Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Microsoft FY07Q2 Results

Well, hard to believe it's been three months already since the last quarterly results. Holidays and windstorms and snow storms have a way of compressing time, I guess. As has been a tradition, I'm going to put up this post before the results are out to provide a place for folks to comment as they listen to / read the results and also to later update and point to any interesting analysis.

I especially look forward to analysis by MSFTExtremeMakeover, Mr. Joe Wilcox, and Mr. Todd Bishop.

While no one is looking for a break-out quarter, lots and lots of us are looking eagerly towards the forward guidance and questions about Vista and Office 2007 uptake. And sales and deployment around SQL Server, VS2005, Xbox units, and Zune. Yeah. Just kidding about that last one, though I'm sure Zune is going to come up as part of the strategy Q&A. Let's see what color lipstick they choose for dressing up those numbers.

And I'm happy to see Mr. Liddell schedule an internal employee meeting to review our stock and performance. Though we could have used that kind of forum two or three years ago.

Post-results coverage:

It was interesting trying to judge the numbers by looking at the headlines alone. It was either us beating estimates or net income being off by 28%.

Please drop a URL into the comments of additional articles you find interesting.

Other going ons:

Makin' or Fakin' Shareholder Value! MSFTextrememakeover - Growing Shareholder Value Yeah, not so much. Great analysis. One of the comments echoes what no doubt many feel:

Lately, the 900 Partners get the bulk of the stock issued, and the people actually building the products fight for scraps. I don't think it's mere coincidence that the company is having so many execution problems. The [switch] from rewarding everyone to rewarding only the executive crowd correlates [pretty] well with the decline in productivity.

I've been avoiding the internal InsideMS blog as much as I can. But it's like an epic car wreck where I just have to peek in at least once a week. Pay pay pay is the drum the Microsofties are beating. Rebalancing the distribution back to the employees where it has the greatest impact has to happen.

Petals for Zuzu, Moolah for Wikis: I swear. The last thing you want to do sometimes is connect to a blogger. Before you do that, ask yourself, "Now then, what's the absolute worse thing that could happen? And how bad would it be if they all went screaming to TechMeme and it got picked up as a top wire story?" Fancy Vista laptops. Wiki editing requests. Is it such a positive for Microsoft to be so transparent?

When I first saw the Wikipedia brouhaha, my reaction was: "Dang, we should have had a blogger or someone who knows how to connect with the tech world handle this." Then I read the details. Oh. We're trying to play by the rules here. And we're seeing the results of that. Thanks. Considered us schooled. Anyway, Doug is cool is my book... I appreciated his comments in light of that "anonymous-bad" wildfire.


BillG on the Daily Show: Bill Gates slated for 'Daily Show' appearance. That should be fun. Or exceptionally awkward. But maybe our parody folks will work with the Daily Show crew to finally put out some fun shorts that can be released to the public. If only I'd known sooner... I'm sure we could have worked out some kind of BillG chasing after Mini to the Yakety Sax / Benny Hill music.

Administrivia: I'm poised to move to the new Blogger (where you will get a comment feed!) but I have to wait due to the size of this blog. Continue thinking good thoughts.

Updated: added links to results / results discussion.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Thinking About the Microsoft 2007 Mid Year Career Discussion

The 2007 Mid Year Career Discussion is here. And it's new and shiny. Well, retooled. Here are some thoughts about MYCD, and I'd like to hear what you think works well around managing the discussion, too, but I've got to tell you, I'm a little hesitant...

Processed Into Submission: one reason I'm less inclined to complain at the start of this year is that it seems everytime something is complained about, HR's solution is to create a new process or website or training to, quote-unquote, make it better. Perhaps it's brilliant negative reinforcement. Everything around this year's Mid Year Career Discussion looks daunting to me, given the amount of time and energy required to do a good job preparing and running the discussion. My initial reaction: yeah, the Career Compass is good idea, but is there a way we can ease into it?

Has anyone taken a moment to assess what the average Microsoftie, attempting to succeed relative to their peers, has to do during the year as part of the process of managing their career? The average manager? Dude, I want to own my career, not have my career 0wn m3. And realize this: my group gives us two-hours to work on our review, mid-year or major. One hundred and twenty minutes, twice a year. Including giving manager feedback. That's maybe a quarter of the time to do a good job in order to really have a productive discussion.

Maybe we're on our way to push-button career management. But we're not there, yet.

