Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mr. Ballmer on the Defense - Links

Quick collection of various links discussing Mr. Ballmer's presentation today (Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Strategic Decisions Conference):



Note a whole lot of commentary for me - well, other than observing that I'd sum it up as Mr. Ballmer's telling us to hold on-tight to the handbasket we're sitting in, it's going to get a whole lot hotter - but one issue that I love that's being asked still gets a whole lotta buzzword-bingo-nothing when it comes to a sustentative answer (from the transcript):

CHARLES DI BONA: A couple of questions on the organization of the company. How are you looking at the organizational structure going forward, in particular a number of questions about how do you sort of avoid the big company problem of becoming sort of too diffuse, too defocused, and bureaucratic, both from a motivational point of view, but also from a results point of view? STEVE BALLMER: That's a good question, and probably one that I spend more of my time on than anything. I made a comment about nurturing multiple forms of innovation, and that actually, in a sense, ties to this exactly. How do we give people enough autonomy, but get enough synergy? How do you make sure we have high enough quality people to actually run with and move and drive the businesses that we're getting in? I mean, I tell the guys literally, you've got to think about guys like Kevin Johnson, Robbie Bach, Jeff Raikes as CEOs. They've got to be able to be as good as the CEO of any one of their competitors. We're entering the unified communications business this year with Live Communications Server, with VOIP capabilities, the acquisition we did of a little Swiss company last summer, Media-streams. We've got to have people who are absolutely top-notch, first rate. We've got to be willing to incent those people, reward those people, motivate those people. And there are issues, you've got to work, and I'm probably part of the problem sometimes, part of the solution sometimes, but it's something that as long as you keep it on your radar screen, and think about it a lot, I think you can make progress. One thing, we are evolving. Twelve months ago, we would have talked to you about integrated innovation. Today, I think what we've talked to you about is innovate and integrate. That is, I think for example in our first Longhorn Vista conceptualization, we had too much technology, too new, trying to be integrated at one time. So, we're trying to get a little bit better balance in innovation, then integration, as opposed to integrating so much new stuff at one time, and that helps a lot with agility.

Finally: I know, lots of folks are going to scream for Ballmer's resignation and replacement. But even I don't see that happening anytime soon (unless the stock falls into the lower teens). How well does it all work going forward as is?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Copying Xerox, Vista Mistakes, and VP Perspectives

(I feel compelled to slap together a quick post of what was in my queue to avoid any dwelling on a long kiss goodbye or such - it's not goodbye it's just a... mini-Mini-Microsoft for a while. This is an example of what I intend to post for a while, as soon as enough floats to the top of my mind. It may not look any different to you, but it's super different for me...)

When I read Chris Pirillo's Vista bug feedback (he's also done some intense Outlook 2007 feedback), the first question that came to my mind was: is this the polish tax we pay for automation? If our former STEs (now SDETs-or-else) had been focusing on the black-box entire Vista experience, would the following issues had been entered and fixed?

One commenter writes:

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.

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

Ooo, she is ready for a Microsoft-sized challenge. I like the way Ms. Mulcahy handles numbers. Actually, the quickest article I could find was on C|Net: Breathing new life into Xerox Newsmakers CNET

Finally, a non-Microsoftie VP in product development, MrMichevous, spent time to write up a long, illuminating comment looking at the issues brought up here quite often. From the other-side. It's a small study in The School of Hard Knocks and Just the Way Things Work, especially the following snippet:

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.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

All Good Things...

All good things come to an end. Or to a long pause, or to a ride off into the sunset, or to at least a substantial hibernation (preferably on a holiday weekend, to make the least amount of noise).

I don't often talk or write to other people about what I do here. I did so twice this past week, in some detail, regarding where this blog is and why I started it and whether I felt it has been a success. And one of the journalists, Mr. Westneat, picked up on my weariness (and, ahem, my sloppiness). While in the past I've been sparkling and enthused to share in what's happened here, I was glum and darkly reflective. Even somewhat defeated. All of this, no doubt within me already, became obvious to me the more I spoke with Mr. Westneat and then thought about our conversation through the rest of that day.

I'm glad I went through the questions and the answers because it's forced me to reflect.

If doing something hurts, stop it. Same goes for something that's not fun. And, you know, currently, this oddly enough isn't fun. Thrilling certainly. Wildly educational, thanks to the comments coming in, absolutely. But not fun. There are other things going on in the world that I'm missing out on, and they are beginning to take a higher priority. For me.

A stark realization came to me when the review performance model changed. The dreaded trended 3.0 is finally gone! Finally. Gone. Why wasn't I shaking my boo-tay and dancing around like Tony Manero? Amidst all of the great changes and the cheering, my heart felt heavy. Something's not right, and I don't feel right with myself. And that means to me that I've got to hit the breaks and engage in some deep reflection. Victory as cheery as a wake? No, something's wrong. I've got a few clues, and none of them make me feel proud of myself.

Back in 2004, I took a lot of time to plan and think before I started putting up the first few posts. And now I assess myself to be at a crossroads. Time for Mini-Microsoft 2.0? Or to do something else, and let the bits here cool off and fade from attention? The 2.0 road isn't going to happen overnight - more like six months if it's going to hit the ground running like the first time I started this up. Another consideration, as I stand at these crossroads and hope that Mr. Willie Brown's deal maker doesn't show up, is that great changes are indeed afoot at Microsoft. And these changes are going to take time to grow and I'm not going to poke them with a sharp stick until they've had their chance to prove themselves.

