interview in any internal team you want. no need to ask permission from manager. if there's an offer then manager can try to keep the person.

5. There are suprising many many internal apps team (non product group) within the company. often redundant and sometimes self-serving (building tool for that the same team to report status). 1 MASSIVE reorg for all these internal app teams and form a INTRANET group. You'll be suprise how effective this will be.

9. Set a dateline for shipping software - i say 3 years. if they can't ship a single version in 3 years - disband the team. Give them all 4 weeks to find new position.


1. LAR is gone, so this can't happen.
2. Is it difficult to change groups? I haven't had a problem before. Maybe I just did it at the right time.
5. Good idea!!
9. Three years is too long. 18 months is probably a better target.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand, and I'd love someone from inside Microsoft to explain to me, is how all this 'dead wood' and 2.5/3.0 cruft made it thru the infamous Microsoft interview process?

I'm referring to the wonderful "solve this puzzle" or "reverse a string" while hopping on one foot for the interviewer - wasn't this filter supposed to ensure that only the creme-de-la-creme would gain access to the hallowed halls of Microsoft?

Just curious.


O, please, there is a godzillion of groups that nobody wants to work for, but they still have to hire (VS anyone? any SE team?), they hire suckers, then with reorgs these suckes drift through the company.

And Mini, if they fire you I'll leave my badge on the table in few weeks (sorry, can't commit to same day :)

In tradition of this community, anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Given that the high-tech industry has once again managed to propose an increase in H1-B Visa's (in the current Senante Bill http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12994632/from/RS.5/ ) to 115,000 a year (remember each person is allowed to stay for 6 years) and the total can increase by up to 20% a year and some grad level degress are exempt entirely

I would worry far less about lay-offs and far more about hiring indentured servants from over-seas.

Over the next 5 years there will be an additional 550,000 programmers from India and China competing for your job. Do you think they will have a blog complaining?

Cascadia

Anonymous said...

'Tis me, that lowly CSG/FTE/CSG guy again.

The main topic seems to be RIFs as a method forachieving the "Mini-MSFT" that is desired.

What I am seeing here is a lot of attempts to make a sweeping change to fix everything or a big chunk of something. The problem is (and one that is recognized) is how to make that sweeping change without losing a lot of really good stuff.

Unfortunately I dont think it can be done. You all may well have to sack up and choose a solution that will at least do more good than harm.

I am also not seeing a lot of the famous outside-the-box thinking going on in these comments. Why does it have to be a sweeping RIF? How about focusing on finding *one* person without agenda and qualified enough to assemble a team of "Grim Reapers" who can go seek out the dead weight and nominate them to the RIF queue....

Or....as the stock sinks...start buying. Form a strong stockholder presence and start beating on the doors with pitchforks and torches.

Oh sure there are problems with those scenarios....but at least it is *something* different. C'mon, where is that crazy brainstorming?

This mere CSG is thinking...and I have no dog in this hunt. (well ok...I have a small dog in the hunt)

Anonymous said...

I think if estbalish bottom line requirements into each job and clear performance measurements, managers will execute across the board fairly without exception, the system will work. The problem at microsoft is that there are so many managers who bring with them as they get promoted their groupies (to guarantee good reviews)and have flourished in such a system of favoritisms, politics, and groupies. They merely emulated the executive team who are all "good buddies".Remember many good managers get screwed by employee feedback when maybe they are trying to interject equity and do the right thing. Doing the right thing in this sea of politics, burgeoning bureaucracy, ass-kissing,excessive reports/meetings, distrust, poor morale, lack of company focus, out of touch executives is pretty intimidating. You will stand out and get crucified by someone who wants your job. Poorly performing reports will kill you on a review if you find them out.

Microsoft needs to attend to straightening out the executive office. Get company focus back. Get some executives who are in touch with the both the employee and the customer. Create a new climate of trust, belief in all work as being noble (not just work they gets you visibility and a chance to create a fiefdom), new energy about getting the job done, people really acting like they want to work in a group. Right now the company has been virtualized so much who can measure the impact of any one indivdual? Besides that who trusts a system where they want you to work as a team but measure you individually against each other. Who will trust it? That is why the stack rank system was getting unbearablly unjust as the bureacracy and virtual teaming got out of hand. The execs were out to lunch..Ballmer had no idea what his new imprint on making new processes and getting people to work together was doing.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please tell me where all this hiring is going on? I work on a team in MBS shipping with Office in the Fall, and our execution is practically crippled by the fact that our GM won't fill any headcount until after we ship.

Anonymous said...

Groups that need a major rif:

AutoPC, Dynamics, Windows Mobile, MSR, HR, Fiance, "Business Development"

-
Add Craig Mundy, David Vasketich group to this.

The partners in the above groups have been milking the company. It is also a mistake of the company to reward a person for building an empire as opposed to raw technical contribution.

Who da'Punk said...

Can't find it right now... argh.

I believe you mean this one, from Alfie Kohn's site:

http://www.alfiekohn.org/business.htm

It was in the "acronym" post. Mr. Kohn argues that reward systems are self defeating. I'm not bought into that and I certainly don't see Microsoft waking up one morning, rubbing its eyes, and musing, "What the heck was I thinking with all that stock and bonus?!?! I must have been on a bender for these past couple of decades..."

But lets at least have transparency here, like the other transparency we're doing (of course, it seems, drawing the line after L67).

