Sunday, June 19, 2005

Microsoft's 3.0 (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Curve)

It's that major review time of the year at Microsoft. Keyboards are clicking away with folks regaling their lead about all the great things they've done.

But is it too late for your review comments to make a difference? You've got to figure that everything is pretty much set within the stack rank in your manager's mind. A while back, I wrote about the stack rank and some advice about owning your career. The stack rank meetings are probably starting now and going on for a month or so. Can your proud lobbying move you up a position or two higher? Well, it might be important based on where the rating line is drawn for folks in your peer group.

You know after the stack rank something wicked this way comes: The Curve. We grade on a curve. Your rating is based on your ladder level expectations and relative to the performance of your peer group (a peer ordering most likely extracted from your position in the stack rank). Woe unto you if you're a super-star in a super-super-star peer group.

A curve, though? Actually, it's more like three buckets than a curve: bucket 4.0 (A! Sweet!), bucket 3.5 (B. Well, okay), and bucket 3.0 (C! Dang!). I don't bother considering the gold star (4.5) and the platinum star (5.0). And I don't want to bring up 2.5 because I'll get side-tracked.

4.0, 3.5, and 3.0 (oh my). The dreaded 3.0 is really two beasts in one: the well deserved 3.0 and the trended 3.0. While a manager might be steamed to have a 4.0 person be trended down to 3.5, they will go ape-poo-flinging-ballistic to have someone trended to 3.0. But we have buckets to fit and if your product team needs to provide 25% 3.0s you're going to have to fill that bucket.

I totally accept that we need to have a rating system, especially to reward our kick-butt super-contributors who end up doing most the hard work around here. I have not, however, come to accept the bucketing rating system we employ, especially around the 3.0 review score. Now then, I have met dev managers who have reached acceptance with our system and with dolling out the 3.0s. In their presence, I experience a cult-like allure to these folks as they tell me how they are totally behind the peer relative 3.0 review rating and that's how we do business in managing our performers. They make it sound so calm and simple that I feel like if I could just drink up that Kool-Aid I, too, could not rip myself up inside over this.

Some recent comments here about our review system and 3.0:

  • As a lead, it's one of the most painful experiences at work to have to give a review back to someone and say "you worked hard last year and accomplished great stuff...I can't tell you how much I personally appreciate it. However, the review model came back down the chain and the best I could do is get you a 3.5 (or *shudder* a 3.0)". Nothing kills morale faster. It assumes all cogs at all levels are equal with similar managers and similar circumstances solving similar problems with similar constraints. The truth is, the guy across the hall from you might have worked half-as-hard and still pulled a 4.0 because of how the model went up and down the chain. A good lead will fight, yell, scream, beg, cajole, and even threaten to get the scores he believes his guys have earned, only to have those scores crapped on by upper management and their curve.
  • I have recently been thinking it might be interesting to score teams on their effectiveness as a whole. If we did team reviews as well as individual reviews, and team scores affected rewards, managers would really scramble to get low performers off their teams. In this system, a 3.0 on a high performing team might get a better bonus and stock award than a 4.0 on a team that did a science project and shipped nothing.

    I'd like to know if the executives who run teams that are woefully behind (Yukon, Longhorn) get 3.0s when their products fail to ship.
  • Argument against is what if you really have seven 4.0 performers but the model says you can only give three 4.0 review scores? Well, if you are a weanie Mgr. you screw four people over....most get pissed but stay anyways and now join the ranks of disgruntled employees who are no longer passionate about their work. Work product begins to suffer, crappy products get shipped, who cares any more?? If you are a principled Mgr. you take on the system and go to bat for your seven key employees but invariably you will get shut down and most likely commit a career no-no...now you too are inside the bell curve.

Why all the angst over 3.0?

  • Because it's hard to figure out whether this is an earned 3.0 (slacker!) or a trended 3.0 (suckah!). The lead's feedback has to be written the same. You really can't go and write, "Garsh. I wanted to give you a 3.5 but they're making me dork you around with this 3.0." Nope. You got to write harsh feedback saying they are doing okay but these are the ways they could have done better. This feedback especially sucks when the report thinks they did a 4.0 job, relative to their peers even.
  • It affects your lifetime review score and makes it difficult to transition to a groovy group that is actually getting stuff done (like MSN - yeah, baby, I'll take anything new showing up on our customers' screen).
  • It represents "eh, you are doing what we asked of you, pretty much" review score. Good right?
    • We're not "good enough" people. I don't hire "good enough." When I am involved in hiring (the shame), I work hard to hire people smarter than me that I expect to zoom past me one day because they are so awesome.
    • 3.0? You most likely will get zero raise, zero bonus, and zero stock. Good job. Thanks to the increasing cost of living, you're working for less effective pay. And we just told you that you are indeed pretty much doing what we ask of you. What?
    • 3.0s are sticky.
    • If you're in a strong group, you have to rely on attrition to be able to move up (or hope some clunkers get hired). To really succeed, you need to move groups (which might be a bad move for our customers if your contributions to your current group really makes an important difference). But getting that other hiring manager interested in a 3.0 performer is trick-y.

So you go and follow Mini's advice over the past year and move-on all your poor-performing-process-loving-slack-ass-clunkers, get a tight, high-performing team together to take on the world and then... The Curve comes around and you realize, "Oh, crap! I've got to give out seven 3.0s and all I have are great performers now!"

Yes, it sucks to be you. You're about to flush away 25% of your team's morale for doing the right thing for the company and the shareholders.

So what would you do? Do you think our review system is in need of some tuning to make it equitable to morale and great software development? Or should we all just take the blue pill with a nice swig of Kool-Aid?

Humble suggestions I have include:

  • Increase the resolution on the curve. Instead of our A / B / C simplistic bucketing, bring on the 100 point scale and have a finer curve with appropriate compensation fitting in. Still lavishly reward your super contributors, yes. But don't go and bugger someone because they fell just within the 3.0 line. A 79's compensation should be very close to an 80's. A 70 would then be a strong message that we think you're just squeaking by.
  • Allow high-performing product teams to have a more gracious curve to fit. And don't make this gracious curve have to come out of another team's budget as a zero-sum gain. Last I checked, we have some pretty good profit that I'm sure would be a proper use of shareholder's money to reward the people that this continued profit depends on.
  • Punish poor-performing teams with a harsher curve. Don't ship? Have a bunch of bugs? Customer concerns not being addressed? Security breaches created by this team? Then maybe 50% of your team gets 3.0s and we want some percentage of 2.5s.
  • Figure a way to associate poll-results with management compensation / management curve shape.
  • Always at least meet regional cost-of-living increases. It's unacceptable for this company to pay someone "less" this year than last and to tell them that they are doing a good job of what we've asked them. It just makes me want to unionize.
  • Consider a split review rating for individual contributors: ladder level specific and peer relative.
  • Bring back the minor review in winter. Summer shouldn't be an all-or-nothing compensation event. When it comes to administration and process, I put just as much work in for the mid-point as I do the major review. It's not worth any cost-saving, company process-wise, to not have a minor review.
  • Figure out a way to avoid the automatic 3.0: "Hi, you're new to the team. 3.0." Here we are, considering how hard it is to hire for Microsoft, and then what happens during your first review: 3.0. No soup for you! We'll give you another year to prove yourself. Suckah!

Usually, I'm no fan of HR tinkering with our review system. They've certainly cheesed me off with all the bizarre review form iterations over the past few years. However, an honestly compensated work-force leads to motivated contributors with high morale making great features for our customers and giving us a good chance to raise the value of our stock.

Then, if I realize that I'm a super-star on a super-super-star team, I will still put in the extra effort knowing that it is actually going to be recognized and worth something (versus easing back and asking, "Why bother? I'll get the same review no matter what I do.").

That's worth some class-A tinkering to make happen.

I LOVE this company, but I hate The Curve. This is not how the great teams we do have should be rewarded. I certainly feel that if a morale-busting brain-dead review systems goes on too long, we might find ourselves with barely motivated contributors creating mediocre features that may or may not ship...

87 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good luck on changing what works. Or, more correctly, what has been used.

My first rating: 4.0. (Shipped a product) My second: 3.5 (Shipped, but didn't do anything extraordinary beyond what I did for the 4.0) My third: 3.0 ("I really fought for you to get a 3.5, and I personally appreciate your efforts...) After that point, what was the point? "You did well - but we have this number box, and you didn't fit in. Sorry. Enjoy the free soda, though."

Anonymous said...

the thing that chaps my ass about this is:

1) The stack is done now, and our review drafts (at least on my team) are not due until the end of the month. I got mine in before the stack meeting, but whats the point of doing the stack before everyone has their review in?

2) Why are we doing the stack/writing reviews now, and we dont get the raises/bonus/stock until September 15? This should not take 3 month.

Anonymous said...

1> HR has told managers this year not to do "calibration" meetings till after July 1 (after reviews are written). (Is that changing things? Well, not on every team, but it is on mine, this will be the first year my review is done before the stack rank.)

