Monthly MEC Mixer Monday Mania

September 30, 2008

Yesterday was the kickoff of the new Monthly MEC Mixer Monday (Mmmm) events at  various locations around Microsoft in an effort to get localized networking off the 100_0603ground. Our hope with these events is to provide a regular event at multiple locations, so that no matter where you are on campus or around the world, MEC members can get together and discuss topics that are important to them and their teams. All events are held on the same day, same local time (11:30am to 1:00pm). There are no agendas, no formal programs — just drop in, meet people, and talk. One of the benefits of this format 100_0604is meeting MEC members outside of your own organization – and outside of your building.

The attached photos are from the Mmmm event held in Redmond Town Center. Other locations holding Mmmm events yesterday include Buildings 37, 43, and 34, Westlake Terry (downtown Seattle), Redwest, Millennium, New York, and Dublin Ireland. In October, we’re looking to add Sammamish and Advanta locations here in the Puget Sound, Charlotte NC, Las Colinas TX, Mississauga Canada, Singapore, Germany, and the Netherlands.


Delayed Gratification

September 29, 2008

My seven-year-old wants everything now. Delayed gratification for him means a few minutes. The future isn’t quite tangible yet.

Most new managers I’ve worked with want everything now. Delayed gratification for them means a few days. The future isn’t quite tangible yet.

My seven-year-old, with much mentoring from my wife (and with insufficient help from her spouse), is growing out of it.

New managers need delayed-gratification mentoring too. Unlike children, they often don’t get it.


Most managers are promoted from individual-contributor (IC) roles. They’re very good at some set of tasks — writing code, or managing a project, or selling to customers, say. A great hand comes down from the sky, extends its finger toward the IC, and suddenly the IC is a manager.

It’s supposed to be a reward for good work.

Instead, it’s often a recipe for failure.

The IC is no longer doing what she’s good at. So the company loses the value of the IC work she did, and has to make up the value and then some in her managerial leverage. Without planning, it sometimes works, sometimes, doesn’t — but there’s a lag in the value curve either way.

That story is pretty well known. Good companies and good managers and good HR folks have some awareness and strategies and methods.

(For now, let’s leave out the variant of this story where the new manager is expected to do everything she did before and also manage some people and exert a degree of functional leadership. That’s a post of its own.)

But I’ve rarely seen new managers prepared for the sudden shift to delayed gratification that managing brings.

The IC got stuff done. Bug in the code? Go fix it. Project slipping? Examine the schedule and address it. Customer isn’t buying? Get out there and close the deal.

All of a sudden, the problems are different. The manager isn’t dealing with today’s bug, or finding hidden slack time, or negotiating a close.

Rather, the manager’s problems are that the code is more buggy than normal, or the schedule seems divorced from reality, or the customers aren’t buying what the team is selling.

In other words, it’s stuff the new manager can’t fix by herself. She needs to work through others.

Working through others takes time.

The problems may present as symptoms. An employee mentioning that he’s stuck on a bug. In a one-on-one, the report notes that Task X will be late. In a team meeting, the manager hears that Customer Y is being difficult and another salesperson chimes in with similar information.

What’s a manager to do?

What the manager should do, in some way, is gather more information, distill it down to “facts” (i.e., best bets on what’s actually happening), confirm, and then think about the direction in which solutions might lie.

And then the manager coaches her reports on how to address the issues in a way that helps the employees grow.

So the employee figures out the bug and how to improve the overall state of the code. He gets the project back on track, or at least keeps it from falling further behind. The team improves the value proposition and messaging and starts winning customers.

They do that over the ensuing weeks, or months.

None of these issues are explicitly solved; there’s no dramatic “bomp-bomp!” music from the Law & Order theme to indicate a solution; there’s no drama. Stuff “just” gets better.

And in the meantime, the new manager has weeks filled with issue after issue. She sees the issues, feels the pain… but doesn’t get the resolution. Not directly, anyway.

So the new manager gets discouraged. She starts to hate managing; it’s all pain and no emotional rewards.

Or she solves some of the problems directly, goes back to being an IC instead of exerting leverage. Suddenly managing is fun again… for them. She wonders why her team’s morale suddenly starts dropping, though.