I could take the Dread Pirate Roberts approach to here... that'd certainly give me plenty of time to play with my beloved Buttercup again. Lots to think about. But I'm not going to. For a while.

Like I said before, for the near-term I will throw up the occasional interesting article or reposted comment. Perhaps that is all it takes given the number of excellent, good-looking people willing to spend time reading and contributing to the comments. And I'll continue to moderate comments just because occasionally something wildly offensive does show up in the pending queue. So does this mean that this is the end of Mini-Microsoft? For now, yes, but only my end of it. The rest is up to you.

Take care,


(Updated: fixed a typo.)

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.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Commitment Zero and Reactions to the Big Microsoft Changes

There is lots of good discussion regarding the refreshing change in direction announced by LisaB on May 18th. Let's see... almost 280 comments since Thursday morning. I will touch on some of the comments that caught my eye below, but I believe it's worth any Microsoftie's time to read through the entire sequence of comments.

Some of the various blog entries and articles around the Microsoft changes:

While it showed up on techmeme the news didn't get too far from there, especially in light of the wrangling going on with Symantec. Frustrated folks who obsess over this just being about towels and how spoiled Microsofties are just need to take a moment to concentrate and see the deeper aspects of what's going on. Ask most Microsofties about the towels and you'll learn two things (1) They had no idea we had towel service when it was discontinued, and (2) They'll most likely rarely ever use the restored towel service. I will, and now I get to leave my Finding Nemo towel at home.

The negative reaction to the towel imbroglio is just how smart, good-looking people react to dumb decisions. Long ago, I gave my perspective about cost cutting here: Mini-Microsoft Performance Tuning MSFT.exe (or, How to Save Microsoft $1,000,000,000 Now).

Fire people.

Get your RIF on.

(RIF = Reduction in force - layoffs.)

And along that theme, one commenter has this to say:

I got wind today that a MASSIVE Windows RIF is in the works. It's real folks. Hundreds and hundreds of jobs. The good news is that other parts of MS will be able to absorb it. But if you want your pick of what's out there, beat the rush and don't wait for review time.

True? All I can add is a bit ago, I was hanging out with a small group of excellent Microsofties and one of the people there said that they had been involved in counseling executive leadership about dealing with a large layoff. Two things happened right then: (1) My eyes dilated big and black, just like as if I had an eye exam, (2) The person realized they had said something they shouldn't have (probably signaled by my big, happy, black eyes), and moved on.

Today: curve-fitted performance review gone? Tomorrow: layoffs? I'm not going to have a damn thing to blog about.

Okay Mini, this is the right time to go on a 2 month blog break. Let us all get to doing some work now that the towels are back for the masses.

Like others said, thanks for providing the vehicle for the message. The ball is in my and others court now, and we will continue to deliver.

It's tempting. I'm probably going to slip into clip-mode for a while... noting interesting articles and comments. Personally, I'm more thinking about Mini-Microsoft 2.0 right now and what kind of positive change we can focus on and what silos and fiefdoms need to be broken down... and how we can do it. In addition to deadwood needing to be fired, I think we have some bad systems and habits also needing the boot just as badly as any process-ridden dot-commer clinging to their job.

Sure, there is a lot more that LisaB and the leadership working with her has on their plate. You can't do everything all at once, and I'm damn surprised and elated they pulled off what they did for this review cycle. Damn surprised. There had to be a big bat swinging because I seriously doubt most VPs at the recent executive retreat were excited about these changes. Kudos to all the HR tool builders, too. That's a lot of mission-critical, high-scale global software to pull together. Their story is something I hope they take on the road internal to Microsoft. Well, after a successful review season is wrapped up come mid-September.

My immediate issue: we still have stack ranking and will continue to have stack ranking given our renewed commitment to differentiation. The managers will still get together and rank their reports and people are going to realize they are still compared to their peers and are competing for dollars and stock based on their individual success over their team success. And while we have decoupled the performance review from the stack rank, I picked up from both LisaB and my leadership that, hey, you need to ration out how many exceeds you give out. So there'll still be pushback and there will most likely be cases when someone is on the border and the feedback given to them is fitted to meet compensation needs in dispersing the budget.

But it's a lot less likely and you don't have to go and dork someone just to meet a 3.0 quota. Great! Still, the idealist in me would prefer everyone to have a clear idea through the year what their performance is looking like and what kind of commiserate compensation they can expect. We still have the three month mystery from when you submit your review until you get the results back.

As for people concerned that their reports or peers will turn in their review and expect a resounding, "Exceeds! Gimme!" because they nailed their easy set of fluffy commitments, well, all I can share is my perspective: everyone has by default Commitment Zero. What's that? It's that you are committed to getting full or exceptional results in your career stage profile, perhaps even getting full results in the next profile up if you're near promotion. When it comes time for me to be a reviewer, the first thing I'm going over for each report is their performance against their CSP, then moving on to their additional commitments for more specific items.

Plus, I expect to roll down some pretty strenuous commitments of my own. No, my only immediate angst is that I'm too much of a hard ass, and that manager next door to me is waving his wand-of-exceeds on all of his reports and I'm giving out the constructive tough-love. So it will be incumbent on my boss to do more work to ensure parity. And that seems right.

Oh, and as always, if you still feel jolted and disrespected and you just don't think Microsoft is the right place for you, well, Alyosha` says it well:

The HR changes are good for Microsoft. To those who bemoan the absence of an across-the-board pay raise ... put your money where your mouth is. If you don't think you're being fairly compensated at Microsoft, find another company who's willing to pay what you think you're worth.

