Comments I posted at Mini-Microsoft

Here are my comments posted in different places on the Mini-Microsoft Blog. In green-font are (snippets of) others' comments posted there that prompted me to reply.


I

It is interesting how, across most postings to Mini-Microsoft, most blame is directed at management. And, to a great extent, management is responsible--otherwise how in the sky could they justify their own compensation schemes?

In ancient times, people used to vent their passions during carnivals, when kings and fools exchanged places for a brief. In the long interval between carnival days, it used to be religion. In democracies, we have elections. Religion has been replaced by shows and morale building exercises (i.e. propaganda). When the individual (contributor) doesn't believe anymore in the show managers put on, it's time for a (ritual) reversal... So, managers, take notice!

Yet, where is the personal responsibility that arises from a conscious decision to grow up as individual and either clean up the mess around you or move on?In the end, let's face it, the cake is in only one place!


II

For the MSFT shareholder who asks why the Company has a finger in the gamming pie, I would venture to answer:
  • Because of digital convergence;
  • Because of no-longer growing revenues in those areas that have made him money so far;
  • Because it's fun for the engineers who work on it;
  • Because consumers welcome alternatives (to Sony and Nintendo);
  • Because it's there--as a growing market.
...should I go on?


III

Somebody at Mini-Microsoft quoted "Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Inc. have been discussing potential online partnerships that would help the two companies better compete against rivals Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news), two people familiar with the talks said Thursday."

MSN has always had a problem: it tried to be(at) AOL no matter what the users who were running to Yahoo! and Google were saying. Now, does anyone think that putting together two less-than-stellar entities will form something great? Hmmm, unless I am a hopeless geek, they should ask Carly--the former first lady at HPQ!


IV

Why is it that folks think Microsoft has lost it's agility? My guess is that most associate the Longhorn/Vista delays with this lost agility. I think this is a cop out. The systemic constipation inside of Microsoft around Longhorn/Vista is the result of the Chief Software Architect's failure to properly design and architect his vision of integrated innovation. Bill is an architect in name only.


The above comment raises some interesting (insider) points. For us, the outside observers, the big question nobody has been willing to ask is: "How much does BillG still deserve the position he appointed himself to?" Follow up question becomes: "When talking about accountability, how high up can one go?"

Be it as it may, we've seen how Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison have stepped aside to make room for new blood...

Few more interesting points, and I would welcome a conversation on the subject, are those related to MSOffice on Linux, getting together with Apple's music format at the expense of WMA, etc. That such points make for heresy at Microsoft goes without saying. I'm not sure though they make a lot of business sense.

Oh well, drop us a line, especially if you are PM in one of these areas. In any case, state your function at the Company!


V

The owner of, and MSFT participants to, the Mini-Microsoft blog might have done more (for better or worse) to set things in motion at Microsoft than scores of executive wonks. Hence the value of the internet in making the workplace more democratic. Now we should wait and see how well this does to business. I cross my fingers!


VI

From all incentive systems I've known, for large organizations, I had come to respect the most the one employed by McKinsey.

Consultants (at lower levels) rate their next-level-up manager/mentor anonymously, and are being rated by their manager. There is assumed flexibility for a junior consultant from a mentor to another. This inter-rating mechanism keeps most bastards honest, and people do actually get useful feedback for improvement.

For how long has this incentive system been in place at McKinsey? For as long as anybody at the Company remembers!

Now, incentive theory is really a chapter in the science of economics. Have you wondered why when you get in a cab, it starts with a few dollars on the meter as the driver turns the engine on? And, relative to the cost per mile, the starting-fee is not trivial. They make it so a driver gets enough from such starting-fees that he's got an incentive to drive you in the shortest time to destination...


VII

Dear fellow minis,I really love this blog and I am a huge fan of the "Mini" himself. But please quit with the constant field sales bashing,e.g - that shit might get salespeople fired up but for your average introverted dev it does nothing but promote ennui.We both love and fear for the company just like you do. Signed, Longtime EPG account rep (lowest of the low but I have served one of our biggest customers for 7 years and beleive me the software you develop (a) isn't easy to sell and (b) it's a total b***tch to deploy across an enterprise.

Sometimes, it takes an "EPG account rep" to see the gap between the coolest/innovative ideas and happy customers--some people call it "process." Other times, nothing does the trick but a higher stock-price.

