Friday, July 20, 2012

Microsoft: Too Big? Too Old?

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase
Frustration, Disappointment And Apathy: My Years At Microsoft
Microsoft also gave out corporate-branded gizmos, laser pointers, memory keys, plastic crystals and other toys. When I raised a suggestion that we divert some of those funds to charity, my communication style was flagged as inappropriate and antagonistic.

In time, my eyes opened. We were box tickers and pen pushers. Any original thinking was sacrificed at the altar of time-proven, common sense process. Efforts to break the mould were all but punished.

Microsoft culture expects you to be in meetings. Calendars need to be decorated with sufficient colourful blocks, to signal over-activity.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll realise that Microsoft meetings are a way to diffuse and evade responsibility for decisions. Yes – let’s spend weeks on weeks “reviewing with stakeholders.” It’s so much safer that taking swift decisions ourselves. The company places no trust on the individual to make the right decision on their own.

So what happens in those meetings? Are they brainstorming earth-shattering new ideas? Are they inventing new products? Why are they getting paid to join so many of them? How can Microsoft afford to have so many of its employees fluffing about?

Because they can. Microsoft sits on stockpiles of cash, with about $60 billion earning interest in the bank. With that mystery out of the way, let’s take a look at some of those meetings: Strategy reviews, deep dives, virtual coffee breaks, quarterly off-sites, monthly get-togethers, director summits, leadership meetings, etc.

Yikes, who is going to organise all that? Fear not. Every team has their very own “business manager.” And since business managers are too senior to be bogged down with logistics, enter the legions of “support managers” and “administrative assistants” reporting to business managers.

Group Managers, Program managers, General managers, together with ‘Senior’ flavours of those and a whole new breed of directors, stakeholders, business owners, relationship leads coupled with their own countless derivatives.

All those meeting-goers are not making anything. Deciding upon and making something is hard. And if this onerous activity has to be done, then hire external consultants for it. It’s easier and less risky.

There is no creative tension, no vision these days. Left to Microsoft’s hands we’d still be toiling on overheating Vista desktops.

This company is becoming the McDonalds of computing. Cheap, mass products, available everywhere. No nutrients, no ideas, no culture.

Why write up dozens of monthly scorecards when nobody ever reads them? Worse yet, why join follow up conference calls? Why schedule get-togethers when there is no agenda? Why spend a month chasing stakeholder-committees for trivial project decisions. Why spam people’s inboxes with monthly newsletters and weekly narratives about how great our team is?

They called it out in my performance reviews: I lacked “respect for authority.”

I became cynical about the whole process. I was seen as a “rebel” and the leadership team began to marginalise me. My planned and promised promotion was cancelled.


Within hours of sending this email I was summarily fired and escorted to the door, days short of my 5-year anniversary with Microsoft.
Steve Jobs managed to turn Apple into "the biggest startup in the world." So I guess it's not the size of the company that gets in the way. Someone like Steve Jobs shows up once or twice in a generation. So it is unfair to compare every tech CEO to Steve Jobs. But I do think it is possible to make the Microsoft corporate culture less sclerotic.
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: