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Microsoft Kills Stack Ranking

Soulskill posted about 10 months ago | from the voted-off-the-managerial-island dept.

Businesses 204

Nerval's Lobster writes "Microsoft once demanded that its managers place their subordinates on a scale from 'top' to 'poor,' a practice that fueled some epic backstabbing within divisions. Last year, a Microsoft contractor with knowledge of the company's internal review processes told Slashdot that Microsoft was actively working to fix that system; just this week, the company announced that stack ranking was well and truly dead (and that's certainly one way to fix it). 'Lisa Brummel, head of human resources for the company, sent an e-mail to employees notifying them of the change today, according to my contacts,' ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley wrote. According to the memo, there are 'no more ratings,' 'no more curves,' and 'Managers and leaders will have flexibility to allocate rewards in the manner that best reflects the performance of their teams and individuals, as long as they stay within their compensation budget.' They're trying to encourage more teamwork and collaboration throughout the company. As we discussed on Saturday, Yahoo is adopting this method just as Microsoft is abandoning it."

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The old Chair-man is gone (5, Informative)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 10 months ago | (#45405119)

Maybe Microsoft will be able to re-invent a better version of itself.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (5, Funny)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#45405499)

Yes. It's time for a new plan. New leadership. A new face to take this once proud company and lift it up. To trod on customers in bold and unprecedented ways. To crush the employees wills in ways never before seen. To boost short-term gains for utterly amazing long-term losses in a way unheard of by mankind. In short, to make Microsoft the utterly clusterfuck it was born to be.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 10 months ago | (#45405883)

New leadership or just a new face at the top of the monkey tree?
He'll probably reorganize since that's the only thing a manager/CEO _can_ do.
Reorg means a brand-new circus with the same old clowns.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406191)

You can say that again. It's a documented fact that when a Roman general was appointed the first thing that he would do would be to reorganize. I guess people in those positions (Roman generals and CEOs) in their heart of hearts know that they are just cheerleaders, and that the best way to show who is in charge is to reorganize: it's probably harmless (unless you do something stupid) and things will carry on the same as before anyway.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (4, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about 10 months ago | (#45405585)

It surely needs to. I've said for quite some time that MS is doomed without some radical changes. Well, new CEO, major re-org, end of the reviled stack ranking, sure seems like they're trying! At this point it's clear that MS is re-inventing a different version of itself.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (2)

jawtheshark (198669) | about 10 months ago | (#45405843)

I'm waiting for the third version...

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (3, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about 10 months ago | (#45405881)

Always a good plan. But for MS I think this will be "MS 3.0" - Balmer's MS was very different from Gates'. TBD's MS looks like it will be quite different as well, one way or the other.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (5, Funny)

jawtheshark (198669) | about 10 months ago | (#45405977)

Perhaps, version 3.11 is the one to wait for, then ;-) I heard it's good if you base your career on networking.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (1)

lgw (121541) | about 10 months ago | (#45406107)

Awesome!

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (1)

Dins (2538550) | about 10 months ago | (#45406273)

Knowing Microsoft, they'll probably skip 3.11 and jump straight to Microsoft ME.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 10 months ago | (#45406623)

Microsoft ME? "Microsoft Microsoft Edition"?

Yes, I know ME stands for "Millenium Edition". Humor me.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406013)

I've said for quite some time that MS is doomed without some radical changes

Maybe your powers of prognostication aren't what you think they are?

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 10 months ago | (#45405703)

Maybe Microsoft will be able to re-invent a better version of itself.

Well, now that MS is doing those Surface thingies, they needed an ARMchair-man; the old one just wouldn't do.

Re:The old Chair-man is gone (5, Funny)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 10 months ago | (#45405861)

Maybe Microsoft will be able to re-invent a better version of itself.

probably just changes on the Surface tho ;-)

"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopting (5, Insightful)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about 10 months ago | (#45405153)

And yet both companies will have the same outcome - continuing their long decline into irrelevant mediocrity. Maybe both companies should consider looking a little further up the management chain to discover what truly ails them.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405285)

sure man. Oracle is equally irrelevant.

Oh wait you're just a dumb nerd.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405341)

Amazon is irrelevant too? They use it. As do many other companies that you probably love

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (5, Insightful)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about 10 months ago | (#45405447)

I think you glossed over my point. It's not these silly management initiatives which determine the outcome of a business's success but the core intelligence and culture of the business itself, particularly in its executives and management. Poorly-run companies are always latching on and off the the latest management fads because they lack core direction and competence.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405559)

you're just a stupid poor who crawls under desks for a living and whinges about outsourcing

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (5, Insightful)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about 10 months ago | (#45405345)

Yahoo is adopting it because it's a great way to get rid of dead weight, as long as it's used BRIEFLY. It's really not meant to be used in the long-term (as MS and several other have tried to). In the short-term, Yahoo will lose some dead weight. In the long-term, they'll get paranoia, indecisiveness, etc. (in short, a company culture of fear).