Thinking more about the review process at MSFT, it looks like it encourages massive politicking due to its one-sidedness. I would be surprised if, in fact, there have not been executive drives to streamline middle management and increase accountability. But hey, everyone has got a friend, with a lower IQ, whom can be turned into a power base through the one-sided review process.

In other words, a bad process may be as costly as no process...


VIII

Bring back some sense of fairness between execs and rank and file. 320,000 shares for Kevin Turner? Is Kevin really worth 320X+ more than the average good employee? Should a grossly underperforming exex like Burgum not only retian his job but cash a couple $M every Q? I don't think so.


I wonder since when has it become an issue the fairness of executive pay? By and large, little is fair about it, and so is life!

Having incompetent executives is a another matter. The novelty about this latter notion is given by this couple of key elements:
  1. MSFT has smart, and type-A, personalities who came to the Company after/under genetically less endowed managers;
  2. The employee-liberating, and -enabling, capabilities of a blog.
The rest will be a new page in corporate reform, driven by the explicit action of a vocal, and newly empowered, minority.


IX

Imagine if Apple suddenly decided to offer MAC OS 10 on standard Dell platforms, and when you called Dell, they asked which OS you wanted.


...new UI in Office 12 with other 23.984 useless featuress (where each running Office app will eat 70 MB of the memory)...

Reading some recent opinions posted at Mini-Microsoft about how several of MSFT products/features turned into resource hogs, let me put it in a slightly different (non-Google) context:

There has been a yesterday's company whose platform runs most efficiently and effectively out there. Its customers loved it so much that they saw no need to upgrade--no, it's not about some mainframe architecture.

So, what happened? Hardware system vendors (HSV's) decided to stop offering support for the old platform. The old hardware would either crash or not interconnect with the newest hardware. In the end, customers had to jump ship. Who benefited from this? MSFT, Intel, and al other usual suspects in the HSV space. Who lost? The customers and Novell.

Fast forward (I) to the early 2000. IBM, not to be fooled twice, drops a lot of mainframe-, and new-IP, into Linux (e.g. virtualization, driver support). Not to be outdone, the rest of the HSV band (formerly, of MSFT-brothers), with the partial exception of Dell, joins IBM in supporting straight Linux, or one of its corporate flavors (Red Hat, SUSE/Novell). As a measure of this transformation, 5 years ago, who would have thought SUN would complement both Solaris and Sparc with Linux and Intel/AMD, or the fact that Oracle would run on Linux??? And, except for IBM (and possible Oracle) nobody does it despite Microsoft.

Fast forward (II) to the Google's IPO. The public at large gets a taste of Google's context (i.e. simple things in small-sized software).

Fast forward (III) to 2005 corporate customers. Here's the voice of a select few. What is the message? They want to DO MORE WITH LESS!

Fast forward (IV) to 2005 HSVs and ISVs. Oracle and IBM are doing/promoting about grids, and most every HSV is doing blades. How do I translate III & IV? Optimal allocation of IT resources or better ROI's for the IT budgets.

Fast forward (final) to mini-msft blog. Microsoft engineers ponder how it is possible that their Company continues to invest in countless obscure Office-like features. Yeah folks, the genie is out, yet who knows when the turn comes for your management to think of growth alternatives to bloating software.

As end-user I've been able to tolerate MSFT annoyances up until two episodes. (1) When a customer from abroad emails me an audio-clip he made using MSFT tools, I could not play it back until Windows Media Player checked with some DRM-god on the internet. (2) Hearing the complaints of a partner (marketing-strategy type) about his Dell laptop slowing down I suggested, and then wanted to initiate, a reinstallation of the system from the vendor's CD. I was told that, because the XP version on the CD was older than the (patched) one on the laptop, I could not reinstall the system.

Why did I share the above two anecdotes with the readers here? To illustrate how MSFT-neutral customers might have grown unhappy with MSFT to the point they'd switch when alternatives show up. For the (mini-)Microsoft engineers, such consideration should only nuance the(ir) conversation--after all, they've gotten paid their salaries from such tactics. For those in management, it is a whole different thing. It's up to them whether or not to take their customers and (minimsft-)employees seriously, regardless of their particular biases.


