Sunday, July 18, 2004

Under 3.25 Lifetime Average Review Score at Microsoft? It's Time to Re-Interview!

Allow me to start with a "duh": Microsoft is big.

Like a lot of Microsofties, during the time that I've been here the company has doubled in size.  Doubled with some pretty unrealistic expectations for continued need of all those folks it hired during the swelling of the Internet Bubble.

Truth be told, some groups must have been pretty desperate to hire any warm bodies who could spell HTML because somehow during that time the hiring-bar got lowered and we hired poor performers.  Suddenly, there's mandatory training for managers available about how to manage poor performers.

And guess what: getting fired by Microsoft is about as hard as getting fired by the government.  You've got to have documentation and a tight, time-consuming process to avoid lawsuits.  And you have to get over a lot of psychological hurdles to even darken the doorway of the employee who you want to start the termination process (which is still delivered with hope as getting that employee "back on track" or, you know, out of here).

To help enable the culling at Microsoft, one straight-forward way is to require folks who stand out as poor-performers to re-interview for Microsoft.  Message it as, "We are cutting back, and due to your lifetime review score average you've been identified as a candidate for cut-backs.  As part of the process to ensure we don't terminate without due diligence, we are offering you the chance to re-interview."

So let's say you have some folks who have a lifetime review average under 3.25 and they have been around for three or more major reviews.  This means they have at least more 3.0 reviews than 3.5 reviews.  Are they long-term top quality material?  Do they have the potential to reach the top expected ladder level for their discipline?  Let's find out!

  • Set up a three person + an as-appropriate interview loop for them.
  • Set out the job responsibilities according to what they do and the requirements of their level.
  • Have the interview loop outside of their business group, by a most-likely disinterested party.
  • If they don't get a "hire" they immediately go on a 30-day action plan geared towards termination.  If their General Manager can't justify that person staying at Microsoft, they're gone and ready to find new opportunities in the world.
    • Accountability: any General Manager fighting to keep people becomes personally responsible for that person's future performance, no matter what group they are in, for the next three review cycles.  If that person continues to be a 3.0 or lower contributor, that General Manager is held accountable and his / her bonus and stock rewards are downgraded.  GMs, if you don't know good contributors from bad contributors, you should be punished.

This can surely be scheduled over a year's time, starting with the lowest scorers first.

Think of the folks you work with.  To help set context, two questions: (1) Who would you rehire?  (2) Who would you instead prefer a hot, fired-up new college graduate or an experienced external hire?  Some folks plain just plateau at Level 60 and they aren't going much further.  They are swirling around the bottom of the stack rank like so many bitter, hopeless dregs. 

Honestly now: do you just plain not give these people challenging work because you doubt they can deliver?  We'd be better off without them and the late feature cuts we have to make when they can't come through for us.  They need to be moved on.  Make it happen.

Side-note: looking on the other side of this, let's say this person re-interviews and knocks the socks off of everyone, including the as-app.  Hell, maybe they're just plain in the wrong group / job.  This is also a chance to balance talent, which would increase effectiveness and contribution to the bottom-line.  A super re-interview would at least empower folks who aren't happy in their current position to look elsewhere in the company (and perhaps outside of the company - everyone's excited about Google, right?).
  P.S. - Sorry about dorking-up the URL for the site's Atom feed - it's been corrected to the proper - thanks!


Anonymous said...

Plateau at level 60?!? How about at level 57 or 58? Some of these people will never see 60 in their dreams.

Anonymous said...

This is your worst post yet.

Review scores have very little to do with performance. They have a lot to do with perception of performance. There are many people who coast through microsoft even in senior level positions. Your review score isn't always based on performance.

Anonymous said...

would they interview like an industry hire, a campus hire, or an internal transfer?

Who da'Punk said...

1) Worst post yet? Okay, the bar has been set. :-)

2) My bad for using "Level 60" - a more appropriate wording would be "new hire level + one" - most new hires do eventually get one promotion to the next level, but then some plateau at that relatively early point. Most new-hire devs, for instance, come in at Level 59.

3) Interview as? Interview as an internal hire. The person already knows the process we use at Microsoft to create great product. But, I come from a point of view where industry hire and internal transfer get about the same amount of scrutiny.

4) Review score as a metric. What else do we have? Please, if you know, I'd be delighted to hear a reasonable alternative. It's the only metric that tracks folks from year to year. I'm sure when the Fall People Review is done much more elaborate formula are put to use. Maybe there's something useful in there, something that measures acceleration through a career and clearly shows that a person is stalling out. I'd love to hear something else, but for now, lifetime review score is the starting point.

Anonymous said...

At Microsoft, you can get a really good review score just by kissing ass. How do we get rid of these people? We seem to have a lot of them.

Anonymous said...

If you're so proud of your "astute" insights to improving Microsoft, why do you hide behide a pseudonym? Why not use your real name for all of your co-workers to see exactly what kind of people they're working with or for???

Anonymous said...

Just because someone's an ass-kisser doesn't also make them ineffective. If they score well purely on ass kissing, that's the boss's failing.

Anonymous said...

That's also a major problem at Microsoft. We have a lot of bad managers. So we also have a lot of ass kissers. They go together.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft is like any other company when it comes to reviews. If you just do your job you are not doing enough. This means you could be a great developer, PM or tester but you only do your job. To get a 3.5+ review score you must do more than your job. Talk to your manager about what you can do beside your current job. Talk to your manager's manager and find out what is important to him/her. Don't just go dark in your office.

Anonymous said...

Given the politics, empire building and other problems, perhaps it is time to re-interview the entire company.

What? Too drastic you say? We have a drastic problem. Too many people hit repeated "bad manager" or "bad group" situations. Too many managers report to their friends or have been stagnating in the same technology for many years.

The key would be to build the interview loops so they contain several people from other divisions and split the as-appropriate role into a triad with two members from other divisions as well.

Anonymous said...

Guess what.

I have a 3.25 review score average. Yep I'm one of those guys. Three 3.0's and one 4.0.

The first two 3.0's came while I was stagnating in level 57 STE not being challenged. I should have started off doing level 59 SDET work, but instead I was doing manual UI testing at level 57.

In one year, I forgot all my coding skills that were so ripe when I graduated from college the previous year. I was not motivated at my job. Sure I got all my work done, but didn't excell nor was I "visible".

So what did I get?

The famous "you're doing great work, but we're giving you a 3.0 anyway" review.

Yeah everybody in the test org has gotten at least one of these. The most common time to get it is after a mid-year/off-cycle promotion. You surely don't deserve a 3.5 or a 4.0 because you just got promoted. We have to give you a 3.0, but we'll say you did a good job and give you 5 stock awards just to make you go away.

What a fucking slap in the face.