Anonymous said...

5. There are suprising many many internal apps team (non product group) within the company. often redundant and sometimes self-serving (building tool for that the same team to report status). 1 MASSIVE reorg for all these internal app teams and form a INTRANET group. You'll be suprise how effective this will be.

Having worked as an IT developer for over 7 years, I can say that disfunctional IT groups mirror their disfunctional business groups. I really, really hope all these new Centers of Excellence can help this. We'll see...

(building tool for that the same team to report status)

Please. Most of use use this nifty new tool called "Sharepoint". Others use an obscure thing called "Product Studio". Others, a combination of the two.

Anonymous said...

If you (RIF based on) employee or peer feedback, as some have suggested, you're never going to know if the person scored poorly because they're a screw up or because they dared to take-on/ignore/kick the ass of the very people who need to go.

Classic GM syndrome. When there was a recall, GM management blamed employees for not building the cars right. When divisions failed, employees got canned; the management remained intact. Today, GM and Ford puff along outsourcing labor to whichever country promises low dollar. Meantime – within U.S. borders - both Honda and Toyota are building massive factories producing record numbers of vehicles using U.S. labor, and they are racking up record profits. I don't *think* that there is any correlation between the fact that Ballmer is a Michigan product, that his dad was a Ford auto exec, and that possibly the way that Steve learned to succeed was with a 'to get along you go along' boys club mentality. However, that's exactly what’s developed at Microsoft. And, no question, its been terrible for innovation. The only way that managers can get great ideas for innovation is to inherit/steal them from their employees. And the employees, who have gotten burned by opening their mouths, are now not forthcoming. In auto manufacture the barrier to entry and start up costs are immense. In the software industry, the sands of innovation shift quickly. Its very difficult to muscle out upstarts (apple, google, linux, et al). They come in through every crack imaginable, and grow incredibly fast by winning the hearts and minds of users. You simply can’t RIF *losers* quickly enough to prevent this from occurring. You have to outthink and outsmart your competition. At Microsoft we've assigned that task to management. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

7 years at this company, in 5 different buildings, and I've never seen SteveB, BillG, or any VP walk down the hallways by my office, let alone drop in to B.S. Even managers 3 levels above are a very rare siting.

I frequently see our GPM (who is my manager) and his peers for parallel teams in our division. However. Multiple months go by without an appearance to our team by OUR SKIP-LEVEL, whose focus is on managing up and not worrying about the actual dirty work of creating product, which is something that the people beneath him (in more than one way) do. Above the skip-level? I see them MAYBE once a year. MAYBE.

Another effective RIF-ing suggestion: Find the people 4 and 5 levels up in the org (GM, PUM, etc.) who've been in the software industry less than 10 years, or in the company less than 5 years without a significant track record, and possibly have had Microsoft as their first or second employer, after graduation. Identify if they're a rare superstar or a suck-up. Why target these people? At that level, they're still close enough to the rank and file that their decisions too easily cause more harm than good to the org because they're made out of consideration to politics, career-risk-avoidance and lack of knowledge of the technical area they lead, rather than technical and business (read: corporate financial, not personal political capital) merit. One way to gain data on this might be using an anonymous poll of a random sample of all in their org to give you an idea of their competence and usefulness as a leader. Ask questions like: "What do you think X's best initiative has been over the past 2 years?" "What has been their least useful initiative?" "Do you think X understands what your team does? Why or why not?".

I don't mean surveying just this person's reports, aka the old manager review. I mean surveying people at all org levels beneath them. Skipping levels will mitigate the effect of personal politics, which seems to be played at most one level down (direct reports), and mostly upward. Yes, MS Poll already covers this kind of questioning for one's VP, but it doesn't address the layer or 2 or 3 of middle management below that person.

Everything I do gets to them through so many levels of managerial filtering that it must make no sense at all by the time it gets there. I don't expect them to help with my challenges, but getting a vague idea of what we workers do would surely help them do what they do better.

The most recent time our skip-level came to a meeting of several teams beneath him, when we talked about certain challenges we were having, our trying-to-be-helpful GM cheerfully suggested, "Well, A who I used to work with in group B has some ideas on how to /concept C that we recognize bears no technical relation to our problem area, despite having a similar-SOUNDING name!/". We of course smiled and politely thanked him for the suggestion, and forgot about it.

This leader is a joke who adds no value to the division. I can honestly say that if I was asked to name one person in our division to RIF, his name would be on the top of my list. I know several managers who do little. I know several IC's who don't do all that much either, especially when the weather is nice and the soccer fields beckon. But having a person with that little knowledge of technology, and so little interest in what the people he manages produce, in the position he is in, is actively harmful to the efforts of dozens.

LisaB, in case you're listening. Here's how one of these people operates. Closed-door policy to all below him except the directs who depend on him for a review score. Control of communication by anyone within his division, to anyone above him or outside it, so that he is the primary messenger of any results. Careful preparation of those results to spin him (and only secondarily his division itself) in the post possible light before presentation. Days spent forging political alliances with those around the company in positions above him, who might be the source of his next step up the ladder, rather than concerning himself with the mundane details of his current product.

I wonder how many other GM, PUM and GPM positions in Windows are as much of a revolving door for technically-insufficient aspiring execs doing their "required 2 year stint in Windows" to prove their company leadership mettle to the powers that be.