When are you going to find a better time than now? Like, never!

Comment round-up: one of the Partner-level Microsofties posting here occasionally apologizes near the end of their post - it wasn't all sunshine, like:

Great disappointment with the senior team. Even a L68 like me feels a tremendous sense of foreboding. With the exception of perhaps Robbie Bach, that gang came across as a bunch of tone deaf people who are out of touch with reality with all their funny math. Steve is so financially unsavvy that it is embarassing - he actually seemed puzzled (and not in a pleasant grandfatherly kind of way) with the stock gyrations - his comments had me cringing. What an idiot! I can't believe I have to kiss up to these people.

One person does a good breakdown of their immediate reaction, including:

Compensation: Dismal. NO mention of raising a COLA bar or of increasing our 65th percentile. This has got to be hard on recruiting. We are just NOT competitive in base pay.

Some had their "leaving now" clocks reset:

[...] I love the work I do and am truly amazed by most of the people I work with on a daily basis. It is just a thrill to work with people who are smart and totally committed. I also love the fact that anything we do always has the potential of changing people's lives. I just wish that we could get more competitive in our compensation, our customer sat numbers and less competitive with our peers. I am willing to give the company my best efforts another year or two to see if we can truly change for the better.

A common theme of "what was missing?" was accountability, like:

While there were certainly problems with compensation, review curves, and employee services at Microsoft, and while it's certainly true that some of these problems were addressed yesterday, it still doesn't change the fundamental fact that the real problem continues to remain: A bloated, ineffective, self-serving rank of senior and executive managers who can't make good decisions quickly enough and who perpetuate a bureaucracy that makes it absolutely untenable for the next generation of leaders to thrive.

MSDecade put together a report card, including:

Incent collaboration, team-building, making each other great My grade: D-. Absolute performance vs. relative performance review is a great step, don't get me wrong. But the curve does still exist, which means that calibration still happens and performance envaluation is likely to stay as subjective as before. Team-based rewards will need to happen in the next round of changes.

Generally, people in their comments were exceptionally happy with Lisa Brummel. Kevin Johnson comes in a very distant second. Grumbles that BillG didn't show up. Exceptional dislike over Ballmer asking Google users to raise their hands (Mr. Ballmer, if you need to know that, ask Microsoft IT department to roll-up some statistics from our proxy servers based on unique login-names. You can even get a pretty chart to compare usage over time with MSN and such. We have the technology!). Wonder over whether the MSPoll will be disregarded given that it was before this change. General agreement, it seems, to start referring to me as "she." Agreement that the old ESPP would be much appreciated and would bind us back to the success of the company. Gold Star discussion more than usual... have you ever been awarded a Gold Star?

Oh, and off-topic, but keeping an interesting conspiracy theory alive:

I was researching MSFT’s SEC filings and I have come to the conclusion that the stock price is being intentionally manipulated to help MSFT’s bottom line. As long as the stock price remains below $28.73 by December 2006, the company will not have to book the $2.21 billion in stock option expense on the shares that were sold to JPMorgan.

Administrivia: comment moderation clarification time: okay, I've had it with the "whiner" comments. The kind with the core comment being just whining that everyone else is whining and throwing in the occasional wit-free "whaa!" Say something deeper than that... at least put some effort into a counter-point. But don't just fling prose poo around and expect your rhetoric to be posted.

PS: while I toy with the very unlikely idea of coming out from the realm of anonymity and scheme about how to turn Mini-Microsoft into an internal dialogue for honestly improving from within, maybe you've gone and figured out who Mini is. I can't imagine it's that hard. After you get over the quizzical bit of "Who?" why don't you drop on by my office location and we can talk over some espresso.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Microsoft's May 18th 2006 - a Big Turning Point (?)

Pre-Town Hall: Is May 18th a big turning point of a day? Is it my first big step into the sunset of blog obsolescence?

I'd love Microsoft to start its big internal defrag today, shrugging off the past of dysfunctional competitive reviews unattached to team success. I'd love Microsofties to stop focusing on succeeding by gaming the system and to start justly succeeding by producing great customer-focused results. I'd personally love to get back to just writing about making Microsoft smaller and efficient versus bemoaning trended 3.0s and The Curve and, oy, the injustice of it all.

I'd love our review and compensation system to be so straightforward and fair that it just fades into the background of everyday worklife.

There is risk. If the changes are as big as rumored in my building's hallways, there is great potential for a stunned backlash. You know, folks like to talk about change but don't like change when it happens. Employees also don't like having a bunch of unanswered questions. While it takes super leadership to rise up and push for the change, it takes extraordinary fantastic leadership to realize big change day-to-day from here forward. Each and everyone one of us, if we accept that the change is right, has to get behind it and ensure it's as good as it can be, and tweak and revise and adapt.

Fingers crossed...

Post-Town Hall:

It's a good start.

"Should have just done the towels and called it a day!" - Lisa Brummel, May 18th 2006.

You know, one moment of reflection: the circle is now complete. My second post to this blog was on July 6th, 2004. It was right after an impromptu employee meeting with Ballmer and Gates and as part of that, Mr. Ballmer justified the unfortunate recent benefit cuts, the main two points of ire being the towels and the ESPP revamp. Now, two years later, we're getting our towels back.

Has it always just been about the towels?

(Possible book title flashes through my mind.)