Managing is about delayed gratification. Being an IC is a win every day; you see a problem, you solve it, you go home happy.

Being a manager is a problem every day, but the win is diffuse, in the future, often unseen, the problem long since replaced with newer, hotter fires to fight.

Managers will work through this on their own, often, with a variety of strategies. Some become the seagull manager, dropping in to poop all over something as an instant IC before flying away again. Some give up managing. Some become distant and withdrawn. And some, of course, figure this out themselves and adjust.

Just like some seven-year-olds eventually “get it” without mentoring from their parents.

But it’s not efficient or effective to wait for the manager (or seven-year-old) to figure it on herself.


If you’re elevating an employee to manager, or coaching a new manager, watch out for the delayed-gratification slump. Make sure the new manager is aware of this pattern. Help them understand the long-term value of working through others — and the rewards that come from making an employee stronger.

It’s not the same reward as fixing the bug or closing the sale, but it’s a reward nonetheless — and I think a bigger, richer reward once you recognize it.

Or maybe it is the same reward after all. You spot a problem and you solve it.

It’s just that the problem you’re solving is the human one.

The reward just takes longer.

  — Steve

Beau Knows Management

September 29, 2008

At the Management Excellence Community (MEC) Speakers Series this week, Beau Parnell from the Management Development Group here at Microsoft spoke on ‘Crossing the Manager’s Chasm.’ Beau has spent the past 30+ years in leadership and organizational 100_0598development, working in hi-tech and teaching at some of the top universities in the country. Turnout for the event was high, with some great participation from the audience.

Instead of trying to recreate Beau’s presentation, I thought I’d share a few of my own key takeaways. My points below are not as polished as was the presentation, but then again, it’s hard to capture 2 hours of activity in a single post. I welcome comments from anyone else in attendance if you feel I’ve missed any salient points.

Focus and Motivation

He started the conversation by asking the attendees to name the one thing that we all require from our leaders. Inspiration, trust, direction, authenticity, and recognition were all discussed, but Beau’s golden nugget for leaders is “clarity.” He talked at length about how many leaders struggle with clarity, especially in the technology field because we’re seduced by the latest shiny toy. Leaders don’t know how to be clear in their communications, and how to let their people know where to focus.

A common theme from the last few MEC events has been the question of why Microsoft executives do not seem to be paying attention to what is happening within the MEC. The point was made again by a few people in the audience. Beau reminded us all that they’re just human, and at the GM level and higher, are being driven pretty hard — its a bandwidth issue, more than anything. But he also used the question to delve into the primary motivations that drive business: high achievement (which is at the core of Microsoft’s culture, affiliation (building relationships), and power (individual and socialized/team). Personal achievement and passion for technology are the two primary motivations here at Microsoft. The problem is that high tech companies are big on throwing people at the wall like spaghetti — to see what sticks. This is certainly true at Microsoft, and if we don’t like the outcome, we tell ourselves they were the wrong person. (This whole line of conversation made me think of Deming‘s idea that blame is commonly placed on the individual, instead of the system) The problem is that we (Microsoft) can be seen as unwilling or unable to adapt, and to incorporate different styles and perspectives. As managers, we switch positions so often, change teams or reorg so quickly that it’s difficult to see if methods or solutions we’ve put in place could be 100_0600successful. Beau’s point was that we often don’t do things long enough to really measure success.

Connecting With our Teams

After a short audience exercise where we were asked to think about our own experiences, the topic turned to accountability and making changes at the manager level, discussing what it takes to sustain your people. Beau challenged managers to spend more time with our people, walking the hallways, sitting in the cafeteria. He then related a story of of an interaction with Colin Powell, who, he had heard, would go for a walk every day at 3pm and use that time to talk with people. Everyone knew that he was approachable at that time, no matter what level/rank. Beau met Powell and asked him “Did you really take those walks?” Powell laughed and said, “Yeah, I did.” He then asked “Did you have any problems with that?” meaning did his direct reports feel that he was going around them to the lower ranks? Powell said that yes, he did have to clarify his intent with his directs. His staff managers had a problem with it until he explained to them that he wasn’t going above/around them, but wanted to learn directly from the people within his command.

