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Microsoft's 'Cannibalistic Culture'

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the om-nom-nom dept.

Microsoft 407

theodp writes "In the provocatively titled Microsoft's Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant, Vanity Fair offers a teaser for a story that will appear in its August issue on Microsoft's Lost Decade, which promises an unprecedented view of life inside Microsoft during the reign of Steve Ballmer. 'Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed — every one — cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,' contributing editor Karl Eichenwald writes. 'If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,' says a former software developer. 'It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.' Also discussed is the company's loyalty to Windows and Office, which induced a myopia that repeatedly kept Microsoft from jumping on emerging technologies like e-readers and other technology that was effective for consumers. Having seen an advance copy of the full piece, GeekWire offers its take on what it calls an 'epic, accurate and not entirely fair' tale."

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"Microsoft's Downfall" (4, Insightful)

DesScorp (410532) | about 2 years ago | (#40544977)

That may be the mother of misleading book titles. Microsoft has lost a step in some areas (as much due to Apple's ascendence as anything MS did wrong), but this sounds like one of those apocalyptic books you see about finance ("The Coming Great Depression" and stuff like that). It's essentially a tabloid headline on a book cover.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40544991)

I wouldn't be so sure!

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Insightful)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about 2 years ago | (#40545043)

Yeah Microsoft will be like all those big brands like Nokia and Kodak and live on forever.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#40545091)

And Atari! Don't forget Atari!

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545105)

Or like IBM...

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (4, Interesting)

RazorSharp (1418697) | about 2 years ago | (#40545107)

Of course. People will always need Office just as they will always need film. Oh, wait. . .

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (3, Insightful)

DesScorp (410532) | about 2 years ago | (#40545285)

Yeah Microsoft will be like all those big brands like Nokia and Kodak and live on forever.

Or IBM, remember when they used to be a going concern? Oh wait, they still are. Companies can adapt, and Microsoft is, far and away, the number one provider of operating systems and office software in the word... still. Like I said, they seem to have lost a step, but so what? Ford lost a step with the Edsel. It didn't kill them. Predicting doom for Microsoft at this point is just stupid.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545361)

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (2)

Trashcan Romeo (2675341) | about 2 years ago | (#40545405)

If you factor in profitability, it's cataclysmic.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 years ago | (#40545787)

No, they are not. They are the number one provider of DESKTOP OSes. In total OS shipments, they are not even close anymore. Office software, I will give you.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (3, Insightful)

LordLucless (582312) | about 2 years ago | (#40545379)

You're missing the OP's point. He's not saying Microsoft isn't going to fall, he's saying it hasn't yet and publishing a book entitled "Microsoft's Downfall" is making a prediction that isn't based on any actual fact, but just sounding portentous and drumming up controversy.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545437)

or Apple. Why only naming those in current bad shape?

And why modding you up?

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545171)

Modding the first post redundant? Why do these people have mod access?

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Insightful)

theRunicBard (2662581) | about 2 years ago | (#40545173)

Oh, "Downfall" is more accurate than you think. Microsoft won't last unless it changes significantly. There are several things working against it: Programmers hate Microsoft. Every university, every professor, everyone works on a unix-based system. This leads them to Linux/Unix. Ballmer then slams those and calls them parasistes (look up his views on the GPL). So where do these really talented programmers go? Unless they can't help it, not Microsoft! So now you have unskilled workers. The best go to Google, then facebook, then amazon, then startups, etc, and Microsoft gets whatever is left. Is it any wonder their technology isn't as good as Google's? It's gotten so bad that even their own employees notice. Do you know what a Microsoft employee uses at home? Linux/Mac. Do you know what they use to listen to music? Maybe a Window's Phone but just as likely an iPhone. What do they read their books on? iPads. How do they send their personal emails? Gmail. An employee at Google would take a bullet for the company. An employee at Microsoft is wondering how long until the next iPad comes out. This might not be a completely fair review on my part, but it sums up my views. And the way I see it, a company like this just CAN'T compete with the rest. The only thing they have going for them is that mixture of Steve Ballmer's bottomless money bag and the fact that the average computer user will just use whatever OS comes with their box and that's going to be Windows. But that's not a solid business plan and they need to change.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545385)

Silicon Valley venture capital successfully waged a war against Microsoft, and this is the end result.

After MS ran Netscape under, the capitalists collectively decided to stop funding "desktop" software and plowed all their investments into web and now mobile. Thus for an entrepreneur web/mobile can make you rich & land you a job at google/facebook/etc, while developing for Win32 is seen as a dead-end prospect. This has severely limited the amount of inbound talent that Microsoft can purchase, as well as leaving Windows with a legacy pile of 15-20 year old applications (many of which are still tied to VC6/MFC/COM/etc).

Hilariously, nobody informed the freetard squad what was going on, and they have spent the last 10 years slavishly trying to recreate the old paradigm of the 1990s Windows "desktop" ecosystem. As a result, they completely missed MS's vulnerable points and Apple has taken the lead.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545557)

But 2013 will be the year of the linux desktop, after the downfall of Microsoft!