Now, a suggestion for the Windows execs: Don't stand for this. Stop playing along with this game. Stop hiring in these random Office and Devdiv bureaucrats who are here only to get their feet on the next rung, and will move out again in 2 years, never having cared about the product. They're not helping the product, we don't need them, and WE DON'T WANT THEM any more than their prior division did. Please recognize that the management of the Windows product line should not be an executive intern program, any more than the design of key Windows features should be left to 3rd year university student interns. We don't do the latter. Don't do the former.

Anonymous said...

RE: So, opposed to a heartless massive RIF, how do you recommend finding the deadwood and ensuring they're out?

Definition of Deadwood: Employees at all levels whose contributions do not justify what they are getting paid. There are different categories of deadwood:

--Burning Logs: Employees whose contributions to the company actually reduce the value of the company.

--Driftwood: Employees who are just there to collect a paycheck and do the minimal amount of work necessary.

--Toothpicks, Chopsticks, and Walking Sticks: Employees who think they are making a valuable contribution but have no real opportunity to grow.

--The Bench: Employees who because they have now been turned into “Benches” are just going to get sat on by executives.

How to Get Rid of the Deadwood:

Step 1:
Put out the Burning Logs first. (Smokey the Bear would agree with this step.) Force executives and employees to justify the cost of their projects relative to the expected gains.

Step 2:
Give the Driftwoods an ultimatum -- pay reduction or out.

Step 3:
For the Toothpicks, Chopsticks, and Walking Sticks, identify first of all if the company needs Toothpicks, Chopsticks, or Walking Sticks. If so, it might make sense to keep some of them, but force them to be paid a realistic market rate and only keep as many necessary.

Step 4:
Rather than having a “Bench”, the company should figuratively be a Forest, where the trees make up the whole, and the Forest is one.

Anonymous said...

"Steve learned to succeed was with a 'to get along you go along' boys club mentality. However, that's exactly what’s developed at Microsoft. And, no question, its been terrible for innovation."

I was watching a TV movie last night about Eisenhower and the count down to D-Day which reminded me of this situation. At one point, one of Ike's senior officers (a friend and former academy roommate) screws up by leaking details of the planned invasion while dining at a public restaurant. When Eisenhower learns of this and later confronts the man, the officer apologies for the mistake, says it will never happen again and pleads to be kept on saying "You can't do this Ike, I'm part of the inner circle". Eisenhower replies "That's the worst thing you could have said. There is no inner circle any more - the stakes are just too high". That's leadership imo. Similarly, I think the stakes for MSFT have gotten way too high for this dysfunctional culture to continue. "go along to get along" or the traditional MSFT cult of personality, needs to end and be replaced with a true meritocracy where you're evaluated/rewarded/promoted on what you achieve - period.

deadwood said...

RIF options

Individual Firings
Who chooses the individuals?

If it takes 8 months to fill a req why would a sane manager fire an IC who is contributing at all?

If management is the problem, doesn't this make the problem worse?

Mass Layoffs
What is the selection criteria?

If review scores are tainted by politics, if reviews are tainted by politics, and if managers are part of the problem, what metrics do we use?

How is Vista testing going after the STE layoff last year?

Reduce pay or level
Do we ever drop low performers back to a lower level?

It is tainted by the manager problem, but it would be a much better way to give people the hint than putting them on a vague performance improvement plan.

Spin-off groups
Why does everything have to be under one roof?

We could spin-off Active Directory (or pick any other group), maintain a 50% ownership stake, and maintain a perpetual licensing agreement.

It would reduce internal headcount, free teams to pursue new markets or innovations, and create opportunities for more private investment.

Push management back to IC roles
Anyone who hasn't worked "on the factory floor" in the last 10 years gets to be an IC for a couple years.

Okay, this isn't really a RIF unless, managers are no longer competent to do IC work.

As an added bonus, this frees up management positions for the next generation of hungry leaders and pushes experienced people back down to the front lines where they can better mentor newbies.

Open season after each product cycle
Once Vista ships, open up every position in Windows. Everyone gets to apply for the job of their dreams and everyone gets to compete for their current job.

One problem is deciding who gets to be on each interview loop and who will be the hiring manager.

This would also take a lot of time.

Random number generator
To hear people talk on this blog, there is more deadwood than productive people. If that is the case, take the shotgun approach.

Popularity contest
This is like choosing who to take with you in the liferaft and who you leave on the sinking ship, your child or your wife, but it is an option.

Have everyone list 10 people that Microsoft could do without and 5 people that Microsoft can't afford to loose. Also allow people to put themselves on a "I'll take that severance package thank you very much" list. Tally up the lists, publish it for all to see and start cutting.

In this case, visibility is a liability. I guess this isn't a bad option after all. Managers have lots of visibility.


On a related note, if you are part of a layoff, you get a nice severance package.
If you get managed out, you don't get a severance package. ...or was I ignorant of the magic phrase to say in the exit interview?

Anonymous said...

Since everybody is in the Riffing mood these days and we have the juices flowing. Here is a question for people. How big should mini microsoft be? Right now it s 70,000 and growing. What is the right number?

Is 50,000 too small?

Anonymous said...

Over the next 5 years there will be an additional 550,000 programmers from India and China competing for your job.

You won't get a chance to compete.

Microsoft will just hire more employees in their development centers in India and China and fewer in Redmond until more and more of their development is offshore.

Anonymous said...