It's not like we're sweaty work-out animals always in need of a shower and fresh towel. No. What riled us was the bone-headed way the towel cut-back was handled, explained, and justified. It truly made us wonder just who are these people in charge and just who do they think they are leading? The towels became the symbol of poor leadership. That and the office-supply hide-and-seek.

Someone should send Ms. Brummel a golden towel award. I'd like my old ESPP back, too.

So, I'm going to skip over Ballmer's presentation along with the other presidents. I liked hearing from them and what's going on in the groups. I guess we'll next hear more at the Company Meeting. The star of the show, and I'd say of the entire company right now, was Lisa Brummel. If I had my old paper notebook, I'd be drawing little hearts around her name. Personally, I think she's a fantastic role model.

"I think some people will think it's fabulous, some people will think it's great, some people will be completely confused by it, and some people won't like it."

Peer-relative review ranking via fitting The Curve is gone. The trended 3.0 review score is gone. Your review rating is now an honest assessment based on what it is you should be doing and how well you did it. There are a lot of posts and comments here that, over time, are going to seem archaic. Good.

(Allow me to hang the disco ball, switch on the party lights, and put on some happy funk music...)

What's unclear and what time will reveal is that there still probably is Stack Ranking which feeds into a Compensation Curve. The poor manager with the review tool in front of them still has to figure out how to divvy up their merit increases. Either they make dictatorial decisions or stack ranks everyone. What's great, though, is they have the power to decide that, "Hey, everyone did great" and evenly spread out the budget vs. meeting a forced distribution.

Dixie's BBQ? Typhoon? Excellent! I will need that towel now that I have to work off all of those calories (or, wipe the sweat from my brow from a good dose of The Man sauce). The rest of the tools and the focusing on managers is a long-term investment sort-of-thing. We'll have to see how that goes and if there are issues, how they can be improved. I think there was a passive aggressive message to all managers: if you became a manager just to get promoted faster, we're going to find you and weed you out. It would have been nice for that to be clearer.

The one big thing missing out of all the rumors I heard was base-pay adjustment. The nicest biggest rumor was that we were going to be moving from 65 percentile based pay to 75 percentile based pay. That would have made incredible sense given the current competitive market and the salary compression people are dealing with. Salary compression hasn't been addressed at all. Maybe executive leadership is betting on another bubble burst?

Coming soon: we'll find out if we're on track for a cost-of-living-adjustment or not for the target merit budget.

And for you shareholders freaking out over the prospects of Microsoft blowing money on its employees: senior leadership made it clear that all of this was productivity based, and that they were expecting a great return on investment. Personally, I wouldn't have minded a mass-exodus from Microsoft of all the talented people because that indeed would have forced a Mini-Microsoft to be realized. These people are just doing their best to avoid that and to get excellent results in doing so.

So, going back to basics, does any of this get us closer to a Mini-Microsoft. Nope. A non-distracted Microsoft, perhaps, but some fundamental issues still remain with respect to us being so incredibly big that we still stumble over ourselves and suffer horrible, horrible waste in time and effort. I know Mr. Johnson is trying to make all the "<<fill in the blank>> Live" stuff seem like we're finally nimble and all that but it's one thing to throw the wonderful Sanaz and team up on the stage and exclaim, "Ooo, yeah, agility!" and another to make Windows, Office, Dynamics, and VS agile.

Lastly... what difference did this blog make? Would all of this had happened naturally once LisaB was in the house?

My feeling is that we were on our commute bike, but off the paved trail, going down a steep gravel path with potholes and horse apples (much like, say, the Tolt Pipeline trail). Some folks, rattling along the way, saw another smoother path and scooted over to that, leaving Microsoft. As of today, we're back on the smooth path. Ah! It's got some tight turns and we can't see what's around the corner, but it's a hell of a lot better.

"A non-toothache is a very pleasant thing." I like that saying. We're back to being able to focus on what's important, not being angst ridden over a busted review system. Yes, there's new angst in the interim but I have faith we can work through it, make good decisions, and network together to make the best decisions within this new model into best practices.

Looking back now: so many years... so many years people complained about trended review results, especially the dreaded trended 3.0, and you'd always hear, "There's nothing you can do. It's just how it is." So - eventually - I brought it up here as something I thought was fairly uncool, dysfunctional, and hampering our ability to get exceptional customer-focus, profit-making results let alone truly fire the people who needed to be moved on.

You don't need your 3.0 performers anymore to serve as a review foundation to prop up the rest of your team. Fire them!

And, well, the public complaining and dialogue that went on, along with potential candidates saying, "I don't want any of that crazy system!" added up. It got a very big ball rolling. The internal discussions of people getting a clear view into the smoky rooms of the stack rank and curve modeling helped a lot, too.

Thanks, Mr. Scoble, for your kind words (Scobleizer - Microsoft Geek Blogger » Missed big HR meeting (MyMicrosoft is now improved)).

Oh, and thanks Mini! These changes are due in no small part to you. Even if you don't get official props in the press releases.

Can one person change a huge company? Mini did. And we don't even know his name.

So, I'm going to make the claim that this blog, and all of those who participated in it and followed up on its contents, made a difference. If you agree, well, you can buy me a beer one day. And if you think there's a lot more work to do: the system is in play. All the cards have been thrown into the air. Get to work to make the new changes even better.

You: So what do you think? Good? bad? I'd love to hear some constructive thoughts. Maybe even just what questions you have at this point.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Microsoft Investors, Partners, and Big Upcoming Changes

Some fine, good-looking person wrote:

Come on something new so we don't have to keep beating this dead horse :P

Okay, then, even on such a beautiful day as today I can take time for a post-break so that we can start refreshed. I'll do this by me, well, cribbing a whole lot of comments together into something delightfully repackaged. So the word "new" might be inappropriate for you dedicated comment hounds (you know, all thirty of you).