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Insightful)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 years ago | (#40545863)

That joke keeps getting told, and it has been a fair jab so far. It also is not entirely impossible. 2013? Probably not. 2014? Maybe. Android is advancing fast. On average Google is releasing 2 versions of Android per year. Tablets are already powerful enough to run 90% of the software that 90% of the users need. When Google decides to release a version of Android that works as a desktop, Linux will be showing up on a lot of desktops.

If you will accept the dropping of the word "desktop", we are already way past the 'Year of Linux'. Most people have more Linux devices in their homes than Windows devices.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545963)

That's exactly the point. Android is advancing fast, while the whole taillight-chasing Linux "desktop" ecosystem (X11, KDE, Gnome, LibreOffice, etc) is becoming just as much of a legacy prospect as Microsoft, except without the installed base to ensure continuing support.

RIP Linux Desktop, hardly anyone will miss ya.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Interesting)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#40545551)

Why is this funny?

It is exactly what is happening. Once consumers start buying more of these devices than PCs the software will start to be ported over and be gradually as good as the desktop versions. Then corporations will notice and leave ship too next.

I admit we are far from that at the office but businesses are 6 to 7 years behind consumers. The lockin is gradually going away and even if Windows 8 catches on MS will be screwed because they do not control the w3c standards like they once did and these apps can be ported over to Andriod and IOS fair easily.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545697)

Really? Apple products: can't do shit. Enjoy your locked down crap. Android: Enjoy your buggy crap full of malware programs. Linux: Enjoy your server and nothing else. Windows: Enjoy doing whatever you want on an essentially stable environment.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545759)

I work there, and I can tell you don't have a clue. The biggest problem MS has with hiring is competing for those few people that learned to program in C/C++ instead of Java, or some other interpreted language. We get summer interns that are good all the time, some get offers and work out well, other wash out in less than 4 years. Its not because of stack ranking though, its because of lack of desire or capabilities, Those that perform their job well and consistently get promoted quickly. Some long term employees get to a certain level and then stagnate, and when they're shown the door they blame the stack ranking process because their peers passed them by.

Also note the higher in level you are the broader the ranking becomes. Many of the people in the Vanity Fair article were stack ranked division or corporate wide, not within their own team. Then were let go as part of the dead wood trimming during the layoffs when the economy went south.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#40545325)

Yeah it would be more accurate to say "Microsoft's Stagnation". They were the #1 desktop/laptop OS in the 90s and still are today. The problem is that they didn't expand beyond that paradigm, and missed the boat on the cellphone and MP3 player OSes (currently dominated by Google and Apple respectively).

Oh well. BTW Microsoft has never been an innovative company. Never. They won the PC-DOS contract in 1981, overlaid it with Windows GUI 4 years later, and that was about it. It was other companies like Atari, Commodore, and Apple that were doing the innovating..... constantly pressing forward with new ideas like music-quality sound, video-quality graphics, multitasking, mouse-based interfaces, and portable computers. MS just say by and watched.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545805)

Back in their glory days, Microsoft was a very "Fast Follower", so while they were rarely the first with a piece of tech, they were very often right behind. They were very agressive at ensuring no market segment escape them, often using old IBM "vaporware" tactics to chill interest in the competition, as well as underpricing them. They were absolutely paranoid that someone was going to do to them what they did to IBM.

Compare this to modern Microsoft where Ballmer completely dismissed the iPhone and their mobile division sat on their thumbs for two long years.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (0)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#40545495)

MS hasn't had a downfall?

Everytime a story about appears on ask slashdot where IE 6 is mentioned, there are million comments from kids under 23 saying how retarded could you be to use a proprietary standard by one company? The response is always, well MS set the standards and it is what everyone else did back then.

A decade ago MS set the standards on the web, not the W3C. They set the standards for cell phones. They set the standards for office document exchange. They set the standard on what can talk to an email server. They set the standard for PDA's and so on and so on. No one could survive against the all so scary Microsoft.

Today, W3C sets the standards, Apple, BB, and Google read emails from exchange servers fine, Apple, BB, and Google all make successful phones and smart PDA replacements, win 32 defecto standard is now slowly being replaced by clouds and internet apps that are device and OS independent.

To say MS is still as strong as ever and not going away is like saying the IBM mainframe is as strong as ever in the 20 years ago which it was and we all know what happened next in that timeframe as PCs became popular and a few apps from mainframes started to get ported over.

MS is fucked as we frankly do not need them except for Office document exchange. If we can break the Office file format monopoly next, then people like myself wont need Windows and Office anymore and it is game over for MS. They will be done.

In new markets MS has done terrible and been a loss leader. Has anyone seen a Windows 7 phone yet? I rest my point.

Balmer is hoping WIndows 8 turns things around but Metro is all W3C ajax mostly that can easily be ported.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (4, Interesting)

TENTH SHOW JAM (599239) | about 2 years ago | (#40545749)

Who needs office anymore?
I need to create the odd document which I can do on the wiki we have at work.
I need to create the odd database report which I do with various database tools and then export them to html.
I need to send and receive email, again, a web interface seems to do the trick.
Sometimes I need to present something to a group of people. I use a whiteboard. (I tend to prefer the smart boards)

The reason people use Office suites these days is more from tradition than need. Microsoft will not die, but they will recede. Metro will probably speed up the process.