2> Note that some organizations curves are different. Some of the 3.0 buckets are as high as 1/3 vs 1/4. Also, different organizations ARE given different compensation budgets each year based on messages that upper management wants to send.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there are times when the binning system sucks, and good people get unfairly low review scores. However, based on my experience doing stack rankings across entire product dev teams [ie not just sub-teams], the overall percentages per bucket are reasonably close to the performance profile of the team members relative to each other. The chances of having 10+ people all doing stellar work are pretty slim. You'll have a couple of people that you need to fight for to get the appropriate score, but that usually tends to work out.

The problem is more acute when you have a small team -- the law of large numbers that the bucketization scheme is derived from just doesn't work very well when you have a team of 4 people. Somewhat paradoxically, it may actually be to your advantage to be on a larger team ...

Maybe increasing the resolution, like you suggest, would help, but at the cost of making performance reviews that much more painful for the managers who have to decide scores, bonuses etc -- eg what's the difference between a score of 78 and a score of 80 ? Is that even measurable ?

All this said, I do think the review system could be improved, especially the nonsense about a 3.0 supposedly meaning that you're doing your work, yet you get absolutely diddly-squat extra for it and your manager starts being pressured to manage you up or out. That particular bit of HR hypocrisy always bugged me.

arthole said...

ah... navel gazing... it's so lovely. why don't the 3.0's just start their own companies on the side and eat the 4.0's young?

Anonymous said...

What about the effects of poor management at corp? My manager has taken someone in myself that was an 'A' grade for stock and helped make me dread coming to work every day.

Besides the curve, we need to look at who we promote to management positions and the type of training/qualification that we do before we make the promotions.

My manager for example is a great person and very good at their core competency. But a great manager? They just aren't there yet. I know we work on hiring great people, but that doesn't make them great for all positions.

I've got a substantial track record of success both before and after joining the company.
I'd done a fair bit of work in thefield organization with a high lifetime review score.

When I transferred to corp late last CY, I chatted with my manager about 'what's 4.0 or 4.5 work in your opinion?' And the manager responded not with a goal/stretch goal, no examples of past 4 or 4.5 performance, but provided the uber motivating talk about being a 'small fish in a big pond' and basically took them off the table - this was several weeks into the new job, and this 'Don't bother, you won't get it.' mentality was both demoralizing and made me question the managers perception of the groups overall contribution to the larger org.

Oh, and when I asked about the great work I'd done on the other team prior to coming to corp? 'Doesn't count!'

To nail the coffin on morale, the new manager made a big deal about the score also being ranked on untangibles. Great, so now you've stated that in addition to setting the bar low, you can arbitrarily make a call based on nothing. Great, so out of the box, I'm going to get a 3.5 at best, and that's subject to whim at the review period.

My morale has never been lower than since I moved to corp. Not just at Microsoft - I'm talking my entire professional carrer. My manager consistently amazes me with some of the comments that are blurted out.

And the sad thing is, I can't tell you it's intentional. This is an otherwise great person who get's it right 50% of the time, this person just comes across more as a great individual contributor than a great manager.

Recently I took on a extra-curricular project and the pep-talk received from the manager was 'Are you sure you can commit to this? There'll be noone to save you if you have problems at end.' Now if I had a track record of failures - sure, I'd understand the talk.

But there isn't. If there's a perceived one, it's not been shared. I have regular 1:1s with my manager (a good thing), but no discussions about areas for improvement. So again, I'm going into this review period with clouded expectations.

The thing is - if these are the types of comments the manager makes with me, what kind of support is he/she providing in the stack rank?

And as the stack rank occurs before we provide our reviews, how much weight does my documentation of achievements really matter?

Earlier this year, for the first time in a decade, I started to rethink whether Microsoft is where I wanted to be long term. I actually contemplated - if only for fleetingly- the Google question.

When you match bad management with this ridiculous curve, you end up with either three things - you dull the edge of your top performers and breed synchopants or people go to Google/Amazon/Yahoo or another team in the company.

Talented people are in demand, and if you're very good, you've got a reputation outside the walls of One Microsoft Way.

I've been offered several positions both inside and outside the company, but I stay out of love I have for the company. I stay for all the great things about the company Scoble listed recently in his blog, as well as a number of things that are great that he missed in the list.

I've read Gretchen in HR's blog about the smaller pool of candidates that are of MS quality. Doesn't someone upstairs look at this and say ' Hey, we should be equally concerned about keeping the people we have.'

We all know about the need for better management/management training. If serious managment training were offered - I think the people who are managers would both admit it and embrace it.

I'd like to see HR do some exit interviews with folks who left and asked them specifically what role management (and the quality thereof) drove them to it.

I think the managers all want to do a great job, they just don't all have the tools/experience.

I think if the company made significant focus and investments in middle-management, you'd see a big uptick in both morale and productivity. And I'm not just talking about the Individual Contributors, I'm talking about the managers.

Anonymous said...

> I'd like to know if the executives who run teams that are woefully behind (Yukon, Longhorn) get 3.0s when their products fail to ship

The curve for 68+ folks is 90% get >= 3.5, 10% 3.0. Now if that is a reality, who knows, but it is much more generous than the ~20%+ that get 3.0 who are < 65.

This is supposedly the great "differentiation" that Steve talks about. Sure, it really motivates me.

Anonymous said...

It makes me want to unionize too. Believe it or not, I think we're at the point where a union could make Microsoft a stronger company.

So how do we get that started?

Anonymous said...

I still think this site is a company survey in sheep's clothing.

You left out some key details in your analysis revealed to me by a lead involved in the stack ranking process.

Managers are supposed to stack rank like levels so the new people with the most up to date skills do not get totally screwed. This lead said that they have not always done this in the past including himself. Ahoy mateys prepare to be boarded (embrace and extend, lube and repeat)!

Don't drop the soap kids! Ah, the land of OZ. New fish your name is now Dorothy. The yellow brick road leads to the free clinic for some soothing ointment. Learn to love it!

The first to get poked with a 3.0 are the ones that gave themselves a 3.0 when the pirate kings have to adjust the curve.

Yo Ho Ho! Ouch by bum!

Anonymous said...

I still think this site is a company survey in sheep's clothing.

You left out some key details in your analysis revealed to me by a lead involved in the stack ranking process.

Managers are supposed to stack rank like levels so the new people with the most up to date skills do not get totally screwed. This lead said that they have not always done this in the past including himself. Ahoy mateys prepare to be boarded (embrace and extend, lube and repeat)!

Don't drop the soap kids! Ah, the land of OZ. New fish your name is now Dorothy. The yellow brick road leads to the free clinic for some soothing ointment. Learn to love it!

The first to get poked with a 3.0 are the ones that gave themselves a 3.0 when the pirate kings have to adjust the curve.

Yo Ho Ho! Ouch by bum!

Anonymous said...

I still think this site is a company survey in sheep's clothing.

You left out some key details in your analysis revealed to me by a lead involved in the stack ranking process.

Managers are supposed to stack rank like levels so the new people with the most up to date skills do not get totally screwed. This lead said that they have not always done this in the past including himself. Ahoy mateys prepare to be boarded (embrace and extend, lube and repeat)!

Don't drop the soap kids! Ah, the land of OZ. New fish your name is now Dorothy. The yellow brick road leads to the free clinic for some soothing ointment. Learn to love it!

The first to get poked with a 3.0 are the ones that gave themselves a 3.0 when the pirate kings have to adjust the curve.

Yo Ho Ho! Ouch by bum!

Alyosha` said...

I think you're on to something here. There's no point in telling someone they're average. Even if happens to be true. No one gets motivated by hearing "average". All you can do is demoralize your workforce. The US army, quite possibly the most benightedly anal bureaucracy on the face of the earth, gets this. They don't go around pinning "average" medals on soldiers' chests. If you do something good, you get a medal, if you do something horribly wrong, you're tossed out on your ear. Everyone else, back to the trenches. This is how it ought to work.

I'd set up a system of two levels of bonuses; let's call 'em a silver star and a gold star. On average, 20% of my employees reach the silver level, maybe 3% reach the gold level. Everyone else can rest in their conceit that they were a 79th percentile worker, and if they work a little harder next year, maybe it'll be their turn.

As for the truly incompetent, they were identified, put on probation, and fired long before the review period came around.

Anonymous said...