This PM bashing is getting old. I used to feel similarly, until now. I'm seeing the same situation as the above poster in MBS with no headcount. Two or three PMs to 20+ specs?
Yeah, good luck meeting those first couple milestones! I guess I would rather have 1:1 PMs/specs than this...
I agree a re-shuffling is in order...not sure about a RIF in my current org, but I definately would have some "driftwood" nominees. Maybe that's what we need, just an internal "driftwood" board, to file anon or semi-anon votes of non-confidence. Bet HR would like that one...
(Hoping to keep thread alive about innovative ways to "trim" org.)

Anonymous said...

Ironic and sad that a few days before Memorial Day, someone would bring up a true leader like General Eisenhower and hope that our pathetically oblivious to reality Sr Execs could even aspire to that kind of true leadership.

Anonymous said...

And why would anyone join Microsoft except to change the world?

We cant even change our own HR policies and you want to change the world?? This is the typical attitude of young person/company/country who has just tasted some kind of success. Grow up! The only thing you can change in this world is your own self.

We, as employees of this company, are here to make money. The ones who really change the world are the ones who work not for their own gain but only to help others.

Change the world - yeah, right...try preaching that to WallStreet!

Anonymous said...

Over the next 5 years there will be an additional 550,000 programmers from India and China competing for your job.

You won't get a chance to compete.

Microsoft will just hire more employees in their development centers in India and China and fewer in Redmond until more and more of their development is offshore.



this is true. the reason for hiring there is because we can't get the people here in the US. I'm saying domestic candidates not meeting the bar or too few visas to bring people here.

however, i'm not sure if the hiring standard is as high as Redmond in india and china. it's hard to compare but if it's lower than maybe we could hire people here too with the same quality and train them up.

Anonymous said...

"So, opposed to a heartless massive RIF, how do you recommend finding the deadwood and ensuring they're out?"

Create an atmosphere that ensures every software product shipped by Microsoft meets core customer demands. The demands of which I write are so universal as to be unspoken. They are:

Simplicity.
Ease of use.
Reliability.
Satisfies core customer needs.
Ease of development.

These demands can be and - more importantly - are being met in the marketplace by your competitors. For Microsoft to meet them would require commitment from the highest levels of leadership.

(And perhaps the RIF of Microsoft's marketing division.)

This commitment would be sufficient to get rid of your under-performers. Such individuals simply cannot cope in an environment where certain minimum goals must be met. They would leave on their own, or at the very least be easy to identify and remove.

To illustrate how Microsoft can deliver on the most basic of customer needs, consider how you are failing to do so...

Simplicity...
The SKU explosion is truly hurting Microsoft. While some diversity in the product line is justifiable, the insanity involved in releasing several flavors of crippleware per product simply breeds confusion and resentment on the marketplace.

If you want your software to be perceived as the best on the market, release the best you have - and nothing else.

Ease of use...
I don't even know where to begin on this one. Better than Linux, worse than OS X, perhaps?

Certainly the Registry has turned out to be a disaster...

Reliability...
After years of service packs, upgrades and hotfixes, Windows XP Professional is still not rock solid. This is unacceptable.

The usual excuse given for instability is faulty drivers and hardware. If that truly is the case, perhaps you should hold OEMs to a higher standard when passing out those 'Designed for Windows XP' certs.

Satisfies core customer needs...
Office 2007 seems to be a compelling product, but I question the thinking that went into determining the default settings and styles. How many of you have seen business documents written with san-serif fonts and bright colors? I have seen none.

Ease of development...
When I dashed at Microsoft, the .Net initiative was unveiled. After seeing some impressive demos of applicatons written in C#, it was announced that .Net 3.0 would be the platform for day-to-day development on Windows Codename Blackcomb, expected to ship in 2007.

A completely reworked native API would exist for edge of the metal work such as device driver development.

Basically, Microsoft was pulling an Apple - completely changing the OS - but in an intelligent way that would allow ISVs plenty of time to get with the program. To help them, .Net 2.0 would be embedded within Codename Longhorn.

Several other helpful items also premiered, such as Windows Installer.

What the hell happened? The realse of .Net 1.0 was actually slower than the pre-beta version that was demoed. The platform was ripped out of what is now Vista. 2.0 was late.

And Windows Installer, while being a fine concept, suffers from extremely poor execution. I guess developers will need to continue to fork over money for InstallSheild, despite the fact that we were promised that those days were over.

Go back to the original plan. Ditch legacy Windows*, develop a new API that developers can live with and include your dev tools in the box you ship Windows in.

(You are the only OS vendor that does not. And while you may argue the merits of Visual Studio vs. X-Code or GCC, you cannot argue that VS-TS is worth ten thousand US dollars. It's not.)

*While working for the US Dpeartment of Defense, I got a peek at the source for Windows 2000. I can't claim to have seen everything, but what I did see was not pretty. There is no future there.

Anonymous said...

Since everybody is in the Riffing mood these days and we have the juices flowing. Here is a question for people. How big should mini microsoft be? Right now it s 70,000 and growing. What is the right number?

Is 50,000 too small?


50K is too big. 1,000 in Redmond campus is about the maximum it can productively handle. Remember, when the size of the org exceeds average person's ability to recognize names and faces, everyone starts behaving like anonymous assholes.

Anonymous said...

