Vanity Fair: "Stack ranking" employees has hurt Microsoft

Microsoft has seen some of its prestige in the tech industry taken away as other companies like Apple and Google have risen to become major rivals to the company. Now, a new investigative article in the next print issue of Vanity Fair magazine puts some of the blame on Microsoft's use of "stack ranking" to evaluate its employees.

In a post on the magazine's website, it previews the article, titled, "Microsoft's Lost Decade". The article is based on what Vanity Fair says is "dozens of interviews and internal corporate records—including e-mails between executives at the company’s highest ranks." The online preview said that Microsoft's "stack ranking" policy caused innovation to be "crippled" at the company.

The article claims that Microsoft used stack ranking to put a label on its employees. Some were considered to be the best, while others were ranked as good, average and poor. According to an unnamed former software developer at Microsoft:

If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review. It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.

The website gives some examples of innovation being curtailed at Microsoft. One was a prototype for an e-reader device that was made back in 1998. However, an unnamed programmer for the project said that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates didn't move forward with the e-reader project, saying, "He didn’t like the user interface, because it didn’t look like Windows."

However, we have seen a bit of a resurgence of Microsoft in the past couple of years in terms of interest from people wanting to work at the company. In June, we reported that a recent survey from the careers site Glassdoor said that Microsoft was the second most desirable place to be an intern, with Google as the number one company.

Source: Vanity Fair

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for all of you n00bs on the topic. nothing in that article is new. everything about their review system was documented as it happened in the mini msft blow

http://minimsft.blogspot.com/

written by an actual msft employee (who off course can't reveal his identity) you can follow the worsening of the review system at msft.

Not an employee of MS, but I DID work for a large company that also did this "stack ranking". I even respectfully called out my manager on it come bonus time and he had to pull me in a seperate room and explain to me this "stack ranking" even as I ripped it to shreds with cold, hard logic.

"Stack ranking" is among the laziest form of management that corporate America has ever adopted and it's sad to see that MS got roped into using it's extremely flawed methodology and suffered greatly for it. Truly a shame.

Anyone who worships Bill Gate should read and remember it off by heart:

According to Eichenwald, Microsoft had a prototype e-reader ready to go in 1998, but when the technology group presented it to Bill Gates he promptly gave it a thumbs-down, saying it wasn't right for Microsoft. “He didn't like the user interface, because it didn't look like Windows,” a programmer involved in the project recalls.

Microsoft have several opportunities and each time it was sabotaged by those at the top.

There is probably alot of truth in this article. MS has become more of a reactionary company. They mention the e-reader, well sometimes people arent ready for that technology. I think that was one of them. It was ahead of its time. I think the Surface while its a reaction to the iPad is still a good move. A better move would be a WindowsPhone completely in house at Microsoft. Something with a forward thinking design, now would be the time to come out with such a design. People would buy it.

Microsoft really has a management problem. You only have to look to their recent failures to conclude that their is something.

What kills a big org is too many people who are managers, too many people who are looking to make other a scapegoat. Ultimately stack ranking employees contributes to just one employee make his/her contributions seem large and at the same time belittle other people contributions. Credit is not given where credit is due. People who talk and do no work are positioned better versus people who are silent who make large contributions.

This is the source of problems companies like IBM and Microsoft.

aviator189 said,
lame bs.

google mini microsoft. this has been known for decades. clearly you don't know a thing abuot working at microsoft.

Do we have actual documented proof that even if everyone did exactly the same thing a certain number would still fail?.... anyways I hate when companies fall for that HR tatic... I've seen it too many times where you can work like wild and be told "you aren't doing enough" yet someone else doing less is told "great job!" then gets promoted.... there is a "consulting" group that goes around the country spreading this BS... they came where I worked once and told the management that employess should "always be scared and feerful of their jobs, orelse they wont work to their potential"... yeah if I was always looking over my shoulder I'd work less because I'd be to scared I'd screw up... the same group tried the whole employee evaluations have to happen every quarter and x% did good and x% needs improvement every time... it was a stupid rotation to bring up and rip down your confidence.....

neufuse said,
Do we have actual documented proof that even if everyone did exactly the same thing a certain number would still fail?.... anyways I hate when companies fall for that HR tatic... I've seen it too many times where you can work like wild and be told "you aren't doing enough" yet someone else doing less is told "great job!" then gets promoted.... there is a "consulting" group that goes around the country spreading this BS... they came where I worked once and told the management that employess should "always be scared and feerful of their jobs, orelse they wont work to their potential"... yeah if I was always looking over my shoulder I'd work less because I'd be to scared I'd screw up... the same group tried the whole employee evaluations have to happen every quarter and x% did good and x% needs improvement every time... it was a stupid rotation to bring up and rip down your confidence.....