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (5, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | about 10 months ago | (#45405661)

Yeah, if you know you want to lay off 20% of a large workforce, it makes sense to take some metrics-- including some subjective evaluation-- and develop a ranking of employees from "extremely valuable" to "a drain on company resources", and then cut the bottom 20%. Do that as a one-time thing, or even do a couple rounds in relatively short succession. That could work.

But if you make it part of the company culture, you're going to end up with a company of paranoid back-stabbers.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (2)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 10 months ago | (#45405907)

But if you make it part of the company culture, you're going to end up with a company of paranoid back-stabbers.

And what is the problem with that?" asks Larry Ellison.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405979)

I work for a government-owned, contractor-operated lab where we are ranked 1..N, and it's not all that destructive. Why? Because there have been no significant raises in years! So, staff and management wastes months on performance reviews, then the results are put on file and never looked at. The end.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (1)

mikael (484) | about 10 months ago | (#45406491)

Was it Dilbert PHB's or the BOFH who announced "Weekly redundancy notices will continue to be issued until employee moral improves".

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406435)

Exactly. This system sounds great if you only adopt it for a short period. Microsoft was just stupid to continue the system, because it creates hostility. I'd actually envision this system to work well if you rotated it in every 2 years, for 6 months.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (4, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about 10 months ago | (#45405699)

And yet both companies will have the same outcome - continuing their long decline into irrelevant mediocrity.

Somehow despite geek opinions, Microsoft's revenue keeps going up. Yahoo is starting to look up as well, though how much of that is Alibaba is hard to say.

All industries eventually mature. Being on top of a mature industry is a good place to be, as long as you occasionally shake things up enough to stay on top.

Maybe both companies should consider looking a little further up the management chain to discover what truly ails them.

You mean like getting a new CEO, which Yahoo did and MS is doing?

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45407157)

Increasing revenue and declining relevance are not mutually exclusive. Certainly microsoft will use much of its cash to dig its claws into everything further. Microsoft is a walled garden, and they can keep building their walls higher and continue being successful, but eventually the cost of getting into those walls becomes too high, while the alternatives outside them become too good, and microsoft's expensive walls become useless very quickly. It's already happened for mobile computing and casual gaming, it's happening for hardcore gaming, and it will happen for office apps. Microsoft can keep charging more while it loses its monopoly grip on the industry, but it will continue its long decline into irrelevant mediocrity.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (1)

dido (9125) | about 10 months ago | (#45407209)

True, Microsoft's revenue keeps going up, but that doesn't mean anything. They are no longer supreme dictator of the tech world, able to control the industry at their whim, as they were in the glory days of the nineties and early 2000s. I remember a time when the industry jumped at every word Microsoft said, when the mere thought that they were getting into something was enough to make the faint of heart pull out to avoid competing with them head-on. No more. They're about as relevant and dangerous to the leading edge of computer technology as IBM or SAP. Microsoft is turning into a boring old company just like them.

The other thing is that a vast portion of Microsoft's revenue comes from only two cash cows: Windows and Office, and those two are beginning their slide into irrelevance with the rise of mobile computing. Hence their rather pathetic efforts so far to try to get into that market. It's something that they must succeed in somehow, and they need someone with true vision to edge into the market dominated by Apple and Google. Ballmer wasn't it.

Re:"Microsoft abandoning it just as Yahoo is adopt (1)

bad-badtz-maru (119524) | about 10 months ago | (#45405815)

Yes, because Microsoft is barely breaking even.these days.

Yahoo is adopting this method as MSFT ditches it (4, Insightful)

themushroom (197365) | about 10 months ago | (#45405167)

Yahoo seems to be on a roll with this, as they adopted a Win8 pane interface on Flickr right about the time Microsoft was forced to concede people without tablets, smartphones, and touchscreens on their computers (and some who do have those things) dislike it greatly.

Re:Yahoo is adopting this method as MSFT ditches i (1)

Timothy Hartman (2905293) | about 10 months ago | (#45405233)

People just loved [nytimes.com] the [cnet.com] Flickr [flickr.com] redesign [petapixel.com] .

Re:Yahoo is adopting this method as MSFT ditches i (2)

CreatureComfort (741652) | about 10 months ago | (#45405445)

Obligatory [xkcd.com]

Re:Yahoo is adopting this method as MSFT ditches i (1)

eatvegetables (914186) | about 10 months ago | (#45405351)

Well, of course. Yahoo has such a stellar record of making sound business decisions that one should surely have anticipated this move. Word on the street is that Dilbert's pointy haired boss is slated to lead this new management initiative!

Attrition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405171)

It seems plausible that Yahoo wishes to encourage employee attrition, and so is deliberately adopting an unpopular measure.

Well, that or they genuinely think it is a good idea... maybe the upper management should be stack ranked themselves.

