How Microsoft can shut down Mini-Microsoft
Disclaimer, I have not shown this post to anyone, particularly my employer, er Microsoft. The ideas it contains are not vetted, and probably won’t agree with anyone else’s ideas.
OK, maybe you haven’t heard about Mini-Microsoft yet, but if you care even a little bit about what Microsoft is, you’ve probably read his blog (he was featured on the cover of Business Week a while back). In my tours around Microsoft it’s a rare employee who tells me he or she doesn’t read Mini.
Sometimes an employee asks “don’t you think they would try to shut Mini down?” (Mini is an anonymous blogger, who generally talks about things that Microsoft is doing wrong, and/or that he wants to see improved. His motto is to, by slimming down Microsoft, make Microsoft a more lean profit-making machine).
I say, no, cause I think he’s doing a lot of good for the company and even if you don’t agree with that point of view if Mini were fired I’d quit on the spot. I don’t think the way you deal with dirty laundry is to get rid of the person hanging the laundry in the public square that way. Deal with the folks who are dirtying up the linen!
But, I’m going to use Mini as a metaphor for the angst that surrounds Microsoft, both internally with its employees, and externally with its customers and shareholders. I’m not talking about physically shutting down his blog or silencing him via censorship. No, I’m talking about taking away his reason for being. His karmic power.
Now, admittedly, I’m going on a small, but decent sized sample. I’ve interviewed more than 500 employees over two years (and talked with hundreds, maybe even thousands, more) and I’ve met thousands of our customers and shareholders on trips to conferences, VC firms, camps, private parties, and corporate meetings.
In my travels around Bill Gates’ empire I do my usual Channel 9 stuff, but off camera lately I’ve been asking “how can we make Microsoft better?”
See, I’ve decided to stick around and make Microsoft better. I own a very very very small slice of Microsoft and so as an employee owner I figure I gotta do my part.
And, generally, what I’m finding on my tours is angst. Angst over stock price (it’s gone up about $3 since I’ve joined three years ago). Angst over marketing issues (why do we make cool names like “Sparkle” lame by changing that to “Expression Interactive Designer?”) Angst over vision and direction. Angst over leadership. Angst over advertising like our “dinosaur” ads (which are loudly derided by customers whenever I go to conferences and talk about how we’re being perceived).
Yet, on the other hand, our angst is tempered by great products and marketing in other places. Everyone who owns a 360 praises it when I meet with them face-to-face (and I love their advertising and marketing, except that they can’t ship enough to fill demand). Good feelings are still flowing over the Mix06 conference (several people remarked on that to me today at Makers Faire). Visual Studio’s launch events were mostly overflowing. In Ireland, when I was there, people told me that the events there were standing room only. Our Atlas project is getting kudos. Our Live.com gadgets are seeing sizeable community adoption. MSN Messenger has 170 million active users every month. Hotmail, 200 million. MSN Spaces, tens of millions of active spaces. Whew, what is there to complain about? ; )
I had a huge surge of pride in Microsoft today when I saw a very cool booth that we had at Makers Faire. Robots. People teaching kids to program computers. Xboxes. Media Centers. UMPCs (another lame name for “Origami’s” – one fun thing was I was in the booth when someone was holding a UMPC and then asked “can I see the Origamis?” Um, you’re holding one, was the answer.)
But, that’s off topic here. Back on topic. There are legitimate things to work on improving. If there weren’t, Mini’s blog wouldn’t exist, or at least, no one would pay any attention to it. So, my thoughts over the past two weeks led to this rant:
How Microsoft can take away Mini-Microsoft’s karmic power.
Apologies to Martin Luther King.
I have a dream.
I dream of a Microsoft that no longer has anything for Mini, or his commenters to complain about. I dream of a day where every Microsoft employee feels like they are part of a mission, a positive mission for the improvement of all humankind. Where they feel like they are being compensated fairly, and if they don’t feel it’s fair, that they at least see what behaviors will bring better compensation. Where Microsoft customers and shareholders feel excited by our vision, marketing, and service execution again and will go on blogs and in BusinessWeek and say “they turned a corner.”
