Thursday, September 20, 2007

Severance, Neelie, and Rats

Did you say severance? A comment recently asked:

How about an anonymous poll to see how many people would voluntarily accept a healthy severance package, if offered?

Let's say, one month's pay for every year of service and an advance on your August 2008 stock award vest?

I bet the number of employees who would gleefully accept such a proposition would be a real eye-opener!

There's really no exciting reason to remain at the company any longer (especially with this latest slap-in-the-face: "value-based stock awards"). For many, what was once a career is now "just a job." (i.e. Where's the upside?)

So just take a moment to stop reading and contemplate the following (whether you work at Microsoft or not): you walk into work today and discover your whole team is being offered a sweet severance package and you need to decide within the next week whether to accept it.

What are the pros and cons? What do you think about? And do you accept it? If you do, what would the consequences be?

Think about it, it's an interesting exercise.

What did I come up with?

First of all, I wouldn't take it. I'm having too much fun. If I took it, though, what would I do? I'd take a nice long vacation, where long for me is a month. Then I'd make lots of time for catching up with my friends, whether they stayed at Microsoft or not. I'd have a lot more date nights with my Buttercup. I'd make room for the hobbies I'd been putting off and then, strangely, catch up on all those business books (and printed Think Week papers) languishing on the shelf and start playing with new technology, probably weeding through several different start-up'y sort of projects and retaste the joy and sorrows of pulling yourself up from your own boot-straps when beginning with nothing more than a beer-stained napkin drawing. And I'd expect that to lead me to energetic conversations and follow-up opportunities with our fantastic local techie community to find something that added a positive flow back into my bank account.

What's interesting to me is that these are pretty significant priorities that I don't have to leave my job to enjoy. Fun aside, I think I've let too much low-priority daily Microsoft grind gravel and sand fill my jar.

Curiously enough, the Intel Perspective blog has a new post about an upcoming IT Department forced redeployment (Reduction In Force) at Intel and laying down a severance up-front to make it easier. A snippet:

We need to lose some people. We have motivated people who really want to stay, who work hard, but will nonetheless get redeployed. We have burned-out, bitter, highly skilled people who want to leave and will do the bare minimum until they can find other jobs. Why would we not want to keep those who want to stay, and help those who want to leave by giving them a decent incentive to move on?

Would a severance help shake you loose from Microsoft? If so, then you should assert some proactive career seeking right this minute. You'll discover the best way to get a pay-raise: switch companies. Don't wait for your severance ship to meander to the harbor.

Now, let's talk about Office and Vista... why does Neelie Kroes remind me of Dolores Umbridge? Or Lucy van Pelt. When it comes to the big, bad politically charged legal battles, I just see Ballmer, wearing a yellow shirt with a black horizontal zig-zag, laying flat on his back uttering, "Rats!" as Neelie channels her inner Lucy van Pelt and glowers above him with the football. And talk about some self important glowering from Neelie:

"I think it's totally unacceptable that a representative of the U.S. administration criticize an independent court outside its jurisdiction. And I even think it shouldn't be done inside, but that's not my cup of tea. It is absolutely not done. The European Commission does not pass judgment on rulings on U.S. courts, and we expect the same degree of respect from U.S. authorities for rulings by EU courts. And if the parties to a case are unhappy with the Court of First Instance ruling, they can appeal to the Court of Justice, and that is well known by those parties."

Or, to paraphrase, siooma.

While some articles pointed out that Intel, Apple and Google should start worrying, all I can say I can't see the EU dropping this bone while the meat is still sweet. There's Office to look into and Vista to look into, wow, no, this is far from over.

Chris over at has an interesting post: Why today's EU ruling is good for Windows Live and its users - OurView The Opinion Blog. Okay, I'll read any article like that (and it's most refreshing given that most bloggers nowadays are looking for any stains on our shirt, so to say, to scream page-view-accumulating outrage over). Breaking apps out of Windows and putting them into Live sounds like a bumper crop of goodness that I can appreciate: you don't have to wait until the next version of Windows ships and you can liberate the teams to not be constrained to Windows legal obligations.

Goodness could ensue. And Girl Scout enthusiasm.