Re:"Microsoft's Downfall" (5, Interesting)

dido (9125) | about 2 years ago | (#40545743)

If you are old enough to remember what Microsoft was like around the late eighties and up until about the early-2000's, you would realize that they are no longer the force to be reckoned with that they were back then. Yes, they are still a very wealthy and profitable company, and will probably remain so for decades more, but they are no longer the force to be reckoned with that they were in the time I speak of. Back in those days Microsoft inspired such fear into the hearts of those in the software industry that before beginning a software venture people would ask: "What would Microsoft do in response to this?" and even the vaguest hint that Microsoft was getting into some field would be sufficient to dissuade the faint of heart from even getting started and risking competing with Microsoft head-on. Those days are long gone, and now the companies that have sort of inherited that mantle are Apple and Google (but it seems that even put together they don't have even half of the kind of terrifying aura Microsoft exuded back in those days). Their loss of this kind of power does not mean that Microsoft will cease being profitable or even that they'll stop growing, far from it. It simply means that they've become irrelevant to the leading edge of the software industry, just another stable, stolid, boring company like IBM or SAP.

This is what Paul Graham meant when he wrote that Microsoft [paulgraham.com] is Dead [paulgraham.com] .

So, normal s-curve? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40544987)

Things start slowly, then catalyze and grow quickly, then stagnate and die. Who knew?

With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545021)

Every year for over a decade I've seen Slashdot posts about how Microsoft is doomed and that Microsoft is already irrelevant and failing. ...and yet, every year when the tech companies report their earnings Microsoft will put up big numbers that are bigger than last year's. Thus, every year they can accurately claim to have made a "record" amount of money.

I should be so lucky as to "fall" as hard as Microsoft.

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (5, Interesting)

Trashcan Romeo (2675341) | about 2 years ago | (#40545073)

There's one number that isn't bigger than last time: the amount Microsoft is charging to upgrade to the new version of Windows.

What does that tell you?

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | about 2 years ago | (#40545251)

What does that tell me? That they are planning on selling more copies making a smaller amount per copy?

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (2)

nanoflower (1077145) | about 2 years ago | (#40545503)

It tells me that they don't care about making as much money off of upgrades because they have new ways to monetize their customers. What with all of the apps they are providing customers for free in the hope of them using them instead of other apps (like Gmail.) Then you add in the integrated application store and there's a potential for making a lot of money. Apple certainly does quite well with their app store so Microsoft hopes to do the same. Especially if they can provide apps for their phones, tablets and PCs from the same source (where they get a cut of every purchase.)

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (1)

Trashcan Romeo (2675341) | about 2 years ago | (#40545617)

Fair enough. But history tells us that Apple's ability to make money doing something has zero correlation with Microsoft's ability to do the same.

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545291)

> What does that tell you?

Upgrade pricing set in 1995 doesn't make sense when hardware costs have fallen so dramatically.

Microsoft's impressive revenue has primarily been from squeezing more blood out of the corporate turnip. Very few consumers actually upgrade their Windows installation, so any sales there are really just a bonus.

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (1)

Trashcan Romeo (2675341) | about 2 years ago | (#40545367)

> Upgrade pricing set in 1995 doesn't make sense when hardware costs have fallen so dramatically.

Windows 7 came out only three years ago and they're now charging 20% less.

Seems to me that if Windows 8 was as nifty as advertised, they wouldn't have felt the need to mark down the price.

Getting people off of XP (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 years ago | (#40545941)

Unless they are looking to move as many people over as possible in as short of a time as possible. XP was a good OS. There are still plenty of people dedicated to continuing to run it. I myself have 2 computers and 2 VM that I still have on XP. If 8 doesn't completely blow, I will seriously consider upgrading the VMs to Windows 8, and if the XP machines hardware will run it, I might just upgrade them as well. XP is comming to it's end of life. The fewer people still on it on the EOL date, the less complaining about MS we will hear.

Then I have to ask (since I haven't seen the price that OEMs pay for 8. or 7 for that matter), Is the price of 8 20% less, or is MS just bringing the retail price of Windows closer in line with the OEM prices?

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40546029)

It tells me that Microsoft sees value in getting people to use the most recent version of Windows. Microsoft wants as many people to be using Win 8 as fast as they can.

Your post is an example of Slashdot's typical attitude toward Microsoft - they're damned if they do and damned if they don't.

If Microsoft charges $100 for an upgrade? "THOSE GREEDY BASTARDS. APPLE SELLS UPGRADES FOR $30! WINDOWS IS TOO EXPENSIVE."

If Microsoft charges $40 for an upgrade? "LOL THEY ARE SELLING THE UPGRADES FOR CHEAP. THAT MEANS THAT WINDOWS 8 SUCKS! LOLOLOL."

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (4, Informative)

gabebear (251933) | about 2 years ago | (#40545193)

They might not be going out of business, but they've had no growth over the last decade(they stopped really making money in 2000).

Go to

and set it to 10yr, Google even lets you compare it to the Nasdaq and Dow Jones averages (putting your money into a fund that tracked the Nasdaq over the last 10 years would have netted you 100% more money than MSFT stock).

