Thursday, August 30, 2007

Brummel! Brummel! Brummel!

Wow, just in time to go into next week's Company Meeting with blushingly good PR. Much better than two years ago! From the upcoming BusinessWeek magazine:

(1) How To Make A Microserf Smile - profile on Ms. Brummel with some background about her contributions to HR since being appointed. Interesting snippet:

Nothing got people buzzing more than Brummel's overhaul of the performance review. Employees dreaded Microsoft's ranking system for all the usual reasons: It pitted co-workers against one another at a time when the company needed to be more collaborative; it was unfair; it made frank evaluations less likely.

Here Brummel faced a political third rail. Ballmer was the godfather of the forced curve, believing that differentiation—giving a few people the top grade, most a pass, and laggards failing marks—was the key to Microsoft's we-take-the-hills culture. And when Brummel broached ditching the curve, it was his turn to say "No way." More yelling ensued as they darted in and out of each other's adjacent offices.

(2) ONLINE EXTRA: Playbook: The New HR - I can has rewardzburger?

(3) ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Microsoft's Lisa Brummel - I'm sorry, but aren't there supposed to be questions and answers? Anyway, the Microsoft Office of the future (as in, where you're going to be planting your tocks during the day):

So HR chief Lisa Brummel is creating Microsoft's next-generation workspace: the elastic, meet-my-mood office. Here too she is going far beyond what most companies consider: open plan or not? Instead, she's creating a hybrid workplace of sliding doors, movable walls, and urban-loft-like spaces tailored to individual needs.

(4) ONLINE EXTRA: Reshaping Microsoft's HR Agenda - Q&A with Ballmer and Brummel. Lord, I'm still laughing from the below snippet: thumbs up, Mr. Ballmer, for the honesty:

She went on a listening tour to hear from employees. And one of the things she heard was frustration about Microsoft's forced ranking system. Did that resonate for you? Did that seem like something Microsoft needed to remake? Ballmer: No. No? Ballmer: Uh-uh. It wasn't top of mind for you? Ballmer: Uh-uh. But were you averse to changing it? Ballmer: Uh-huh.

More interesting nuggets in there about how our review system is still pretty much the same from Ballmer's POV, the potential for free-lunches like Google, and the $1,500 you get for buying a hybrid vehicle. And whether Ballmer would ever blog (sorry, secret Steves!).

(5) ONLINE EXTRA: Microsoft's Mini-Me Susses Brummel - interview with some dashingly good-looking loud-mouth blogger.

(6) Graphic: Chief Happiness Officer - well, graphic with interesting text. What, we're going to get a free bus service? With WiFi! OMG!1! P0n13s! I LOVE YOU LIS- ...ahem. That's swell.

What else do you find interesting in the articles that's either in there or not in there?

Meanwhile, back in RealityVille, Microsoft Extreme Makeover has a new post: Wanted Significant MSFT shareholder with a spine. Rock'em sock'em! The post mulls over the article Of Microsoft, china pigs and hungry bears Mixed Signals by Rupert Goodwins. Talk about a dash of cold water. Perhaps you should read that before diving into the feel-good Brummel articles.

This snippet looks at inflection points in Microsoft future:

This is the weather for a coup, whether by a posse of external shareholders with inside support or a rebel group of managers with help from the investors. The trigger point isn't far away – we're nearing the end of the multi-year transition period that's seeing Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie replace Bill Gates. By now, the changes in Microsoft should be visible – but it's not looking that good. The two big moves – into advertising, and into Net-delivered cloud services – look more like Google-chasing than anything else; neither address the many and extremely deeply ingrained reservations even Microsoft's closest partners have about dealing with Redmond. Neither properly answer the question of revenues in 2017.

Evokes this response:

The "rebel group of managers" willing to back away from the SPSA feeding trough long enough to finally do the right thing for the company and shareholders, sounds like a tall order. A "posse of external shareholders" seems a lot more likely, but right now there's no obvious sheriff - or posse. A third option would be a former MSFT manager with external shareholder backing. Someone like Brad Silverberg, for example, who was right about the web when Gates and Ballmer were wrong and is no longer there because of it. But lately he's been praising them. Or maybe he's just laying the groundwork for an impending return :-)

Hmm. Need to step back into HappyVille? Okay, here's a question: Hey, do you think they'll install Starbucks i-Cup machines in our new commuter busses? And what speed of WiFi do you think they'll provide?