X

Somebody posted a remark about Apple grabbing mindshare with the iPod and OS X. As somebody who is completely outside of Microsoft -- I'm a journalist, but very much not tech -- I can't stress enough how right that is. It is not only the products like the iPod, it is the decisions they have made, like yanking the iPod Mini at the hight of its sales to market the Nano. The collective reaction among the people I know was first something like God, the balls on those guys! followed by God, is that beautiful!. And the "halo effect", though probably overrated, is real. All the Apple people in my department have to do is say something like "If you think that is cool, you should see my Mac."

I think folks in MSFT Entertainment Group have taken notice--As proof, msofties themselves are saying the latest XBox is something they look forward to buying.

"If you think that is cool, you should see my Mac."

Now this is major indeed. Not as much for its effects--when Apple started going down, it still offered a greater experience than MSFT--as for its power of example for companies dealing with consumers. The platform approach at MSFT, which made them so big, sustains a vicious circle in which some products are put on the market without being required to compete on their own merits. We are probably witnessing in fact the price platforms are exacting on a firm by skewing the behavior of marketing and development folks. On their part, customers who sunk so many resources in MSFT technologies have little option but keep "consolidating" the platform. The ideal situation would be when customers like so much a product that they want to try others from the same vendor. Only then should the vendor look for platform synergies. Again, this would be ideal.


XI

More on mini-Microsoft
On MicroSoft

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thinking more about the review process at MSFT, it looks like it encourages massive politicking due to its one-sidedness.

I saw two broad types of responses when I was there (left 01). The first was people who just focused on doing a great job and let the review system take care of itself. If they were excellent performers, it by and large did - although they rarely maxed out. If they were just good, it got dicey. Then there was a group (at that time more often the folks who'd be around longer)who figured they'd gamed the system through tenure and relationships. So rather than do much of anything that they were supposed to, they'd cut corners everywhere externally (we were a district sales office) and use the time saved keeping abreast of who's star was rising/falling, who they should therefore be sucking up to/shunning, keeping in contact and getting visibility up and down the hierarchy and of course spending hours chatting with their immediate boss who in this case, was doing the exact same thing. To show how ludicrous this could get, I recall one consulting mgr who for an entire year never once visited a customer despite in many cases being contractually obligated to do so. Instead, he came in late, left early and spent all day making sure he was perceived as a strong performer and (above all) team player by the folks who would be key in making those determinations. What happened? He got promoted to National responsibilities - I shit you not. So yes, while they are a lot of good things about MSFT, the culture was VERY political - you could ignore it, but there was no way you could deny its existence.

Anonymous said...

great blog, and plenty of smart things. i hope our business guys take notice of your several postings on msft.

fCh said...

XI


You guys just don't have the balls to conduct big meetings or speak things articulately. That's a gift that the VPs and GMs have. So they get rewarded for it. Just like in any other aspect of life.

There is/ought to be more than the ability to speak articulately in a manager. Let's call it clear thinking. Nobody should think that form is the only that matters, not that I suspect you would, else we'd be in show-biz.


You can't earn million dollars WHILE doing cool low level stuff like writing code (that you think is cool but barely usable by anyone) or debugging a problem in your own office being an introvert all year long. So get over it.

Showing more respect to the (productive) human variety would be more sensible. From what I've been reading here, nobody claims to want millions for writing code. Not that anybody would refuse them either, but that's a whole different story. Again, some respect would suffice. And, don't take me wrong, it's not the formulaic type HR trains untalented managers to show, 'cause, you see, MSFT has hired some smart "introverts." It's like in that movie: "Don't offend my intelligence!"-type of respect...

If you want to earn big bucks start getting out of your office and learn how to be a good and articulate speaker. Only then you can BS your way up to the high ranks.

A little socialization hasn't killed anyone, but don't make it a prerequisite for success!

Regarding the comments about SteveB's jumping around making the uptight ones feeling uncomfortable - that's his style and he admits it. [...] So here's a suggestion - you uptight, introverts ought to go out and get a life. SteveB isn't going to change his ways just because a few dozzens of you guys feel emabrassed by him. [...] He can't write code for MSFT. Writing code is not his job. His job is to provide encouragement to the IC level employees to do their best possible job. That is exactly what he does and does it quite well. So give him a break and ship out some quality products for a change instead of whinning.

I don't know Mr. Ballmer personally, but judging from his appearances (not to mention Mr. Gates'), he's not too happy in his public skin; just an opinion. One more question, how many people had seen SteveB acting so extrovertly before becoming CEO?

Anonymous said...