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (2)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about 2 years ago | (#40545689)

1 stock in 2002 != 1 stock in 2012

What's the market cap? What's the total shares outstanding over that time frame? Price/earnings ratio? There's a 2:1 stock split during that time frame, and quite a few dividends. Your very simplistic measure is outright wrong in its interpretation of facts. You can sit at a $30 stock price over 10 years, while doubling the number of total outstanding shares, but your measure and accompanying interpretation takes that as "they didn't grow at all".

Re:With downfalls like that, who needs successes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545889)

Actually , stock splits are already taken care of in the chart.

You only really have dividends, which basically means your 1 stock is worth about the same after inflation and dividends as it did 10 years ago.

Then again, considering all the problems in the general economy, that may not be such a bad thing. eg.

https://www.google.com/finance?q=NYSE%3AGE [google.com]
https://www.google.com/finance?q=NYSE%3AC [google.com]
https://www.google.com/finance?q=NASDAQ%3AKFT [google.com]

stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (5, Interesting)

ffflala (793437) | about 2 years ago | (#40545083)

...and it has the same results. Law schools grade this way. It simply adds a very real incentive to undermine those in your group. It forces competing against one another for individual gain, often to the detriment of group progress.

It sort of makes sense for law students whose focus will be litigation, since they are training for an adversarial environment. It also ensures that the lowest performers are consistently swept out.

However it rests on the assumption that the lowest performers are necessarily and always detrimental to a group overall. This of course isn't true, since every single group will have a highest and a lowest performer. The other downside is of course that it promotes individual interests over group interests.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545169)

Bill Gates had connections to the cream of the crap, as far as lawyers go, through his father and used them to build MS IP as well as defend against monopoly charges. What a perfect model to build your organization on! Now if only there was some way you could get the H1Bs increased....

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545195)

Mostly, stack ranking makes employees focus on butt kissing. Reviews are subjective so the manager's favorites get the good ranking regardless of actual performance or value to the company.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (5, Insightful)

lennier (44736) | about 2 years ago | (#40545213)

Law schools grade this way. It simply adds a very real incentive to undermine those in your group.

And that one fact explains so much about Western culture today that it's scary.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (4, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#40545447)

I like how one MS employee put it: They advertise for Internet Explorer's team..... they want the best 4.0 level talent on that team. Problem: Once that talent arrives only three out of ten will actually get the 4.0. The rest will get a mediocre 3.0 which makes them feel unappreciated. And the bottom two will be shown the door, even if they truly are top talent. (Probably headed off to google and chrome development.)

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545619)

Judging by MSIE, I'd say they don't have very many '4's' working for them.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (3, Interesting)

x3CDA84B (2592699) | about 2 years ago | (#40545881)

Exactly. It's as if MS' management are deliberately trying to prevent anyone from actually having an all-star team. They're also completely failing to understand that psychologically, for most people rewarding top performers will produce better results than punishing low performers, even though if you look at it as a math equation, they can be identical.

This stupid way of managing people is one of the main reasons I would never in a million years work at Microsoft, or other companies that use similar methods (Amazon, etc.).

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (1)

Zaelath (2588189) | about 2 years ago | (#40545219)

The problem with the model (as proposed in the summary) is it's a stack per team.

If it was grading on the curve over the entire company it makes some kinda sense but, if you think of this in terms of sport, you get the same bonus for being top performer in division 2 as you do for being the top performer in the premier league.

A lot of teams will be fairly similar in distrubution of stars and failures, but unless you're doing a randomisation of teams quite frequently you can't be sure, and even then it would be far too late.

You also need some savage response to deliberate undermining of co-workers to avoid winning by playing the man and not the ball....

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545403)

To be fair, it's a "stack per team" in terms of an org, not an individual team. So this is roughly 50-100 people per group, not 5-10.

Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft, but they don't pay me to post on Slashdot. That would be stupid.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545533)

AMD does the same thing (forced curve), and it's rolled up at each management level and adjustments are made between teams under the same director, and again under the same senior director, etc etc.

it's pretty lame because a team of 5, awesome people will still have to have 1 grade-A employee and 1 D if not F, and maybe the rest can be 2 Bs and 2 Cs. the one that gets the D/F might be so good that in the larger group (taken as a whole) he could be a B++, but at best he'll get a mid-evel C.

the reason is that each level of rollup involves the managers arguing for their team, and often taking turns at who gets to make their people As, or who has to "take one for the team" and make theirs the low grades. and then the higher level managers can't know everyone on a 100+ person org, so they defer to their favorite managers, make capricious decisions... it's pretty lame.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (5, Insightful)

gnasher719 (869701) | about 2 years ago | (#40545629)

Now imagine the lowest two of your ten people team just left. Who would you want as replacement? Certainly not anybody who is better than you at their job.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (5, Insightful)

jo_ham (604554) | about 2 years ago | (#40545257)

This is the first time I've heard of stack ranking (you can tell I haven't worked in a corporate environment) and it strikes me as the most stupid, ineffective, counterproductive load of nonsense I have ever heard.

It is instantly obvious that it's a shit idea when you realise that you are obligated to have a set number of results at each grade level, so it will fail the minute you get a team that doesn't fit that perfect theoretical curve (many more good than bad, or all bad etc).