His point in relating this story was that we aren’t even talking to our own customers, to understand what they are feeling. Beau recommends spending more time in the trenches with our teams. Managers are hiding in their offices, because they don’t have all the answers, and they’re afraid. Beau asked us to think about what your people are going through today, not just in their jobs, but in their personal lives. In this climate of change, we all need to be out among our people. People want to know that they’re relevant and important.

Managers Should Be Teachers

As we worked our way through a few slides, Beau reminded the group of Microsoft’s stated brand: the company’s mission is to help people and business realize their true potential. Within this, there are clear requirements for what is expected from managers: leaders who give employees enormous autonomy but maintain the focus on work, that engage people to develop and learn and grow to reach their true potential, and, at the end of the day, to hold people’s feet to the fire.

Microsoft’s new vision statement is “to create seamless experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of the Internet across a world of devices.” To achieve this vision requires collaboration, something we’re not good at. Microsoft is a culture of lone wolves, where “Look at me! Look what I’ve done!” can be heard in every hallway. We reward based on individual contributions, and not on team contributions — or good management. But we want to move to the ‘aspire to’ culture, and are heading in that direction with efforts such as MEC. Beau asked the audience to think about how we position the massive amount of work in front of us with “perpetual motivation.” Just because a team was aligned once does not mean they are aligned always. We need to constantly reinforce and communicate by understanding the story, and telling the story again and again.

A few comments from the crowd indicated that people were frustrated by their inability to see or make change within the company. Beau pointed out that Microsoft needs more disrupters; people who are willing to adapt enough to Microsoft’s culture to gain credibility, and stick around long enough to make change. We lose a lot of good people because they don’t find a “fit” within our culture, and then we collectively dust off our hands and tell ourselves “good riddance.” The problem with this cycle is that we’re failing to learn from these people and make ourselves better (which again reminded me of Deming). Beau reminded us that performance is situational — just because your team is good at one thing does not mean they will be good at everything, so have patience. People have to buy into you before they will buy into what you are saying — credibility is everything at this company. Your people want to know that you yourself can do the work.

Beau’s final statements were around the idea of managers as teachers. He told us that we have to let our people drive the content, and our job as managers is to tie it all together, driving clarity. We need to have a vision of where we want the business to go, and be able to communicate that across all channels. Ultimately, its all about execution, or we miss our opportunities. And finally, you cannot be a leader and go around complaining. You have to understand that clarity and credibility are everything – you ARE the message.

The Purpose of Management

September 25, 2008

Stealing a great post from my good friend and ex-Microsoftie David Weiss, who left the MacBu after many many years to go back to school, and who often shares bits of wisdom on management and product development on his blog:

I just found this great quote by Dee Hock, founder and CEO of VISA:

“I ask each person to describe the single most important responsibility of any manager. The incredibly diverse responses always have one thing in common. All are downward looking. Management inevitably has to do with exercise of authority — with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, controlling them. That perception is mistaken.

“The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self, one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. It is a complex, never-ending, incredibly difficult, oft-shunned task. Management of self is something at which we spend little time and rarely excel precisely because it is so much more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others. Without management of self, no one is fit for authority, no matter how much they acquire. The more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should have half of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do, the ethical, moral, and spiritual elements of managing self are inescapable.

“Asked to identify the second responsibility of any manager, again people produce a bewildering variety of opinions, again downward-looking. Another mistake. The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators, ad infinitum. In an organized world, there are always people with authority over us. Without their consent and support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability, achieve constructive results, or create conditions by which others can do the same? Managing superiors is essential. Devoting a quarter of our time and ability to that effort is not too much.

“Asked for the third responsibility, people become a bit uneasy and uncertain. Yet, their thoughts remain on subordinates. Mistaken again. The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers — those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us — associates, competitors, suppliers, customers — the entire environment, if you will. Without their support, respect, and confidence, little or nothing can be accomplished. Peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life. Is it not wise to devote at least a fifth of our time, energy, and ingenuity to managing peers?