-to your IX comment-

When was the last time MSFT mgt made some strategic move that was so smart and first that the entire market applauded?

That's a key element. Market (or street) hates MS. That's it. I'm outsider but working for a big corp. with a size of MS (and no, it's not IBM , HP or someting like that) who has been working with Windows since version 3.0 and 3.11 for Workgroups. Things are getting worse regarding our relation to MS products and after 10 years we are in a situation that we are looking for alternative ways how to impement our core products (we run Windows 2000 and Office 97 - there is no reason for us to upgrade to the current versions not to mention Vista and Office 12).
That's the result of years and years of arrogance, ignorance and fishy tactics - don't get me wrong but we are in 2005 and there are no more Netscape - like companies which are stupid enough to fight you on your Windows platform.

fCh said...

XI+I


I am sick of people saying that Microsoft has to embrace the internet and start making internet software in order to survive and move into the future. This is exactly what Microsoft needs to avoid!!! We tried to switch everything over to "network software" with .NET and it ended up being stupid and confusing, remember? There's client software and web software and they're different things. Trying to merge the two somehow is ridiculous.

And just because YOU tried and failed, should one think it's a bad idea?

You completely missed my point, which is that not all software is the same. Do you want to play Halo in your web browser? Do you want your word processor to be an HTML form? Do you want to surf to a web page to see if you have any IMs? Because that seems to be what you're asking for.

Sexy companies like Google and Apple are making client software. Google Earth, Google Talk, Google Desktop, iTunes, iPhoto, etc. Do you think they're going in the wrong direction too, or is it somehow okay for them because they're not Microsoft?



Yeah, software is not the same, (see my prior distinction between enterprise and consumer,) but that doesn't mean software that's made in 2005 can survive simply behind firewalls and "protected" from the internet.

I would not be surprised if this email came from a marketing type--it smacks of self sufficient arrogance, fueled/confused by the internal recognition of a close system (i.e. Windows Product Group). It's called denial...

fCh said...

This news-piece is a good indication for what type of competitor Google is in the market.

One can only hope that "ignoring" the minimsft phenomenon will soon be over, and MSFT borrows a page from Google.

"Google has created a predictive market system, basically a way for its employees to bet on the likelihood of possible events. Such markets have long been used to predict world events, like election results. Intrade, part of the Trade Exchange Network, allows people to bet on elections, stock market indexes and even the weather, for example.

In Google's system, employees can bet on how the company will perform in the future, forecasting things like product introduction dates and new office openings. It was devised under a program that allows engineers to spend one day a week on a project of their choice. "

Source:
At Google, the Workers Are Placing Their Bets

fCh said...

MSOFTIE's voice: No kidding. If this article were about a failing company instead of Google, you'd say to yourself "well, no wonder they're going south". But because it's GOOG, we're meant to stand in awe of this innovative new management tool. Predictive systems have some value with well understood, relatively simple phenomenon like forecasting airplane seat demand based on time of year, GDP, employment, etc. They've been a miserable failure for predicting anything more complex like stock prices - or timing of product intros vs your high tech competitors. Thx for the gut splitter.



From NYTimes' article: Google has not offered precise data on the system's accuracy, but a chart posted on the company's blog last week showed that, in the words of its accompanying entry, prices set for events through employees' wagering were a "pretty close" indication of the probability of events.

The market is based on the idea that a price established for an event will reflect bettors' consensus of the likelihood that it will happen. Thus, something priced at 20 cents should happen 20 percent of the time. The system accepts bets in 10-cent increments up to a dollar (no actual money is involved).

On its blog, Google compares the market to its search engine software. "Our search engine works well because it aggregates information dispersed across the Web, and our internal predictive markets are based on the same principle: Googlers from across the company contribute knowledge and opinions which are aggregated into a forecast by the market," the blog said.


fCh's voice: If I understand your posting correctly, you have a problem with the method. Predicting stock prices is a much more complex task than a product ship date. The accuracy of such a mechanism is very much influenced by the number of people who cast in their votes. When you survey the folks involved in shipping a product about the date THEY think the product will ship by you are probably likely to get a better date than when you ask a few executives. It is the difference between client-server and distributed architectures. No matter how "smart" your server is, distributed is exponentially more!

This Google experiment may be the result of too high of a (PhD_IQ's) * (Friday_hours), but what company that keeps missing release-dates could be hurt by (trying) it?