First of all, that Bloomberg article one of the commenters noted as pretty interesting was even carried in Saturday's Seattle P-I. The article: Microsoft Investors Urge Ballmer to Use Cash on $60 Bln Buyback. I agree with the commenter, it has some really choice moments in there. My picks:

Analysts worry that Ballmer is trying to build a Google within Microsoft. Investors are concerned that they may never see the payoff. The falling stock price is hurting Microsoft's ability to attract and retain employees, Rosenberg said.


Microsoft needs to show it is acting to boost the stock and appease shareholders, said Heather Bellini at UBS AG in New York, who is ranked the No. 2 software analyst by Institutional Investor magazine.

``Previously, the problem was apathy on the stock,'' she said. ``Now the apathy has been replaced with anger.''

All I can envision in the last part is a Yoda-voice reflecting, "Apathy leads to anger, angers leads to hate, and hate leads to mass sell-offs and firings..." It has amazed me to no end, though, how incredibly long it's taken for investors and shareholders to start saying "enough is enough" and start demanding reasonable leadership and reasonable results. It's as almost as if our executive leadership has, uh, wanted to keep the stock price down... Which leads to a comment that gets to the best conspiracy I've heard in a long time (even better than Mini-Microsoft actually doing Ballmer's will in prepping Microsofties for those mass firings):

But look, once the stock was sitting dangerously long close to $28 zone, this stupid mishap with forgetting to warn the Street about $2.4B investment lowering the planned profits happened. Every one company issues the warning up front in such situation, every single one, it's 101.

Does anyone really believe that the company head accountant along with CEO both didn't know what happens to the stock when the company issues unexpectedly low guidance for next quarter? Didn't they have any classes on about how stock market works while doing their MBA's? Didn't they at least, for Buddha's sake, nor any of their lieutenants at least watch Cramer's Mad Money on CNBC ever?

I just don't believe this stock price 'accident' was an accident, there are reasons for stock being stagnant for years now. There are ways of keeping profits low, spending $500M on marketing here, putting glass windows with Windows logo engraved into offices in entire building there, distributing the beatiful , colourful and expensive flyers on diversity subject to every single employee (yeah, at the same time we have very aggresive cost efficacy program going on). All this wasteful spending might well pay off - as long as the stock price is stagnant, the company earns huge savings on the expiring stock options.

(Assume a ponderous Arsenio Hall pose) "Hmmmmmm." Well, in a way, it's strangely comforting for me to think we're being led by a clutch of super-genius stock villains than a confederacy of fiscal dunces.

That whole SPSA program brought forth an interesting dialog. A Partner-esque poster provided details and justification of the program. That did not elicit gushes of hugs and rainbows from the front-line. Some snippets:

The SPSA goals set three years ago had NOTHING to do with Vista. The goals were focused on 3 things:

1) Increased Customer Satisfaction with Microsoft Products

2) Increased adoption of the Developer Platform

3) Increased adoption of Office 11

We absolutely met/exceeded all of our goals set in these areas. Our customer satisfaction goals have been met, and in fact, we have exceeded our expectations by a wide margin. The .NET developer platform, including the recent Whidbey updates have been well received by our customers. Office 11 has definitely met its targets.


The sad truth that you whining underachievers have to accept is that we were given a compensation package tied to aggressive and important goals. We worked very hard for three years to meet the performance goals tied to that package. We blew away the targets and now we DESERVE to be paid what was promised to us. I know it sucks to hear this, but you need to learn to deal with reality here. This was the deal that we accepted and it would be grossly unfair, and frankly would be illegal, for Microsoft or the Compensation comittee to all of a sudden just change the rules and shaft us.

Even MSDecade drove off the road momentarily:

Remember when I said I chose this nickname because I expected to be at MS for a decade? This post single-handedly changed my mind. I'm going to send out my resume.

Along the lines of conversation comes in this comment that rings with a good dose of cold-water reality:

I'm a long time lurker but avid reader of this blog. I'm a L68 partner (GM) at Microsoft - I thought this was one of the better posts and I specially enjoyed the spirited comments (many insightful, some negative, few balanced) here.


Politics in organization - again a GROUND REALITY. Just as we go into the marketplace we do whatever we take to fight and win, we as individuals do the same to rise in organizations. Some of us are successful and some of us are not. This is human nature and again reality. Did I earn my GM position fair and square? - yes. Did I have to play some politics to get there? - yes. Did I have to bury a few bodies to get there? - yes. Seems to me you want somebody like me to lead the battle (whatever it may be) versus somebody who is not willing to play 'games'.


RE: do we have the right folks in place - here I say no! We have moribund and lethargic leadership at the partner level and above. Specially in the senior leadership. Most of the folks have tasted failure and are too schooled in the MS model. Over the past year or two, I have been observing the lack of accountability and true leadership in my group and it saddens me. There are few risk takers left and most partners are worried about territorial ambitions rather than breakout performance. Yes they earned their positions but these are the wrong people for the company's future as they are too grounded in the past. And I include myself in this sentiment. We have chased away leaders who bring the new thinking required to the company. Yes I can resign but I worry about the next level too - they are not seasoned enough and we haven't provide enough opportunities to season or grow these leaders.

Bottom line, we are at a turning point in this company.