Master Chief, Baby! Do we have a big release of some sort next week? I think we'll see a lot of sick days on the 25th and 26th. Followed by the high-fiving neener-neeners from Xbox leadership about having a profitable quarter. Yeah. $250,000,000 in the bank, what, mmm, $5,750,000,000 to go?

And the new Live Search should come out soon. I like that the team is in no way comparing this to take on Google. They realize and admit that's a long, long way out there. We've got a hard enough road ahead to make #2 so those are the tail lights we're chasing right now.

Kip has an overview of Live Search 2.0 screenshots that are beginning to sneak out (from an "oooops!" post that has been removed. D'oh.).

Wrapping up: three from Microsoft Extreme Makeover:

Great quote in the first one, at the end, from Mr. Herbold. And a really good comment about the change that happened to the company as of 2001. A snippet:

MSFT executives responded with the SPSA program, a boondoggle intended to keep the execs awash in the levels of cash they were used to, even if the company ceased performing. Employees had the link severed between the company's financial success and their own financial success so that more money could be diverted into SPSA, and shareholders were pretty much just ignored. The result is happy executives, disgruntled employees leaving in increasing numbers, less effective recruiting to replac ethem, and angry investors.

Who feels like Charlie Brown now?


Friday, September 07, 2007

Microsoft Company Meeting 2007

The overall Mini-Microsoft summary of Microsoft's Company Meeting 2007:

  1. I love this company.
  2. I love this company's Company Meeting.

For real! Even at the end of this Company Meeting 2007 day when I'm poised to make a break for it, staring pleadingly at our CEO - giving one of the best speeches I've heard from him while - and repeatedly whispering, "please stop talking stop talking stop talking... my eyes and ears filled up two hours ago when this was supposed to be over... stop talking... please..." I still love the meeting.

Hey, I'm an unrepentant Company Meeting fan. Why? Because I do like to be energized from time to time and say, "Damn, we do some great stuff and I work with some excellent people." Otherwise, I would wander over to some other game and pull up a new keyboard.

Could this huge, complicated production have been better? Of course. I hope they round up people's constructive feedback and go over it next year as part of planning the Company Meeting 2008. Quick, shallow improvements off the tips of my fingertips:

  • Alternative bus routes logistics: why does every bus come down I-90? How about strategizing some different approaches and trying to separate pedestrian and bus traffic? Once again, I was watching buses stacked up on the exit ramp while the meeting was well into the first hour. That's no fun for them folks.
  • Demo Deathmatch: five minutes. That is all you have for a demo. I'm smart (well, sez me) and I don't need a big story about wood delivery and gold-customers blah-blah-blah. Five minutes. Drop the story. Show me the candy at a highly concentrated rate that overloads my cortex. Have an ongoing applause-o-meter to track who wins the deathmatch and, I think as a reward, gets to talk more about their group.
  • Let Them Play Golf: I agree with a recent commenter: when did we hire all these polished, good looking people? I know that *you* are good looking or else you wouldn't be reading this. But, sorry, I want a presenter onstage that's a little crazy and enthused, not spa-shined and sparkling. I don't know. Some of those presenters just didn't seem like... Microsofties. Maybe I've just uncovered a discrimination that's been lurking in my heart: "for a Microsoftie, you just don't look geeky enough to be talking about {fill in the blank}."
  • More Fun: Yeah, I miss those parody videos of the past (though the JibJab-esque video was fun!). Sorry, the parodies are much better than having a bunch of rich execs onstage burping for us via an Xbox game. Now, that might make for an interesting start in a parody video... ah, BrianV, you were good for one thing...
  • Que the Orchestra: hey, they'll start playing the music to cut-off a big Hollywood star's rambling acceptance speech. I think we can have Bob or Clippy pop up on the screen to start chasing off presenters who go on too long... (clink clink clink) "It appears you don't understand time management. Can I help by turning off your mic?"
  • Ban Paper: not one scratch of paper. I mean nothing that can be folded into a paper airplane. When are people going to friggin' learn that right after eating their lunch, bored Microsofties, especially those in the 300 sections, start flinging assault waves of paper airplanes down on their very annoyed coworkers? I think I said "Ooo! Crap!" around thirty times yesterday, watching some high speed attack plane from high-above smack into some young man or young lady.