Hey dude,

What do you think about this: http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2005/06/16.html#a10416. Pretty lean and mean team. Maybe, you are having an effect on Microsoft.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

>Nothing kills morale faster

Oh man, you just nailed it right on the head with that comment. What I don't understand is how exec mgmt/HR harps on about how people are the company's greatest asset yet they fail to address the fact that the review/reward process just DOES NOT WORK anymore- a 3.5 performer could very easily end up with a 3.0. For just a moment, forget about your avg score - forget about your stock awards, bonus. Personally speaking, I think deep down, the worst thing about getting a 3.0 when I clearly deserved a 3.5 was the sense that I wasn't appreciated for my work. Thats it really. I would've taken the 3.5 without any extra perks and still been happier.
The point I'm trying to make is the obvious really, that the reward-system is fundamental to human motivation - if it breaks down, then morale is going straight down the drain. Another thing to note is that reward-systems don't necessarily have the same effect on different individuals. Myself as an example - I would have been far happier with the 3.5. What if they could've offered me an extra 7 days paid vacation for the next 6 months? I would've been thrilled and in addition, felt recognised for my contributions and rewarded in a way that motivates me. Not to say that bonus or stock isn't nice, my point is that extra time-off is a relatively simple way to reward employees (yeah yeah I know paid time off costs the company blah blah but any reward is going to cost the company something and I think this is a reasonable request). Maybe Joe down the hall that I was competing with for the 3.5 is the one who'd much rather have a monetary reward because he's got two cars to pay off. So he gets the 3.5 and some $$ but no time off. He's happy, I'm happy. Nobody got shafted for a 3.5 performance and we're both rewarded accordingly..

Re-vamping the review/reward system is no minor task, I know. Maybe its not even possible, maybe I'm crazy to think that they should do something about it. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Reading through some of the back posts, I've noticed some things that make me think I know who , 'Who Da'Punk' is.

Does your first name start with I by any chance?

Anonymous said...

Nah... it begins with P. :)

Sirthinks said...

The entire review system, and possible lack of rewards can be a major contributor to "mediocre products" being shipped.

If a company is truly customer focussed they need to realize that the foremost group that needs to be satisfied is their "people." A lack of satisfied, or HAPPY people will result in a sub standard, or JUST good enough product being shipped.

Mickeysoft may be number one out of sheer SIZE, and there may not be a ton of options, but people will move to the options if the products are continually delated, or shipped with more bugs than a load of spices from india.

The curve has been a thorn in my side since high school. It is an unfair process utilized by organizations more intent on saving money than satisfying their work force.

Some should send the HR department a copy of Customer Mania - The Yum! Restaurants International model by Ken Blanchard!

Anonymous said...

>I'd like to see HR do some exit interviews with folks who left and asked them specifically what role management (and the quality thereof) drove them to it.

They did. When I left the company (after a lifetime of >3.5) they asked exactly this. You even get another funny letter from surveymonkey or something like this later and get another chance at even more candid feedback. I wonder if BrianV ever read mine.
And yes, my manager was the reason that I left. My manager was new to managing people and all the time I got the feeling that this is amateur hour. Open mic. Whatever you want to call it. Pair this with insane work hours and pressure and you have the perfect recipe for driving people out of the company. I went to one of the big 3 mentioned (YHOO, AMZN, GOOG) and I am a much happier person. Reviews and rewards work as intended.

Anonymous said...

"And yes, my manager was the reason that I left. My manager was new to managing people and all the time I got the feeling that this is amateur hour."

Ahh yes i know this one. The clown who did me in screwed up managing the firewall. Then aimed to take my features and succeeded ...

thanks buddy .. don't forget i will challenge the patents.

Eric Lippert said...

Re: more granular -- no, no, please, no more numbers.

Numbers are bad.

http://blogs.msdn.com/ericlippert/archive/2004/02/05/68174.aspx

Anonymous said...

AAAHHH!@!! I could not agree more:
"Why bother? I'll get the same review no matter what I do."

I killed myself one year. I mean the whole year; just one giant death-march Ho-Chi-Minh nightmare. Shipped. Accolades from customers.

...drumroll...

3.5; because "You went dark". Yeah, no s*** Sherlock, I was working not preening

And I know it wasn't that I "went dark"; I really felt for my manager at the time, because he just wasn't a forceful enough person to push for a better ranking. He just flat fell down against a much more experienced manager in the peer team.

Anyway I left. The phenomenon you describe is known in psychology as "learned helplessness", and I did not want to become one of those depressed rats...now I'm a happy rat employed where there's no curve ranking.

Anonymous said...

OK, I am a manager. I am doing that stack ranking thing and I am assigning review scores. Sure, it would be better to be a bit more granular since people still use "high 3.5" and "low 3.5" terms.

I think I am a decent manager since my team doesn't work long hours and people actually are getting promoted once in a while. There are people, however, that do get 3.0 and they usually do have deficiencies.

For example, look at level descriptions. Did you really do enough to match 80% of the next level? If so, why not point it to your manager? Are you setting stretch goals? How is about setting your goals for the next cycle in a way so they match next level? Do you talk to your manager on 1:1 about how well are you doing and if you ARE moving up?

If you think your manager is bad, did you submit feedback on him? Did you talk to someone up the chain of command? If you think they are all bad, why don't you move to another team? How's about another division?

Now, scores are relative to your peers. If you are not happy with 3.0 - what do you think others (who supposedly got 3.5) did to get better scores? Are you completely honest with yourself on your performance? Did you really write better code and had less bugs that the others? Was your fix rate better? Did you suggest code changes that would eliminate whole class of bugs? Did you actually implement those changes? Some things can be measured by running PS queries.

Managing your career requires work from both manager and YOU. Actually, mostly from you. 1:1 should be initiated by you, not your manager. You should be bringing the agenda, not him/her.

Anonymous said...

>> If you think your manager is bad, did you submit feedback on him?
Yes.

>>Did you talk to someone up the chain of command?
Outside of the feedback mechanisms in place, no. If there's an issue with this revue, you can bet your ass.

My manager isn't a horrible person or a bad individual contributor, just doesn't have the skills to be a manager. I dont want this person fired, but I also don't want their lack of skills screwing my future.

My understanding from my teammmates is that all of them - save one - have similiar comments that will be put into the manager feedback tool.

>>Are you setting stretch goals?
I'm a fan of both goals and stretch goals. I wish my manager had watched that training video.

The manager set arbitrary goals for the team. Noone came close. Now you may be thinking 'Maybe it's because you're all 3.0s'.

I'd own up to that if that were true, however when the manager imposes goals that you both know are unrealistic, and says 'that's ok, we can always change them later' doesn't get the term 'commitment' or the fact that your commitments are online for the rest of your career.



>>If you think they are all bad, why don't you move to another team? How's about another division?

Everyone on the team has the same issue. It's amazing how everyone is afraid to say something and as soon as someone has the guts to say so, the flood gates open.

To underscore how bad this manager is, there were points this year when I felt like I was in one of our business conduct videos, only this manager always seemed to pick the wrong answer to 'What would you do?'.

Seriously, for a cash rich company, why can't we sort out this simple problem.

Steveb -

You want the best and the brightest, the ones who will bring you first to market, first to cool...

if you're reading this - I love this company. You've inspired alot of us and these middle managers are just spirit crushers.

Your a smart guy - sort this out for us.


Please.

Anonymous said...

>Still lavishly reward your super contributors, yes. But don't go and bugger someone because they fell just within the 3.0 line.

Think about a scenario where I worked super hard and got a well-deserved 4.0. How does it feel when at the end of the day you see your peers who got 3.5 get rewarded just as much as you did. Doesn't that affect morale? What justification do I have to continue to work as hard as I did before when I could have made almost as much by working a lot less? If anything, I think we should change the system to reward 4.0s *much* more than they reward the 3.5s.


>what if you really have seven 4.0 performers but the model says you can only give three 4.0 review scores? ...most get pissed but stay anyways and now join the ranks of disgruntled employees who are no longer passionate about their work.

Well that isn't quite how it always plays out. As I see it, the review system is designed to avoid situations where all super stars get together in one team. Because of the curve, the super stars will be forced to disperse in the company which in the long run is beneficial to the company. That is why MS makes it so easy to move across teams. From the company perspective, it doesn't make business sense to have all the talent concentrated in one team.

Anonymous said...

The only - ONLY - thing I focus on is rewarding my 4.0s and any 4.5s. I reward them vastly greater than the 3.5s.

If the 3.0s don't like their results, they can come to me and I will tell them exactly what they need to do. Or they can move on.

I don't lose any sleep over my 3.0s. Losing my 4.0s? That I can lose sleep over.

Anonymous said...

The worst about a review is being promoted late in year (e.g. March) and being told you're reviwed on your new level instead of the old one. Somehow my review score magically dropped from a 4.0 to a 3.5 that way.

Funny enough this year I was facing the same possibility of a promotion before the annual review, and my (same) manager gave me the opposite spin that I'd be rated on my old level. Way to admit that I got screwed last year.

Even better is that my group rates people based on how many bugs they resolve (oh yes, this sounds bad already). Nevermind people can go into product studio and jack up their stats...the managers in my group have never cared. They've even admitted it was a possibility, but didn't want to tread any further. Want a 4.0, just cheat...that's what this company is about (or maybe just my group).

Anonymous said...

