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I Have Finally Arrived.. Or Rather, Arryved

So, after my long, lovely, and let’s not say once-in-a-lifetime, because having now had a “sabbatical,” I can say whole-heartedly, they are *worth* it- I am thrilled to head back to work today. Whooo-hooo!!

Ready for the day!

Ready for the day!

I talked about the why’s of my decision to head back to work in an earlier post. I also wrote about what I wanted to do and tried to be as honest and direct as I could, particularly with myself. Turns out that was a good strategy- shortly after my post, I had a gaggle of folks reach out to me with offers, leads, or just encouragement. It was a fantastic response and I was flattered and humbled by it. I spoke to people about a variety of really compelling roles, but one stood out in particular.

I am joining a growing, top tier, management consulting firm called Arryve, based in Bellevue, as Director of Business Management and Operations. For those who have worked with me, that title should sound familiar- it’s exactly what I love to do and excel at. The role is primarily an internally-focused leadership role, though I hope and expect to work with our customers and represent the company externally as well.

Now, you may be asking, why a consulting firm? Why not Amazon, a start up, or back to Microsoft? Looking at all the opportunities, I thought primarily about three things: People, Culture, and Opportunity. I am excited to join Arryve for myriad reasons, but chief among them are:

– I know and respect the founders of the firm, along with many of their current and former consultants. In fact, I have worked with them as peers, hired them to work for me, and have carefully watched their track record over the last five years.

– There is great opportunity for growth- for me professionally and for the firm.

– Management consulting is at it’s core, a service, and from the first time I waited tables, I was hooked on providing the best possible service and experience.

– Arryve’s core values align closely to my own- employ top notch people, provide superior service, always be striving to improve, act with integrity and respect, and have a great time along the way. Take your client’s needs seriously, not yourself.

The only damper on my excitement is the recognition that by choosing this “door,” there are others I will not to go through. Every choice we make in life leaves other ones we did not take and that’s always hard for me. It’s part of my nature to see the opportunity in everything and it’s particularly hard for me to turn down former colleagues and folks I admire. There may be a silver lining though, given that Arryve is a consulting firm, we are for hire and would love to work on whatever thorny, complex, only-the-best-will-do challenges you are facing.

Finally, I’d like to thank my family, friends, and colleagues for their support on this journey- it has been amazing and I couldn’t have done it without the many kind words, coffees, and pep talks I received! It may sound funny, but I’m also so grateful to myself that I was brave enough to plunge into the unknown five months ago. I know too well that I could still be sitting where I was, unhappy but safe, saying, “What if? What if?” (Now, the question is, does this strike a chord for YOU?)

And yes, I will continue blogging about work, family, technology, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Stay tuned. Suggestions welcomed!

Ballmer: Don’t Restructure Microsoft, Renew it

Bad Relationships

Bad relationships don’t benefit anyone

Like many in the investor community and the public, I have read the news stories of impending “restructuring” at Microsoft with a mix of relief, anticipation, and impatience.  It’s like watching a friend, who has been languishing in a bad relationship, finally decide to end it.  I’m thrilled to hear that it’s going to happen and now’s the time to get on with it!  And similar to a broken relationship, I would expect that person to shed some of the bad habits they picked up over the years and either, reacquaint themselves with lapsed good habits or create new ones.  So it goes with Microsoft.

bloated fish

Bloated = Bad

The company is a bloated mess.  Just read one of the myriad articles decrying its decline.  It’s behemoth and unwieldy- slow off the block and even slower to respond to competition.  Microsoft doesn’t need a “restructuring,” it needs renewal.  As part of this process, whatever it is ultimately called, there will be layoffs or “RIF’s” (reduction in force) in the Microsoft parlance.  But lopping off a couple of waving tentacles is not sufficient- that just gives you wounded tentacles spewing blood or red ink everywhere. Ewwww.

There is a far better way to do this- and it’s going to sound radical but bear with me.  Voluntary RIF’s.  Yep- ask for volunteers to get off the boat and give them the life raft to do it in.  Microsoft is famous (and should be commended) for its historically generous layoff packages.  There is usually a substantial severance, medical premiums coverage, sometimes the acceleration of stock grant vests, and placement assistance.  Lately, the number of my former colleagues and friends privately hoping to be RIF’d has reached epic proportions.  So, Microsoft, I’ll borrow from another epic company- Just. Do. It.