Well, okay, the last one would have stolen from us the point where one paper airplane made it all the way to the stage screen and the crowd erupted in cheers. And Kevin Johnson was all, "Yeee-aaah!" thinking we were cheering for what he just said...

For the first two hours of the meeting, I was planning the title of this to be "Best Company Meeting Evah!" And then I guess the demos happened. I escaped the demos to go chat with other enlightened folks who were... escaping the demos. Demo guys, you're not selling this stuff to us. Show us the highlights and stuff we don't know and why we should feel good about the company because of what you're doing. That's what I want. The meat. Not the prelude, building action, twist, climax, and extended denouement.

The Live Search team wins for having the best demo of stuff I want to use. Now. Right now. Ship it please. Awesome stuff.

Figure a way to make a Surface the size of a laptop screen and you know I'll buy one.

I had just downloaded and installed the new Windows Live Suite beta so I already knew what was in there. I thought Chris Jones was being surprisingly uncool (I'm a big Chris Jones fan) during his demo snag, but the object of his white-courtesy phone heckling left a comment that all was fine. I think that was the only demo snag of the day.

There was no Zune demo, only teasing that yes, something Zune-y this way comes for the holidays. After all of Apple's announcements on the previous day and Apple coming up with the quote-unquote brilliant idea to make the WiFi on a player do something useful, I don't know what we could do to spring ahead at this point. ZUNE!

I finally discovered something that stinks about Halo 3: that upcoming commercial. What the? Come on, show us the game. Geez. It's already gone gold so why couldn't someone from Bungie grace us with a demo?

As for the speeches, some high level remarks:

  • Kevin Turner: I feel this guy is trying to sell me something vs. talk to me as an employee. No, I actually want to see, page by page, everything we shipped and everything we plan to ship, not some crammed together chart with perhaps obscure products. And profits, please, not revenue.
  • Gates: well, I kind of remember it but I listened more in respect than interest.
  • Ray Ozzie: really good vision speech that I could relate to (it's a generation thing). He just has to throw in a few more questions here and there so that my attention can be refreshed. But as a commenter pointed out here a while back, what we need from Ray now more than ever is code and shipped product, not vision. And I liked his "party like it's 1984" call to arms to protect our customers. Nice.
  • Steve Ballmer: great speech, even if I don't agree with chunks of it. I'll probably watch it again soon. I loved the scorecard. I loved the frankness. I have to say, my heart skipped a beat when he said, "We are many Microsofts" since I initially misheard him. We are not one Microsoft. We are many Microsofts and no one solution will apply to all of the company. Hmm, well, one way to think small if not be small and enable small-team aggressiveness. I do like that he tackled head-on the lack of boldness in the company. I wonder: why does Steve think there's a lack of boldness nowadays? Me? A poorly performing MSFT stock price certainly is a factor there. Hey, when you can say FYIFV, you can do some pretty bold things.

Looking at the crowd, I think most people were polite and clapped when they were supposed to, but I don't think the needle on the engage-o-meter ever went above "interested" (vs. "authentically enthused" or "wow" or "friggin' awesome"). Also, presenters and demo'ers need to realize that they are presenting to what's supposed to be one of the smartest audiences gathered for the whole year. Anywhere. Go fast. Talk frankly. Don't sell to us. Tell us something we don't know. Demo'ers: make us want to come work for you.

And when it comes to where to work to find the best Microsoft manager: Brazil? Okaaaay...

Finally, I'm pretty sure there was a lone "boo!" when we proudly announced last year that we had hired 12,800 people.

I wonder where that came from?

Further Discussions:

(1) The previous post has lots of incoming comments already about the Company Meeting. And there have been some very fine comments and discussions recently. If you don't tend to read comments, I suggest going through the last few posts and scanning through the comments and participating, if you're so inclined. And note that every post has a link to a comment feed, so that you can subscribe to comments in your RSS reader of choice.