And some people commented, "Hey, lay off the Partners, they are the ones responsible for where Microsoft is today based on all their past accomplishments." Oy and vey, what have you done for me lately? Or, more specifically:

Our partners are for the most part, out of touch with the reality of today's software landscape. Most have NEVER launched an online service, never pushed bits to servers around the world, never configured a load balancer, performed calculations for a denial of service monitor, never written log analyzers needed to diagnose problems on live services. And just in case some of you say you have done this, let me quickly call BS... What I mean by doing is actually doing, nat "watching over". In your day, you ran kernel debuggers, wrote code, debugged problems, coded new features, etc. Going through this experience first hand taught you many skills. One skill you learned is how to estimate complexity, how to break a project down into bite sized pieces, etc. You learned this on a disconnected and isolated pc centric environment.


I guess my fear is that we are waging the wrong war with the wrong enemy, and somehow we have this beleif that our esteemed partners, csa's, and cto's can lead the way. I think we are fighting a war with the wrong leaders in place, and are fighting in a space that we dont have the skills to succeed in. It will be a war over several years that will defocus us and cause us to ignore our current set of customers. Windows, Office, our Enterprise server business. The places where we actually make money will suffer as we focus on this new space and start building our skills there.

Shifting gears: is something big on-tap for May 18th? I've been delighted by some insider rumors so far, and I have great hopes:

Ballmer announced today at Silicon Valley Campus that the company will announce substantial changes to the employee review system on May 18.

...also, when asked to review himself, Ballmer gave himself a 3.5

Substantial sounds like a step in the right direction and opens up the system to major overhaul according to employee feedback and vision. Will we still have stack ranks? Still need to fit a curve? Still need to temper our feedback to one another so that people don't go over-reacting to positive-feedback and have the nerve to think that translates to a 4.0? People followed up saying have faith and that LisaB not only listened, she acted. So come the 18th I'm bringing in a bag of popcorn to pop and sit down and read whatever comes our way with great antici... ... ...pation.

Lastly: the Al Billings Vs. Dare spat overflowed into here for a bit. Well, first Al shared some of his going away from Microsoft thoughts:

Microsoft takes too long to respond to the current thoughtspace and I think that we are mired in levels and levels of requirements and dead wood. In my exit survey, I gave my feedback that I was personally disappointed that not a single person has apparently been fired for the screw-up with Windows Vista. Sure, a couple of VPs are quietly being put out to pasture (I guess...or are they?) but no one has been made accountable for it.

In amidst the commenting here and there in the Al / Dare spat, Joshua Allen had a nice perspective, including an interesting gem:

As my boss remarked at our team meeting this morning, "the people who are afraid of transparency are the people who have something to hide". Let people say what they're going to say, and let the readers judge for themselves.

Amen to that.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Acronyms Attack! That FAQ, the Upcoming FAM, Transparent CSPs, and SPSA Goals

(I guess this is the acronym post... FAQ, FAM, CSP, and SPSA all in one place!)

Well, that FAQ struck a nerve in the comment world. The comment stream is worth taking a scan if you have a strong belief system about what it takes to succeed at Microsoft (or similar company) and want to add to the conversation. The reactions ranged from pathetic to masterpiece. My comment in the post about why I posted it in the first place:

I don't agree with the spirit of the FAQ but I can begrudgingly accept that it works. Is it wrong to reveal the perspective? Is it wrong to perpetuate that? By showing that it is "a way" to succeed that just burns your biscuits does it motivate you, whether you work at Microsoft or some other company where this is true, to try to fix it?

The FAQ is, in my opinion, highly relevant to the team members / individual contributors of the world trying to figure out how to be recognized and rewarded. Maybe it's the path to the dark side. If so, what is the other path? Does it work as well or better?

A commenter from Saturday morning that slapped the FAQ and me up and down:

This "FAQ" should be called "FAQ for no talent bottom feeders." It's pathetic. Thank god my my group is most excellent and our bottom feeding, do noting chip on their shoulder inefectual boat anchors have all been eliminated. Yeah the curve sucks. Deal with it. Wha wha wha. Mini, you should be ashamed, this is not how you make MSFT leaner and better. The loser who wrote this is the same kind of people you advoacte firing. Don't be a hypocrite and post their drivel.

I'm not ashamed.

I believe playing the system is a problem and both the system and the players need to be corrected. I'd much rather have people focused on doing a great job and getting rewarded justly to their individual merits and never even have to think of demoralizing atrocities like The Curve or Stack Ranking or, "Golly, what do I have to do to get me one of them Gold Stars?" And you know what, a lot of people do just focus on doing a great job! Some of the most successful people I've had the privilege to work with just come in and work well and hard, having a strong sense of self and knowing their own good work is accomplishment enough.

But other employees - I think understandably - invest great trust and respect in their leadership and authority and they see this investment of trust and respect returned to them come review and feedback time. And the system as it is today has built-in disappointment for those people. I want to change the system. In the meantime, such a disillusioned person finds they need to change themselves because The Curve does not respect you and doesn't care for your investment of trust and respect.

One change is to play the system, another is to build a stronger sense of self and ignore the system, and I'm sure there are other paths.

Do all managers recognize when their reports are playing the system and focused on the system vs. doing just doing a great job? Sadly, I have to admit, I've been played. If I'd seen a write-up like this, would I have been more savvy and have put that person on a more productive career path (vs. burning bridges to play career-advance ladder hoping... too bad we have so many bridges that you can burn through quite a few and it doesn't matter)? I'd like to think I would have done a better job.

Change the system. Recognize the system-players. Correct them, if not move them on.