See, employees tell me they hit too many policies. Bureacracy. Politics. Committeeisms. And too much centralization of power and decision making authority. They also tell me they don’t feel like we’re on a mission to improve the world, like Gates led in the 1980s with his cry “a computer should be on every desktop.” That they don’t feel pride in our advertising and marketing and naming. That they feel we aren’t making the kind of “bet the company” bets that Microsoft had in the past, like when a strategic decision had been made to go with Windows over OS/2.
So, I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks. How do we tune up Microsoft’s economic engine and get ready for the 2010’s?
In September a new generation will enter high school. I call it the “Second Life” generation. They live in a world of always connected high-speed broadband. In a world that has computers that have more graphical power than our most powerful ones just 10 years ago. Where ubiquitous computing isn’t a far-off-dream, but something pushed in their face every minute of every day as they see digital displays in classrooms, in shopping malls, in airports, and at movie theaters. They expect their cell phones to do a lot more than just phone their parents. They carry around laptops or Tablet PCs or, maybe soon, ultra mobile PCs that are hooked up through increasingly uniquitous wireless networks. I saw a guy yesterday who was building wifi networks for poor areas in Africa. By 2014 I can’t imagine many places in the world without wireless access.
It is a world where they want to make their own experiences. MySpace looks passe to this new generation. Second Life, with its 3D world that can not just be controlled, but produced factory style from pre-built components, along with easy customizations, is where it’s at.
It’s also a world where the competition has changed. Now you can run Windows in a virtual area on OSX. Windows could be controlled by Apple. Or, by Linux. Once Windows users try OSX, why would they want to use Windows anymore? What’s the value proposition? What will bring scarcity or differentiation to the Windows world? Our shareholders are worried, maybe not shortterm, but I notice the stock price isn’t going up, even though the Xbox is doing tremendously well (and, actually, most of our product lines are seeing sizeable revenue and profit growth).
What will this generation expect as they move from high school, in the year 2010, to college? What will they expect as they move from college, in the year 2014, to the workforce?
I dream of that world tonight and see that Microsoft must change to be relevant to the Second Life Generation’s world.
First, we need a big dream. A moonshot. The kind of challenge that’ll keep our newly-hired rock stars minds engaged. That’ll give everyone in the company pride when it’s accomplished. The kind of goal that’ll take four, or maybe even eight years to accomplish. For the Second Life Generation. But, don’t stop there. It should be for everyone. It’s just that this next generation is going to expect something a lot bigger than just a few gigs of email space.
What’s the moonshot? A guaranteed Terabyte of Internet-based storage space for EVERYTHING and for EVERYONE running Windows in the world.
A simple vision. Yes, Mr. Gates, it’ll cost billions. We’ll need dozens, maybe even hundreds, of data centers around the world. All with state-of-the-art connections. All with state-of-the-art 64-bit servers. All with state-of-the-art backup systems. All with state-of-the-art power and cooling systems. All with state-of-the-art load balancing and data serving technologies. That stuff isn’t cheap. But I hear we have a few bucks we can use in such a “bet the company” effort.
In this terabyte, integrate all of the new Live services into one data store. A sort of “WinFS” for our server farms. Why shouldn’t Live Mail share the same data store as Live Local or Live Expo? Think about the searching, and data presenting, features our developers could build quickly if we had a common data store with a common framework and a common set of APIs!
“But, Robert, almost every ‘big bet’ that Microsoft tries doesn’t work out,” you might say. That isn’t true. Just study the history of SQL Server. Of Windows. Of Xbox. We make big bets and stick with most of them, even as they don’t look like they’ll work out in the marketplace. Yeah, I know we have put a few back on the shelf, but for the most part when the company decides on something big, it sticks with it.