(2) Mr. Jon Pincus provides an option to keep your Company Meeting discussion on the side of the firewall:

Mini, if you wind up blogging about this, would you be kind enough to let Microsoft employees know that we've got a thread discussing it at ... there are a lot of different strong positive and negative opinions expressed and not only do I think your readers at Microsoft would be interested, I'd loooove to hear what they think!

I wrote on Jon's Facebook wall that I was delightfully surprised to see the number of times he popped up on the video interview snippets.

(3) Mr. Adam Barr has Software + Services = ? which is a bit of a rumination over Mr. Ozzie's speech.

(4) red hot place has their take on the Company Meeting, too. Sorry to have led you astray! I thought there'd be more than buses, too!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Microsoft Company Meeting Ahoy!

Just some random events happening before the Company Meeting this Thursday (BEWARE Seattle drivers! Stay away from Safeco field!).

Are you, like, LisaB's BFF? Well, no. I think LisaB is losing momentum and getting caught up in a cult-of-personality not of her making (what will we have this year? Orange berets?). But she certainly is poised to flip the momentum she has built up and have big impact - as far as she can as the HR head - to the everyday Microsoftie.

Some of the items not shared in this week's BW online snippet with me (for sake of space and/or coherency):

  • A mention of the book Corporate Confidential and my praise of HR Generalist work hard to be on the employee's side.
  • A mention of the InsideMS blog meltdown and how all that super-valuable employee input didn't seem to play into the revised myMicrosoft benefits, questioning the whole reason for the blog to exist (served as prelude to the later comment on the meltdown).
  • A question about the review process where I rip the awful review tools a new one. (Interjection: I guess the tools [or HRIT] felt a disturbance in my karma because what happened recently? Screwed over by the performance tools. "No, Mr. Mini, I expect you to be the one with a new one ripped." Yep. Still hurts to sit.)
    • And I put the blame for this whole tool-based / god-awful workflow review process squarely on Ms. Brummel's shoulders.
  • An extended riff on the continued focus on individual excellence at the expense of considering team excellence. (Interjection: by the way, is there a reward this week at the Company Meeting for Best Microsoft Team?)
  • A list of things I believe LisaB and our corporate leaders need to focus on:
    1. A local commuter bus system would be great. I’d love to commute to work through some sort of morning and evening shuttle (one that had WiFi so that I could do email). Less cars on the packed roads of Redmond. Good thing.
    2. Bring back the 15% ESPP as it was. This was a dumb cost-saving move.
    3. Up the 401K matching contribution.
    4. Start implementing a culture change to support people working at home. Really. Not words. Actions. Put in remote offices in Seattle for people who want to live in Seattle but waste two hours a day in the commute.
    5. Drop intent-to-interview and permission-to-interview altogether and just let people interview internally (and make internal interviews more lightweight for job positions near what you’re currently doing).
    6. Aggressively recruit within the company first. We put it 100% on the employee’s shoulder to find a new position within the company. Dumb. We should have internal recruiters to help rebalance people vs. having them just give up the search and leave.
    7. Bring back the mid-year review to at least let the employees know their ranking. Making it an all or nothing once-a-year result is the reason for a lot of angst over compensation.

There is still plenty of room to improve. Some other feedback around the article includes this comment:

I am shocked, but I probably shouldn't be. Now MS has taken it's own problems (crappy morale, crummy hr) and spun them in true "Thank You for Smoking" style into a feel-good story about Lisa Brummel.

The BusinessWeek article is full of half-truths spun as cute anecdotes. Great storytelling, but makes it sound like the world is all rosy.

What about Sr. VPs who place their own system on the reviewmodel so they can effectively re-implement the stack ranking of old? What about the fact that ratings are still about tearing your team-mates down to make sure your review is good? What is she doing to improve trust of HR? What is this transparency she claims has made HR such a beloved part of Microsoft?

Again, great article for the masses... nice spin to turn it into a nice story for the shareholders out there. Why does it not seem like anything has happened here?

And this comment:

I was VERY disappointed with her lack of vision, short sightedness and in the end flat out cowardess for doing the right thing. I'm back in the non-fan camp.