>>If the 3.0s don't like their results, they can come to me and I will tell them exactly what they need to do. Or they can move on.

You sir/madam, are exactly the type of bad manager I'm talking about.

You to say "if they have a problem, they can come to me". No. If you have a problem with their performance during the year, you go to them. You work with them. You set near term goals. You get them calibrated.

And hey, if you suck at mentoring (first of all bravo on being self-critical), get them hooked up with a mentor. We have a whole section of the intranet designed to connect people with these skills.

If they're on the payroll, someone has identified them as an asset. You don't throw assets away.

Don't you get why we're asked to do 1:1s? Don't guess, I'll tell you. So that you can pro-actively work with your directs to identify the areas where they're doing well and just as importantly where they need more focus.

If managers do their job right and dare I say 'manage', there shouldn't be any surprise 3.0s.

If a report is not pulling his/her weight, they should know it in each and every 1:1 where it's true. A good manager would keep the employee informed and work with them to bring them up to a 3.5 or better.

You do that, you get either an employee who'll either snag that 3.5 or higher or a 3.0 employee who understands why and is on track for bigger and better things next year.

oh, and by the way, you'll also have the employees respect.

Is it me or is it infuriating that we promote individual contributors like this person to management positions and we don't get them the proper tools/training to manage.

We change the damn landscape of how things are done - why can't we get these basics down?

Anonymous said...

>> The only - ONLY - thing I focus on is rewarding my 4.0s and any 4.5s. I reward them vastly greater than the 3.5s.

I'm guessing Mr. Happy here hasn't watched his management training videos.

What a fucking ass. No wonder people go to Google.

Douchebag.

Anonymous said...

If managers do their job right and dare I say 'manage', there shouldn't be any surprise 3.0s.

That would work great if we weren't forced to give out 3.0's. Unfortunately HR has decided a certain number of 3.0's have to be given out even if people don't deserve them. One of our managers directly asked HR if we could tell people that they got a 3.0 because that's how the numbers worked out, and HR didn't object.

Anonymous said...

>>That would work great if we weren't forced to give out 3.0's. Unfortunately HR has decided a certain number of 3.0's have to be given out even if people don't deserve them.

Ok. You, I like. Atleast your aware of the problem in the system

I've worked in a startup in boom and bust times, and you know what? If this forced 3.0 business is about the money, people can live without the cash.

But tell them - I know you earned an A, but I've got to give you a B. Not based on merit. It's our policy.

And to be honest, you really almost got it, but Jane Doe just knows how to kiss ass better than you do. Learn to toss some salad, and you might get what you earned next year.

That's a great way to make a 3.5 start skewing towards a 3.0 for the next FY, or walking out the door.

Do people not realize that Google has moved down the street and is ready to snap up good people who've become disenchanted?

Anonymous said...

Google is not interested in lifetime 3.0. They are not morons. They are intereseted in 4.0s.

Anonymous said...

My entire career has been a 3.5 - and it's always the same story, the review is filled w/ accolades, but no real feedback, and when I ask what I could do better it's "just keep doing what you've done"

Anonymous said...

>That is why MS makes it so easy to move across teams.


How exactly is it that changing teams is so easy? You have to go through an interview that is every bit as hard as someone outside the company. I agree with the interview being there, but the problem is that you need managers permission before you interview. This means that if for some reason you don't get the job you still have to leave your current group, probbably for a group you don't especially like.

I know that some management types will say there is nothing wrong with staying in your current group, but don't we all know stories of people who got screwed by staying? I am sure when review time comes around it is easy to give the "disloyal" guy a poor score.

Anonymous said...

That is why MS makes it so easy to move across teams.

That not always true. At least one group I know of had their VP block internal transfers because they had an extremely high attrition rate.

Anonymous said...

"That not always true. At least one group I know of had their VP block internal transfers because they had an extremely high attrition rate."

I know that group (hi JK), the good people wanted to leave and the bad people didn't want them to as they would have been screwed to delivery any value. However, this is of course after the bad people screwed over some good people before the attrition problem.

Anonymous said...

On some level, though, don't you think it's dishonest for a manager to say, "I gave you the 3.0 because we needed another one for the review model?" Wouldn't you respect him/her more if he/she said, "Here's why you ended up in the bottom 25% of the stack?" Hopefully, the stack is big enough (100+) to give this some statistical meaning.

One of the problems with hiring from the deep end of the talent pool is that it's difficult to understand that in the new population, there's a whole new curve. Everyone was a valedictorian once, but put all the valedictorians together and there will be a bottom in the cohort.

There's a lot of myths about working at Microsoft. It's true I have met a lot of smart people, but I've also met a lot of people smart within very narrow parameters (doesn't the plethora of bad managers attest to this?), and some whom I thought quite thick. I do grow tired of how we go around congratulating ourselves on how smart we all are: if we have to tell ourselves and others, how smart can we really be? If we were all that smart, wouldn't the stock price be a little better?

Who's to say that Mini isn't actually one of the dumb ones? :) (Sorry, dude. I don't really think that, but you never know. . .)

Anyway, the whole kerfluffle over Gretchen's blog entry got me to thinking: she brings the candidates in telling them they're geniuses, and then we feed them into the review meat grinder, and some come out 3.0s. No wonder people start to feel bitter.

Microsoft is not a very healthy psychological environment. We create this horrible environment of mixed messages where even the smartest people get told "that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," by the chairman as a way to motivate them. It's just software, folks--spare us the drama about changing the world, put in your 8 hours a day (more during crunch times), work hard, work honest, ship, and enjoy your life.

Anonymous said...

yes this is true ... the company is unhealthy ... they play bad reindeer games ... they perpetuate poor team skills ... they perpetuate poor team building skills ... they perpetuate so many other bad things ..

Can it be salvaged .. sure ... change the dynamics ... change the processes ... change the people in charge ... i think middle is appropriate to slice .. but also hold those execs accountable ...

cut the fat ...

Anonymous said...

>> There's a lot of myths about working at Microsoft. It's true I have met a lot of smart people, but I've also met a lot of people smart within very narrow parameters (doesn't the plethora of bad managers attest to this?), and some whom I thought quite thick. I do grow tired of how we go around congratulating ourselves on how smart we all are: if we have to tell ourselves and others, how smart can we really be? If we were all that smart, wouldn't the stock price be a little better?
<<

With comments like that, you must be one of our pool of great contributors/bad managers.

As for people that are 'smart within certain parameters', what you don't get is that they're probably the most valuable. These are the guys who can help take a product from good to great.

Your comment is the equivalent of saying 'What's the point of having these neurosurgeons when we have so many family practitioners on the payroll.' Specialists aren't specialists because they have limited bandwidth, they're specialists because there is an acute business need.


And as for being self-congratulatory. We're told that to get the good review score - even if you've earned them already - you need to pimp your skills and accomplishments to the other leads in your org.

Not to mention that if you've got a manager whose not exactly what we'd call a great manager, they may not realize/remember all of the stuff you've done during the year (Microsoft years are like dog years, last July seems like years ago). Sometimes they need a gentle reminder.

People are self-congratulatory because that's what the system requires. Most of us despise this and the kiss-ass that needs to be done to get the score equivalent to what you'd get if based on merit alone.

As anyone will tell you, we're full of smart people, and they (even those smart within narrow parameters) get it that you 'adapt or die'.

And let us not forget that our review is on file for life and when some folks get downgraded to a 3.5 or 3.0, it's super critical that you have some additional information on what you did, why it was important, etc.

Drop the curve, let the smart people stop patting themselves on the back and get back to what made the company great.

Drop the curve. Loosen up the purse strings.

C'mon.

You know you want to.



Drop the curve.

Anonymous said...

"With comments like that, you must be one of our pool of great contributors/bad managers."

Actually, if my manager feedback and my people review scores are to be believed, I'm sort of the opposite. I was a pretty good contributor, but my people management skills were better. But it's just a set of reviews, so I could be wrong.

Anyway, I get your point, and I sort of agree with you--your analogy made particularly good sense. The problems we face aren't due to lack of horsepower in our line coders--they still impress the hell out of me, except for one guy, but that's another story. Anyway, all of our horsepower has accreted into stunning institutional dumbness, and that's just, well, sad, and damaging, and demoralizing.

Anonymous said...

Just be thankful you have a formalized bonus scheme , even if it's not necessarily working very well.

Here's a funny thing... When I was at college (16yearold) our national grading system was similar, with one interesting twist, the poot of grades for your subject at your school, was based on how well your year did the year before (in the same subject).
Great, unless you're the first year they implement it, or your subject wasn't available the previous year. Try scoring 80%+, coming top of the class, then scoring a 4 (1 top, 9 bottom). I'm no genius, but that doesn't add up.

Anonymous said...

I've posted a couple of items in this thread, calling out my issues with bad managers.

What's interesting is that in my work life, there's been a number of folks who've started talking about just how bad a particular manager is.