“Asked for the fourth responsibility, people have difficulty coming up with an answer, for they are now troubled by thinking downward. However, if one has attended to self, superiors, and peers, there is little else left. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority.

“The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded, and stay out of their way? It is not making better people of others that management is about. It’s about making a better person of self. Income, power, and titles have nothing to do with that.”

Your example can be your greatest method of influence. Sadly, for some, you may be doing all of these things and find very little appreciation from those you manage. That’s okay. They may think, “What does my manager do?”, but it doesn’t matter that they fully understand, unless you are preparing someone to take your place. Your job is not to prove your worth to those you manage. If your team is feeling individually appreciated, inspired, free to explore and get things done, then you are largely doing right by them. Still, your team will likely fail if you don’t manage your superiors, peers and yourself properly, which is to say, I agree whole heartedly with Dee Hock’s comments above.

Thoughts on Innovation

September 23, 2008

A friend passed along a post by Gabe Rijpma from an internal DL that I really wanted to share, as many of the points mentioned have come up in various MEC conversations, including our discussion with Steve Smith last week. Gabe works in the Health and Human Services Operations space over in Singapore. I am including his post in its entirety:

I had a very interesting and informative breakfast meeting this morning in Singapore with Prof. John Seely Brown (, many of you may know him as the former Chief Scientist at Xerox Corporation and Director of PARC. The topic focused around Innovation and what things individuals and companies need to do to drive on an ongoing culture of innovation. Since we are in the business of innovation ourselves and in my view do it very well I thought some of the discussion this morning was relevant to us and made some notes of the salient points I thought we could challenge ourselves with.

idea_bulbThey are just notes and the thought process I went through in the discussion, they are not meant as a critique of what we do and don’t do well. They are here just to provide us an opportunity to brainstorm innovation and how that might apply to MS. I think some of the things like reverse mentoring are ideas that could be effective for us and I am sure some groups are already leveraging that.

Things Innovative Companies Need to Do

Innovation is easy, getting organisations to move and give up old ideas is the hardest. Are we getting out of tune with the market? Perhaps the biggest obstacle to innovation is wisdom because it’s wisdom that says “we have tried that before and it doesn’t work”. Well the world moves on and the landscape changes and perhaps that past wisdom is now actually a blocker to our ability to think and innovate for what is needed now. How do you build an organisation that is well attuned to removing organisational blockers to trying things again?

Customer as a source of innovation

Is the age of customer research and market sampling to drive product strategy useful when it comes to technology innovation? Are customers really able to provide effective and useful data into a product planning process when they may not actually know what they want or can imagine what might work? Is it better to find new ways of getting iterative feedback through the development and production process and allowing that to prioritise the innovation? He provides examples of the way Amazon and Google build products with little research and see how they stick and then drive improvements to the ones that show potential rapidly while allowing others to deprecate. Online platforms lending themselves well to trial and error and direct customer feedback. In short customers need to be captured in the build process more often than just doing pre market research for product planning.

Innovation from the bottom up

This type of innovation is catching on incredibly quickly, mashups using Google Maps to help with Hurricane Katrina combined with SMS and Mobile Phones, Disease monitoring applications to map common cold and flu break outs in cities. How do the platform pieces of web 2.0 facilitate a whole new level of innovation from the bottom up? The value of a platform to make this easy and to tool it in a way that allows almost anyone to build solutions against that in a global manner offers tremendous opportunity. Similar to the way Windows is a platform for bottoms up innovation and how drag and drop development with VB and Access made it possible for anyone to build out the applications they needed, the Internet offers an incredible platform for new and groundbreaking bottoms up innovation. The people who develop and invent the tools that make it easy for anyone to leverage these services and build new classes of services and applications will facilitate a whole new era of innovation…. Google, Facebook etc cited as strong examples.

A willingness to fail

Are organisations willing enough to fail, at Xerox 75% of most research projects failed, having a willingness to fail allows for risk taking and exploration, vital to driving innovation. Some cultures are more comfortable with failure than others and it often has a direct correlation to innovation.