"Seven of you scored well enough to get the top grade, but I'm only allowed to give out 3 top grades, so I randomly picked those top three or simply chose the best ass kissers"

The four who don't get it are now disgruntled and lose motivation, and perhaps start looking for somewhere that appreciates them.

I can't believe this utterly retarded system got past the "throw us a crazy idea!" stage at a management meeting. Oh, management... of course. All is explained.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545453)

Stack Ranking made sense back when it was introduced at places like General Electric. Those big Fortune 500 companies previously had no mechanism of getting rid of under-performers, and accumulated huge amounts of dead weight. (One company I worked at had dozens of "Directors" and "Senior Managers" with no direct reports and very little responsibility.)

The funny thing is that companies like Google also use a form of stack ranking and nobody criticizes them for it. The problem at Microsoft is more incestous corporate politics, and the ranking system is just an outcome of that.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545639)

I don't see how it makes any more sense for the situation you described. If you gave people reviews based purely on merit then the dead weight would still be identified.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (5, Interesting)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | about 2 years ago | (#40545559)

The reasons behind these decisions often make sense, in theory. And as we all know, practice is not theory.

I've worked at Fortune 150 to Fortune 10 companies. This type of ranking comes in when someone at the top is cost cutting, and wants to drive away the worst performers. Forced ranking makes it easier to tell managers to rank people, then later ordering the bottom person gone for all teams above a certain number. That way managers don't have to decide who goes, in the same way as if they were ordered to choose one person.

When the company recovers, employee surveys (and exit interviews) cite this as the reason for leaving, and this system goes away.

I'm not sure we can trust the specifics, but if this plan were in place 5 years or more, it points out a management who is completely unconcerned as to why people leave the company. Microsoft has raise concerns about poaching - maybe they legitimately believe other companies are just making overly high offers to get talent, rather than people leaving because of a hostile workplace.

I think over the past few years this has gone out of style in many places, but it does take a while for the shared MBA pool of knowledge to trickle down as new graduates replace outgoing ones, or someone makes a 20 year stagnant career in the same position, refusing to change their ways.

Which is one reason large companies push career development. If you don't aspire to get a promotion, you are going to eventually get fired - this is the message. Pushing people to move around voluntarily means you can count on at least a few new opinions introduced, But when you push the great architect into a mediocre middle manager, you've hurt the company twice - losing the architect and gaining bad middle management.

Good ideas always have a downside, and good management knows when to recognize when the cons outweigh the pros. Half of the managers are at or below average, so I wouldn't expect much more than following orders.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (2)

Dunbal (464142) | about 2 years ago | (#40545995)

That way managers don't have to decide

Except, isn't that what managers are paid to do? It's like the judge who says "I have no choice". Why bother even having a judge in that case.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545597)

The UK Civil Service has a similar setup. All it does is encourage the majority of staff to be lazy or, at best, apathetic towards their role. Given you are peer reviewed against your colleagues and not against the whole organisation, if you work in a department with a lot of very good people you are penalised for it because it is almost impossible to do anything other than "satisfactory". If you worked in a weaker area (which in a lot of cases wouldn't stretch you) then you can fly through with higher grades. Higher grades == more money == better pension == better promotion prospects. At the very least, reviews should take place organisation wide (given the civil service is bent on "generalists", everyone should be able to do anyone else's job, right?). And yes, there are departments with large numbers of skilled workers that justify fair pay in the civil service, despite what the media may lead you to believe.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (1)

bobstreo (1320787) | about 2 years ago | (#40545607)

I believe Mike Judge said it best:

Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.
Bob Porter: Don't... don't care?
Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#40545633)

It wouldn't be so bad if it was applied to a very large group. Its how some school systems give out grades. If its applied to a small team then helping your team mate is detrimental to your own grade. If you help your class mate it will increase your class grade as a whole, increasing the ranking of your school, increasing the number of high grades allocated to your school. In the school system I've been a student of it seemed to work. The only competition then is between schools and there is a minor incentive to helping fellow class/school mates.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (1)

myrdos2 (989497) | about 2 years ago | (#40545425)

In law school, you get all sorts of people being admitted to the program. Microsoft supposedly hires only the best and the brightest. If you're firing the same percentage of people in both situations, you're doing it wrong.

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#40545625)

In law school, you get all sorts of people being admitted to the program. Microsoft supposedly hires only the best and the brightest. If you're firing the same percentage of people in both situations, you're doing it wrong.

Well anyone worth their salt goes to many sites like , googles and reads articles like this on slashdot before taking a job offer. If they are the best and brightest they would RUN! Every employer wants only the best. But they can't possible get all the best unless they pay 40% above market value, and kiss ass to the employees and do crazy things and have tremendous growth and so on. [glassdoor.com]

The people desperate for the job end up working at MS. 10 years ago I would believe you but today? Why would the best and brightest want to work there?

Re:stack ranking sounds like the strict curve (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#40545583)

But the catch is unlike law school grads, no employee would want to work in that environment. Well at least a good employee knows he can get hired elsewhere and not fear of being fired every day.

I used to work minimum wage jobs that did this and it was a great motivator to finish my education so I would not have to put up with that again. People have student loans to pay off, mortgages, kids, wives, and their livelihood.

