Microstiff - Microsoft Outings of the Third Kind

Monday, January 22, 2007

Microstiff – Bill, Me, the Board of Directors and Step One of the Twelve Step Plan for Salvation

NOTE: This Blog will be meaningless unless you read the one previous to it.

Bill barked again and there came a barely perceptible collective, knee jerk wince from the table participants. I stopped running my fingers along the letters M-I-C-R-O-S-O-F-T elegantly etched upon the glass surface below my hands…and looked up at my new, best boss. A faint trail of smoke (or was it steam) trailed from each nostril of his Waspish nose. I swear to you, I thought his eyes were a glowing, flashing red. Maybe not. Anyway, back to reality…or perhaps…the Microsoft version of it.

“Remember, Mike, you’re here to do good”, I thought. I touched my newly starched white business shirt just below the second button and just underneath my vivid power tie. The faint impression of a clove of garlic hanging from its chain link around my neck felt comforting under my index finger. I felt my pulse begin to return to normal…mostly.

“I’ve reviewed Mike Microstiff’s 12-Step, 18 month plan and…I like it. You will too,” said Bill. A slow, slight nodding around the table ensued, some through eyes glazed with what seemed like that well-known “1000 yard stare”. I looked just above the closest nodding 1000 yarder, hoping not to find piano wire attached to pulleys or something somewhere in the ceiling. Nope. All I saw were cameras. One in each corner of the room tucked up and away. “Mike, could you please take a few minutes, as a courtesy to the Board, to review these 12 steps?”

“Sure, Bill”, I gulped…hopefully out of earshot of the rest. Whether my Adam’s apple betrayed me with a vertical lunge of any noticeable distance, was another story. Then came those butterflies, hopefully all flying in formation (a phrase I beat to death teaching the Dale Carnegie Course). I had already said a little prayer of hope, remembering my belief that most things done with good intent, unless blissfully misguided, have no true detractors. It helped.

“As you all may know from my bio, my background is eclectic. In summary, I have spent most of my waking hours in the pursuit of corporate excellence, particularly from the humanistic point of view. By this I mean that the path that I took was one of teaching: motivational, psycho-therapeutic, financial and more; and, one embracing the performing arts of comedy and song. Somehow, all of this plus a few short sentences Bill read in a Blog have brought me and Bill and thus, you and me…together in this boardroom. Now is the time for us to embark on an 18 month journey of awareness, positive change and growth for your company. Shall we begin?”

Bill politely but emphatically applauded. Nanoseconds later, so did the Borg…er, the Board.

“My goal is to get you and our employees to see our prospects, customers, employees, partners, stockholders and vendors as valuable partners in our corporate success and to help you see that, as a company, our current corporate behavior is quite self-defeating. Upon reaching that level of awareness, you will then be rewarded with some proven and effective ways to change this self-defeating behavior. Finally, we will practice and institute those ways until they become second nature. It’s really just as short and sweet as that. No more, no less.”

“In fact, since nature abhors a vacuum, we all have a unique opportunity to replace these so called self-defeating behaviors with these new corporate people-oriented behaviors without missing a beat; no hissing of air rushing it to fill the void; nothing but well-timed solutions to the problems at hand! Doesn’t that sound great!

I looked around the table. Again, slight nods, 1000 yard stares and this time, an uneasy squirming in their red leathered armless chairs (Bill, once again, telling us what’s good for us, this time, ergonomically). I, too, perceiving body-languaged resistance, squirmed along with the others, attempting to lean my left elbow on a non-existent chair arm, only to feel the hand of a Board member catch me in mid-clutz. I thanked him and briefly mused how symbolic these classy yet armless leather chairs were of Microsoft’s corporate militant ignorance: Build a potentially great product with seriously missing “buying proposition” features. Why? Because they can.

No impediments, no consequences. It’s my job to make them aware of the consequences, the results of those self-defeating behaviors; to show them that “because I say so” is not a good answer to the marketplace…that it is truly better to lose money through the “pure creativity of innovation that misses the mark” than it is to lose it though poor adoption of uninspiring and copied products.

