Stack Ranking Hurts Partners Too

Vanity Fair cover image of Steve Ballmer

Vanity Fair: Microsoft’s Lost Decade

Microsoft’s stack ranking process received some high-visibility attention in Vanity Fair’s article, “Microsoft’s Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant”. You’ve probably already read the article, but also check out the knowledgeable commentary by Todd Bishop here and here, and by Mary Jo Foley here. Information is power, the more you know, the better you’ll understand how Microsoft operates (and perhaps why).

The article focuses (likely too much) on the impact stack ranking has had on Microsoft itself, but there’s an unwelcome side effect on partners as well – any time a MS employee spends on activities not on their objectives is time not spent achieving their objectives; and that will cost them come review time.

For partners, that means the only people at MS who are likely to invest time on your behalf, including even acknowledging your request, are those whose objectives include providing that response. Most people at MS will completely ignore your request; they’re laser focused on achieving their objectives (also known as “commitments”).

You need to find “the right person”, whose objectives align with your interests – the time that person spends working with you should fulfill their objectives and improve their performance review.

That’s actually the central challenge in partnering with MS. Do you want to join a technical beta program? Become a Managed ISV partner? Get your product demoed in a TechEd session? Become an MVP? Find the right person.

“Great, so how do I find the right person?” It won’t surprise you that that’s the tricky part.

“The right person” does not want to be found, and takes steps to avoid being found easily. It’s a survival adaptation – consider that there are 640,000 companies in the Microsoft Partner Network, and many additional companies that are not MPN members. A single inquiry from even a tiny fraction of those companies would overwhelm any individual and most teams, making even a quick response like “sorry, I’m not the right person to help with this” too much to handle. That’s why it’s part of MS culture for “the right person” to limit their visibility.

“OK, it’s hard, but I still need to find the right person, and make forward progress on my request.” That warrants its own post, creatively titled, Finding “The Right Person”.

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