How its employee ranking system has destroyed Microsoft

Posted on August 25, 2013

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Source: Will Oremus, http://www.slate.com

There were many reasons for the decline of Microsoft under Steve Ballmer, including, as I wrote this morning, its lack of focus and its habit of chasing trends rather than creating them. But one that’s not obvious to outsiders was the company’s employee evaluation system, known as “stack ranking.” The system—and its poisonous effects on Microsoft’s corporate culture—was best explained in an outstanding Vanity Fair feature by Kurt Eichenwald last year.

Anyone interested in Microsoft or business administration should read the full piece. But here’s an excerpt from the part where Eichenwald explains stack ranking:

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. …

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