(Oh, and I know I put up a new post in the middle of everyone sharing their review numbers; feel free to keep on adding to this one, along with anything new. Sorry that it all ends up being spread across three posts.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Let's talk about you: it's Reviewzapalooza time! How do you like the new numbers sheet - does it help with the context of what your awards are? Once again, the charmingly good looking folks who participate in the comments here have started sharing their numbers to help get an idea of how they stand and how it compares across groups in the company. You can see some comments in the Gone Fishin' post, and the template that has evolved into is basically:

Position: Job Title
Commitment: Exceeded / Achieved / Underperformed
Contribution: 20% / 70% / 10% I or 10% II
Merit: %bump
Bonus: %of bonus
Stock - $USD of grant (% of Target)
Promo: %promo

Plus anything you feel like adding. Healthy approximations are appropriate to fuzz your rewards should you be concerned about consternation from above for sharing. You know, I wish there was a way to do this inside Microsoft (hmm, Inside MS) and especially wish there was a way to do it so that the division / group was obvious. As I've moved about the company over the years, it has become depressingly clear that, yes, career velocity is very different across the company, with some teams shooting their people up the levels on aggressive schedules and other divisions letting their reports languish for long durations before their level bumps (making it a vicious cycle: the folks at the next level up are now really really good just because they've been there for a while, so you're going to be parked here for a while, too).

I will say, as someone participating in the review process, it feels better and I feel better about the rewards distributed through-out the team, though there are always the hard conversations around "Why didn't I at least meet 100% of the target?" Look, there is still a curve and ratios to track for performance ratings and there are still misunderstandings in self-assessments that "Exceeded" is appropriate for soft commitments.

The review tools are a Himalayan blackberry infestation running through my gut. The clumsy workflow hammered in around the tools is just too restrictive and results in me spending more time getting HR IT's help, managing the tools and process and less time giving (hopefully) useful feedback. And when your editing package can't even copy and paste between its own fields without barfing out some kind of new, exotic formatting, well, you should just go back to Word.

Of course, Limited II is still around. It's just called 10% II. New non-offending packaging, same demoralizing message.

Stuff o' Interest: some links I'd like to pass on (some of which I've already posted in my Facebook profile, so apologies mon amis):

Microsoft Extreme Makeover has two excellent posts: (1) Growth play, value play, or just lousy play?, and (2) Home runs, base hits, virtual aspirations and actual failure. An extraction of the facts covered in greater detail in (1):

  1. Fact: Microsoft stock has performed abysmally over the past 5 years
  2. Fact: Investors have been more than patient
  3. Fact: Management's statements are at odds with observable facts and the stock's performance
  4. Fact: The leadership team's actual track record of investments is decidedly mixed, if not in fact poor.
  5. Fact: Management is arguing with the market and results, and shareholders are paying the freight for that hubris and failure
  6. Fact: External shareholder are the majority owners of this company

And there's a corker of a conclusion in there...

Collision Domain on the way out the door? My interpretation on this other anonymous Microsoft blogger is that it's time to discard the Blue Badge and move on: Preparing for Take-Off, Lift-Off, and Orbit. Snippet from Lift-Off:

One tidbit that I did discover this go-through was that the shiny, happy compensation target numbers on hrweb are figments of policy imagination.

Way ahead of you, dude: Already off and into Redfin's orbit is former Microsoftie Jeff Yee: Will work for food: why I left Microsoft for a startup. Snippet:

While I was at Microsoft, many things didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand the massive “re-orgs”, which, if you hadn’t heard about ahead of time, it meant nothing material changed for you. I didn’t understand why we’d try to enter dominated markets with an uncompetitive offering. I didn’t understand those little table tents on the cafeteria tables or the giant banners and posters promoting intranet websites. I didn’t understand why site searches on MSDN were abysmal. I wasn’t the only one who was confused. Minimsft would try to speculate about a re-org or an acquisition. And on popular internal aliases like “litebulb”, for instance, there’d be email threads where people would ask why Vista had 6 (ok, 8) SKUs, why Zune wouldn’t work with PlaysForSure, why their product had to be renamed from something cool to something like Windows Communication Framework, or why there were 2 confusing boxes on (or so adverse to just calling it “” in the first place). Legitimate questions often got defensive responses. To paraphrase one developer, “Why are these responses always along the lines of, ‘We know what we’re doing’? Personally, I’d welcome the feedback, because that’s how I’ll improve. Why can’t you provide the reasons that led to your decision?” I couldn’t have agreed more.

