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New Microsoft CEO's First Task: Fix broken, cannibalistic culture

All signs point to new CEO coming from outside the company

The announcement of Steve Ballmer's departure has given reporters plenty to do in what would ordinarily be a lazy August.

Over at ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley scored a very telling interview with Microsoft board member John Thompson who revealed that the process of finding Ballmer's successor has gone on for a while now.

"We've had a process underway for quite some time to think through what the attributes of the successor would need to be ... We are well down the path in the search, and hopefully in some reasonable amount of time we'll have a new leader," he's quoted.

Now if you remember, Microsoft just had a reorganization, one that saw a few people demoted, most notably the two people previously in charge of the Windows group. But what many noticed about the reorg is that it put no clear successor in place for Ballmer.

I think now we see why. Ballmer wasn't putting a successor in place because one was being sought out already. He knew the search was on and his days were numbered. And because so many people lost power, especially COO Kevin Turner, this further convinces me that an outsider is coming in to the company who will likely shake things up and bring a few heavy hitters of his or her own.

The first thing that has to be shaken up is the Microsoft culture, which so many people describe as toxic. After Vanity Fair took its hatchet to Microsoft last summer, I scored a nice bit of gossip with an inside friend who filled me in on even more problems. You might want to look at the reader responses to that article, as ex-Microsofties came out and backed it up, and even added more horror stories.

I'd give anything to know how many people were scared off from Microsoft after the Vanity Fair story ran. Anecdotally, I heard a story here and there but it's hard to quantify. Regardless, the appeal of working for Microsoft has to be renewed. These days, the Seattle company that's the place to be is Amazon.

The next step is cleaning house in HR and throwing out the detested review process, both its function and how much time it consumes. The new CEO has to end the stack ranking and everything that goes with it; reviews based on perception and not accomplishment, not allowing poor performers to move, infighting among groups, and so on.

A lot of writers and bloggers are commenting on the product changes that need to be made, and yes, the next CEO if he or she has a brain will throw the Modern UI out starting with Windows 8.2 and boot to the old desktop like before and say 'sorry about that.' For the PC only. I have no problem with keeping that UI for the tablet, people say the tablet experience is actually quite good. But the culture is far more important or Microsoft will never be able to attract the talent it needs to make visions a reality.

If the next CEO of Microsoft doesn't operate by the notion that the company's most valuable assets walk out the door after 5 pm, then they might as well keep the Monkey Boy. At least he's entertaining on occasion.

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