However, this was neither the time nor the place for an “intervention”. These Microsofties before me, particularly one’s whose rise to power and wealth was likely one of privilege, new money and perhaps Ivy League connections, would respond much better to being known as the Board which was “on watch” when the revolution came, than to my own psycho-therapeutic thesis purporting them and many partner-esque souls like them to be addicted to the power of Microsoft; that they were in no place to see excellence as a goal when blinded by the darkness of power; the power of monopoly, of numbers, both monetary and human. No, that thesis would fall on deaf ears in this room and, I am afraid, throughout this organization at the highest levels. What was needed was a way to insure excellence in spite of those who want it crushed. Oh, they can work on, but the revolution from within will begin to uncover their weaknesses and inabilities to excel. Eventually, with no place to hide, they will leave. This will happen.

“Now, I know the thesis of having to change one’s behavior being presented by this guy you never met before standing in front of you today…probably isn’t what you want to hear but…hear me out. My product is your corporate health, prosperity and well being. The price you must be willing to pay for this product is…a behavior change. However, I submit to you that there are two (2) very real additional advantages to this behavior change which will ease your load:

  1. It is you and your employees behavior WITHIN the corporation that must change; not your personal behavior. So, the task isn’t as formidable as it sounds.
  2. Should your change in corporate behavior lead to a willingness to change at home, your life will become even more enriched! A bonus, if you choose it!”

The nodding continued but the stares seemed less distant and the fidgeting…gone. Had I struck a nerve ? Were they getting it? Some of it?

“And now, on to the first step. The 1st Step to Microsoft corporate wellness is:

Admit that Microsoft has significant problems. Admit, as an individual, that you are powerless over these problems and that your business life, your job, when related to these significant problems, has become unmanageable.

“But you are already happy at your job, you say? Well, let’s say you’re a programmer. You’re cranking out code, getting it done. What is the code being used for? Will it be used at all? Is someone else writing the same code? Is time being squandered? Is the product it’s to be used in a good one? Does it solve a problem? Is the mission a good one? Are standards and goals in place? Is your boss fair? These are all elements of an environment where good code might be written...but to no avail. There is dysfunction. Your job, believe it or not, is unmanageable.” And you are powerless, as one individual, to prevent it. Admitting to this is healthy. What we resist persists. Once you accept that you are powerless over it, you can begin to do your part to help it change; slowly and with others help, but…change it will. That’s why I am here.”

“It will be my job, with your help, Bill’s help and the help of many Microsoft employees, to define more and more of these problems throughout the organization, prioritize them and seek solutions to them. A vast majority of them are policy issues. These will all be examined under an umbrella of trust and openness and prior policy successes that I will create as your Policy Wonk and Innovation Guru.”

We went on to discuss, Bill, Me and the Board, the remaining 11 Steps. I charged them with the responsibility to review each of the steps and warned them that they were the only ones, at this time, besides Bill and me, to receive them. The steps were not to be given to others until the appropriate moment of my choosing. They agreed. The meeting was adjourned and Board members filed out of the room, a few talking animatedly.

Although I had expected nothing from them except their ears, it was enjoyable to observe what could hardly be construed as anything but enthusiasm in their voices and their body language. Normally, I would have employed Socratic Method and Q. & A. to see what they thought of it all but, this wasn’t the goal of the meeting. The goal was to keep them in the loop. Job accomplished, I thought.

Bill and I were the last to leave the boardroom and, as I followed him out, I posed a question to him, not really expecting an answer. “Bill, what do you suppose is the exact geographic center of the Redmond Campus?” He thought for a few seconds and said something which I didn’t quite hear nor understand, but, I thanked him anyway, since I’d figure out the answer soon enough myself by making the rounds.

Working from a location on campus that was “equal distance” for all to visit would be a symbolic gesture and my first decision of many in hopes of building openness and trust with all Microsofties. We wanted them to know our doors were open to their ideas and that they would have a strong hand in shaping policy and innovation at Microsoft.

There was plenty of daylight remaining so, I told Bill I’d be walking the campus and that I’d talk to him soon. He paused, looked me straight in the eye, said, “Uh…”, paused for a long, long 10 seconds or so and then said, “OK, see you”. And that was that.

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