Who's on First? Mr. Romano at the Seattle Times has a three-fer: Microsoft Microsoft's new leaders prepare for the post-Gates era, Microsoft Craig Mundie Company envoy will keep that role, and Microsoft Ray Ozzie Collaborative leader has coaching style. Who's is next? Well, who should be next?

No-one! Jamie has a new C9Park: Iron Chef.

Company Meeting: I don't think I'll be as vocal about my love for the Company Meeting this year. Yes, I love the Company Meeting, just as much as I love the potential for Microsoft to be the best company ever. The Company Meeting is where I hold out both of my arms and let myself get hooked up into two I.V.s of pressurized, concentrated MSFT-Kool-Aid. It, along with the occasional Town Hall meeting, allows me to become re-enchanted and re-committed to Microsoft.

I like the change of theme this year of celebrating individuals who represent the best of Microsoft (I'm not sure about the moniker Champions of Change because my eyes roll everytime I read it). I mean, first of all, big thumbs up for not doing Microsoft Idol again just because we did it last year. That's a change I could champion. But finding people who truly represent the best of Microsoft and its culture does allow people to get to know them and find out what kind of person our corporate culture touchstone resonates for. Maybe your boss does indeed sucketh in comparison. Or maybe not. Anyway, it's mostly a really really good idea that I wish I had come up with to propose.

It's too bad , though, it looks like our continued celebration of the individual. Do we have a celebration in there for a team or two of distinction? I'm sorry, but we need a change around this lone-wolf achiever culture. Team Gold Stars and Team Achievements that everyone could clap for in wild agreement need to be next.

What would I like to hear about in our Company Meeting? Some things off the top of my head (not too different than last year, just compacted):

  • European Union: whoa, Nelly, I think we're about to get kicked really, really hard in our money maker. Can we talk about this?
  • The Stock Price: what do we hear from analysts about the stock price? Let's enumerate them so that we have confirmation that we've actually heard advice regarding the stock price: cut expenses, increase the dividend, etc. and then, Beloved Leadership, tell us what you think.
  • Windows Live Suite: this actually addresses an analyst's concern, about showing radical growth in rich, connected services. Is it going to do it? What's is about and where is it going? And is Spaces going to do something to out-Facebook Facebook?
  • In Between Cows: between now and Windows 7 and Office 14, what's releasing and what does the product stream look like for profit?
  • Hiring Slow-Down: please, tell me more about this. And then even some more again. It just doesn't get old.
  • HR and Compensation: first of all, before LisaB, did we even hear from HR that much? Anyway, I'm sure we'll hear how great the poll is looking any maybe some other goodies. On my mind:
    • ESPP: Bring back the 15% ESPP: yep, it goes against the cut expenses goal. Suck it up and give back what we once had. I'll even part with my Starbucks kitchen coffee maker machine for it. And that's saying something.
    • Internal Recruiting: we need to aggressively recruit talent within our company and not leave it to the individual to meander through the internal machinery and find a job. Additionally, totally drop permission and intent to interview and just let people interview at will.
    • Mid-year review: yes, bring back the mid-year review. Compensation would be nice, too, but let's make it a full review. We do all the work and create review numbers, so let's just go ahead and share the numbers officially so that it's not an all-or-nothing once-a-year tell-me-if-I'm-doing-a-good-job Hell Mary. This also swings nicely into letting people move around more easily so that folks don't feel locked into their job for an entire year in order to get a fair review vs. moving groups and losing their perceived momentum.

