We are seeing the result of nearly a decade of internal change at Microsoft, and I think it means that the company we have come to know has been quietly replaced by one we probably will like better.
I say probably because this change isn't done, and it will have a lot to do with the kind of response Microsoft gets to what it is doing.
This week is its launch for three of its most important products: SQL Server, Visual Studio and Windows Server 2008. In fact, I'm writing this from the floor of the event, which carries the theme "Heroes Happen Here."
While we often think of Microsoft in terms of the products we use, these back-end products often have more to do with how safe, how secure and how successful we are because they are core to many of the services we depend on.
But, I'll let others talk about the products; let's focus this week on the "hero" part of Microsoft's effort and why it is incredibly important
Heroes Happen Everywhere
Tom Brokaw opened the event with a moving keynote focused on who he thinks the heroes really are. They're not big-name celebrities, executives or politicians, but normal folks who do extraordinary things by putting their lives and incomes at risk to make things happen that save lives and make the world a better place.
Heroes are folks who rise above their peers to do what is right by overcoming nearly impossible odds. The folks who first made a run at the entrenched mainframe environment with desktop computers and freed us all from what was a rather dependent life, in my mind, were heroes. But they weren't just heroes to us users; they were heroes to Microsoft, which wouldn't have survived without them.
As much as we complain about Microsoft's offerings, there are those out there who buckle down and get this stuff to work every day. Rather than complaining, they roll up their sleeves and get to work. I know I don't appreciate them enough in my own organization.
It isn't easy, as we live in a hostile and changing world. But companies like Microsoft wouldn't exist if there weren't a lot of largely un-thanked and under-appreciated folks who get the job done.
This campaign appears to be the start of Microsoft externally recognizing and giving some credit to the critical nature of these very hard-working folks who have been under-appreciated for so long.
What This Means Long Term
When companies get large, they look out over their customer base and increasingly see a bunch of complainers whom they attempt to silence. If they are smart, they generally silence these folks by addressing their concerns. If they are stupid, they silence them by coming up with ever-more-creative ways to keep from answering their calls. But, these folks also tend to be a minority who get an inordinate amount of attention because they are so vocal.
But the larger group of folks who aren't complaining, but are actually focused on fixing problems, can actually be the more important group. The skills they have developed reduce service costs, increase satisfaction (because they are comparatively satisfied), and don't detract from the company's image.
Microsoft appears to be starting to focus on this arguably more important and much larger group of customers. It seems to be positioning its resources to make this group more successful, rather than almost exclusively working to find a way to make the complainers -- many of whom probably will never be happy -- content.
In short, Microsoft is trying to create an environment where there are more folks like the ones that first made Microsoft successful and fewer, as a percentage, that really don't like anything the company does.
In the end, these folks who get the job done are heroes not only to Microsoft but to their companies because no matter the excuse, winning companies execute. If Microsoft, through this focus, creates more successful customers, it assures their and our success and becomes a vastly better partner.
Wrapping Up: Is This Real Change or Just Words?
Initially; probably a mix of both. I believe many of Microsoft's new executives understand how important it is to focus on enabling those who can successfully execute. But, it is so easy to instead focus on pumping out products for the tactical benefit of short-term revenues. The distraction of daily problems both inside and outside the company can easily divert focus from enabling the comparatively quiet heroes Microsoft is now talking about helping.
But, as I listen to Steve Ballmer's talk, and realize that the products they are talking about, Visual Studio which launched last year, SQL Server which isn't yet ready to be launched, and Windows Server 2008, which many have already been deploying, are just a subtext to create a dialog on enabling people.
If the importance of people for Microsoft, or any company really, becomes more important than core products, we have the opportunity to see the creation of a heroic company.
I think, and I just realized this, I'd like to see that in my lifetime.