This post was prompted by this article from Slate.com about Microsoft: The Poisonous Employee-Ranking System That Helps Explain Microsoft’s Decline by Will Oremus. Oremus quotes from a Vanity Fair article by Kurt Eichenwald. Here’s the key excerpt:
At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor….
For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. And the reviews had real-world consequences: those at the top received bonuses and promotions; those at the bottom usually received no cash or were shown the door….
“The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.” Worse, because the reviews came every six months, employees and their supervisors—who were also ranked—focused on their short-term performance, rather than on longer efforts to innovate.
It seems that there are a lot of ideas through the years that look like they are good for companies and organizations, and good for society overall. But over time, we see the consequences of decisions made, and it is not always all that wonderful. You know… “unintended consequences”.
Though I disagree with parts of the policy approach, I have always liked the phrase: “No child left behind.” The idea is that every human being has worth, every human being has dignity, and every human being has something to contribute to our community and society.
If we are always asking “how can we cut the ‘bad folks,” then we don’t think often enough about “how can we lift the ‘bad folks’ out of the ‘bad’ level?” And a society that is increasingly surrounded by those who have been cast aside — yet again — is a society that in the big picture is headed downhill.
Maybe we need a new initiative: no employee left behind.
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