I’m a big James Bond fan and recall with great fondness the first Bond film, Dr. No. I think it is one of my favorites because Bond drives a Sunbeam Alpine, which I also once owned. I’ve been thinking about the movie in relation to my discussion of an insider at Microsoft who materially contributed to Steve Ballmer’s failure and was core to its decade-long slide. I’ve nicknamed him Dr. No because he is famous for blocking many of the efforts that could have protected or improved Microsoft’s brand and corporate image and for refusing to promote or even protect the firm’s last CEO.
This kind of person tends to be a blight on most companies. The larger and more complex the firm, the more likely you are to have an impressive number of people who have gamed risk and have found their career path by assuring that others can’t get things done.
This was a problem HP had in spades, too. I met with HP’s head of HR this week, Tracy Keogh, and I asked how they fixed it. I got an interesting answer that I think you might find useful.
First, I should spend a moment talking about why I, or anyone else, would use Keogh as an example. Most HR heads are focused on compliance and do little more than push paper. Hardly strategic, they are in place to prevent litigation and manage people into and out of the company using a relatively risk-free process. Eminently tactical, they do little to contribute to the firm’s success other than helping to assure the company isn’t sued into bankruptcy by too many employees at once.
Keogh is a very different beast as she is a Harvard graduate and well versed in the science of managing people. At HP, HR is strategic. As a core component of Meg Whitman’s turnaround effort, Keogh has been instrumental in eliminating Forced Ranking (which Microsoft also recently identified as one of its biggest problems and killed), reinstituted employee and manager training (HP University), helped implement Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a critical management metric (it assures customer loyalty and satisfaction), and eliminated the practice of forced work from home (likely one of the stupidest policies I’ve ever seen implemented). She was instrumental in identifying what was keeping employees from performing and then in fixing those problems.
In short, when it comes to HR, I’m not aware of anyone in her league. Given that HP had Dr. No types all over, I asked what she did to eliminate them.
What Keogh did was implement a policy that promoted and rewarded escalation. That’s kind of brilliant, given that the Dr. No types of the world are doing this largely to be able to point out that they were right, if they are bypassed, or to prevent any personal risk from approving something that might fail. Rewarding those who go around them should have a detrimental impact on the careers of the naysayers, particularly because it results in metrics clearly identifying the behavior as a problem for the company. So the folks who go around the Dr. No types advance and the naysayers get eliminated. Granted, you likely have to get rid of Forced Ranking first, because that tends to penalize risk takers, but both HP and Microsoft have done that.
Management also moved to redefine “The HP Way” so it wouldn’t be the foundation that the Dr. No types used and turned it into a variant of the U.S. Marine slogan, “adapt and overcome,” which was far more consistent with the HP founders. Once again, that turns folks who stand in the way of progress into more obvious liabilities for the company.
Wrapping Up: Microsoft’s Saviors, Tracy Keogh and Tony Prophet
Keogh eliminated Forced Ranking first and by example, is showcasing how Microsoft could identify and get rid of the guy that shot Steve Ballmer from the inside before he can do the same to Satya Nadella. And Tony Prophet, who was at HP when these changes were implemented, and is known to have been one of their very best, has recently left HP to join Microsoft. In his new position, he’ll know that, if he is to be successful, Microsoft’s Dr. No will have to go. I have every expectation that Keogh’s example and Prophet’s experience will be instrumental in assuring that Nadella doesn’t end up like Ballmer did. In fact, given Prophet’s incredible reputation at HP, I kind of wonder if he won’t become Microsoft’s James Bond and take out Dr. No. We can only hope.
Now if I can only get the James Bond theme out of my head…