Those Days are Gone Forever, You Should Just Let Them Go
With Ballmer’s big (and I mean, seriously grande-sized) restructure mail, we all have an idea of what the future will look like, at least functionally for the company. Over the course of today, I had several friends and readers ping me, giving me a virtual nudge in the ribs, and saying something to the effect of “I can’t wait to hear what you are going to say about this!,” as if the news of celeb breakup just hit the wires.
Well, I may disappoint because I’m not going to forecast Microsoft’s doom. Sure, a few concerns immediately come to mind and I tweeted them this morning. It looks a lot like an attempt to return, at least structurally, to the heyday of twenty years ago, when the company was a third of its current size, Windows was a king rising, and money flowed down the hallways, sprouting millionaires at every office. Back then, Apple was struggling to find its way, Google and Facebook didn’t exist and clouds were still something we laid on our backs to gaze up at. Those days are gone and as Don Henley sang, “Don’t look back, you can never look back.”
Microsoft is going totally functional- it’s a rigid, sterile model that Sinofsky championed in Windows and Office, and that now is being pushed to its extremity by re-centralizing everything, including Marketing and Finance. It is a stifling model that forces people to be incredibly narrow, albeit deep in their skills development, at the risk of stunting creativity and well-rounded thinking. Further, it’s been my experience that it takes a tremendous amount of work to build respect and communication across disciplines. Engineering cannot be the only voice in the room- the competition is too fierce and engineering has been pushed to think myopically about technology for too long already.
As I said in an earlier blog post, there will be several more cards dealt in this hand over the coming months- this is just the opening ante. One great strength of this restructure is that it puts “everyone in one room,” so that all the finance or engineering or marketing people can be viewed as a whole and no doubt, a lot of the redundancies will be eliminated. I think this is a tacit acknowledgement that this needs to happen and the functional structure will make that process easier.
But once that’s done, will this model truly make Microsoft nimble, communicative, collaborative, decisive, and motivated, as Steve confidently stated? It remains to be seen and despite my criticisms, I sincerely hope so.
There were a few glimmers of promise including a watershed moment for the senior leadership team (SLT). As part of today’s announcement, we saw something wonderful (no, not the NSA revelations– that was NOT wonderful)- three women hold key positions within the top tier of leadership! Amy Hood as CFO, Tami Reller in charge of Marketing, and most significantly, Julie Larson-Green as the head of the Devices and Studios Group- with some already crowning her heir-apparent. Julie in particular has a reputation for driving collaboration and communication and if she can truly work that magic, it will be a huge boon to her new organization and to the SLT. I couldn’t be pulling harder for Amy, Tami, and Julie to be successful in their new roles.
I do not want to predict the failure of this new structure nor sell short the strengths of the “new” leadership team- that would be akin to toasting a couple at their wedding and then predicting their divorce over cake. Yes, there are flaws, there is a heck of a lot of baggage, there are monumental challenges competitively- but there are also thousands of smart, dedicated people within the company who are betting their careers on this turn around- and I DO believe in them. On THIS day, I will look toward the future and wish the company every success. Prost!
But let’s talk in 9 months.