It’s time to do that again. Give us all a mission we would get excited by.
“But, Robert, you don’t have smart enough employees to do this,” you might say. Sorry, as I walk around Microsoft Research, as I walk around the .NET team, as I walk around Ray Ozzie’s new team, as I walk around the Live.com team, I realize that we not only have enough smart employees, more are coming every day (welcome Niall and Steve Berkowitz).
But, we do need to make some changes to ensure that every employee is engaged in their work here at Microsoft to make this kind of “big bet” not just a possibility, but an eventuality.
That leads me to the second way of how Microsoft can shut down Mini-Microsoft: buy every employee a top-of-the-line Dell machine with dual monitors running Windows Vista. And do it now.
I’ve seen the productivity benefits that dual monitors can bring. Every employee who has them says having two monitors is transformational. Especially coders who can have one screen for typing code and another for designing UIs. Or, even if they are just an algorithm kind of person, the second one keeps their email showing so they don’t need to switch over when a new email shows up.
Heck, I’d go further. If we want to reach the Second Life generation we need three screens. One to run Second Life (and other kinds of social apps), one to run Visual Studio, and one to run Outlook. Or something like this. Go and watch the researchers at Microsoft Research who are working on multiple screen interfaces. They told me that industry researchers are seeing somewhere between a five to 15% productivity gain when someone goes from one monitor to two.
And, I, and my coworkers in the Evangelism team are now running Windows Vista and finding we’re more productive, even WITH the burps that come from using pre-production code. I can’t stand using XP anymore after using Vista for a few weeks.
But, as I go around Microsoft there are way too many employees who aren’t running Vista and who don’t have two monitors.
Want a morale boost? How about buying a new high-end computer, with dual monitors, running Vista for every employee? This would cost around $240 million, if my math is good. But wouldn’t that be a great recruiting tool? Wouldn’t it help us ship better products faster? Wouldn’t it help us see the areas where Vista needs improvement (and, as good as it is, it does need improvements).
Think about the statement that would make to the industry. “We believe in Windows Vista.” That’s what that would say. And, as customers came onto campus to visit us, as the Chinese President did a week ago, they would see the benefits of having fast computers, with two monitors, running Windows Vista.
And, because we retooled our entire infrastructure, we’d be ready to build the next version of Windows after Vista and would have a ready base of computers to test it on. In fact, we could increase our stress program to use 60,000 new high-speed desktops around the world all running the same OS. Think about the data THAT would generate. No other company in the world would be willing, or able, to make such a bet on the future of operating systems.
That leads me to the third way we could transform Microsoft, er, shut down Mini-Microsoft:
Change employee behavior through public compensation change logs.
This will be the most controversial item. But, how do you change my behavior? Don’t like it? Decrease my pay. Nothing tells me better that my behavior isn’t what the company wants. Mini wants to go further and wants to see mass firings. That would throw our local economy into chaos and would get rid of potentially good people (I come at it another way, the worst person I’ve dealt with here at Microsoft is far better than many employees I’ve dealt with in past jobs, so all we’d be doing by mass firings is helping our competition out and removing brains we’ll need to get some big jobs done). I’d rather take a four-year-approach. Remember, this is the Second Life generation. Let’s make a Microsoft that’s rocking and rolling for 2010 when they get out of high school.
Let’s have compensation changes put into public. Say I get a four percent raise. Tell everyone. Let’s say my managers don’t believe I’m adding value here. They could leave my compensation where it is. After four years of public embarrassment (yes, we’d explain that 0%’ers aren’t good, that 2%’ers are OK, that 6%’ers are above average, and that anything above that is way above average).
This would require a major change to our culture. To one that’s more transparent. But, over time, it would cause me to change my behavior. “Hey, why does Charles always get 10% raises?” Think about the conversations that would start inside the company.