I do not like lower level performers but just the threat of termination every day if you don't sweat and fear for your job fucks you up even if you are not hte lowest performer. Morale goes down and so does everyones' productivity in the process.

any job with metrics / review where someone has t (-1, Offtopic)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#40545093)

any job with metrics / review where someone has to get a poor review all suck and if you want to see how bad it can get look at best buy, circuit city, staples and others to see where that get's you.

Re:any job with metrics / review where someone has (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | about 2 years ago | (#40545641)

any job with metrics / review where someone has to get a poor review all suck and if you want to see how bad it can get look at best buy, circuit city, staples and others to see where that get's you.

Or teaching for that matter. All employers are doing this now and the MBAs love them. Maybe I am cynical but the strong demand for results really is the result of all this downsizing and restructuring.

It's really obvious (4, Insightful)

WiiVault (1039946) | about 2 years ago | (#40545095)

MS has always hired some of the best and brightest, but for years the output has been unable to match. So if you have top people, but you can't produce stuff people want than what is the issue? Management. Duh. I know, and I'm sure many others do too plenty of smart people in the biz. The difference between the Apple, Google, and MS guys is slim at best. But what gets produced is obviously not favorable to MS in quality or innovation. Innovation to Balmer seems too "out of box" and scary to be worth it, so instead he comes late to every. single. party. in the last 10 years.

Re:It's really obvious (5, Interesting)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 2 years ago | (#40545349)

Steve Jobs led Apple in the direction he wanted. People can disagree with that direction but it was clear who was in charge. Ballmer manages MS so that it doesn't lose their monopolies. That's the big difference I see. If Jobs was in charge, I don't think the Vista Ready/Compatible disaster would have happened. The crux of it was a lower level exec made a decision to reverse course on key hardware requirements that left many consumers with PCs that were not really fully Vista capable but it wasn't clear to consumers what that meant. Ballmer just let it happen instead of stepping on someone's toes.

Re:It's really obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545383)

Exactly. MS was late to the internet, and now they're late to mobile. They're followers, not leaders.

Re:It's really obvious (2)

Princeofcups (150855) | about 2 years ago | (#40545419)

MS has always hired some of the best and brightest, but for years the output has been unable to match. So if you have top people, but you can't produce stuff people want than what is the issue? Management. Duh. I know, and I'm sure many others do too plenty of smart people in the biz. The difference between the Apple, Google, and MS guys is slim at best. But what gets produced is obviously not favorable to MS in quality or innovation. Innovation to Balmer seems too "out of box" and scary to be worth it, so instead he comes late to every. single. party. in the last 10 years.

That's true, as did Gates for 20 years before that. Microsoft NEVER innovated, never risked, always claimed that emerging technology was a fad and whatever market they already dominated was the only way to go. They let other companies develop technologies, and when the times is right, Microsoft swoops in and buys them out, and rebrands the products as their own. The difference is that Gates was good at this form of evil. Ballmer not so much.

Re:It's really obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545553)

also in the culture of "patent it and sue everybody else" you risk your opponents patenting a truly crucial piece of tech.

Not a new idea.. (4, Funny)

gallondr00nk (868673) | about 2 years ago | (#40545119)

They had very similar performance reviews at Enron

Re:Not a new idea.. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545241)

Hey, I was enjoying a mai tai until I read your remark.

How about having more respect for the dead ?

                                                                                                        - Ken Lay

Re:Not a new idea.. (1)

Jimbookis (517778) | about 2 years ago | (#40545259)

It sounds like a sports competition such as the 100m sprint at the Olympics. All the competitors are, on a world scale, fantastic athletes and the best each country has to offer at the time. But at the end of the race if you aren't in the top three you're a turd.

Re:Not a new idea.. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545333)

Except it's nothing like that. Getting into the top three in the Olympics is the entire point. It's why they train day after day after day. If you come in fourth or twenty-third the world may think you are a turd, but to your home country, you are probably still the best they have at that sport and #1 in their book - you may even still get endorsement deals. Those guys you are competing against? They are your actual competition!

In MS's case, those guys you are competing against are your teammates! It would be like a volleyball team ranking themselves against themselves rather than against opposing teams. And not be judged by their merits.

Re:Not a new idea.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545469)

As far as I know, most big tech companies do it this way. The last three I've been at do. If your team is small, you're particularly screwed, of course. In our case (with less than a dozen people) you can have something like 1 highest excelling review, one very lowest (and someone has to be that person, no matter what), a couple at next to lowest, and then the rest in the "normal" range. Even if you ALL exceed the corporate standards by a fucking MILE, at least ONE of you has to be the worst-reviewed employee and only get a 1 out of 5.

We had something like this. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545167)

We had something like this where I worked for a couple of years. It's gone now (at least, nobody talks about it), everyone hated it from the middle managers on down. It was based on the "lifeboat", which they mention briefly in the article. The term I got from the article "learned helplessness" is so perfect I wished I'd known it when this was going on.

The first year they ranked everyone in the same "grade" together. If your manager tried to do what HR said and rank people then there would be a few other managers who said everyone on their team was perfect, and therefore you'd get pushed to the bottom of the list for raises. Also, unpopular or inexperienced managers would get their entire team screwed.

