Microsoft Career Development Case Study
The case presented in the brief concerning Microsoft provides an overview both of Microsoft’s hiring and managerial advancement processes and of the career development path of a specific employee named Matt MacLellan. MacLellan is identified as a standout young rising star in a corporation built almost exclusively of young rising stars. The brief provides a narrative which traces MacLellan’s evolution as a managerial figure under the tutelage of Jim Kaplan and in the scope of a project designing an interactive computing device for young girls and young children in general. The project itself would provide a context within which MacLellan was expected to excel and simultaneously develop new leadership skills while being challenged.
The brief describes MacLellan’s experiences and simultaneously demonstrates several of the HR principles in action at Microsoft. Most particularly, the imperative within to push the best and brightest technical specialists toward more active managerial and business leadership roles is exemplified by the path along which MacLellan is pressured.
Without question, MacLellan excels both as a manager and as an innovator within his team. The project itself, under five years of development, is a successful endeavor and is due in no small part to MacLellan’s hard work and ingenuity. However, MacLellan is personally not satisfied with the nature of the work he’s doing. Though he gains some gratification for being able to witness the development of a product from germinal idea to market testing, MacLellan confides in Kaplan that he experiences the same discontent at the end of the five-year project as he did entering into the endeavor. Namely, MacLellan is working in a management role even as he has insisted both prior to the project and throughout that he would really much prefer a more direct and hands on role in project development.
Cause of the problem:
MacLellan has here presented Kaplan with a dilemma. Kaplan must pressure MacLellan to embrace this evolving managerial role in light of the internal factors around which Microsoft’s corporate hierarchy revolves. Internally, though personnel experience short-term gratification, burnout is common. In MacLellan’s case, it can be argued that this is as a direct result of attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole, as it were. MacLellan has expressly offered his services as a programmer and a product developer, but due to his ample talents, Microsoft has tagged him for managerial advancement. This helps to underscore one of the critical philosophical shortcomings to the Bill Gates’ inspired approach of creating managers by molding programmers. Though this helps to create an appreciation for the rigors of the work done by one’s subordinates, it also undermines the importance of certain personality traits that define management.
In a sense, this may be a product of industry realities, especially in those earlier phases of Microsoft’s massive success. A driving external factor is the sense of entrepreneurialism as an engine of the computer and tech markets. Innovation, creativity and personal investment have long driven the industry, with iconic figures like Gates and Steve Jobs parlaying technical skills into eventual business savvy. But as the industry becomes less speculative and more stable, this logic which dispenses with traditional managerial recruitment has been cast into doubt.
One alternative solution might be to refine the HR testing and evaluation materials used to elevate potential managers. In addition to skill sets, such evaluation should include personality assessment. In MacLellan’s case, this would have revealed one with the skills but without the desire to truly manage. Another solution might be to define the roles and responsibilities of the manager with greater clarity so as to avoid some of the grey areas that were ultimately dispiriting to MacLellan.
A third solution, and the one selected for this discussion, would be to improve recruitment efforts of outside hires with meaningful managerial training and experience. MacLellan might have been far better suited to take a lead in the operational realities of his project while assisted by a team leader committed to the HR orientation of the project.
An action plan would take the steps of recruiting outsider managers in much the same fashion as programmer recruiting is done, with highly selective and creative profile-testing. Once managers are brought in, they should undergo training that intertwines Microsoft’s existing personnel culture with basic professional management principles. Finally, managers should be teamed with operational project leaders like MacLellan as both engage the challenges presented to them.
To this juncture, Microsoft has been among the best ‘learning organizations’ in the business. The principles used to push MacLellan forward are quite positive and innovative in their own right, and are clearly designed to help qualified individuals to learn managerial skills on the job. However, this approach would be far more successful if those selected for certain learning and development paths were ushered this way according to existing personality traits and stated ambitions.
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