“But, what if I think your treatment by the company is unfair?” Say I got a 20% raise and you don’t think I’m worth that. Well, now you can complain and rally your co-workers and go and sit down with my management so you can see why they think I’m worth that. Or, on the other side of the coin, let’s say I got a 0% raise and you think I got screwed. Well, now you’d be able to see my management and find out their side of the story as well as maybe work on my behalf to get me a raise.
OK, this is such a major change that I doubt we could implement that all at once. How about internally only? How about you can only see anonymous names in your group? So you can see how you measured up against other people in your group and you can ask your manager something like “I see that three people in our group got bigger raises than I did, why is that and what can I do to get a raise next time around?”
By doing at least part of this in an open way management would be able to reward those who were taking risks, updating their skills, and learning new, and more productive behaviors. I talked with a developer manager last week who told me about his group’s use of Scrum, for instance. I asked “why did you change to a scrum model?” (His group had just won and award for increasing productivity). He said it was due to his belief that every employee should continually educate him/herself about the best practices in the industry and one of his employees had been to a scrum training and found that it could be useful to the team. They tried it and it was hugely useful. Why isn’t that team rewarded for trying something new that paid off? For changing their behavior?
And why aren’t they rewarded in public, which would encourage other employees to change their behavior and look for better ways to do things?
Speaking of better ways to do things. How about number four?
Get rid of corporate speed bumps. All around Microsoft you hear about the speed bumps. Some of which are there for very good reasons. (Er, corporate pain in the past). But, some of which are just there cause “they’ve always been done that way.” Some of the good ones? Policies to ensure that security reviews have been done on code before checking that code in. But, we’ve all met a rule that just seems past its due date.
So, can we build a culture that removes rules on a regular basis, or at least looks at updating them for efficiency’s sake?
Can we give a little bonus to managers who kill rules? Remove bureacracy? Slash through politics? Exceed expectations?
Of course we can. Make a little game. Imagine if Steve Ballmer posted on an internal blog “here’s a rule I killed today.” And did that every week. Or every day.
OK, it’s 1:30 a.m. Time to rap this little ditty up with #5 on my list of ways Microsoft can shut down Mini-Microsoft.
Force marketers to explain their decisions – in public on their blogs.
Say a marketer names something. Like, say, changes the name “Sparkle” to “Expression Interactive Designer.” That person should have to explain their changes in public and sign their names to those changes. If it’s a group, the group must sign their names. And must leave comments open so they can take the public scorn if names aren’t good.
Heck, I wish this were true of every team. Come up with a new UI for your product? Explain it in public. Come up with a new product that you plan to sell? Explain it to us in clear english and have a conversation with us. Come up with a new logo? Explain why that logo matters. In public. Come up with a way to spend $500 million in advertising? Explain it to us.
Personally, the biggest drag on our morale internally is our advertising and the face we put out to the public. Having a bunch of different RSS icons out there is just an artifact of the problem – one that we aren’t solving. We aren’t putting a good face to the public. We aren’t picking names that have any chance of being popular.
Here’s a hint. In the top 100 brand names, as rated by BusinessWeek (PDF), NONE have more than two words in them.
We should make it publicly embarrassing for any employee, or group of employees, to come up with ANY name that has more than two words in it.
So, five things that Microsoft can do to get ready for the Second Life generation.
What do you think? Even if you think I’m on some good drugs, why don’t you put forward your ideas instead of just tearing mine down. It’s easy to tear down other people’s ideas. It’s hard to come up with interesting ideas to push things forward.
Hate Microsoft? Well, replace your company’s name in whereever I said Microsoft. Every company I’ve worked for has similar problems to what Microsoft is facing. Even the small companies I worked for didn’t make most efficient use of employees possible. Even “hot” companies like Google or Apple are looking for ways to make sure its employees are happy and well engaged in the problems ahead of them.
I figured that complaining about the problems wasn’t anywhere near as interesting as proposing some solutions. Anyway, that’s the kinds of dreams I’ve had the past two weeks. Hope they lead to productive conversations in your workplace and mine.
Go to Scobleizer …