After some thought, I came away with a couple of things:
(1) It's sad that we're all afraid of fucking up our reviews to say anything.
(2) It's sad that I personally posted to this site vs. going to upper management about the issue.

2 is the most important, because it makes you realize that danger of blogging to the poster. It's the ability to vent anonymously, without consideration of consequence. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

If I love this company as much as I say I do - and this applies to everyone on the list - we need to step up and say something.

Venting on a site anonymously rarely does anything to resolve the problem and only serves to perpetuate negativity.

I apologize to my peers and managers - as I truly love this company. And because of that, I'm going to step up and talk to management and see what we can do to reclaim.

Why don't you all do the same. If you want to make it better, take the first step yourself.

Don't be a coward and hide behind anonymity.

Anonymous said...

"Why don't you all do the same. If you want to make it better, take the first step yourself.

Don't be a coward and hide behind anonymity."

While I do hear you but Q .. why did you post this anonymous then if you are stepping into the light/crossfire/pitofhell :)

Anonymous said...

There's a very good reason. Stepping out from anonymity on this thread now wouldn't serve any real purpose other than to generate internal and external gossip and take attention away from the issue and focus it on me.

Which defeats the point, really.

So with that, I'm no longer...

Anonymous said...

blog that seeks to understand why internal health is bad?

Anonymous said...

You own your career. If your manager is new to people management and not doing a good job, but is otherwise a capable, decent person, stick it out and help them improve. If they're just a bozo, get out and move somewhere else. If you work for a bozo, who's fault is that?

We have a lot of bad managers at Microsoft. They wouldn't still be managers if nobody worked for them. If you work for a bad manager, make sure they and their boss get that feedback. If things don't improve, give them even more pointed feedback by leaving the group. You'll be happier, and the bad manager you left behind is less likely to continue in management if he or she can't keep a team together.

But don't whine if you get a 3.0. If you get a 3.0, either your manager is a bozo who can't evaluate performance (if so, cf above), or you were in the bottom quarter of performers in your group. That's all it means. Don't take it personally. You're not a failure. 2.5 is a failure, but that's not what you got (and no one is forced to give a 2.5 on a curve). 3.0 just means most of your teammates did better than you. This year anyway. It's possible you know. If you don't like it, figure out what you need to do better and do it. If you work for me, I'll help you. And fight for you if you come through for me.

Anonymous said...

"But don't whine if you get a 3.0. If you get a 3.0, either your manager is a bozo who can't evaluate performance (if so, cf above), or you were in the bottom quarter of performers in your group. That's all it means. Don't take it personally. You're not a failure. 2.5 is a failure, but that's not what you got (and no one is forced to give a 2.5 on a curve). 3.0 just means most of your teammates did better than you. This year anyway. It's possible you know. If you don't like it, figure out what you need to do better and do it. If you work for me, I'll help you. And fight for you if you come through for me."

Yes! Someone finally gets it. All 7500 3.0s in the company can't be victims of the curve. Now, if we could just get some accountability at the executive level.

Anonymous said...

I have seen both sides (individual/management) so I could offer some perspective here.

I was a strong individual contributor in my team. When a management deficiency occured, they promoted me to lead. Of course I sucked as a lead, and got a 3.0 to prove it. Now, I am not so upset about that, because that is one time I deserved it. Anyway, I stepped down,realizing that this lead thing is not something that I could succeed at, or like to do, even.

Anyway, forward to last years review. I helped two other teams meet their deliverables. I kicked ass in my area. Initially my manager told me that he was trying for a 4.0 and promotion. That later became 3.5 and then finally I got a 3.0.

Now, I wouldnt be upset about it if they gave me a good reason why I got that. But no, the only feedback I got throughout the year was that I was doing an excellent job. Even in my review, they wrote that I had done extremely well, but that other people did better. That to me seemed a cop out reason. Even if that were true, I dont understand how I could have fallen 1.0 points on the review scale.

Anyway, I chose to leave the team after that incident.

The problem I see at MS, is that managers dont have the ability or the tools to warn people of their standing relative to peers early on. The only place they find out is the stack rank, where they realize that their hotshot performer isnt so hotshot when compared to his peers group.

The second problem I see is that managers dont give effective feedback. All they say is canned words - you are on track, you are doing fine, keep doing what you are doing, etc. Which doesnt mean jack.

For eg, in my new group I have been trying to get a good review, and have asked my manager for specific feedback in every review. All I hear is that - yes you are awesome, you are doing a good job, we are happy to have you, I think you are doing atleast a 4.0 job. Now, it remains to be seen if that will translate to anything substantial at review time.

Having been at MS for 8 years, I have become very cynical of the review process. People might disagree with me, but I have seen closehand how people get screwed. I have seen managers refuse to give 2.5 reviews to shitty performers, because they wanted them to find another job in the company. I have seen them give 3.0 scores to good->excellent performers, just to fit the bell curve.

Another problem I see is around promotions. Managers dont have the ability or the tools to maintain context about their employees - as to where the employees stand on the ladder guidelines. And there is no place to document this. So, whenever a manager changes, you have to again fight for it - you dont start from where you left off with the old manager. Each manager wants to give you a "new" project to assess you. While you are doing that, or even completing it satisfactorily, he quits and a new guy comes in who wants to start all over. This has happened to me 5 times in the last 5 years.

Here are a couple of suggestions to improve perf management at MS:

1) make managers accountable for the growth of their employees. Make them come up with a plan (with employees participation) for growth and what core competencies an employee needs to show in order to be a candidate for promotion. And put this up on a website so that the next manager would have access to it.

2) make some component of the rewards awarded on the absolute scale, others on a relative scale. For eg, if you got a 3.0 becaujse you had to fit the curve, but you kicked ass fixing bugs, or writing that new feature, you might get a good bonus, but a zero or not so good stock award. Now, I know that managers have discretion to do this today, but not all managers do this.

3) give managers tools to evaluate the relative performance of their employees earlier in the year, not just at review time.

4) make the stack rank process more formal and systematic. For eg, qualify what exactly "visibility" means. Is it just kissing ass, or working outside your area, or waht? different teams and managers have different things for this.

5) give employees opportunities to increase their scope of influence by putting them on cross group/team projects. Only then will the employees visibility increase, and give data points to the manager which will be useful for review.

Anonymous said...

“The problem I see at MS, is that managers dont have the ability or the tools to warn people of their standing relative to peers early on. The only place they find out is the stack rank, where they realize that their hotshot performer isnt so hotshot when compared to his peers group.”

This was a hard and unpleasant lesson for me to learn my first year as a manager at MS. But I learned it, and now I make it a point of holding frequent calibration meetings. At times, I think my peers hate me for it, because calibration meetings are not pleasant and do not go quickly. However, I want at least one per quarter. For the three that don’t count, my goal is to come out with a clear picture of where my people stand in relation to their peers. For each of my reports, I want to know roughly where they fall, and for those on a bubble (either 3.5/4.0 or 3.0/3.5) what would they need to do to move solidly into the upper bucket. I also what to know what my boss and my peers think my star performers need to do to get everyone’s support for a promotion.

I expect my manager reports to do the same within my org.

If your group only does calibration meetings once a year, start doing them sooner. Insist on it with your manager. If you can’t get your group to do it officially, do it unofficially. Talk with your manager about your people – especially your best people – regularly, monthly if possible, and get feedback on where each of your reports stacks in the org. Pigeon-hole your peers once in a while and get their feedback. Do an informal stack-merge over lunch. Whatever. But get the feedback and use it to help your directs. You owe it to them because they can’t do it for themselves.

Managers do have the tools to do this (the most important ones being their mouth, their ears, and the gray matter inbetween). They just need to use them.

Regarding a couple of your suggestions:

“1. make managers accountable for the growth of their employees…”

Any group where this is not done suffers from piss-poor leadership. If your group does not do this, GET OUT NOW! Senior management in the group is responsible for setting expectations about employee development, and if they do not set high expectations, they are not worth working for. And they shouldn’t be trusted with the responsibility they have either. It’s expensive to recruit good people into Microsoft, and it is a dereliction of duty for managers to fail to grow them once they’re here.

“2. make some component of the rewards awarded on the absolute scale, others on a relative scale. For eg, if you got a 3.0 becaujse you had to fit the curve, but you kicked ass fixing bugs…”

Again, well-run groups do this already. The bonus pool in particular is highly flexible, and can be used to reward people who got bumped down a half-point but who did good work and showed improvement. Poorly run groups that don’t pay much attention to employee development probably don’t even realize they can make these sort of adjustments.

Bottom line – don’t work for bozos. There are non-bozo groups at Microsoft. Find one and get hired by it.

Anonymous said...

"Bottom line – don’t work for bozos. There are non-bozo groups at Microsoft. Find one and get hired by it."

Spoken like a curve-apologist middle manager.