Anything you'd like to hear about and discussed by our leadership?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Gone Fishin'

I'm spending my days singing that Bing Crosby + Louis Armstrong tune "Gone Fishin'" while I enjoy still waters, quiet trails, and generally sunny skies. As I sit on the hill in between family romps and watch the clouds go by (trying not to hear that Madonna launch music), it certainly causes the reflective "and what am I so concerned about?" moments to kick in.

So here's a quick post to keep the pot stirred. I hope you're out there, enjoying life, too.

Town Hall + FAM + Analysts Coffee Talk: damn, what a past week.

Regarding FAM, MSFT Extreme Makeover has the following post: MSFTextrememakeover Like us, or leave us. In the comments, Charles points to the following post off of Seeking Alpha: Microsoft Investment Requires Too Much Patience - Barron's - Seeking Alpha. Snippet:

Some of the issues that worry analysts:

  1. It was clear from the presentation that many of the growth prospects will take 5-10 years to bear fruit.
  2. The company overspends ("nothing would delight analysts more than a nice big round of cost-cutting.")
  3. The businesses MSFT says it's entering (e.g. advertising and consumer electronics) are far more cut-throat than its current mix.
  4. Microsoft's focus on building internet infrastructure rather than building sites that bring in users is "backward."
  5. Bill Gates's plan to pass control of product development to Ray Ozzie "will not be a smooth one."

Those are certainly all issues to be really concerned about, though #2 reminds me of something Dylan Yolles brought up a couple of times at the coffee talk: control expenses via cost efficiency. Now one grand way to start is to not blow a billion dollars here and there and to avoid any future money losing ventures. Brilliant, I know. Can I have an SPSA grant now?

While Mr. Bach has been appropriately contrite and saying "the billion plus buck loss stops here," the commitment I want is forward looking: we will no longer produce product lines that are sold at a loss. One fine day, the third generation of Xbox will be out there. How about committing to pulling a Nintendo here and making it profitable from day one?

Cost efficiency and controlling spending is a pretty broad area to improve in. I'm glad that head-count growth is so visibly discussed now and that Mr. Liddell is saying that it's not sustainable. Let attrition do its thing for a while. I think the analysts would be thrilled - thrilled I tell you - if we actually shrunk headcount and optimized employee career assignments. Around cost efficiency, I'm concerned that one of our new hires will look over the financial books and, with a twenty-five watt light bulb blazing above his head, say, "Hey, I know, we can save some money cutting back on this luxurious towel service here!"

Around our performance and wondering when our stock price will take off, I just have to ask, "If not now, when?" When will we emerge from the post-growth purgatory Charles DiBona mentions? Can we get a software plus services product line out that that resonates with everyone and makes clear the value of Microsoft rich-client applications plus on-line services?

I hope that the upcoming Windows Live Suite is the beginning of another Office Suite. For free. Hmm, wait a minute... well, anyway, it includes my favorite little application, Windows Live Writer, and given that the Office Suite story turned out so well there's an abundance of opportunity for another suite to emerge. Revenue around this, I can only assume, is built on advertising around the content you generate with the suite. That makes me feel a little dirty, still.

I'm glad that there's more focus on creating products for the consumer. Waaaay back, three years ago, it was part of my reason for launching this little blog. I was tired of all the IT-focused features we were so focused on vs. the forgotten home user. I want the cash and attention of everyone walking along the street. I want knowledge workers demanding to have IT deploy the new Office because it's so friggin' cool and because there are features in there they can't wait to use. I have hope.

Shields up: a while back, Ms. Foley asked if Microsoft can go silent running on features vs. blathering about them years and months before they come out. I hope so. I think everyone of us who has watched a Steve Jobs presentation has always felt envy when he unveils something surprising and new and then says, "And you can buy it at the Apple store this afternoon!"

Well played, sir, well played. Even if it's something I'd never want, my inner geek starts running around screaming OMG OMG OMG!

For anything consumer focused and small, yes, we should be able to do this. Obviously, features that are going to rile up the IT department need a soft landing. But I would prefer to announce the cool stuff right at launch or before launch, to avoid the months and months of discussion and criticism that leads us to, "meh" on launch day.

Other bits:

Okay, back to the hill. Ooo, that cloud looks like Ray Ozzie, confused, pondering, 'Dude, what is this bag, and why have you left me holding it?'