Where and how do you bootstrap talent – Youth as a source of innovation

Are we leveraging enough of the young and highly energetic talent in the organisation to drive innovation or is innovation being steered by mature, experienced and wise individuals? Are we allowing enough individual expression in the organisation to capture the raw talent and generational understanding that comes from our young? Example Google (young workforce very tapped into the current generational thinking)

Reverse Mentorship

Do we have processes in place that encourages reverse mentoring, we are very good at mentoring from senior people in the organisation to more junior people but are we effectively doing it the other way round as to drive an understanding of the world through our younger people and the innovation and world they would like to see? Should we have a reverse mentoring role in place to help drive product and innovation strategy? Are we doing that effectively today? Example provided was P&G and what they are doing with this process to drive product development…. I thought this would be very good at MS.

Teach Less Learn More

How do we build models of education that don’t just drive a teach and absorb model? How do we encourage learning that is peer based (that’s where the fun is), how do Social Networks play a role in that, do Social Networks allow us to drive innovation not just from the brain but also from the emotional connections we build? How does one learn more through that social fabric be it virtual or physical? How do we build new models of learning or deliver tools that courage self learning leveraging the content on the Internet? What kinds of tools and technologies would aid in that discover of knowledge?

All up a very interesting morning, would love to hear others thoughts on some of the topics above. A lot of the things discussed we do at MS and we have a very keen understanding of platforms. We have been arguably the most successful platform ever. Taking that expertise to the Internet is to me the frontier that we need to solve, it’s about developers but even more so it’s about empowering end users to create and innovate leveraging the services on the Internet.

Two points here really resonate with me, during my short tenure (2.5 years) here at Microsoft: our difficulty in allowing people to learn from failure (it must be done right the first time), and the gap between customer-facing teams and the influence (or lack thereof) they sometimes have ino the product development process.

I’d love to hear some feedback on what we, as managers, can do to address the points made above, both within the Management Excellence community and within our own teams.

Thanks for the great post, Gabe!

Steven Smith, co-author of Egonomics

September 19, 2008

As part of the Management Excellence Community (MEC) Speaker Series, about 25 MEC members were able to spend some face time with Steven Smith, co-author of the book Egonomics, and share our thoughts — and listen to his advice — on the management culture here at Microsoft.

It was an interesting conversation, which ended up on the topic of Microsoft’s brand, and the company’s recent marketing efforts to remake our image.

Instead of a lengthy post, I decided to pull together a quick video podcast (click to download):

The next Speaker Series will include Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, where once again the Management Excellence Community will have an opportunity to spend some “quality time” with the author in a small group. Watch for those invites.

Monthly MEC Mixer Mondays

September 13, 2008

So…you attended the Foundation Event, joined the Management Excellence Community (MEC), and now what? How do you stay engaged?

Why not participate in a monthly networking event – just for MEC members – in your local cafeteria? The Monthly MEC Mixer Monday (Mmmm) is being launched this month (September 2008), with 10 locations currently planned worldwide. The goal is simple: wherever you are in the world, on the last Monday of the month from 11:30am to 1:00pm, there is (or will be) a MEC Mixer nearby.

Current locations, and their sponsors, are as follows:

  1. Redmond Town Center, B5/3rd floor lounge – Christian Buckley and Scott Harris (MS employees can join the DL)
  2. Westlake Terry – Ryan Asdourian
  3. Building 37 – Donnell Baker
  4. Mississauga, Canada – Jordan Sheridan
  5. Cardinal Place, London – Gary Gilligan
  6. Building 42-44 cafeteria – Chris Pick
  7. Redwest – Michael Talbert and Gavin McMurdo
  8. Building 34/35 cafeteria – Brian dos Santos and Abel Cruz (join the DL)
  9. New York – Jason Dennie
  10. Dublin, Ireland – Ciaran Burns
  11. Millennium, MilE/1375 – Tiffany Yun

Another 5 sites are being proposed for October (Sammamish, Advanta, Germany, 50, and 25).

If you’re interested in attending one of these events, please contact the appropriate host to be added to the DL or meeting invite. And if you’re a MEC member and would like to help launch an event in your Microsoft building, please take a look at the event overview (available on MECweb under Make an Impact, Get Involved), or contact me directly (