How does one find a non-bozo group anyway? Besides, why should I leave, give up work that I've invested in for years, re-interview for a lateral move? The system should be purging the bozos, not forcing good people to work around it. And yet, all the bozoz I've had the pleasure of working with are still with the company. Some have been promoted a few times! Maybe I should just stop trying so hard to build the best product I can build and focus on being a bozo myself? These folks never seem to finish at the bottom bracket of the curve.

Anonymous said...

>>If your group only does calibration meetings once a year, start doing them sooner. Insist on it with your manager.

Tried this with my manager. Several times. Guess what? Never happened.

I have a significant amount of experience, and I've never had a manager this disconnected or unqualified to perform their job.

It's an example of promoting a more than capable individual contributor to a management position without the proper training.

I go into this review with *no clue* as to where I stand. Not for lack of effort, not for lack of requesting calbiration, not for lack of requesting performance feedback/constructive criticism.

So what do I do? Go to her manager? Sure, that's going to happen. That's career suicide. This is the first company I've worked for where 'do the right thing for the company' won't always win out in the end. That's wrong, and an indication that something's broken.


Steve - if you're reading this, address this head on. I'd suggest the following:

* Require quarterly calibrations for all employees. Time is money, but what costs more - forcing managers to do their job or the lost productivity of the masses distracted.

Distracted doing the mandatory kiss ass that's required and distracted wondering if they're going to get f'd over because of the system, a bad manager with poor understanding and communication skills, or the curve.

* Make these quarterly calibrations also apply to managers.
We know bad managers are a problem. We know it's like a cancer for morale. Why do we only assess this once per year, and even then it's not mandatory.

* We have certifications for developers and IT folks, why can't we come up with a certification for a manager?

People being considered for promotion, should have to go through some training, some review, and participate in a mentoring program. The mentor should provide their insight on whether the person is ready.

Any existing manager with less than a 4.0 people management rating should go through mandatory mentoring sessions until the situation is corrected.

If the problem persists, have a session with the employees on the team and flush out what the issues are in person and not from a 'satisfied' / 'dissatisfied' scale.

* If you do a good job, you should *never* lose money. If I'm doing a good job, why should I lose money due to standard of living income increases matched with no raise.

To get through the door, you've proven that your top of the class and someone you want at Microsoft. Stiffing them at the end of the year?

We're not the company of young single folk from 10 years ago. We've gotten older, we've got families, responsibilities, and debt from the dot com boom. This stuff hurts and has real impacts on our families. This causes spouses to give us more flack about the long hours - particularly when the 'stock fortune' opportunity is no longer there.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the payouts we see in the press.

We see how we're paying out
hundreds of millions, sometimes billions to our competitors - Novell, Sun, and just last week IBM.

We're paying for the bonus' at IBM, Novell, and Sun this year. Would it kill ya to give your own people a little pocket money so they can 'start something' with their own family?

Anonymous said...

>>Always at least meet regional cost-of-living increases.

http://siliconvalley.internet.com/news/article.php/992701

in 2002 msft cut the pay of their mountain view employees because not enough were quitting. at the same time a new company openned up on amphitheatre parkway. i think you know who that new company is, and what inevitably happened.

there are many places in the valley to work - YHOO, GOOG, AAPL, IBM, or EBAY.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the system should purge bad managers. But in the meantime, are you going to sit around whining about your current manager, or are you going to go find a better one?

I mean, if you aren't motivated enough to get off your duff when your career is tanking, what kind of motivation are you going to have to build a project?

Besides, staying with a dysfunctional group only validates that group's crappy methodology.

Anonymous said...

>Yes, the system should purge bad managers. But in the meantime, are you going to sit around whining about your current manager, or are you going to go find a better one?

I’d love to leave my current team but short and *nobody* can leave until we reach beta 1 of our product. We can’t seem to hire competent SDE/Ts, and I warn off anyone who asks about jobs in our group due to lack of faith in my current management chain.

Anonymous said...

"I mean, if you aren't motivated enough to get off your duff when your career is tanking, what kind of motivation are you going to have to build a project?"

My career and motivation is just fine despite the group and the system, thank you very much. I just don't want to waste any time keeping up with the wankers to gain visibility to the bozos just so I don't get screwed by the curve. Don't do it? Hello <4.0.

"Besides, staying with a dysfunctional group only validates that group's crappy methodology"

And leaving the group validates the crappy review system and there's no guarantee the new group isn't dysfunctional. If you have insights on picking the right group, please share or STFU.

Lots of people on this blog has done the leaving thing and if this is a solution, we won't be having this discussion.

Quit defending the system.

Anonymous said...

"If you have insights on picking the right group, please share or STFU."

I don't think it's fair to make recomendations on a "right group" in a general context.

The reason is simply this, what is right for you is not right for everyone else. Some groups are dying or in maintenance mode on innovation front. Is that necessarily a wrong group? Maybe, maybe not. If your able to contribute to the success and have a good interpersonal fit than you shouldn't necessarily consider that a bad thing.

Going to a group on the front end of the visibility front is not necessarily the right group. A) everyone wants to be seen and you will probably be overlooked, b) it's probably festered with politics and dipshits who are part of item A).

Find the group which is individually right for you and gives you ability to achive real success. However, if the system tanks you because you dont "ship new stuff" thats another issue.

d

jason said...

I'm not sure whether my experience at MS has been typical, or whether I've been in an underperforming group, as I've spent all my time in one division.

What I can say is that I was recruited into MS as part of a 'leadership' program, and 2.5 years and 4 reviews later my motivation and confidence in Microsoft's long term growth prospects have been dashed. The opportunities for career growth are (in the current regime) average relative to the IT industry, the 'deal' has become quite uncompetitive, and cross-divisional cooperation has turned to internal Balkanization and competition at the product level.

This had led me to consider leaving MS earlier than I had anticipated, and this week will be my last week as an FTE.

I'm not particularly upset with my experience at MS, though the opportunity cost of 2.5 years of high productivity spent in a suboptimal environment aren't trivial. I'm not overly upset because I've come to realize that MS is a very large, very matrixed organization, and there are real constraints that come with the years of success and growth the company has experienced.

Certain types of personalities can thrive in large, diverse, matrixed organizations, and certain personalities thrive in smaller, more flexible environments. MS is now firmly in the 'large' category, and should focus on retaining and recruiting solid team players, not white-hot rock stars ready to build institutions.

My bad for not recognizing this earlier. I have a tremdous respect for the employees at the 'soft, and I expect that a sizeable percentage of you will recognize the shift that has occurred, and examine whether MS remains the best place to expend your passion, creativity, and labor. It will be interesting too see what the attrition rates look like in a year's time if the labor and financial markets continue on their present course.

Anonymous said...

Amen. I'm a manager going through this pain right now and it reminds me how much I hate this time of year.

I left the company for awhile and recently came back, and one thing I noticed while I was gone, people's expectations have gotten completely out of whack - everyone expects a 4.0 just for showing up to work, and they think a 3.5 is going to tank their career. I blame it on irresponsible evaluations during the dot-com years when the company was desperately trying to keep people, and as a result set us all up for massive pain as we inevitably had to recalibrate back to reality.

Upon saving my team's scores in the Review tool this weekend, I immediately sent mail to HR and my manager and said "I'm going to tell you up front, I did not meet the curve. Everyone on my team is either performing way above their level, or doing the job of 3 people. I cannot in good conscience rate them according to some arbitrary curve." CLM? Maybe. The right thing for my team, or at least helping me sleep at night? Definitely.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that it's not really necessarily about what you actually do, but what you are perceived as by upper management. Typical managers at MS are just as concerned with money as their directs s always have a big "Me" in the back of their minds and readily take credit for your thinking.

Anonymous said...

Being at MS for 8 years I can agree totally that the system is messed up. Im currently on a team that has ALL super stars, and super super stars. Fortunately i fall in the later group :-). I cant complain about the review resutls ive recieved though, since i've gotten a 4.0 or greater every year i've been here. SO this isnt a bitch session.

However i do see the demoralizing aspect of forcing 3.5s and 3.0s on individuals. Say for example everyone on the team works 70 hours a week but one individual works 60-65. All other things being equal, do you give them a 3.5 and what about the poor sap who only works 55 hours aweek...uh oh 3.0. I would say hell no, but in this system you must.

Ultimately its not how good you are, its how good you are in your stack. I have personally seen the affect this has had. People leave and go to 'average' teams where its easy to shine and thus can coast getting 4.0s. The net effect is that this hurts microsoft since these "SuperStar" teams are normally involved with the Microsofts most important accounts or projects...

This is an easy Fix:

1) Kick the Bucket out the window (pun intended)

2) Rate People the way you think they performed, still using they same scale.

3) Divide up the funds based on perfomance

This is simple fix and addresses all the problems with the current system. Managers wont freely give out 4.0s because then people will just coast by; and people wont coast because they dont want to be left behind... In short let mamagers DO THEIR JOB, and manange their people and rewarded them as they see fit...

Anonymous said...

