A fascinating case study shows how Microsoft failed its employees through misguided HR (human resources) policies that pitted colleague against colleague.
[div class=attrib]From the Guardian:[end-div]
The idea for today’s off-topic note came to me when I read “Microsoft’s lost decade”, an aptly titled Vanity Fair story. In the piece, Kurt Eichenwald tracks Microsoft’s decline as he revisits a decade of technical missteps and bad business decisions. Predictably, the piece has generated strong retorts from Microsoft’s Ministry of Truth and from Ballmer himself (“It’s not been a lost decade for me!” he barked from the tumbrel).
But I don’t come to bury Caesar – not, yet, I’ll wait until actual numbers for Windows 8 and the Surface tablets emerge. Instead, let’s consider the centerpiece of Eichenwald’s article, his depiction of the cultural degeneracy and intramural paranoia that comes of a badly implemented performance review system.
Performance assessments are, of course, an important aspect of a healthy company. In order to maintain fighting weight, an organisation must honestly assay its employees’ contributions and cull the dead wood. This is tournament play, after all, and the coach must “release”; players who can’t help get the team to the finals.
But Microsoft’s implementation – “stack ranking”, a bell curve that pits employees and groups against one another like rats in a cage – plunged the company into internecine fights, horse trading, and backstabbing.
…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.
Employees quickly realised that it was more important to focus on organisation politics than actual performance:
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.
This brought back bad memories of my corpocrat days working for a noted Valley company. When I landed here in 1985, I was dismayed by the pervasive presence of human resources, an éminence grise that cast a shadow across the entire organisation. Humor being the courtesy of despair, engineers referred to HR as the KGB or, for a more literary reference, the Bene Gesserit, monikers that knowingly imputed an efficiency to a department that offered anything but. Granted, there was no bell curve grading, no obligation to sacrifice the bottom 5%, but the politics were stifling nonetheless, the review process a painful charade.
In memory of those shenanigans, I’ve come up with a possible antidote to manipulative reviews, an attempt to deal honestly and pleasantly with the imperfections of life at work. (Someday I’ll write a Note about an equally important task: How to let go of people with decency – and without lawyers.)
[div class=attrib]Read the entire article here.[end-div]
[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Telegraph / Microsoft.[end-div]