Well Stacked: we still do stack ranks. Some people thought that stack ranking - aka calibration aka rank and yank - went away with the new review system and were busy praisin' Lisa for their demise. Not at all. Leads still get together to figure who is on top, who is on bottom, and what's the linear ordering in-between. You are still in competition with your peers, and this competition continues to not be in the best interest of our customers and shareholders.

Our HR leader said one of the fundamentals the company holds dear is differentiation. That means stack ranking, which then feeds into the blurry curve we have (and I'll still take blurry over quotas).

If we're going to have stack ranking, I believe we should provide the results to anyone who asks for them. How can you find out how to truly best succeed in your group? See who is on top and valued. Oh, you could snap Headtrax from time to time and see who crossed a CSP boundary, sure. That's not as good, though, as seeing where you are within your team's savanna.

At the very least, we should provide people the information like, "You are number six in a peer group of thirty." I agree, you are not a number. But you are ranked.

Interesting discussion points to have with your manager:

Time to Promotion: there's a ticking clock and it happens as soon as you hit your career ladder level. For some people, it might be set to twelve months. Others, eighteen months. And maybe thirty months for others. Once that clock goes off, if you're sitting at the same career ladder and not supported for promotion, HR has decided it's time to cast your limited butt aside because something is obviously wrong with you. You're such a Kim. Get out of here.

Now maybe your group has the determination to give HR the finger and say that's not the right way to do business and to manage and grow people. Do you know where your group stands? If your clock is ticking down, it's time to start driving that discussion around promotion. Because unless you find an enlightened group, "Limited" is the new toxic career kiss of death among hiring managers.

And the more painful, awkward conversations that are had around HR's clock, the more that clock will get hammered to bits from the bottom up.

Stack Rank: where am I? You really need to have this conversation before your team's calibration. Assert where you think you are. Influence your manager and win them over to your point of view. Because your savvy peers will be doing just that. And your lead's peers will be tearing you down in order to raise their people up. In all my years at Microsoft and all the calibration meetings I've been in, almost every lead comes in with their people pinned to the very top of the stack, in determination to stick them high and make everyone fight to get them lower.

And of course, the more of your lead's peers that are also supporting you, the better. What do your lead's peers think of you?

After the stack rank is over, you have to try to pin down with your manager where you landed. And who is above you. And what you need to do in your group to achieve success higher up in the rank.

Of course, only you want to. I hate that this advice is still relevant and I think it represents a fundamental failure of any myMicrosoft overhaul. That and not getting the old ESPP back.

Commitments vs. CSP: remember, for all those wonderful commitments that you list, your first responsibility is to commitment zero: your career stage profile and the expectation that you do a strong, exceptional job there. Maybe you have a bunch of soft commitments. If you blow them all out of the park, are you exceeded? No, and you certainly don't want that surprise come the end of summer. You should first focus on how you're doing within your CSP before moving onto the refined icing that are your commitments.

The fact that HR is allowing this confusing disconnect to continue is a pain. To remove this confusion, there should be a hard-coded commitment that appears in everyone's commitment plan about doing exceptionally well within the expectations of their profile.

Additional Opinions: I'm actually warming up to the Career Compass. I think it is a tool that's part of a multi-year corporate culture shift (like valuing the Good Managers and running off the toxic managers). You can invite additional opinions on your abilities via the Career Compass... a sort of lightweight 360 evaluation. If there are differences between what other people say and what your manager says, what does that mean?

But in order for it to be a useful tool and not a yada-yada-click-click-clickity-submit tool, the information there has to align with what your group rewards and recognizes. If you're kicking butt in the Career Compass numbers but slapped with a weak review, what the heck does that mean?

What really matters: there's what HR says and then what matters. What matters to exceed in your group? Are managers still evaluated based on their individual contributions with management seen as a nice side-line job ("Oh, you grew your people. How nice.")?

Upcoming: MSFT financial numbers come out this Thursday. Other than the $1,500,000,000 deferral, I'm hoping that we have great optimism in our presentation. Because if not now... when?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Good Manager, etc, etc, ...

More Constructive, Less Destructive: Happy 2007. As a direct result of me wading too much through in the negative comments on InsideMS, I have been feeling the need to start the year focused on positive changes:

  • How do you call out the people (especially good managers) doing a great job to ensure they are successful?
  • How do you succeed at Microsoft by navigating the culture and systems to get the best job done for our customers & shareholders?
  • What waste do we have that we can eliminate to be more effective?
  • What new initiatives are succeeding and which ones should we pull the plug on sooner than later, where later usually means we're out a billion or more dollars?