I just don't have enough room to accommodate being ripped another for this comment:

Mini--you are a real sell-out in that interview, saying that employees on average are happy with Brummel. Have you forgotten the hundreds of posts and months of bitterness when people found out that she "got rid of the curve" by simply obscuring it? Aside from various trivialities like bringing back towels, she's done zip. The review system still has no means of rewarding people or groups for contributing to the bottom line (only for sucking up better than their teammates), it certainly doesn't provide a mechanism for holding executives accountable, and there's still the old-boys-club partner system.

If people are unhappy, then they won't go bug-eyed wild for Brummel when she presents (probably second only to Ballmer). Let's see this Thursday how popular she is. Again, I'm worried about the cult-of-personality here. Second to last:

Interesting to learn that Ballmer's incompetence is at the root of MS's personnel management troubles. Of course, by his own criteria, he should have gotten the axe many years ago. The company hasn't even matched the performance of the S&P 500 since he got the Big Chair.

Flying chairs and broken golf clubs? Found via the BW blogger Stephen Baker, Sun's Jim Grisanzio ponders:

"... When Ballmer floated the HR job in April, 2005, Brummel said: No way. But Ballmer wasn't about to take no for an answer. Picking up a traveling golf putter, the Microsoft chief started taking it apart as he barreled around Brummel's office, hammering home why she was the perfect candidate. [...] The two went back and forth, with Ballmer slapping Brummel's whiteboard for emphasis and Brummel parrying with: 'But I love doing products.' After more than two hours, Ballmer ended the meeting. By then the putter was in pieces. 'Sorry about the golf club,' he said. Brummel was deeply conflicted ...."

Deeply conflicted? I'll bet. My goodness. I'm just trying to imagine McNealy or Schwartz whipping into my office and breaking my golf club on my white board. I'd be deeply conflicted, too.

Office Space: not the movie, the future. If you're interested in one take on the future of Microsoft offices, read the comment that starts with the following:

On the topic of office space. This is the first time that I have seen Lisa mentioned as the one who came up with the idea of implementing the "open" space concept. If true, she should be terminated immediately based solely on that decision. If you haven't seen what "open" space looks like and are in the Seattle area, take an extended lunch and head to the new Lincoln Square offices in downtown Bellevue. 17th floor on up.

Heard and good rumors? Like this comment:

There's going to be a special reward announced. It has something to do with the number of years you've worked at Microsoft. Sort of a big "thank you" from Bill

I also wonder about some of the benefits mentioned in the BW article that I've never heard about before and if they are going to be announced this week (commuter bus, free lunch, etc. etc.). If not: awk-ward.

Compensation: talk about a way to start an interesting conversation about compensation! Just write a comment in as a Microsoft Partner that contains this:

I am a partner. I do not think I have been fully compensated. I am at least equal to two 67s on my team. I got both of them about 550K. My VP screwed me and gave me only 650K.

We give too much money to low levels. They are replaceble. But we anyway make them cross 100K. We compensate them above market and we get them in bunch. Superstars and partners are less compensated here. No surprise they join Google.

The kind of talent we get in opening positions are not worth 100K. They are no better than an average worker at mcdonalds.

My recommendation to fix the company is the same as mini. Cut the crap. Show a mcdonald to mcdonaldis employees. Money saved can go to the bottom line and raise the stock price. In this case superstars can get atleast some respectable compensation. My 450K stock are way below my market value. By cutting the crap these stocks will be worth at least double. My compensation then cross a million. I can say to google recruiters to look somewhere else. Google, please take half of my team.

I love it: "Google, please take half of my team." 'at'll learn 'em. That's followed by a comment later that ends with a kicker:

The rant by low level employees on this blog is not understandable. The goal of this blog is to get you fired. It is advocating to show you an exit gate.

So on this blog, if you accept Mini's statement then you are accepting that you are not needed. If you do not, then you should rant against Mini or at leats not post here.

Office Glass Ceiling: I don't have time to roll it up now, but a bunch of comments have been musing over the slowness of promotions in a number of teams, Office being the worse offender for slow promotions. What has your experience been with-respect-to slow groups, fast groups, or just-right groups?

Finally: whatever you do, don't watch this all the way through to the end. I warned ya.