;-)


Cheers, fCh

fCh said...

nozomi posted the following at miminsft:


Out in the blue room, MS is not exactly known for innovation; it's more like 'engulf and devour'. That being said, getting clients off of systems that work just fine for them *because MSFT wants them to upgrade* is not necessarily a business case in and of itself. Keeping MSFT's revenue streams intact is not my responsibility, nor is it that of my clients'. A new O/S is not needed nor demanded on an 18 month cycle. Sorry, guys. Every 5-7 years might be more appropriate given that it takes MSFT 3 tries to get it right. Haven't you heard that up there?

And will somebody please tell the Office clowns to quit with the dinosaur head ads already. If someone is perfectly happy with Office 97, leave them alone. Office 2003 is not that significant an improvement.

And the bakayaro who mucked up the majority of the Visio symbols should be made to crawl around the Redmond campus on his/her/their hands and knees backwards on a bed of ground glass, for at least 5 miles. The network design stencils are indescribably ugly. I am using an ancient copy of Visio Network Equipment and Cisco's network icons to get around this issue.

The innovation is taking place elsewhere, like at google, and Mozilla Foundation. (Yeah, you can start off with the same base for your browser, but see who has the more useful one.)

Mobile operating systems are pretty tough. Now that PalmSource has been bought, Palm can do almost anything they want, although they run the risk of alienating whatever is left of their customer base (mainly Treo users by now). Rumor has it they may go over to Windows Mobile although the next version of PalmOS is to be Linux-based. Handheld devices and Windows Mobile just don't make it--the O/S is way too klunky. It's not exactly user hostile, but it isn't user friendly either. I'd much rather have a Toshiba Libretto than anything running Windows Mobile.

But hey, I'm just a consultant, stockholder, and customer...why should MSFT care about *me*?

fCh said...

"fch - read the articles on http://www.google-watch.org/ and let us know if you still think if me, you and Google is all that of a good idea."

Please have a look at: http://chircu.blogspot.com/2005/09/is-koogles-successor-key-to-googles.html , see when I posted it and then it's going to be OK.

If you knew more about me, you could have told companies pay me for my objectivity. I don't have an iPod since it's an audio device, yet you don't hear anybody talking about its sound quality.

If it's not too much for you, have a look at this as well: http://chircu.blogspot.com/2005/09/e-bay-looking-to-acquire-skype.html You could see that I am not always right from the beginning, but know that truth is sometimes the result of labor and process.

When posting the short quote about Google's using a predictive algorithm, I have to confess, I had a certain degree of admiration for a company that's willing to experiment new ways out of old problems. That's all.

fCh said...

Even though it's been a short time since I found out about minimsft, some distinct feelings are shaping up:

1) Most visitors were attracted here by the recent news-reporting on minimsft;
2) Personal stories on bad experiences at the (former) Company seem to abound;
3) Suspicion about the true identity, or intentions, of the posters is running high;
4) External viewers are left wondering about the extent of the unhappiness at MSFT;
5) Developers seem to be the ones complaining the most--and I am wondering why we don't see more variety;
6) Socialism is alive and well even when those complaining approach 6-figure salaries--so, it may be a human trait afterall;
7) The Company, at least at the moment, seems to favor cohesion at the expense of "creativity;"
8) Some of the subjects are quite recursive;
9) For an interesting potential parallel, have a look at this link: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Utilities/printer_preview.asp?idArticle=6123&R=C6EC3426D
10) Had I been managing MSFT, I'd have done something with, and about, many things that have come up on minimsft.

curiouscat said...

>>> What I would deeply appreciate is real-world experience from people living with stack ranking alternatives. <<<

I strongly suggest chapter 9 (Performance Without Appraisal) of The Leader's Handbooks. by Peter Scholtes. You mentioned Deming. When asked "If we eliminate performance appraisals, as you suggest, what do we do instead?" Dr. Deming's reply: Whatever Peter Scholtes says." (page 296).

Abolishing Performance Appraisals by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins also provides great practical examples.

fCh said...

With all due respect to Deming, how large/successful of a company has he managed?

With all due respect to those complaining about the MSFT ranking system, abolishing ranking altogether doesn't sound realistic, does it?

Aren't we talking about too much feel good factor at the expense of a functional organization? MSFT is undergoing the pain of its transformation/growth. It's a test for all of you who are professionally involved with the Company.

October and November are notorious for portfolio adjustments. We'll see whom the market will place its trust on...