If your confidence is dependent on what others think, you should read Ayn Rand.

DClark said,

If your confidence is dependent on what others think, you should read Ayn Rand.

lol whut?

If you're keen on losing your job, you might look at this like that, but otherwise it's one of the rare cases where you need to pay close attention how other perceive you.
Unfortunately individualism and weak spots are still being made use of for scare tactics to increase the pressure to make you work "better" on your costs (health and quality of life).

This isn't talking about class mates poking fun at you, this is companies determining your existence.
And to be honest, this whole constant pressuring reminds me tons of school etc...
Something I'm happy to have finished, at least for that part.
I liked other things about school, but that's off topic.

GS:mac

+Glassed Silver said:

"I liked other things about school, but that's off topic."

Bingo - connected another dot for me in the Bill Gates/Education Reform Puzzle. Actually your comment is not OFF TOPIC. It seems Bill Gates' stacking policy was the progenitor of the value-added evaluation scheme for educators. Just as noxious and bound to fail taking the teaching profession and children's educational opportunities with it. Follow the Money proves to ring true again in Gates' meddling with education policy and his support of corporate hedge fund investment in public education NOT FOR THE BENEFIT of children.

ahhell said,
Bull **** article from a bull **** magazine. Shocking.

It is not a "Bull ****" article, Microsoft has backed themselves into a corner because of their ranking system. I know a number of people (I live nearby, and have a number of friends who work there, although I never have) from different divisions who have left the company because of their ranking, especially in the past year or two since the newest system went into place. People who at one time received good or great rankings, under the current system they were ranked at the bottom. If you are stack ranked too low too many times, they force you out or you try to get out before that happens. It has ecome very political, where people would rather play the game to get the better ranking, rather than working to create a great product and being rewarded for that hard work. These are not just the complaints from people who received the bad rankings, but also those who received the good ones. I have heard many stories of where people have been professionally hurt by this system, and it is not good.

I usually complementary on Microsoft, but they are really screwing themselves here. And many good people are going elsewhere because of this.

nohone said,

It is not a "Bull ****" article, Microsoft has backed themselves into a corner because of their ranking system. I know a number of people (I live nearby, and have a number of friends who work there, although I never have) from different divisions who have left the company because of their ranking, especially in the past year or two since the newest system went into place. People who at one time received good or great rankings, under the current system they were ranked at the bottom. If you are stack ranked too low too many times, they force you out or you try to get out before that happens. It has ecome very political, where people would rather play the game to get the better ranking, rather than working to create a great product and being rewarded for that hard work. These are not just the complaints from people who received the bad rankings, but also those who received the good ones. I have heard many stories of where people have been professionally hurt by this system, and it is not good.

I usually complementary on Microsoft, but they are really screwing themselves here. And many good people are going elsewhere because of this.


Not a "lover" of Google, but I think their approach is quite the opposite and I say:
kudos to them.

Ranking your employees doesn't sound very smart.
Rather try to find what they are good at and use the talent.

It sounds crazy that you manage to take all the hurdles and become an employee there just to fall short of some stupid mathematical equations that use factors that don't measure the full picture of your work.

GS:mac

nohone said,

It is not a "Bull ****" article, Microsoft has backed themselves into a corner because of their ranking system. I know a number of people (I live nearby, and have a number of friends who work there, although I never have) from different divisions who have left the company because of their ranking, especially in the past year or two since the newest system went into place. People who at one time received good or great rankings, under the current system they were ranked at the bottom. If you are stack ranked too low too many times, they force you out or you try to get out before that happens. It has ecome very political, where people would rather play the game to get the better ranking, rather than working to create a great product and being rewarded for that hard work. These are not just the complaints from people who received the bad rankings, but also those who received the good ones. I have heard many stories of where people have been professionally hurt by this system, and it is not good.

I usually complementary on Microsoft, but they are really screwing themselves here. And many good people are going elsewhere because of this.

1. I'm guessing the managers at MS love the stack ranking system. Among other things, they get dictatorial powers with their employees fighting like dogs with each other.

2. It must be bad for MS employees, if they have look over their shoulders everyday

3. team dynamics dies because you dont want help/build an idea of your teammate that makes him look bette than you in front of your boss.

'saying, "He didn't like the user interface, because it didn't look like Windows."'
Welcome Windows 8!