Now, sure, if something bad happens I'll put my jesters hat on and snark away, musing accountability and such. But I want to at least start the year focusing on win-win, especially given that we finally have Vista behind us and the company is in the middle of change.

The Good Manager: as most Microsofties will tell you, Microsoft has bad managers. Usually poor schleps who were great individual contributors and found themselves, either through organizational need or career-advancement want, in a management position that just isn't a good fit for them. While the front-line folks aren't exactly grabbing the torches and pitchforks to mob the hallways looking for violators of work-place dignity and work-life-balance, there does seem to be a general consensus that we're overburden with a significant number of bad managers. And right now, I am worried that becoming a manager is going to become a dumber and dumber decision if it becomes the monster all the villagers want to kill. Usually, this killing is by ever increasing inane process and mandatory training.

So let's say you either fire the bad managers or get them back on the team-member individual-contributor track (or sprinkle them with pixie dust to make them good managers). What good have you done to prevent future bad managers? Is the next generation of managers going to be any better?

If you've got a good manager, you've got to shout it to the world. You've got to do your best to promote this manager and ensure this is the model of success you want to see spreading. When your manager does something great or important to your team, do you tell them? Most likely, no one else is going to. You appreciate knowing when you do something great, eh? Now, I know, you can wallow in the cynical mindset and say this is just kissing up and brown-nosing, but brief, effective feedback of what is working is good to hear. Positive feedback for positive change.

When I've let my managers (or up the chain) know in the past that they've done something well or positive for the team / product (or have done something to me that was really revelatory about how to execute exceptionally well), they really want to hear more and know why I feel that way and how it could be even more effective.

I think about the manager feedback coming up for the mid-year discussion. This is important stuff. If you have a good manager and want them to be successful and a model, don't just fill out the feedback clicking all the high-marks, but also fill in the text feedback as to why the manager has done such a good job, especially relating this to the competencies. This is how I do my best to ensure my great managers are on the leadership track. When good managers succeed, they provide an example of what it takes.

Be sure to include the alias of your manager in your written feedback versus pronouns lost in the roll-ups (because the roll-ups are read by the people who really count).

And while folks balk at providing tough, critical feedback for their bad manager out of fear of retribution, take time to replace the outright negative with giving constructive feedback on the key competencies that you see the manager needing to grow in. Again, with the manager's alias. This might make it clear that the manager is underperforming if there's a gap in performance over expectation and doesn't cloud your feedback with any sour-grapes. Keep the zingers for here or InsideMS.

Other ideas for growing and supporting the good managers and squeezing out - for good, as much as possible - the bad?

Other random going ons...

Five Things I Hate About You: Oh, Ms. Foley, no you didn't. One of the cool kids tagged me and my startled mental reaction was akin to spurting milk out mid-sip. OMG, P0N1ES! Sorry, though, I'm going to have to go with Mr. Macleod here. Dit and 'to. But I swear to you this promise: if Steven Sinofsky follows up with his five in public, so will I. In the meantime, I'm left pondering how it is that one of my five candidates to share overlaps with Frank Shaw so perfectly... in the other direction.

Zune: man, people went crazy and pressed the pause-button on civility when ripping into that poor Zune player. For some reason, it reminds me of the frenzy the press went over Howard Dean and that little scream. Anti-zune-yness even made Engadget and Gizmodo into overly biased Microsoft haters. I didn't buy a Zune, as much as I had intended. I got a little Sansa that does the job for me. When Zune adds sync over Wi-Fi and brings out a flash-based unit, I'll give it a hard look again. In the meantime, I think a positive-because-it's-so-negative result of Zune is that it added fire to the DRM debate, and whether we should start regretting how much of a DRM darling we've become. It's a complex situation, which I think we are unfortunately making more entangled than less.

Office Live: in the last post, a couple of commenters really ripped into Office Live for just plain not working well at all. I haven't used Office Live, and I realize the success of Office Live is pretty important to our future and for gaining share among small businesses. Joe Wilcox splashed some additional cold water Office Live's way: Why I Killed Office Live. Et tu, Joe? A comment from Richard on that page:

My experience has been very much the same. Advertised functionality missing. Programs to integrate that dont work. Customer Service people who send you to other customer service people.

The concept is fantastic. I had high hopes. I WANT it to work. To have a pivate and pulic network and share information across them is a great asset.

Perhaps Microsoft should give it to someone else to develop then buy it back later.

Sounds like the parts that aren't working are really sabotaging an otherwise great initiative. Hopefully those parts can be fixed quickly and Office Live will be praised rather than buried.