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Deming, how large/successful of a company has he managed?

After WWII, Deming went to Japan to help their companies re-organize. The Japanese were very grateful for his advice and Deming is seen as a great man by the now massive corporations that arose in postwar Japan. Ideas like TQM which is the foundation of ISO 9000 come from Deming. Deming may not have managed any company directly, but many of the companies that followed his advice are doing quite well.

So how many companies have you managed, fCh? How successful have they been? As successful as Honda, perhaps?

fCh said...

With all due respect to Deming, how large/successful of a company has he managed?

After WWII, Deming went to Japan to help their companies re-organize. The Japanese were very grateful for his advice and Deming is seen as a great man by the now massive corporations that arose in postwar Japan. Ideas like TQM which is the foundation of ISO 9000 come from Deming. Deming may not have managed any company directly, but many of the companies that followed his advice are doing quite well.

Giving advice is one, managing is a whole different beast! While I am not discounting the value of good advice, practice is all that matters. My respect goes to both, but my admiration goes to successful practitioners. To push things a little further, how many US companies follow (Juran's) Deming's advice, and how many software makers do? Myself, I am more a fan of Drucker's metaphors around knowledge workers than ISO 9000, at least when it comes about writing software and such. Yet, even the knowledge worker has not been able to get more empowered save for the higher salaries. Maybe minimsft blog will eventually lead to some empowerment at Microsoft.

One more point--contrary to your line of thought. How come Sony isn't doing all that well? Maybe it has something to do with its going from pure manufacturing and quality into "soft" things such as movies and software?

So how many companies have you managed, fCh? How successful have they been? As successful as Honda, perhaps?

I have been having my share--problem is that no one theory can tell you much about charting the tomorrow in the future of a company...

If you'd allow me, I would dare say that my initial question is still un-answered: With all due respect to Deming, how large/successful of a company has he managed?

Cheers, fCh

P.S. I am not sure where those complaining about (MSFT) employee metrics went to school, but I am assuming they were top in their class, and some even came from Ivy League colleges. If my assumptions are correct, I wonder how they ever coped with curve grading...

Anonymous said...

Hey fCH,

You bring up a REALLY good point - The point about curved grading. Unfortunately, most of the whiners here have probably not gone through a B.S. program in the competitive env. of a big name US school or maybe went through it before it got all heated up and stuff.

I say this because when my manager started to introduce me to the whole stack ranking stuff he was like "look here - this is something you have not faced before" to which I was like "dude, all my classes were curved in college and I have been living with them for the last 4 years". I think, like my manager, most of the whiners who think stack ranking is bad, etc. etc. but guess what, things like a curve allow you to differentiate much better among your high performers and highest performers. I haven't been at MSFT long enough to see and faults about it's implementation but so far I can tell you that I have been more than happy with my reviews.

But yeah, I recommend those who think stack ranking - as a process sucks (not implementation) - should go back to MIT/Cal/UIUC/Cornell and take some CS classes in those institutions. If you get a B+ or lesser and can live with, then a 3.5 @ MSFT should be perfectly normal for you. Otherwise MSFT is not the place for you.

fCh said...

The owner of minimsft wrote: So consider: if we got rid of The Curve, would it actually make it easier to move on the poor performers at any time during the year? I think so. I believe so. The Curve, for some groups, is actually causing Microsoft to stack up the dead wood so that the bottom of the Stack Rank and the bottom of The Curve are pre-filled.

I would look at the Curve as being a formal instrument in the hands of management and HR bureaucracy to push away non-performers from the organization, in an era where most corporate America has become so exposed to litigation, and MSFT so litigation-shy. Someone mentioned it took a team two years to send packing a lady. Any idea about how consuming a lawsuit could have been as alternative? I could speak from experience...

So, I would think about improving the hiring process--the difficult part is that people move left/right and up/out. Secondly, a process whereby poor performers are spotted early on and given proper notice is still desired. The advantage of the Curve consists of taking the pain away from the manager's hands; "You know Joe/Rachel, you are doing fine but the damn curve doesn't allow me to ..."

I would also suggest a couple of things:

a) Managers (AT ALL LEVELS) should be responsible for achieving business goals;
b) HR should think if the Curve is indeed the best formal mechanism to maintain organizational hygiene. In one of my prior postings, I mentioned even the possibility for staff to anonymously rank their managers.