The second year it was just among members of your team but the managers HAD to have some percentage who sucked (who would get the ranking you were normally given before you got fired). It didn't matter if that person was productive or not... their thinking was every team must have a slacker who can be fired. Small teams were the worst off here.

HR sucks everywhere.

What I don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545221)

I believe the problems with stack ranking are true although I don't think Microsoft had a decade of only insuccesses.
But what I don't understand is why such an article appeared on Vanity Fair?
I mean: it's not like Conde Nast don't have other magazines where I wouldn't be surprised to see such an article...

Gates (1)

hey (83763) | about 2 years ago | (#40545233)

Sounds like Gates rejecting the eReader (because it didn't look like Windows) didn't help things either.

Cult (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545245)

Every MS employee i have had contact with came off as someone in a cult.

Re:Cult (1)

Stolovaya (1019922) | about 2 years ago | (#40545545)

You have not met many employees then.

How Time Was Spent On MS teams That I Worked On (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545281)

As a former Microsoft exec, my observation was that most blue badges above level 62 spent 30% of their time on work and 70% of their time maneuvering

Re:How Time Was Spent On MS teams That I Worked On (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545823)

For those not aware - "blue badge" roughly translates to "full time, exempt professional employee [slashdot.org] ".

stick to your knitting (2)

mister_dave (1613441) | about 2 years ago | (#40545297)

Also discussed is the company's loyalty to Windows and Office, which induced a myopia that repeatedly kept Microsoft from jumping on emerging technologies like e-readers and other technology that was effective for consumers.

They'd be foolish not to be loyal to windows and office. Those were/are two fabulously successful products.

I think there is a strong case for MS ignoring any options for broadening their product range, and just focussing on their existing winners.

Re:stick to your knitting (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545319)

DEC thought the exact same way. Either change with the times or die, those are the only options on a long enough timescale.

Re:stick to your knitting (2)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | about 2 years ago | (#40545613)

Like the buggy whip makers? Sure, stick with your strengths. But the consumer is fickle, and when they decide to move on you either give them something to move on to, or stagnate. From the article, Microsoft has repeatedly rejected any opportunity which might lead them to having a strength other than Windows and Office.

I almost mentioned their effort with XBox, but my dashboard is upgraded to have a billion ads, Bing search, Windows Media. It's a crapfest, and it's bringing the XBox closer to the core Windows strengths, rather than giving gamers something useful. The "media center" idea, starting with XP media center edition, is either unwanted by consumers, or badly botched by Microsoft. "All your media in one place", including DVR and streaming, is a solved problem. But MS can't make it stick, and instead just piles on more Windows integration.

Re:stick to your knitting (1)

Exrio (2646817) | about 2 years ago | (#40545813)

Office is on the way out because everything is becoming Web2.0 or even Web3.0-ized, negating the need for any manually composed document as inter-organization (as well as intra-organization) data passing no longer targets directly other humans but servers that automatically parse and process it. Windows is on the way out because the web is platform agnostic. Document professionals (for those things that still have to be done in document format such as instruction booklets) don't use Office, and most often don't use Windows either.

Re:stick to your knitting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545911)

>I think there is a strong case for MS ignoring any options for broadening their product range, and just focussing on their existing winners.

Other than an awful ribbon and a different version number, please elaborate on the key "features" that Microsoft added after Office 2003 - ie. how they "focussed" on their winners? The fact that I can't see any noticeable difference between the two (except the stupid ribbon that I still haven't warmed to) speaks volumes.

Microsoft f**** up - pure and simple. They are on shaky ground and the tech world knows it.

stack ranking is a version of rank and yank (4, Insightful)

Wansu (846) | about 2 years ago | (#40545351)

This concept was foisted upon the world by former GE CEO Jack Welsh. It has ruined one company after another and is an example of the cure being worse than the disease. Watch out when your company hires in HR people from places like GE, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel, AT&T, etc.. They will try to get a promotion by implementing a slightly different version of this which will have about the same results.

post-modern news (4, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#40545375)

A summary of an article about a story about an as-yet-unpublished article.

What a wonderful world.

Re:post-modern news (1)

chartreuse (16508) | about 2 years ago | (#40545927)

Yeah, the only greater waste of time would be bothering to comment on such a thing. (Or commenting on such a comment.)

Stacked ranking at HP (5, Interesting)

hamster_nz (656572) | about 2 years ago | (#40545445)

We had the same at HP - if you got the bottom ranking twice in a row you were asked to leave. We had a stable team of 10 engineers, all of which were good at their job but one had to be ranked as incompetent.

We working through the list alphabetically, so everybody got it once in a while but never twice in a row.

Re:Stacked ranking at HP (1)

nanoflower (1077145) | about 2 years ago | (#40545563)

You were lucky that you had a manager that actually cared about his/her employees. Many managers wouldn't give it a second thought.

Behold the evil that is Microsoft! (1)

FridayBob (619244) | about 2 years ago | (#40545461)

Let the ranting begin!

If Steve Ballmer were "stack ranked" (1)

mbkennel (97636) | about 2 years ago | (#40545477)

where would he be? Hmm????