And speaking of being out-of-control big, how about the way msft handles vendors? I'm speaking specifically about marketing here. It's crazy that a mandate goes out to use only the "primary" vendors (translation=expensive) when there are many, many experienced companies that are at least as qualified and much more nimble. I wonder how many millions are squandered each month paying the inflated fees of mega-agencies when smaller shops could do a better job faster and for far less money.

chicagojilly said...

I'm pretty new to MSFT (6 months), and trying hard not to get used to the cloying sludge of interfering, bureaucratic, over-cautious and elephantine herds that enjoy trampling over everything we do in marketing. We're dying under the weight of such instinctive self-preservation. I've lost count of the number of stupid decisions we make (uh how about keeping MSN as a brand AND introducing a new Live brand offering the same services - was that dumb-assed self-preservation or doing the right thing for users?)

Cut the layers, cut the people, cut the fat, speed up decisions, and for pete's sake Ballmer, GO! The spectacle of him rantin' and ravin' at shareholders lack of understanding at the town hall made me sick to my stomach. Please will someone bring in REAL, thoughtful, professional, CEO talent?

Who da'Punk said...

Offtopic:

Thanks to Danny Westneat for his Seattle Times Sunday article and for his interesting angle on this blog (and, well, me and what I shared):

Microsoft's mystery insider

And, ah, my email client and I had an options-setting heart-to-heart (guess which client and guess how many options I had to slog through) to ensure I don't make the same bone-headed mistake in the future.

I'm certain I'll make other bone-headed mistakes, just not that one...

Anonymous said...

>>Over the next 5 years there will be an additional 550,000 programmers from India and China competing for your job.

Actually a lot of those numbers are fake. Not all of those 550,000 peeple are really qulified - They just count the number of graduates...If you are really qualified and do good programming you won't have issues finding a job.

To give you a real stuff that happened in India, the hiring standards in India Development centre for the first 3-4 years were very very stringent-all they could hire was about 300 people -out of which 30+ people came back to India from Microsoft US- Then they relaxed the norms and they hired 300 people in the next year -they relaxed even more and they hired 500 year after. Bottomline is - there is a talent shortage even in India and China if you count the real number of good programmers and not the number of graduates.

Anonymous said...

I expected Mini to be crowing about this when we spoke. But he just sounded weary...

One thing I've always wondered about, and one thing that must be making this blog a pain to maintain, is why your blog entries are so long. Why write two pages long crammed with quotes and links when a pointed paragraph will suffice? Maybe an occasional quote or link. Your blog entry is only the tip of the iceberg, the other 7/8 is below the surface, in the comments. Bring in relevant topics in a pointed, concise way. You're a made man/woman. We won't abandon you because you don't blog a novella. Lighten up.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty new to MSFT (6 months), and trying hard not to get used to the cloying sludge of interfering, bureaucratic, over-cautious and elephantine herds that enjoy trampling over everything we do in marketing.

This is due to the push to expand marketing in the last 24 months. Congrats !!! now you have an oversized marketing that comes with role new like Business Development xxx. Who to blame? It's yet another big bet from the top management.

Anonymous said...


Having worked as an IT developer for over 7 years, I can say that disfunctional IT groups mirror their disfunctional business groups.


i left MSFT 1 year ago. Having worked in a internal app group and product group - i see a huge difference in work quality. this is why product group is harder to get into. The hiring standard is 50% lower in internal app team - this is why you get bad hire drifting around the company. Also often times, levels in internal app group are higher. is this fair?

i spent just 12 months in the internal group and just running away from it. you have 1 PM to 1 Dev to 1/2 test. Some PMs work on 1 spec for entire year. Some of this spec is not even implemented. Workers there come in at 10:30am and leave 4:30pm. They call this work-life balance eh??. What's wrong with these internal app team??

Moved to a product group, things is more like a Microsoft i envisioned. 1 PM worked on 5-10 specs in 1 milestone (6 months), dev come working at 10am but leave around 7-8pm. Often times, they work over weekend or from home. Test validated unit tests, writing automation. This is exactly what i thought it should be.

I finally left after 7 years in MS.

Anonymous said...

Mini, I'd avoid the news media like the plague if I were you. Especially the hick town hacks that work for the Seattle rag. How much do you want to bet right now your new friend Danny Westmeat is getting a call from a Ballmer representative suggesting they wire a few mill to a Swiss account in exchange for your name.

You're dealing with journalists, who have small minds, and guys with more cash than you can imagine. This is not a recipe for keeping sources confidential. Do you really want to trust your future (it's not just your job, LCA has got to be salivating to get its teeth into you) to some no name reporter?

Anonymous said...

Hey Who da', did you see the article about Xerox in the Sunday Seattle Times (business section). They promoted the head of HR to run the company. The first thing she did was to hold a series of employee town halls. Then she told executives who weren't with her to leave.

It's a reprint from the WSJ but I couldn't find it online.

Anonymous said...

Forgot one more thing, she downsized Xerox from 90,000 to 55,000.

Anonymous said...

RIF planning is easy. Implement an immediate and complete hiring freeze. Start at the top. Anyone managing less than 6 directs is encouraged to start looking for alternate career options.

Oh what.... Guess I slipped into dreamland. Was a nice nap. But, back to reality now.......

Who da'Punk said...

Mini, I'd avoid the news media like the plague if I were you.

Well, I'm not going out on a press tour and I'm not filling up my recent rainy days by talking to journalists. Danny (wistful here) was my second.

