Steven Sinofsky: Other reasons why he left Microsoft

The news of Steven Sinofsky leaving Microsoft is a week old now. However since then I’ve been thinking about some possible reasons why he actually left and whether there could be another reason despite what’s been speculated by many last week. I think I’ve found one and below are my thoughts on this.

The way Sinofsky’s departure was handled would certainly indicate that there were a lot of internal politics involved. If you’ve read some of the articles from last week you will know that many people noted that he is a difficult person to deal with, doesn’t get a long well with other teams … etc. Yet in his memo to staff and also in online reports the following statements were made.

"Some might notice a bit of chatter speculating about this decision or timing. I can assure you that none could be true as this was a personal and private choice that in no way reflects any speculation or theories one might read—about me, opportunity, the company or its leadership." – Steven Sinofsky

And from online reports

“The company said the decision behind Sinofsky’s departure was mutual, thought the abruptness of the announcement might suggest otherwise.” – CNet News

So giving both the company and Sinofsky the benefit of the doubt, why did Sinofsky have to leave the company. In simple terms, *he’s a victim of his own success *here’s why:

If you think about where Windows Vista was and how Sinofsky’s leadership has contributed to Windows 7 and Windows 8 being released in much better way/schedule …etc. You would see that his approach works – or at least seems to be so on the outside. Now tie that to all the reports about how difficult he is to deal with internally and you can come to this conclusion. Steven Sinofsky likes to work alone with his own team. It is this working alonebit that has caused conflict between Sinofsky and the other teams. Yet it is also the reason Windows 7 & Windows 8 releases were not delayed and shipped properly. Think about it from Sinofsky’s point of view. He’s leading a team, and has to do task 1,2 and 3 to get from point A to point B. In order to effectively do that his view would be to be in control of the whole process once you introduce collaboration with other teams lead by other people – who also want to play their own game for their own benefit – then Sinofsky ends up with other variables in an equation he wants to be in control of.

I believe that the absence of these variables was the root of the success of Windows 7 & Windows 8 deliveries on the other hand it meant that for the bigger picture of the company’s strategic direction which requires all the teams to work together collaboratively …etc things were not going to work out if the Windows team is shielded from the other teams.

In other words, Microsoft needed to have someone like Sinofsky to get Windows to where it is now and now that Windows 7 & Windows 8 are where they are, Sinofsky’s approach is no longer viewed as strategically relevant. He was basically used to cross Microsoft over a bridge from A to B, now that this is done and the fact that there was never a place for him in the bigger picture due to the other stuff then, well, there was only one possible outcome which was for him to move on.

You might then be asking why wasn’t this a planned transition then? One possible explanation is this: motivation & incentive. In a company where there’s a lot of inner politics and competition in management culture why would Sinofsky bother with doing what he’s done if he knew the end result would be he’ll end up leaving the company? So maybe he was led to believe that with these achievements there could be a bonus or a promotion up the hierarchical chain – like taking the CEO job – and then when he found out that this ain’t gonna happen after he crossed the bridge then it was time to say goodbye the way it happened.