Links for 2013-08-30

  • Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer retires: A firsthand account of the company’s employee-ranking system

    LOL MS. Sadly, this talk of “core competencies” and “visibility” is pretty reminiscent of Amazon’s review season, too:

    This illustrated another problem with [stack ranking]: It destroyed trust between individual contributors and management, because the stack rank required that all lower-level managers systematically lie to their reports. Why? Because for years Microsoft did not admit the existence of the stack rank to nonmanagers. Knowledge of the process gradually leaked out, becoming a recurrent complaint on the much-loathed (by Microsoft) Mini-Microsoft blog, where a high-up Microsoft manager bitterly complained about organizational dysfunction and was joined in by a chorus of hundreds of employees. The stack rank finally made it into a Vanity Fair article in 2012, but for many years it was not common knowledge, inside or outside Microsoft. It was presented to the individual contributors as a system of objective assessment of “core competencies,” with each person being judged in isolation. When review time came, and programmers would fill out a short self-assessment talking about their achievements, strengths, and weaknesses, only some of them knew that their ratings had been more or less already foreordained at the stack rank. [...] If you did know about the stack rank, you weren’t supposed to admit it. So you went through the pageantry of the performance review anyway, arguing with your manager in the rhetoric of “core competencies.” The managers would respond in kind. Since the managers had little control over the actual score and attendant bonus and raise (if any), their job was to write a review to justify the stack rank in the language of absolute merit. (“Higher visibility” was always a good catch-all: Sure, you may be a great coder and work 80 hours a week, but not enough people have heard of you!)

    (tags: amazon stack-ranking employees ranking work microsoft core-competencies)

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