Steve Ballmer is working to create what he calls “One Microsoft.” He wants to get rid of the “fiefdoms” that have produced internal friction and mediocre results. The debates about the reorganization have been, and correctly so, focused on the difficulty of changing Microsoft’s culture.
Culture is about how people operate in the organization. Regardless of how an organization is structured, if people have thrived by being achievement driven – that is, trying to do “more, better, faster” than everyone else – it will take a concerted and coordinated effort to demonstrate that this modus operandi is no longer what’s going to get people ahead, or get Microsoft ahead.
How well aligned are Microsoft executives with Ballmer’s vision for the future?
Coordinated effort is tricky in any organization. In a culture like Microsoft’s that has encouraged internal competition, you can bet that the leaders were caught up in, if not driving, that behavior. In the fiefdom landscape, where unit leaders have acted as mini CEOs in charge of an entire business, each of those leaders had their own ideas about what would make them, their group and the company successful. Are those leaders really going to be collaborative now and “go along with” an idea that is a composite of multiple perspectives? Or might they, instead, see collaboration as the end of the ability to be a superstar with a career path to the top job?
Each individual on the senior team likely has their own interpretation of what will create Ballmer’s “One Microsoft” and what the new culture should look like. The challenge here is to understand where they are “like-minded” and where they are “divergent” in their thinking. Changing the culture requires that the senior team send out consistent messages, through their words and actions. Without an understanding of their degree of like-mindedness, or lack thereof, they don’t have a chance of finding common ground and presenting a unified front that gets everyone rowing in the same direction.
To define and develop a culture that supports the business strategy, they must first agree on what makes the organization effect today, and what will make it effective in the future. Once the leadership defines key organizational effectiveness factors, they can then, with the right tools, determine the kind of culture that will support that set of factors.
It isn’t simply about “improving” the culture or making the culture more collaborative and communicative. Ballmer and his team also need to consider how those desired culture characteristics play together. If a more collaborative culture is desired, how will that work in conjunction with a performance review and reward system for top performers that Ballmer says ensures that “people keep their competitive attitude at work.” That’s not to say that “collaborative” and “competitive” cannot co-exist as characteristics of Microsoft’s unique culture profile, but it will take deliberate actions to strike the right balance.