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.

WWMMD? Fire them if confrontational career mentoring was too late.

What would you do?


FAM: I am thinking and hoping that this July's Financial Analysts Meeting at Microsoft might shape into an honest, hard discussion devoid of sunshine and rainbows but rather full of hard realities with accountability and a commitment to performance thrown in. I know, I know... my FAM hopes for an analyst uprising are a bit like Linus van Pelt and the Great Pumpkin. In Friday's article TechWeek The Trouble With Being Microsoft, the following observation is made:

[...] But investors are running out of patience with the company, and it had better show some results -- or at least convince investors that good results are coming before too long.

"I'm going to give Microsoft a few more quarters," says Daniel Morgan, portfolio manager for Synovus Investment Advisors. Asked why he can't a bit more patient, Morgan spoke for many hard-pressed managers, saying: "I'm judged on my results and I've been in this stock for a long time."

Judged on his results. Hmm... perhaps even held accountable? The unfortunate thing is that there's a lot of time between the reality shaking surprise of FY06Q3 and the FAM. Lots of time for Jedi mind tricks on a crowd that probably is quite willing to continue to hear that all is well, they are doing a good job sticking with Microsoft, and that the product pipeline of plenty is about to gush forth with great results. I'll sit in my pumpkin patch in the meantime, waiting for the analyst uprising. I have faith.

Transparency: I'm still thinking about this one:

Hey Mini, you should take a look at the new CSPs over here in Office that will be applied to the rest of the company over time. Now that we all have titles that let you know within a level or two where someone's at, we see that Dev & PM are generally two levels higher than test. Hmm.. interesting.

Do you know someone in Office? Well, look them up in the Outlook address book. Their title pretty much shows directly what their Career Stage Profile is, which is a rough bucketing of their level. Wow. And, why yes, you can find out who the partners are (though you'd probably better off using the *trax program vs. clicking around all day in Outlook hunting). Offhand, I think this is good and I don't know why only Office is engaging in this. It is coming to the rest of Microsoft? When? Curious.

It's a reality check and perhaps a way to start holding folks accountable for the results they should be delivering at their level. This certainly seems like a step in the right direction. If your group did this, what would it mean to you?

Shared Performance Stock Award program: regarding such Partners as the Office ones and elsewhere in the company, the following comment comes up on the SPSA Partner-focused award coming up:

Its times like these that its GREAT to be a Partner!!!

Can't wait till August when my first slug of SPSA stock comes due! I get $1m in this round because we met all of our targets that we set out to meet three years ago when this program started!

Seriously though... This place sucks at time. The above is true, BUT it sure doesn't feel right.

An ex-Partner's reaction:

[I wish that Ballmer] would set your SPSA multiplier to 1% and screw you all. The company has missed all reasonable expectations of targets these past three years. To claim otherwise is a crime! So, do I think a crime will be committed this August? You bet! I know for fact that Microsoft is going to claim to have met the SPSA target metrics and will reward the partners with 100% allocations. Those of you on the inside can check for yourselves...

From the 2005 Microsoft Proxy statement talking about SPSA:

The Compensation Committee will determine the final percentage in the exercise of its discretion. The Committee may amend the program to take into account significant changes in business or business strategy.

I would like to see shared with the employees and shareholders just what the goals are and how well the goals have been met. All we have is something like:

The SPSA program is designed to focus our top leaders on shared business goals to guide our long term growth and address our biggest challenges by rewarding participants based on growth in customer satisfaction, unit volumes of our Windows products and usage of our development tools, and desktop application deployment over a multi-year performance period. Metrics were developed to measure performance in each of these areas. For the Named Executive Officers, the performance period is the two-and-one-half year period ending June 30, 2006.

Doesn't the senior leadership believe, if they want to build trust between the employees and executive leadership, that this would be a key foundation of that trust? We've got folks not making cost of living and our stock just took a huge hit because we surprised Wall Street (even I know: surprise bad.). Products slip and no-one is being held publicly accountable. We're distracted... chasing the tail-lights of Google, Yahoo, and Apple like a dim rural dog that goes rabid over the scent of other people's money. And the L68+ employees are potentially about to be lavishly rewarded for all of this.

Share the goals, because perhaps I'm a dim dog, too, and perhaps the more I know the more I can understand there's more to Microsoft's business than what I'm yapping about. Share the specific SPSA goals and explain why leadership has met or exceeded them. I'd even like the employees to rate leadership on those goals, not the Compensation Committee. You see, as of now, I believe there is room for improvement. And senior leadership damn well better not expect us to tighten our belts and enjoy another serving of weenies while the same leadership loads their plate up with shrimp.

And you know, I'm okay with weenies. I've developed a taste for weenies. Just not of the leadership sort.

In the meantime, start thinking of what kind of casual questions you can ask your Partners come September regarding how they are going to enjoy their SPSA grant. Maybe come September 15th, when your new pay raise, if any, is in effect.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

FAQ on reviews, promotions, job changes, and surviving re-orgs - Comment Repost

The following is not by me but rather is a comment repost that I exclaimed "Ooo!" when it came in. Even Dare linked directly to the comment. I'd like to take a break from the financial angst and repost this comment - thanks to the anonymous individual who put together their point of view of basic survival skills in the Microsoft landscape.

How it works: FAQ on reviews, promotions, job changes, and surviving re-orgs

What do I write in my review?