Here's how it works for our division: First 3.0, you're locked down on your specific team, can't move laterally (or any which way).

Second 3.0, you're gone.

First 2.5, you're gone.

Is it not like this on the product teams in Redmond?

Anonymous said...

I did have a question for any MSFTies here - I hear that the review cycle closes June 30 but the "green" is handed out Setpember 15. What if somebody quits in between (say September 1) - does he still get to keep his/her bonus?

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you softies. Friends who work there told me that in the summer of 02 Microsoft went after the long time employees giving them an either get promoted or get fired message. This concerns me as a stockholder that Microsoft would participate in blatenly illegal age discrimination tactics. What gives with this?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog! I've been feeling very frustrated and this is one of those things we aren't supposed to talk about with peers.

I have been at Microsoft for 5 years and have a 3.5 average. I just changed groups for the first time in my career because in my last group I was working 70 hour weeks for 9 months straight because my boss was unable to scope work properly.

When I tried to help him understand that I was stretched too thin and we needed more employees, he indicated that I needed to just work faster. I was an expert on my product because I had worked on it for 7 years, since its inception, and I understood our customers needs very well. One of the problems we had was that we had a couple of people on the team who were working on team projects and neglecting their core responsibilities. The team projects gained them visibility among other managers on the team which resulted in higher review scores for them. I was left with an ever increasing workload because of the core work that these employees let slide in order to do the high profile team projects (these projects benefitted the larger team but had no impact on fulfilling the needs of our customers). I was actually harrassed by one of these high profile employees as "hiding out in my office" because I was busy working instead of working on team projects.

In the mid-year review, I was told that I was getting a 3.0 because other team members were working on these team projects. As a result of this, I ended up getting so fed up that I transferred to another team. I left the last team months ago but they still haven't been able to replace me because they are having problems finding people with my skill level and expertise on that technology--also, it's a technology area that is intimidating to a lot of people so it's difficult to find people willing to take the time to learn it.

I just don't think the stack rank system works well. When I came to this new team, I discovered that on my last team I was doing the same amount of work as assigned to two people on my present team (this is probably good for future reviews but the work is too easy and slightly boring for me on this team).

I really don't understand how this situation could be considered good for customers or good for future growth of the company. I really miss my previous technology and wish I could work on it. But to stay on that team was sending a message that it's okay to take advantage of me, which isn't going to happen.

You seem to accept the stack ranking system, but I don't. I want to be judged by my contributions to customers and the product, not by my ability to butt-kiss leads.

There is also the problem with team members competing with each other on teams. By making team members compete with each other, we weaken teams. On my last team, team members would withhold information from other team members in order to slow them down in their work and make it easier to beat in the stack rankings (as I said, there was a lot of work and any delay in getting things done could impact the deadline).

I don't think the merit system is working. I'm not sure what they could replace it with, but making employees compete against each other certainly is not the way to go.

Anonymous said...

http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/archive/dilbert-20050917.html

Anonymous said...

I was told to my face in my mid-year review that I was tracking to a 4.0. My review score? 3.0. The review discussion was the absolute definition of the pot calling the kettle black, but there is literally NOTHING you can do about it at that point. The person who wrote my review could have said that I enjoy urinating on the carpet in the cafeteria, and I would have still had to sign the review. Welcome to Microsoft!

Anonymous said...

your signature is your privilige. No one can force you to sign anything. Now there maybe consequences associated with not signing but if you in principle don't agree with what you are being asked to sign, then don't sign it. Sure HR will feed you BS that the signature only acknowledges your receipt of the review doc...but your signature is yours alone..don't sign it if you dont' agree with it.

Anonymous said...

Don't be a fool. There are a lot of other places to work. If you aren't happy, leave. It may seem scary, but it's worth it. Many people change jobs, and so can you.

Falling in love with some giant corporation is dumb; do you think that they love you back?

Anonymous said...

The most demotivating thing for me (when I used to work for Microsoft) was that leads would make up their minds on the stack ranking before they had even asked their reports to write reviews.

So, while they claimed that the stack ranking was based on our performance, they didn't even pretend to listen to what we have to say about our performance before the decision is made. To add to the insult, my last lead couldn't even get his head straight to understand what I was working on. I had to teach him the context of the work I was doing so often that I eventually just drew it all out and left it on my whiteboard.

Anonymous said...

lol working at Microsoft sounds like playing a Battle.Net ladder.

Suckers.

Anonymous said...

All this reminds me of skool.

I am an ex-Softie, going back soon (contemplating an offer). I have a kid coming and need the stability.

I hated skool because everyone was hell bent on playing these numbers games. What everyone seems to miss is that the point is to keep you hustling for that number. The number itself means little; what matters is the heirarchy they create. There are those who kiss ass to get numbers, and those who make others kiss ass by handing out numbers.

The numbers themselves have no meaning. It's all a shell game, really.

Anonymous said...

Gonna expand on this a bit ...

What is important in the numbers game is not your strategy to get a higher number, but your decision as to how much you are going to let the process alter your thinking. I remember when I was in kollege, seeing a woman burst into tears when she got a score lower than 4.0 on a test, and seeing people puking before finals. I don't know or care if these people figured out how to pull straight A's; the point is they invested too much emotionally in a system that was eating them alive.

Microsoft needs pluggers: steady, productive people. If you show up and find a way to make yourself useful, they are not going to get rid of you. The company is old and ossified enough these days to make a hell-bent charge up the ladder foolish, unless you are naturally a Type A. Go for it. The bottom line is that they need you to be productive, and you can always move groups or companies if you don't like your score. You find a way to be productive, and let them find a way to cook the books to keep you. And don't sweat the numbers if you can help it.

Anonymous said...

I was recruited to MS from a great school and put a lot of passion into the product I was working on. I worked for a well-functioning team that was full of other smart and hard-working individuals, many of whom had been there for many years. When I got my first 3.0 review score I realized that it was only my first year and that my manager was correct in the things he said I should work on for the next year. (It would have helped if he had been able to lead better during my inaugural year, but that's another story.)

The next year I did every single thing he laid out for me and more. I had great features to show for it. My score? Another 3.0 of course. And in the discussion about it, my manager explained that it was a high performing team where it was very hard to get a good score, but he wouldn't completely admit that I deserved better.

I was definitely demotivated. I felt as if all that I invested in my work was for not. Combined with some other personal reasons I realized it was time for me to leave the company. Shame really. I really enjoyed the work I was doing.

Now I'm at a new company and lo and behold kicking ass. Perhaps the problem wasn't me after all.

I wish someone at Microsoft would wake up and really change the system. The problem is that those at the top are the folks who did earn great review scores and are the most likely to think that the folks getting low scores must be a burden on the company.

Anonymous said...

Did you folks (M$) happen to recently hire a top HR person who used to run compensation at Bell Labs? Aside from using a different numbering scheme, the system you're now experiencing is what we used 15 years ago. The one thing we did have that you might look forward to is "the green book" - a scatter plot of salary verses years of profession experience. Sadly the bottom line is that any big company develops a politically charged as well as policially correct compensation scheme. If you think forced distributions of rating is bad based on "performance", wait till the distributions are also forced based on gender and affirmative action classifications. The whole process becomes solving simultaneous linear systems by committee and the results are truely ugly.

Anonymous said...

I am employee at Microsoft and I would like to raise one more issue -this is about my Manager -
basically he gave me the permission to interivew and after I got selected in another team the current manager bascially gave a bad review to the potentially new manager, there by killing my propect of moving to the new team.

This was totally demoralizing and the way I look at is my manager back stabbed my carrer prospect.

Few things I would like to see changes happen -
a) If the Manager is giving permission to interview that means
the emloyee is totally capable of doing things.
b) If for some reason Manager thinks the Employee is not ready then he should not give a permission to interview and have a talk with the Employee and explain why he would like to see more of the Employee..

I love this company but some of the Middle managers totally suck.
this is a total mis-management.

Anonymous said...

- Why have a 1 to 5 bell curve if all that ever matters is a 3.0 to 4.5?
- Why is 3.0 consider bad, isn't it defined as "Meets Expectations"? If they wanted everyone to "Exceed Expectations why isn't that the crest of the bell curve?
- If you want to attract and hire top talent that are accustomed to scoring in the top 5% percentile and to making a 4.0 on 4.0 scale then why subject them to an environment in which they're consistently reminded their average amongst their peers? Why not simply reward them for being who/what they are?
- By force ranking people you are essentially going to "piss off" about 50% of your workforce

There's no need to force rank people, you can still have them do a self-review against a set of written expectations and then give them candid, written and verbal feedback on their performance, clearly reinforcing their successes and helping them to learn and improve in their areas of weakness.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read through all the rest of the comments above, so apologies if this is redundant.

