Steve Ballmer leaving will make no difference.

The villagers are unhappy; they are blaming the poison / toxic well (share price) of their beloved Microsoft land on the wicked warlock – Steve Ballmer. He has to go, and when he is gone, all in the land of Microsoft will return to the happy times, life as we know it will be better and food will of course be much tastier.

Firstly, Clue the f*ck up.

If Steve Ballmer came into his office today and said "dang it, you are all right, I have to go. I hereby resign, bye!" nothing and I repeat nothing would change. The problems inside Microsoft are definitely leadership issues but at the same time, the source of the pollution / toxic situation is well within the leadership areas.

Think of Microsoft product teams as clans within a larger empire. All clan leaders are thirsty for power (most anyway) and depending on the moon cycles any one of them can take over the other clan’s turf as it really comes down to individual success and less about how that clan leader made his/her clan successful. If you do well in XYZ Company, you will in turn be moved into a position that you can continue your success in – point and case, Scott Guthrie (CVP and likely Bill Gates replacement) is now in charge of Windows Azure.

Knifing the Steve Ballmer baby as one person put it, is really only going to create a power vacuum. The moment he gets thrown off campus all major players within the clans will jockey for the next seats of power and you whilst there will likely be an immediate freeze on all roles (until the caretaker / new person gets his/her business cards etc. printed) there will still be some internal knife fighting taking place.

The reality is that Microsoft’s "toxic" issues are not a result of one rogue Executive it is more to do with a whole layer of General Managers, Directors and Presenditial masses. Even guys like Scott Guthrie who is undoubtly liked by all is one you definitely don’t want to piss off in the internal Microsoft circles (I’ve seen him rain his Gu-lighting, he can be a hardass just as much as the rest of them – to loosely quote something to the words of “Last guy who f*ked with me I stuck his head in my fridge” ..funny point is we all then looked for his fridge…dunno why).

The culture within allows bullying, in fact it’s very "lord of the flies" at times when there is little or no direction and/or worse when there is failure upon failure occurring (as you end up with "hey I can fix that, get of my way…followed by more…"hey I can fix that fix, get out of my way") moments.

Steve Ballmer needs to go but not for a sweeping reform but more to do with starting the engine that may one day lead to a sweeping reform. If Steve Ballmer is fired from the Microsoft tomorrow it won’t making a licking difference as you really need to shed people like Lisa Brummel (VP of HR) first. HR inside Microsoft are as useful as a blind/mute/deaf lawyer in a murder case. The crime has been committed but you best study your own defense and the legalities within as HR will just nod, smile and wonder what all the talk is about as they have the role guides, global citizenship programs that go nowhere and do nothing to attend to  that or think up new ways to screw staff over with ideas like "we should remove all towels from carpark shower rooms…that will save us $$$!!"

Microsoft have lost many quality staff the last 2 years, some of the folks that have left I know whilst others I only know of. I sit back and think, "Wow, that guy and that guy oh and that girl…they will be very hard to replace…" so far I have not seen a replacement for them, I have seen a lot of new knuckleheads try to fill their shoes but ultimately have come unstuck.

DevDiv Silverlight team for example is in a weird place and furthermore that product is going backwards not forwards. Silverlight 5 has some interesting new features but the engineering component to Silverlight was never a problem, it just like WPF suffers from the same surrounding issues – lack of interest.

End is simple. Get rid of Steve Ballmer but face the reality it will not make that huge of a difference to both the share price and culture within. All it will do is create a vacuum of chaos initially and may adjust the culture slightly at best.
90,000+ employees do not take their marching orders from a single man. It goes through layers of bureaucratic passive aggressive stakeholders first.

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  • kip

    A couple of thoughts: First, about stock pricing/perception in the marketplace: there’s a point at which nothing Ballmer touches is going to be seen as good (Nokia partnership=stock goes down, Skype, same, etc. etc), and any change to a post Ballmer world is going to be seen in a more positive light. No, it won’t change the way the company functions, but yes it could very much (in the short term) kickstart the stock price. This is the US stock market, and that’s the way things work.

    Fixing the company is another thing, and changing perceptions must be coupled with an inflow of new blood. You know far more about the fiefdoms than I, and the poisoning effect they have. The only way to shake that up is to bring in someone from outside. An outsider, one that was tasked with a top to bottom cleanup coupled to a clearly held vision, could help to cut through.

    It’s still far too early to tell, of course, but Elop may be doing just that at Nokia. His “platform is burning” (read: heads are going to roll) email was (potentially) brilliant, and he seems to be following through with clear vision and dogged determinism. Does such a person exist with the power to lead Microsoft? Not within the company, surely (and almost by definition, an insider *couldn’t* shake things up the way they need to be). But if such an outsider did exist, and could cut through the bs, fire up the stock price, and give MS a fighting chance, now that would be something, wouldn’t it?

  • @ kip: I’m not entirely in agreement that the stock market will react either way post/pre ballmer. I think Microsoft has a lot to do before it can fully dig itself out of the lack luster hole it’s in. Acting on Tablets etc prob wouldn’t be enough they would have to show more succession in peformance to redeem themselves there beyond the norm. A new CEO could hint at that and would definately underpin the notion that new person = new company + agility but in the end its very top heavy in both asset(s) / staff and investment into dumb solutions like Bing etc.

    Stephon Elop is a kitten, he may growl allot but in the end he’s just a lot of posturing and i’d be shocked to see him really reform Nokia beyond a “do as i say, not as you want” warning shot across the employee skirmish lines. He’ll def push Nokia into a new generation of phone development as that’s probably the easy fix but the toxins already exist in the company and so it will take years to remove it.

    Microsoft would take a decade maybe at the least to re-attach itself to being the power broker as again.. 90,000+ staff is like trying to turn a herd of pregnant whales 🙂

  • Interesting, echoes very similiar thoughts asHamilton “Hammett” Verissimo (founder of the Castle Project) who also left Microsoft recently, here is honest interview with Hamilton on why he left Microsoft, http://zd.net/m9IZ5L , he also mentioned Lisa Brummel.

  • Hello, i noticed some headings are rendered in a canvas tag. They look pretty bad on chrome/windows. I was wondering what was the reason for doing this? Isn’t plain-ol-text better for 1000 reasons?

  • So Microsoft is a lot more Game of Thrones than it is Lord of the Rings. Cool. A bit let down by your description of Scott Guthrie behind closed doors, though — it’s like you’re telling me Legolas picks his nose.

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