I am going to wear my naïveté on my sleave and put full trust in the ethics on mainstream journalists to keep their source material private.

And perhaps even full trust w/in the ethics of our leadership not to engage in such carrots or sticks.

Anonymous said...

>>I wonder if Bill & Steve know they're being fed stories at reviews and meetings.

Reminds me of a BillG review of 'academic' about two years ago - a Director in DevDiv marketing told Bill that a particular event had 'touched' about 1000 people when, in fact, there were 10 people there. When challenged later by one of his team members, he responded that it was a well known principle that 1 person would tell 10 others, who each would then tell 10 others. The Director got promoted and I doubt that BillG ever knew how much he'd been snowed. OTOH, I just looked and the guy is no longer in the GAL (though his "team" alias of underlings is still there). So, hell, maybe somebody did find out what a louse this guy actually was.

Anonymous said...

Ex-softie here (7 yrs exp.), been out of the company for a few years. I am not against this RIF idea if it breaks up some of the fiefdoms that are detrimental to the Co. It seems that the key to middle management success is: 1) win a turf war to eliminate and screw over any competing middle mgmt. 2) do some empire-building with the remnants and build up a fiefdom from the PM/Dev/Test manager to lead level down to the ICs. For a smart GM or Director this strategy can pay off for years.

In my last FTE group, our GM presided over a failed merge of our formerly successful product group with a parallel group saddled with a failed business model. In 6 - 12 months the whole thing was driven into the ground. A number of leads and ICs were RIF'ed. The GM was handed the reins to an new emerging business unit and took his little travelling fiefdom along with him. Some accountabilty there. I have seen this happen many times in different levels of management. Are all big companies like this? I don't see how this can be healthy from an HR point of view.

Anonymous said...

By accident, I saw a new incubation demo from MSR on a small business telephony PBX system. The project is very call and the team seems to be run very differently from other MSR or product groups. I don’t know if they hired a new head from outside or not. It is very fresh to see our research org can think ahead not only on technology but also on new biz frontier. It is most impressive these MSR folks can get the work done with about 10 people in less than a year that they are about to ship Beta. This is as good as Google speed I can see from MS.

This is the proof that MS can RIF lots of people. Our RTC org is probably 10 times big than these MSR people. Clearly we have bloated team and we should take a fresh look on how to run our biz.

Anonymous said...

What's the average number of reports per manager at Microsoft? 1:4? Maybe less? At the last two companies I worked for, it was around 1:30. Instead of starting out with a big RIF, why not just flatten the org chart until it's 1:30 and see if that doesn't stop some of the political nonsense going on.

Anonymous said...

To external readers, especially those considering working for Microsoft:

I'll paraphrase Winston Churchill. Microsoft is the worst place to work, except for all the others. What you're seeing here is various perspectives of people who want Microsoft to be the best possible, most efficient, most customer responsive software company possible. Yes, there are issues that prevent people from being as successful as possible. But it's a dang good place to come and work.

To internal readers: You may think that this is the only forum where you can find others who share your thoughts. It's not. Join the 'pogo' alias and drive positive change from the inside.

Anonymous said...

1:30 ratio? That sounds excessive!

From what I noticed in my division, the tree was rebalanced and got deeper during the last 5 years. I was sceptical in the beginning, but not anymore. Think about this: you have a senior engineer who works very closely with 1-3 more junior engineers on the same project. There are benefits in having a manager versus a peer relationship between them. It works well in my team, better than before.

About MSR. I'm disappointed with the guy who mentioned the MSR project name. It would've been more than enough to say: "I saw a great MSR demo". That being said, yeah, MSR is a bunch of people who can execute. It's very hard to get a job there, they're pretty selective, unlike many of the production groups.

Anonymous said...

And why would anyone join Microsoft except to change the world?

We cant even change our own HR policies and you want to change the world?? This is the typical attitude of young person/company/country who has just tasted some kind of success. Grow up! The only thing you can change in this world is your own self.

In fact I'm 40+ years of age, 25 years in the computer business. Worked at lots of businesses, in a few countries, and at Microsoft for 7 years. So I like to think I've done my growing up.

Have you coded or lobbied for a good DCR or design idea that wouldn't have been accepted otherwise? Have you ever found a late stage bug that would have made a feature in your product almost useless, or caused major pain? Have you documented or otherwise shared a new way of doing things with customers that inspired them to build cool solutions? Have you mentored people who have done these things? These and many other changes can impact hundreds of milliions of users when you work at Microsoft. Even if you work on 'infrastructure' software, you can effect tens of thousands of customers, with many thousands of users each, again getting to hundreds of millions of users. Behind-the-scenes people may have a less direct effect, but is the impact any less significant?

Which is not to say that we save lives directly. Or spread freedom everywhere, cure diseases, give wisdom to all, or do so many other more noble human endeavors. But computers and especially software faciliate all that and more for billions. Efficient organizations and people, and thus efficient economies, allow the human story to continue to unfold despite modern challenges.

So despite our challenges, Microsoft must succeed. Our HR issues must be solved. And Mini and his successors ensure that happens. Vive le Mini-Microsoft!

MrMischevous said...

I'm a VP in product development (not for Microsoft, but another major apps vendor - there aren't that many, so take your pick). Where possible, I'd like to give you the VP take on many of the issues you've raised here:

1) Curves: Everyone, including VPs, hate curves. But the alternatives aren't that pretty. What typically happens in a salary review is that senior execs, based on overall market forecasts, put aside an amount for bonuses. Each department is then given a budget (typically based on the number and level of people) that they must fit into.