Volunteers

Any volunteers?

Microsoft should implement a voluntary severance program.  It should be company-wide, across all levels, and should have a significant magnitude- I’d like to see 20,000- 30,000 spots.  Make the severance offer similar in scope to the existing packages:  1 month pay for every year of service (up to 12- 15 years), automatic vest of stock grants in the 2013 calendar year, insurance premiums through 2013, and job placement services.  But there is no carrot without a stick, so people who take this option can’t work for the company again for 2- 3 years.

Still reading?  Good!  I’ve mentioned this to several people who have said, “Microsoft will lose all its best people.”  That’s both true and it’s not.  Microsoft will loose a LOT of great talent, but that’s in part because it has an incredible pool of talent.  20+ years of technical and industry leadership has stocked the pond at Microsoft chock FULL of incredible talent, but the pool is painfully overcrowded and few, if any, of those people truly get to flex their muscle or stretch to their potential.

Some fish will jump to better bowls

Some fish will jump to better bowls

Further, because of the generous severance, over the next 6- 12 months, there would be a hot bed of innovation happening right here in the Northwest, where after a recovery period, Microsoft would be in a fantastic position to reacquire, invest in, or partner with the companies created from this watershed event.  If Microsoft handled this momentous event with tact and generosity- they would win on the brand front, on the people front, on the innovation front (long term) and give the remaining business and people a chance to breathe again.  Imagine being able to take a full, deep breath after years of recycled stagnant air- that’s what it would feel like for those who choose to remain.  Further, I believe this could be  a powerful boost to the local economy, if supported properly, and I would recommend Microsoft host events and provide logistical or tactical support to the newly created “expat” community.

Next objection, “But what if everyone from one group or product signs up to leave?”  Yes, yes, yes!  What if everyone in one group is so burned out, used up, out of faith, or out of ideas that they all want to leave?  That doesn’t sound like a tragedy- that sounds like an opportunity to find a meaningful, healthy way to trim the company’s sprawling scope.  “But what if it’s profitable?”  So what?!  Profitable today is not a growing business tomorrow- a dangerous myopia that Microsoft has clung to, far too many times.

“What about those left behind?”  Another good question!  There should be a reward for that choose to stay- give a 5% base raise to everyone who elects to stay.  In another post, I’ll share my ideas for how to completely overhaul Microsoft’s calcified and damaging review system- but suffice to say, it’s gotta go.  Also, not a single CVP slot should be backfilled for at least a year- there are over 100 (a completely mind-blowing number) at the company.  Being an executive (CVP or higher) at Microsoft is rarified air- it’s like being “made” in some kind of technology Mafia.  You have so much power within your organization and so much money as an individual, it is difficult for even the best and most grounded of them to have a good grip on reality or to make decisions beyond what serves their personal best interests.

This wouldn’t fix it all- there would still need to be thoughtful restructuring of remaining businesses and a rebalancing of people and priorities.  Microsoft would probably need 12 to 18 months to see this kind of radical change through and it wouldn’t be easy.  But it would be WORTH IT.

Steveb has to show new leadership

Steveb has to show new leadership

Lisa Brummel could oversee the greatest company transformation ever

Lisa Brummel could oversee the greatest company transformation ever

Finally, I’d say, this is Ballmer’s chance to restore his reputation and legacy to the company and to investors.  If Steve B. and Lisa B. (Chief People Officer) had the wherewithal to oversee this type of transformation, my view of them would be radically improved.  I’d induct them into the leadership hall of fame.  They would be viewed as visionaries within the tech community, business schools would write case-studies on their incredible transformation of the company, and the tech community in Seattle would be forever changed for the better.  The alternative?  Their successors do it and it’s ugly, messy, and takes years to recover from.

Microsoft will fare far better in the long run by taking brave and bold steps to unleash both its people and businesses to grow and thrive unencumbered by the hulking overhead of 100,000 souls.  Microsoft has an amazing history, and I desperately hope that its best years are still to come- but that will only be the case with courageous and visionary leadership.

As always- please share and comment!  I appreciate your readership and support!

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