Eval process kills another company (4, Interesting)

bbbaldie (935205) | about 2 years ago | (#40545623)

I worked at a place that manufactured snack cakes with a cute little girl as their trademark. I worked there 13 years as an hourly employee, then got promoted into their IT department.

It was great for five years or so, then the third generation of this family-owned started flexing their muscles, invoking a new unsaid policy that unless you could prove otherwise, the assumption was that you were a lazy goof-off who should be demoted or fired.

Thus was born the semiannual evaluations from hell process.

I would typically spend 20-40 hours applying loads of manure to my evaluation in an effort to be spared the axe. So would every other salaried employee in the billion-dollar company. This was time that could have been used in improving our production numbers via technology (I was an intranet developer). Instead, we had to slather our way though an incomprehensible eval process that forced us to make predictions based on absolutely no data. Basically, we had to try to read the minds of a couple of dysfunctional family members who now found themselves in officer positions.

They probably couldn't get warehouse worker jobs for Wal-Mart, thank God (for them) that they were members of the family.

I've been gone about a year now, others are going over the wall as other jobs make themselves available. The company has managed to grow in a bad economy, but when things get better, I predict a Microsoft-like turn for the worse, as folks who can afford Hostess or Dolly Madison snack cakes leave in droves.

I'm not saying that the psychotic salaried evals are causing the downfall of the company, but they certainly are a barometer of how things in general are going. Just like Microsoft.

Microsoft is practicing "Decimation" (4, Interesting)

Steve1952 (651150) | about 2 years ago | (#40545631)

According to Wikipedia: Decimation (Latin: decimatio; decem = "ten") was a form of military discipline used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous or cowardly soldiers. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth".[1] A unit selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten; each group drew lots (Sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing

OK a valid if harsh form of management, but note the critical distinction that the Romans reserved this very harsh technique for unusual events. They were not dumb enough to do this to every unit on a routine basis!

Re:Microsoft is practicing "Decimation" (3, Informative)

Wansu (846) | about 2 years ago | (#40545767)

  "... the Romans reserved this very harsh technique for unusual events. They were not dumb enough to do this to every unit on a routine basis!"

Neutron Jack was right about companies accumulating dead wood. They can and do. Used on a one time basis to get shed of non-productive workers, Rank and Yank is highly effective. But then they keep doing it on a routine basis. On subsequent iterations, they get rid of good people. They become so fixated on this process, it becomes an end in and of itself. I wonder whether Welch knew what he had set loose upon the world.

As a Microsoft employee (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545647)

The stack ranking wouldn't be a destructive process, if management used it correctly. It should be a template on where the team member is placed because they perform at a certain level of execution. Not a tool to make sure the list has a certain amount of 1s, 2s, ... 5s.

On my team there are employees who are there to collect a paycheck and coast; they deserve lower rankings because of their mediocre to poor performance. We have guys that do what they are told (and that's it), they get average reviews (3s). Sounds about right? It does work there. We also have politically savvy individuals that deliver nothing and guys that actually perform and do a lot of work. Guess who gets the higher numbers? Management claims it's not political; to the point where they have to have HR in the room to ensure it's not political. It doesn't, hasn't and never will work. (It really burns me when someone with a bunch of hot hair gets a 1; when you work your tail off and get a 2...)

The example given, 10 employees, and only 2 with awesome reviews creates a competitive atmosphere. Management is always on the look out for faults in an employee that have been used for years against someone. It kills moral, makes people self-pontificate way to much (and say nothing) while doing little to self promote how great they are. If they used the number system as a template to rank employees and not force a bell curve, Microsoft would have happier and more innovative employees.

Prevents retirement (5, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#40545685)

Your odds of surviving thirty years of this is approximately zero. Everybody has an off year eventually. Once people realize that, their commitment also goes to zero.

Re:Prevents retirement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545967)

Does anyone survive 30 years in this industry anywhere? I survived 10. I am a shell of a man for it.

Perverse management incentives (5, Interesting)

hibiki_r (649814) | about 2 years ago | (#40545849)

When using a review system like this, few things are more valuable to a manager than some really terrible employees.

Imagine I have 2 amazing developers in my team and 3 very good ones, and the ranking system is going to force me to give one a bad review: It will not only make that one very good developer mad, but sour things for the other two, that have to keep beating the poor sob I randomly chose as the one getting the bad review. However, what if I transfer one of my very good developers to a different team in exchange for a worthless chump? Give the chump nothing important to do, and then the rest of your team can continue unhindered and unafraid of getting an awful review just because they are associated with a competitive team.

I used to work at a place like this. If a new hire was just way too good, he was moved to a different team that had lost a top performer, and team quality was kept relatively even: We had to protect the good developers we had. Any team that was too good just had to be split up, or they'd quit anyway.

But they kick ass in the enterprise domain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40545987)

Seriously, Microsoft just about owns the commercial enterprise infrastructure stack in many industries these days. You fuzzy bearded Linux types living in your parent's basement would be absolutely blown away at the penetration of MS Windows server OSes, Exchange, SharePoint, MS-SQL - you name it - in large companies in private industry. I mean AMAZED.

I don't know why they still dick around with stuff like phones, music players - they are making bank in the enterprise.

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