Microsoft is dramatically changing both its top leadership and, as a result of the reorganization, its overall operating structure. When a company does this, you need to reset your expectations of the firm, both good and bad. How the firm operates will likely change in unexpected ways. The leadership change is still largely in Microsoft’s future but the impact of the organizational change should be emerging already and this recent change in policy direction, now providing Windows 8.1 RTM to developers, suggests that some of the expected benefits from that organizational change appear to be manifesting.
Let me explain.
Microsoft’s latest reorganizational goal had two key elements: the elimination of excess complexity and the destruction of a siloed structure that had groups inside the company fighting each other and putting customers and developers on the back burner.
Typical behavior from the old Microsoft was to take untenable positions and then not budge from them. Both Windows Vista and Windows 8 were running demonstrations of this bad behavior. Both products, prior to coming to market, provided warnings that the neither was ready. Windows Vista simply wasn’t finished, and the touch ecosystem that needed to be in place for Windows 8 to be successful didn’t exist. Microsoft put getting the product out in front of these concerns and both offerings are now seen negatively in hindsight.
With Windows 8.1, once again, in order to get the product out quickly, Microsoft had set a policy of blocking developers and other third parties from seeing the final bits. This would prevent them from finding problems before the product showed up on shelves and might, once again, create a bad launch. However, this time, Microsoft reconsidered. The policy was reversed weeks before the product was released, which should help ensure the launch. For a .1 product, it should go better anyway, and will be properly supported. The product will be ready.
The importance of this isn’t the decision itself, but the fact that Microsoft was able to make it in a timely manner.
Often, the key problem that underlies the behavior that Microsoft previously demonstrated is an unwillingness to accept that a mistake has been made. In highly competitive structures, particularly those that use an employee measurement method called “Forced Ranking,” significant effort is made to avoid admitting a mistake so it doesn’t track back against you, and then to assign blame to someone farther down the execution chain. In effect, problems don’t get solved, the blame is creatively assigned, and both the firm and its customers suffer.
In identifying and correcting this mistake, Microsoft has demonstrated, at least this one time, that the organizational changes appear to be mitigating some of this bad behavior.
Every firm makes mistakes. The ability to quickly identify, correct and focus on the correct outcome rather than focusing on assigning blame is critical not only to success but to the retention of the people you’ll need to carry the firm forward.
Unfortunately, it has proven nearly impossible to eliminate Forced Ranking once it is in place. At least this change demonstrates that structural changes can make a firm more responsive and more capable of avoiding avoidable mistakes.
Wrapping Up: Fixing Microsoft
Being able to move from a focus on blame to a focus on doing the right thing is critical to the survival and success of every company. This appears to be happening at Microsoft and this isn’t the first time in recent memory. Microsoft made a similar move with its consumer-focused Xbox product and reversed a decision that forced users to connect every day. That organization has always been simpler and more likely to correct mistakes, which is largely why it is dominant in its segment today. This move to reverse a decision by the larger entity suggests that the reorganization and leadership of Windows is now also more focused on doing what is right rather than in avoiding and assigning blame. The end result will be a better Windows 8.1 product. Given that IT tends to favor .1 products for deployment, that isn’t just better for Microsoft but it is better for you. But the lesson remains that companies, all companies, make mistakes. If the focus is on the correction and not the assignation of blame, the firm moves forward. If it isn’t, well, you have catastrophic products like Zune and Windows Vista.
Microsoft is showcasing that it intends to put the bad years behind it and move ahead to a better future.