The review system at Microsoft is specifically designed to force out a certain percentage of people every year. In theory, this will get rid of the dead wood and other underperformers. Undoubtedly, there are some of these folks who need to be kicked out. But nowhere near the numbers that are ACTUALLY kicked out. The real reasons behind aggressively reviewing folks out lies in primarily three areas. One, it forces people here on H1-B's to accept a lower quality of life than anyone else would be willing to accept. "What, you don't like working that many hours? Well, we'll review your ass out too and guess what? The economy is in the dumps and you're on the way back to India buddy!" The fear of getting deported is really a powerful motivator. Two, with the economy going in the dumps, MS somehow avoided laying anyone off! Well, not quite... they just quitely reviewed people out. Funny too how every once in a while MS announces massive hiring in the Puget Sound region and yet the headcount hasn't moved much in years...

Third, MS is "trading up." When the market tanked, the tables turned! No more signing bonuses and other nonsense... Talented people were being left high and dry as their startups went belly up. MS decided they wanted to try and absorb some of this talent. Of course, they needed to keep labor costs down. Showing loads and loads of "loyalty" to their employees, they started culling out perfectly good employees for folks who "might" be better.

In 2001 when I left MS, managers at my level were ordered to cull 10% of their team (composed primarily of leaf node SDET's). This was true across the board in my product group. Instead of standing up and just saying, hey, we have to make cuts (which would have been politically untenable considering their billions in the bank), they decided to trump up reviews and force people out that way. As a result, many folks were put out for having done nothing wrong other than being unpopular or less than stellar on a team of very stellar folks. At the same time, they were told they were fucking up.... This, coupled with the deportation fear coupled with the stock price tanking made for a really really shitty work situation morale-wise. I gave up and left.

Ed said...

A quick thought - why aren't such objective scores combined with a subjective evaluation of you compared to your peers?

For example - give each person the score they deserve - and then rank them. So in department A, you have 3 4.0's, but to differentiate between the 4.0 and to give the score some context, you rank each person in it from 1-3 to illustrate how other people in a similar environment achieve.

Anonymous said...

Comment:
7 yrs @MS. Used to be very agile company, now law of large numbers kicking in at all levels. Start-up feeling long gone... :(

Proposed Fix for Review:
Review process could be fixed with MS' Core Competencies being thoughtfully applied as an overlay to the job ladders while using 360 or similar feedback from Manager (1-person @33%), Employee (1-person@33%), and 'Others' (about 6 other persons mutually agreed upon by both manager and employee@34%; only aggregate score shown).
'Others' targeted to be composed of those folks really in touch with the employee most frequently as a course of daily work/projects.

Display Output:
Radar chart with 3 data series.

Display Input:
All questions for each Core Competencies weighted by important to the 'Waterline' for the job in question.

Frequency:
Twice a year,
+Baseline@honeymoon,
+FinalState@exit.

Note that each open position should have a target Radar chart already built and posted with the job description to support 'Job Waterline'.

Reasoning:
A) This allows any disconnect between Manager and Employee to be mediated by Others' score.
B) Employees are shown 7 peoples' input vs. 1, therby increasing likelihood of equity.
C) Manager gets another (likely more balanced) view.
D) When cut/exit is needed, data shows why using Position Waterline.
E) Equity, Accountability, and Liability are closer to balance.
F) Employee KNOWS the where the bar is located (KEY FACTOR). :)

Anonymous said...

"B) Employees are shown 7 peoples' input vs. 1, therby increasing likelihood of equity."

Won't solve it. We do that here now, and it has degenerated into a popularity contest. Everyone is vying for the top-of-the-curve rankings, so they're not going to rate you highly if you're competition and not a buddy. I have had directly conflicting remarks from peers and also between managers on my official review. These conflicting statements are on file. Let the buyer beware: that doesn't disqualify them as input - it is assumed that the one implying a lower rating is the correct one. This is scientifically very poor - basically any mark outside the margin to the low side is included in the equation, but any corresponding one to the high side is tossed. It's like keeping all marks negative of the std. deviation, but tossing those above it...and then recalculating the mean.

Bottom line - you don't need more people involved. You need objective, measurable criteria. Period. Anything that cannot be substantiated that way should either not including in a rating system, or should be assigned the same neutral value and weight for everyone.

Anonymous said...

My final review at msft was a 3.0. My lifetime reviews were as follows: 3.5, 4.5, 3.5,3.5, and of course the 3.0. I did not deserve the 3.0. I outperformed my entire group on every metric. My manager and I did not get along. I have always gotten along with my manager in my 15 years of dev. I left Microsoft because of this manager and the fear that he would do more damage to a steller career at Microsoft and outside of Microsoft.

I have loved Microsoft since I was in college and that was almost 20 years ago. I knew then what this company could accomplish and that it would change the world. But with managers like this and due to a company that allows this kind of management to go unchecked - I just couldnt stomach staying any longer. His manager was a weinie, she had no backbone.

If I can give one word of advice to folks working in Corporate. Stay at corporate. The field is a joke. SMS&P, public sector, etc. these groups are dead and asleep. I wonder what they do? You could terminate all employees that have a Partner something something in their title and Microsoft would not lose a CAL sale. These people are completely useless. (Partner TS, Partner EM, Etc.)

There are so many great people in Microsoft and I was so honored to be a part of something that I personally loved. I now work for a competitor and want to take marketshare away from Microsoft. I think about it all the time. Microsoft is building an army of people that will want to do the same thing I do- take it down. I would love to see a MSFT stock price of $10-15 (believe me it is just around the corner). It wouldnt take much: lose 10% of the office productivity suite business and bye bye street!

Anonymous said...

Wow - That's a mouthful

-quote-
If I can give one word of advice to folks working in Corporate. Stay at corporate. The field is a joke. SMS&P, public sector, etc. these groups are dead and asleep. I wonder what they do?
-end quote-

The field sells the products corporate develops. You think anyone's going to buy our stuff without having someone knowledgeable who can sell it?

TSP's are the backbone of this company's sales force. Most everyone else is overhead. There isn't a piece of enterprise software sold which isn't influenced by the work of a TS.

The field is the best place to be with regards to reviews and leveling up.

In my five years at MSFT, my review scores have been 3.5, 3.5, 4.0, 4.0, 4.0. I've received three promotions since I joined.

*My* advice to people in corporate, start shipping some products on time or get out. If you can't ship your products on time, you deserve a low review score.

Anonymous said...

I worked in Europe for a couple of companies (mostly in Germany). The standard of living in Germany is about the same as in the US yet companies don’t do perf reviews.

My recommendation: If you can't implement a just system (which I think can't be done) get rid of performance reviews altogether. Everybody will sleep easier.

Another thing: I’ve seen a lot of bad performers in my time at MS (believe me – we do NOT hire the best), people who would not survive a week in a German company, and they definitely need to be weeded out.

Anonymous said...

I work for a company that uses this same rating system, and I was a manager for this company for several years. What I never understood was if you have 7 out of 10 low performers, isn't it the manager who failed? This idea, of course, never sunk in. It is the managers job to coach, mentor, or replace low performers with those who do the job they are hired to do.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this blog by chance. It brought back some old, very bad, memories. I never received less than a 4.0 at MS myself. Still, I had to give out a few 3.0s because of the rules and I did not believe in most of them. For just one 3.0 that I had to give the employee and I agreed and we moved on and he is still there almost 7 years later.

If I had to say what limits Microsoft from being a truly great company this would be in the top three list. Consider that if shareholders were doing reviews they would probably give Billg and SteveB 3.0s (or possibly worse) these days. The problem with the system is that it defocuses management from what I consider a primary job--achieving superior results by finding and exploiting the strengths of every individual but then MS tends to hold the employee solely responsible for his or her development relieving the manager from any real role in the outcome.

Also, the system amounts to a self-admission of poor hiring a significant percentage of the time. Shouldn't managers who hire greater than average 3.0s during their tenure be automatically in the running for 3.0s? Of course, the system basically prevents managers from looking bad by curving the employees and thus there is no warning bell that perhaps a concentration of 3.0s has something to do with bad management. (Each manager typically only has one or two 3.0s.)

Just one of the system abuses involves giving 3.0s to those who are about to transfer from one team to another. I saw a blatant example of this in my tenure. I was thrilled to have this person come to my team the entire time they worked for me, yet, they had a 3.0 transferring in, which left more bonus for those in his old team.

Undoubtedly, the MS personnel problems begin way back in the chain with the hiring process and the promotion process but that is the topic for another discussion. For now, let's just say that in some ways MS is playing out the real-life version of the movies "Office Space" and "In Good Company". It is all very unfortunate for everyone. Very high net profits have masked some problems that may well be the complete undoing of MS in the days ahead unless they are addressed soon.

Anonymous said...

Some books you should be reading - hell, buy a copy of each and leave them lying around for others to take! Repeat as necessary.

"Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn. ISBN 0618001816

"Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead" by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins. ISBN 1576752003

Anonymous said...

Hi,
a question is mandatory in MS sign my own performance review and what consequences may be if I don't sign?
I'm working in Italy

Thanks