Skittish Microsoft Workers Weigh Their Options

Microsoft Building Front Door

Even before CEO Steve Ballmer released his manifesto detailing the organizational changes he planned for Microsoft, a number of employees were getting ready to bolt.

“In the last month, when rumors were starting to surface about a potential reorg, we received about 100 to 200 unsolicited calls, emails and resumes from people who worked there,” says Lincoln Stalnaker, director of technology recruiting and sales for staffing firm Seattle Search Group. “Usually, we receive about 20 contacts a month.”

Such a dynamic could make Microsoft’s need to staff the company with thousands of new employees even more pressing as its existing workforce gets skittish. Many of the Redmond giant’s workers who are contacting Seattle Search Group have come from the company’s software area, says Stalnaker.

The potential drain stands in stark contrast to 2009, when the recruiter had great difficulty enticing Microsoft’s professionals to even consider leaving. Back then, Stalnaker recalls, they weren’t sending out unsolicited resumes, nor entertaining thoughts of jumping ship when contacted.

“The No. 1 reason they say they want to leave is because it’s a huge, slow moving company and it’s hard to get a product, service or anything out the door,” Stalnaker says. “People are bored and burned out and sick of the process. They’re looking for smaller and more agile companies.”

Interestingly, only 10 percent of possible defectors are looking for a bigger title at a smaller company. In most cases, they want to land in a position that will bring them greater job satisfaction via the ability to take a larger role and make a larger contribution — even if it means taking a smaller paycheck.

Microsoft Re-Mix

Microsoft is looking to instill some agile mojo into its operations with the reorg. According to Ballmer’s memo, reposted on All About Microsoft:

Improving our performance has three big dimensions: focusing the whole company on a single strategy, improving our capability in all disciplines and engineering/technology areas, and working together with more collaboration and agility around our common goals.

The “One Strategy, One Microsoft” game plan calls for organizing the company around functions, as opposed to divisions. For example, the engineering function will have four areas – operating system, apps, cloud and devices. Areas like cloud infrastructure, mail and identity will be consolidated into these groups.

Challenges Ahead

Today, retention is a particularly thorny issue in the tech sector because it has an unemployment rate far below the national average. In other words, it’s easier to job hop. Couple in the retention challenges that can come with a reorg, and a company may have go to great lengths to retain its key players. Everything from compensation to perks to balance and the approach of managers may be on the table.

Chason Hecht, president of New York-based employee retention advisory firm Retensa, says he expects Microsoft’s defection rate to come in at less than 7 percent of its overall workforce. Last year, Microsoft had 94,290 employees.

“After a layoff is announced, you usually see 7 percent of the workforce leave voluntarily within six months after the announcement,” Hecht explains. “My guess is it will be less than that with Microsoft’s restructuring because they didn’t announce layoffs.”

That said, Hecht believes most people know to expect some downsizing as a result of the restructuring.

One of the moves Microsoft can take is to frequently communicate its plans and be as transparent as possible. “While uncertainty will exist, you define the unknowns,” Hecht says, adding, “You say, ‘here is what we know, here is what we don’t know, and here is when we will give you an update.’”

16 Responses to “Skittish Microsoft Workers Weigh Their Options”

  1. Seems like Balmer is playing buzzword bingo and translating it into action using ideas he clearly does not understand.

    They had massive x-functional units burdened by bureaucracy, now they are moving to massive numbers of siloed mono-functional teams governed by a central command and control structure.

    LOL — This is going to be fun to watch

  2. “and a company may have go to great lengths to retain its key players. …” Which as we IT veterans really means the CxOs and their golfing buddies. Best of luck Stevie, the monopoly is slowly falling apart.

  3. For years in the 1990s Microsoft was a hot place to work. In the 2000s there were still several pockets of the company that still had that early vibe and energy. It was an awesome, fun, stimulating and rewarding place to work. People stuck around after 2008 because it was safe. Pay was good, benefits were excellent and the economy was bad so why risk things? I have dozens of friends who are still there, working in various types of jobs all over the company. All of them were very glad to be working and have stability. Not a single one was happy. Most are now looking for a change.

    Now SteveB’s reorg is going to centralize things even more, stifle innovation even more, slow down the pace of delivery even more, and result in layoffs/redundancies. Sure, they say that’s not the case but it will be. I’ve written countless memos like that one Steve’s minions wrote for him announcing the new structure and and trust me, it will happen.

    Why stifle your career by staying at MS when there is so much more exciting stuff going on?

  4. mpelletier

    I hope the people that are being let go have better luck in this job market….it took
    me awhile to find a job, my skills are going to waste. Perhaps you’ll be alright if the ceo
    is genuine….if not 180 degrees therein lies the truth.

  5. If they’re mostly SW Engineers then it stands to reason that recruiters for hundreds of venture capital driven start ups are flooding them with job offers laced with sign-on bonuses, equity stakes, and free stock options.

    Back in 1999, the best I could get to leave my current employer at the time were discount stock options and the promise of equity in the start up, both didn’t pan out by 2000 of course.

    The real story here is when these institutionalized SW Engineers leave the comfy confines of a slow moving company into a sink or swim environment they will soon regret their choice and either burn out completely or join the perennially under-employed masses.

  6. Steven Shepard

    Considering the fact that Microsoft is a company that has never-ever released a finished product that was reliable and ready for market it comes as no surprise that anyone would want to leave. I don’t even work at MS and I am ready to leave them.

  7. exMSFT

    I was at MSFT for about a decade and I found that those in the technical ranks were some of the best and smartest people to be around. Unfortunately, many (not all) of the people in upper manage were absolutely clueless and holding back the techies. I was looking for great things from Ray Ozzie, but they wouldn’t listen to him, so he left. SteveB may be a great salesperson and cheerleader, but as CEO, he’s been a failure since he took over.

  8. After reading some of the stuff that Balmer says It sounded like so much more confusing code speak I doubt that he knows what he is talking about. He is disconnected form the actual goings on in the company.

  9. StephenJ

    Perhaps the negative effects of Ballmer’s previous unsuccessful reorganizations? Each was based on “business model” not rational grouping by functional relatedness. Gates did not program but could understand code, and he was an excellent judge of people. Ballmer doesn’t understand code and is clueless about the competence of the outside people he hires to run these divisions. Rem: “Pirates of Silicon Valley”? He was the “Playboy magazine expert”.

  10. antwerp

    No mystery here. I went through this at IBM. They went from fixed-cost structure with job security to variable-cost structure and contracting. I would expect the same from Microsoft.

  11. SpaceVegetable

    Sounds like another case of too many pointy-haired managers without a clue, jumping on the buzzword bandwagon and not really understanding the problems they’re trying to solve in the first place. Instead of listening to business consultants who recommend the latest fad management techniques, they ought to actually talk to the engineers and developers actually pulling the wagon. They’re the ones who understand the problems best and can tell them the best solutions to fix them.

  12. Emo Fudpucker

    The stockholders need to vote Ballmer out. I have never voted for him since I have been a MS shareholder. I have always felt that he was clueless as to what the consumer really wants and has no vision of where MS should be heading. They have some good products but lack the vision from upper management to direct the company. Their tech support has been really lacking in the last few years and keeps getting worse. Ballmer will be the end of MS if he is not removed.