When I interviewed with Microsoft, I was asked, “What is one thing we can count on you to do at Microsoft?”
My reply was brief: “You can count on me to complain.”
My interviewer suddenly took on the puzzled look that an interviewee would normally take when presented with an unfamiliar scenario. The facial expression of my inquisitor demanded an explanation. I decided to end the torment by presenting further detail; “When something is wrong, I’m going to bring it up and someone will hear me. I’m not going to just complain, but I’m going to offer at least one alternative solution.” Apparently, my explanation cured the torment of my initial declaration. I was hired and here I sit; typing my 23rd Microsoft blog post to an audience that has graced me with tens of thousands of views. This particular post is a follow-up on my promise to complain and provide an alternative solution.
As many have said in the past, email is the life-blood of our company. We communicate everything in email. That’s why our anti-spam measures that counteract external tormenters are so critical to our business. But what are we doing about the measures to counteract internal spammers? Adam Barr made light of the need for Microsoft Outlook rules in his short story, “The Microsoft Code”, but the premise is 100% genuine. Internally, we have people who just LOVE to toot their own horns and, as you might guess, these horn-tooters are typically the management way up the line. They do this horn-tooting in a barrage of email that cripples productivity. This is fine, I suppose, but it comes from the internal culture that supports working toward better reviews each year rather than making meaningful contributions to their teams, organizations, the company and (hopefully) the customers. When a director sends you a “professional” email that contains exclamation points and smiley faces, you can almost assuredly delete the email – can anyone make an Outlook rule for that?
I’ve been at Microsoft for less than 4 months now and I’ve been swamped with work since I came to Redmond. I am the only worker of my particular discipline in my particular group. I have deadlines; big ones; looming ones. I sincerely mean no offense here, but I don’t have time to listen to everybody in our company talk about what they did and what they are going to do. To take that one step further, I don’t care to know everything that’s going on. I lose my focus as I try to decipher the email and understand how that particular communication affects my day-to-day work. If our upper management stopped to think about the opportunity cost of each email they sent out, we might actually have time to stop reading email and start getting products shipped on time. Seriously, I wonder how many people send out these emails to distribution lists that “appear” correct (apparently based on the name of the group) without actually looking to see who is involved in the distribution. Those distribution lists in the GAL can be nested so many levels deep, I venture to say that no one knows who is going to receive a particular email with any degree of specificity.
If upper management is going to send email to everyone, what is intermediate management meant to do? I personally prefer a military style approach where one level talks directly to the level above them and the level below them with rare communications in between. If those particular levels above or below think the information is important to the next level up or down, they can forward that communication accordingly. Dissemination of information in this particular manner assures that the appropriate people get the data, and everyone else doesn’t suffer from information overload. Each management level can also summarize the information and parse out the pieces that they feel are important for their group – a human Outlook rule, if you will. That’s obviously not the culture we have here at Microsoft.
One idea I tossed about in my head was the idea that everyone internally should have their own RSS feed or VLOG. When someone wants to toot their own horn, they can do so on their blog; their managers can see those accolades, their team can see it, and the people who really care about it can see it. If that particular employee keeps blogging about stuff that doesn’t affect me, I can unsubscribe and stop wasting my time reading/watching that feed – providing incentive for everyone to keep their topics relevant or risk humiliation with low agg-view participation. In this approach, new employees or employees who transfer to groups could then subscribe to manager-recommended OPMLs that generally contain information that you will want so you can be effective in your new role. Furthermore, RSS feeds can be much more easily tagged than email can. I can subscribe to “John Doe’s IIS posts” but filter out “John Doe’s Accomplishments” (much like my own blog that will allow some of you to ignore this particular “Microsoft Culture” post if you so desire). Sure, this is not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.
I have tons of important data to keep track of. Communication is very important to the company – too important to gum up with internal spam. We need to find a solution or we will forever find ourselves bogged down in self-congratulatory expression and no real work getting done.