This is where a curve is useful - it stops grade inflation. It is easy (and lazy) for a manager to grade all of his people at 4. But when it comes time to assign bonuses and merit increases, what should he do? Should he just give them all the same? Now look at it from the VP's perspective. She needs to review all of her managers and their orgs. How can she differentiate on people if her managers gave everyone a 4? And what happens when promotions are discussed? Too many promotions leads to title inflation (which in turn leads to bogus titles being created to slow down advancement or artificial rules limiting how quickly people can get promoted). But if everyone is a 4, how does the VP decide who gets bumped up? In this case, it comes down to which managers yell the loudest or are the best arguers. Not a good system either.

Curves themselves are not innately bad - they force people to make decisions. It's the structure of the curve and the peripheral items associated to the curves that cause the most angst, as follows:
1) Curves usually mean that the same people are always at the top: This is the biggest problem. If you're a manager in charge of a five-person group, the problem is that you will probably end up giving the same people the same scores year after year. That is incredibly frustrating to people, as it feels like nothing they do will affect their score. The only cure here is active and good management - the manager needs to promote people and rank them against their new position, which probably results in a lower score as they are being graded against a much higher set of standards, and against people who have been in the role longer. Stars will need to be told of this at the time that they are promoted or they will be unhappy also. There is no easy answer here, but there are fair answers, which result from open communication as to the standards and requirements of a title. People may not like the answers, but at least they will at least admit they come from a fair process.
2) Curves are innately biased towards management - If I'm a Senior Director ranking my group, who will be number one on my list? Me, of course. Spots 2-4 will usually be my Directors (and hopefully those rankings are warranted). Then come the individual contributors, which is not a pretty picture for them. This inequity can be solved, but it requires that the HR organization defines two curves - one for Directors and above, and one for individual contributors. This approach also tends to root out problem managers pretty quickly too.
3) Gaming of the curve - if stock and bonuses are tightly tied to position, then managers will have to start swapping people around on the curve just to make sure that there is some equity on the compensation over the years. It's far better to have a system which gives recommendations but allows the manager some leeway.

So curves going away might seem like a good thing, but now you've lost the discipline in management that comes with curves. And don't for a moment think that because the curves went away that stack-ranking went away. Every good manager has to know which people are the best, and which must be kept happy at all costs. That will never change.

2) RIFs: GE has had a "Bottom 5" program for many years. Once a year, the bottom five percent of the organization is let go. It is not a pleasant process, but in my experience the people who went were known to be the weakest link in the organizations, and the end result was better for both them and the org. However, for this program to work, the organization CANNOT be static. The first cut or two might be getting rid of the B- players, but after that you start cutting into good people, and that's when morale gets hit.

There's a second reason that most middle management is not behind a Bottom 5 program - in most cases they will not get replacement headcount. If their Bottom 5 candidate is providing any positive value at all, they will be loathe to to fire them. Good managers take a hard look at the services their groups are providing, and start whacking the work which provides the least value, and start pushing others to different organizations better equipped to handle them. A great example is tech support - engineers and PMs should be writing FAQs and doing a weekly half hour call with the tech support engineers instead of answering questions directly. Leverage is your friend.

3) Finally, I'd like to add my take on the question you posed earlier: "Let's say you walk into your office one morning. You reflect on your team before going through the morning email and have the realization that one of your reports (who perhaps has done a good job making you feel like an excellent manager) was in fact playing the system like this FAQ calls out. Or worse. What would you do?"

Simple. If they weren't good at their own job, I'd counsel or fire them (and have done so in the past). But if they were good at their own job, I'd promote them.

I could hear the anguished screams of MM readers as I typed that last sentence. Why, they scream, would you allow style to to win over substance? Simple. To reach the higher levels, both style and substance is required. Despite what engineers would like to think, getting to Director is only partially a function of how technically good you are at your own job. I recently promoted two people in my own org to Director. Predictably, within a week two others came to my desk asking when they could make Director, since they had been there as long as the other guys. When I asked them why they thought I had promoted the other two, they sat quietly - they were unable to articulate why I had made the decision. I explained to them that at the higher levels, the intangible qualities are as important as the tangible ones - the ability to walk into a room and "own" it, the ability to summarize complex concepts succinctly so that senior execs can understand them, the ability to manage their own boss.

The FAQ made it sound like managing your boss is evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. I manage my boss, a Senior VP, all the time. As a matter of fact, I only speak to him about twice a week - everything else I keep below his radar. That way he has time to do the important things like consider strategy, pricing, alliances, and legal issues (something I do also, but on a smaller scale than him). I, in turn, am teaching my reports to do the same. Don't come to me with half-formed thoughts or partially digested data. Come with distilled knowledge and recommendations. Keep the small stuff out of my sight so that I can think about how to make everyone's job better. I want my reports to manage me - it means that they are beginning to think like executives and that I will be able to promote them too.

I've gone on long enough - perhaps when I have more time I will write up the executive side to that FAQ - it's always useful to know how the other half thinks. But realize that it is possible to make VP without out stabbing anyone and still be able to sleep at night. It takes a lot of work and a lot of thought about where you want both your career and your product to be. But it is doable, and it does give you the chance to make a difference, which is really why I got into software in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Our RTC org is probably 10 times big than these MSR people. Clearly we have bloated team and we should take a fresh look on how to run our biz.