You must accept the Matrix-like realization that your score was decided long before you even started your review. You have already gotten what your manager decided to give you. Your manager is not going to base anything in their feedback on what you wrote unless they want to argue with something you wrote. What they write is only to justify the score they gave you. Advice: Write your review so it looks like you did what you want your next job to be so new hiring managers think you’re great and qualified for their job, but are currently just in the wrong group.

Who gets bad review scores?

Nobody ever wants to give out bad scores, but somebody’s got to be the bottom and it makes it a lot easier on a manager if you meet any of the following criteria:

  1. You really, really, suck at your job. You’re making more work for your manager. They just want you to do your job and leave them alone. Many people suck but are either good at hiding it or their manager is afraid of them.
  2. You leave your job late in the review cycle. You get included in your old group instead of your new one and it’s much easier to ding someone you’re not going to face everyday.
  3. You get a new job in a different group. You could not possibly be ready for the demands of doing exactly the same thing you did before.
  4. You get promoted during the year. You will not be able to perform above a 3.0 at your new level. No matter what.
  5. You complain to HR about them. I don’t think I need to go into detail here.

Okay, I filled out the manager feedback form and nothing appears to have changed. Why isn’t it taken more seriously?

Because it doesn’t actually count. That’s why it’s called a feedback form. If it counted, in the review process the score would be mathematically calculated in your manager’s overall rating. It’s not.

Manager feedback forms should only contain encouraging, nurturing, positive comments about how happy you are to have this wonderful human in your life. If you want it to look legitimate, say your manager should delegate more work to the rest of the team. The biggest risk is giving actual criticism or mentioning specific instances and they are able to recognize your writing style. Then you’re doomed. Advice: Never fill them out – remember there’s no penalty and only downside. Don’t take stupid chances like that again. You’ll never get promoted.

So how can I get promoted?

There are only so many promotions available; that’s why your manager won’t tell you specifically "If you do X and Y, you will get promoted." They will go to great pains to tell you that good performance only gets you a ticket in the pool of people that become "eligible" for a promotion. "Eligible" means one thing - your manager decided they want to promote you. Period. They have to fill out a form and then win the "who gets promoted" argument with the other managers at stack rank meetings, which is where they write everyone’s name up on a board, decide who is 4.0 or promotion material, pick out the bottom feeders they want to weed out, and then fill in the rest of the 3.0-3.5s. What anyone actually accomplished during the year is irrelevant. Advice: Focus all your energy on making your manager want to promote you. Do this by making them love you. You don’t have to do more or higher quality work. You can also do this at the expense of satisfying customers, decreasing costs, or generating profit for the company. It is up to you to find out what you need to do; all managers are different. Some want you to do more of their work; others simply look at how long you’ve been at your level, but remember that managers are employees too, so all will want one of those precious promotions first.

What happens if I do get promoted?

Words from my manager during my review this year (4.0, promotion): "Now I’m supposed to be sure to tell you that it’s going to be really, really hard for you to get a 3.5 next August." This means I’m getting a 3.0 no matter what I actually do. Advice: If you get a promotion, leave your group immediately. If you wait too long to move you’ll be included in your old group at review time which we’ve learned is not good. If you get a high score but no promotion, pour on more love and start mentioning an out-of-cycle promotion. And if your manager recently was promoted, it just might happen. If not, go find another job.

How do I go find a different job at Microsoft?

Very, very, carefully. Remember your job is to make your manager love you by making their life easier and you just added two types of action items to their list:

  1. Bad action item – they have to find a new person because you’re bailing on them.
  2. Not so bad action item – they can give you one of the crappy review scores.

Bottom line is to not tip your hand unless you are sure you’ve got the job. Sometimes the reaction of a manager is to take it personally and think you don’t like them or their team anymore, but it’s also a sigh of relief because you just signed up for the bottom of the curve. Either way if you don’t get that new job, things are going to be unpleasant in your old job. Why? If they really liked you they’d promote you to get you to stay. Technically permission to interview is good for like a month or something so once you ask for formal permission the clock is ticking (and that bomb is real). Advice: First, only look at jobs for which you are actually qualified. Make informational interviews become the real interviews. Tell the hiring manager that your group is not going to be happy once you tell them you’re looking. They will nod in agreement. Set up informational interviews with everyone else that would be on the formal loop. Tell the hiring manager that you won’t formally interview unless you know you’re the leading candidate going into it. And don’t ask for formal permission until HR tells you they can’t continue the process without it.

I just got re-orged. Should I worry?

Re-orgs generally seem to make sense ("Networking and wireless are now together. That will help our wireless networking initiative."), but in reality it’s just how VPs trade power with each other. Most of the time you will experience absolutely zero change – the obligatory all-hands meeting with your new VP (go because it will be the only time you see them in person), announcements of who is in charge of doing what now, a change in co-worker taglines, and most of the time, the same manager. The danger is a new manager. One that decides on changes in your role. These changes will always line up exactly with what the manager was doing before. If it doesn’t line up, they will simply turn your Customer Escalation team into the Customer Escalation Marketing and Branding team and tell you to write new commitments that they’re going to judge you with even if there’s only two weeks left in the review cycle. Dev, Test, Admins, and those in a true PM role are generally safe from role changes; that leaves the other gazillion of us that are not. Hired for a specific role that actually brings value? Re-org! Oops, now you’re not. Meet your new manager. Advice: Recognize a role change when you see it. Managers show value through improving processes, which means change, which means changing things that generally weren’t broken before they got there. If you can’t convince your new manager that they need you in that role, leave immediately. Your review should be prepped for that next role anyway.

Author: Anonymous