The topic of corporate leadership and culture has been trending heavily this week, first in the wake of an unflattering Vanity Fair article on Steve Ballmer’s tenure at Microsoft, then with the announcement of Google star Marissa Mayer as Yahoo’s new CEO.
While the fortunes of these technology behemoths will play out over time, we can still extract some key lessons from the accounts of their leadership styles. Ballmer’s culture of bureaucracy is recounted at length by VF writer Kurt Eichenwald:
“Where once creating innovations was both the thrill of the job and path to riches, financial success could now be achieved only the way it was at stodgy old General Motors or IBM- through promotion. More employes seeking management slots led to more meetings, more meetings led to more memos and more red tape led to less innovation.”
Ballmer’s most derided policy was the performance review system of “stack ranking,” whereby managers were required to rate their teams on a fixed curve:
“‘The reviews forced a lot of bad decision making,’ one software designer said. ‘People planned their days and their years around the review, rather than around products. You really had to focus on the six-month performance, rather than on doing what was right for the company.’”
Even in a bull market for experienced IT pros, these tales illustrate how corporate culture will impact your ability to thrive and make a measurable impact. A company that stifles new ideas and shies away from prototyping is unlikely to bolster your stature in the industry. Our recruiting team offered a few investigative tactics to inform your career decisions:
1. Research whether they hire from within. While this is a reasonable question to ask in an interview, you can also unearth good intel on the company’s LinkedIn page or via sited like Indeed and Glassdoor. You can also ask specifically why the position is open to get a sense of whether employees are moving up – or out.
2. Do your homework on your prospective manager. Does he/she inspire loyalty? Does her team have tenure or is it a reveloving door? When she gets a new role, do people move with her? Consider this case from a Business Insider article on the often-polarizing Mayer:
“For example, there’s the story of Jen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick went on maternity leave while working for Mayer. When she came back, she had a new boss. Google had gone through a massive re-org, and Mayer had been moved to a different organization. Mayer then asked Fitzpatrick to join her new team. If Mayer was a tyrant, this would have been a great opportunity for Fitzpatrick to say no, and escape. But she didn’t; she joined Mayer’s staff.”
3. Dig into the existing process. During the interview, ask about the specific challenges that the new hire will face. While you may not get a confidential earful about internal politics, it could open the door to some candor about the development process or management oversight. What’s more, you can get a sense of the company’s approach to innovation and vision for remaining competitive.
Have you been vexed by a politically-driven company ethos? Or advanced in a nimble, progressive team dynamic? We would love to hear real tales from our talent community. Leave a comment here or @howardsystems
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