--

agreed, nuke andrew S. and have the clowns he took with him from networking.

Anonymous said...

1:30 is not an unreasonable ratio. I don't see why senior engineers should have junior reports. Do you really want your best engineers spending 40%+ of their time doing 1:1s, writing reviews, going to status meetings, parroting the company line, taking manager training classes, etc., or do you want them engineering?

Don't knock 1:30 till you've tried it.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the explosion of Microsoft SKUs in comment http://minimsft.blogspot.com/2006/05/thats-just-plain-crazy-crisis-talk.html#c114880155844547232, look at this month's MSDN disks.

A capacity planner? It should be given away. There is a call center product that doesn't do anything. Is it a beta? Another one is about connecting services and it won't install. People are expected to pay for this? Maybe this is the MSDN disk of soon to be former products.

Is this the future, half-baked ideas being products?

Anonymous said...

"Ironic and sad that a few days before Memorial Day, someone would bring up a true leader like General Eisenhower and hope that our pathetically oblivious to reality Sr Execs could even aspire to that kind of true leadership."

Interesting reaction. I posted it and brought it up specifically to highlight the difference between a true leader like Ike vs Ballmer - as well as to call for the end of the "inner-circle". The hope was that it would inspire people to want/expect more. MSFT is one of the most profitable companies in the world, there's no reason it should settle for less than the greatest CEO on the planet. Don't know about you, but imo Steve's not even the best in Washington State.

Anonymous said...

The release process is bloated. If you cut 10K employees, the release process will still be an overgrown inefficient mess. You'll just have fewer, more overloaded employees.

How many people have to make a decision on a bug/feature before action is taken on it? There needs to be a fundamental change in the process. You really think software slips because of too many ICs? Software slips because the overhead created by the ridiculous processes in place. Just look at the life of a typical bug, and you'll see endless comments, postpones, reactivations, etc. How much time would have been saved if the bug was just fixed to begin with?

A RIF by itself will not fix the underlying problems. It will fix a symptom, temporarily. Of course, that probably means a RIF will happen. Fixing the root cause is not what this company is good at. Real change will require hard, scary decisions. Something I'm not sure MS lifers will be willing to put their jobs on the line for.

Anonymous said...

So curves going away might seem like a good thing, but now you've lost the discipline in management that comes with curves. And don't for a moment think that because the curves went away that stack-ranking went away. Every good manager has to know which people are the best, and which must be kept happy at all costs. That will never change.

There is no real discipline even with a curve by itself. To quote you:

If you're a manager in charge of a five-person group, the problem is that you will probably end up giving the same people the same scores year after year.

There is still a curve at Microsoft.

Only now the buckets are coarser (e.g. excellent, satisfactory, unsatisfactory).

The curve still comes into play from deciding who gets bonuses and increased compensation every year.

Management still gets to manage out employees they no longer want for legitimate or other reasons (e.g. unsatisfactory rating).

Management still gets to award the stars in the group (e.g. excellent rating).

The reality of having a fixed budget for rewarding stars will put a limit on grade inflation. Distribute your budget over too many people and no one is happy. This results in the same lifeboat drill as to who belongs in each bucket.

The curve is alive and well at Microsoft.

Anonymous said...

"Starts with contractors and product teams that can't really prove their existence"

I heard that MS buy out smaller software companies and retains that company's employees for a few years as contractors. Can that be true? Any idea what payscale those employees would be at and if it is true that they would be the ones first layed off?

Aaron said...

Re: Downsizing and the risk of losing top talent.
Just because MS harbors (and continues to hire) great talent doesn’t mean that these people shouldn’t be moved out of the company, either through a RIF or the usual pipeline. Just because a person possesses talent, experience, even genius-level intelligence doesn’t mean they will contribute to shareholder value, or help us get out of the mess we are in. Considering the following list of prevalent species:
1. The Talker – A person who discourses brilliantly about strategy, architecture, customers, etc. Writes eloquent e-mails. Has a superabundance of verbal talent but not a shred of analytic talent.
2. The Academic – Possesses gobs of abstract knowledge. Seems to know everything, but can’t seem to make anything happen. Lots of raw intellectual talent. Views MS as a kind of university (after all, it is a “campus”), rather than a public-traded company.
3. The Hustler – Tons of political talent. Manages to stay ahead despite knowing almost nothing about software, similar to the way George Bush runs the United States without knowing anything about political science.
I could go on, but you get the point. Problem is, lots of great people with incredible CV’s are faking their excitement for our business, in order to perpetuate their affluent lifestyles. That’s part of the deal when you offer such incredible benefits, stability, and opportunities for wealth. I’m willing to bet that at least 30% of all FTEs, including those at level 65+, really don’t give a damn about technology, don’t share BillG’s vision, etc, and simply regard it as a necessary evil. Advice to interviewees: Tell them you love technology. Works to your advantage until you find yourself in charge of something big and realize that it’s all a huge scam.
Delivering results at Microsoft is a legitimate talent, and Ballmer isn’t obligated to forgive disaffected know-it-alls for failing to demonstrate it in sufficient quantity. For the writers, scientists, and future congressmen in the ranks grousing about this rather shady skill set, I say: find a job about which you are truly passionate.