Re:Attrition (1)

TrippTDF (513419) | about 10 months ago | (#45406037)

Managers are going to think like managers. The "upside" of stack ranking is

A) It fosters competition, which should also foster a better product (I don't actually agree this is the case, though)
B) It helps weed out the worst employees
C) It's easy to understand from a high level

It's an example of something that sounds good from the outside, but in actuality it has a ton of problems. Once you've had an organization the size of MS try it for as long as they did and see the results, no other company should need to go down that route... I would think Yahoo would be smarter than this.

Re:Attrition (4, Insightful)

gnasher719 (869701) | about 10 months ago | (#45406705)

A) It fosters competition, which should also foster a better product (I don't actually agree this is the case, though)

Where I work, if someone else is good at their job, that's good for me, because it makes my job easier. With stack ranking, if someone else is good at their job, I'd have to try hard to make them look bad without them noticing, so that I look relatively better. Where I work, I'd help somone getting their job done so we get a better product. With stack ranking, as long as it looks like their fault if the product is shit, I'm Ok.

What next? (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 10 months ago | (#45405199)

Hopefully they won't be moving to a "everybody is a winner" scheme.

Re:What next? (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 10 months ago | (#45405925)

Hopefully they won't be moving to a "everybody is a winner" scheme.

Failure is not an option. That means failure must be mandatory.
As long as we're all pulling for the same goal, that's what counts.

Encountered this kind of thing ... (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 10 months ago | (#45405261)

Microsoft once demanded that its managers place their subordinates on a scale from 'top' to 'poor,' a practice that fueled some epic backstabbing within divisions.

A bunch of years ago a company I worked for was doing something similar.

They essentially demanded it be placed on a bell curve. So, in our group of 5 people, all of whom were good solid people who worked well together and got stuff built, management was insisting there be 1 awesome, 1 pretty good, 1 good, 1 needs work, and 1 terrible -- and that had nothing whatsoever to do with the individual strengths of the team, just some idiots vision of how these things should be managed. My manager didn't feel that anybody belonged below the top 1 or 2 rankings.

If you decide in advance that your ranking has to take on an artificial distribution, you end up with a really pointless management system which really just serves to give people with no knowledge of what really happens a nice easy to read (and often incorrect) metric.

It really does make for a pointless "management by inapplicable metrics" kind of culture. And so often it's all about making managements job easy and something they can point to the formulas -- and seems to offer zero insights into what is actually happening. The more companies blindly use metrics, the less they actually grasp what their organization is actually doing.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (4, Insightful)

Nemyst (1383049) | about 10 months ago | (#45405495)

Bell curves can work in academic settings (grading exams and homework) and often represent large-scale populations well, but they have no purpose in management. If you're only hiring the best (which is what all the companies you ask will claim), how can you have a bell curve? That's entirely ignoring the fact that any statistical method using a population size of five is utterly meaningless.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (3, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#45405623)

That's not the problem. I mean, it's a problem. But the real problem is trying to apply numerical methods to personal subjective assessment.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405837)

No, that is not particularly the problem. You can put numerical values to things that are very subjective such as figure skating and gymnastics for example.

The problem is assuming your distribution fits a bell curve. A bell curve is an approximation that describes the distribution of data. It is not the only possible distribution. If you are going to force your data to look like a bell curve when it doesn't you are going to make poor decisions.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 10 months ago | (#45405905)

Normalization is a thing. Not that I'm saying they're using it. Just that it exists.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 10 months ago | (#45406213)

That's not the problem. I mean, it's a problem. But the real problem is trying to apply numerical methods to personal subjective assessment.

That's not a problem when done correctly and appropriately bold-faced. Interview one person and then ask a classroom of 30 to rank that interviewee on traits like extroversion, honesty, confidence, etc., and you'll get a pretty damn accurate assessment. It's called the 'wisdom of the crowds' -- average it all together and bang; Resaonably accurate assessment.

There's a related example; Chicken sexing. Keep your mind out of the gutter, this is serious -- as you know, we need eggs. Lots of eggs. So we need a lot of hens. But there's a problem; Male and female chickens look almost identical. We cannot use machines to separate them, so it must be done by humans. But how then, if they're almost identical, do we tell the difference? As it turns out -- we take someone else who's a chicken sorter, stand behind the new guy, and say yes or no repeatedly until the answers are mostly yes. Although we cannot really tell any difference visually, somehow, we can get about a 96% accuracy rate out of humans by simply training them with yes/no answers. It defies all reason, but that's how they do it. And the thing is... the accuracy rate doesn't decrease as they in turn train the next new guy, etc. It remains constant across the population.

You can't get any more subjective than chicken sex sorting -- really, I could put two of them in your hands and short of dissecting them, you wouldn't be able to find any difference. And yet... you can be trained to become highly accurate at separating these two nearly homogenous groups.

I guess my point is, your argument is bunk. You can make personal subjective assessment accurate and valid; But you need to either do it with a group of people doing the assessment (many to one), or you need to be trained on how to identify key traits. You're absolutely right in that without formal and explicit training, human beings are about as accurate as a randomly wired neural network. But with training, it's a whole 'nother story.

You can be trained to be very accurate in those "subjective" assessments. It just happens to be the case that the overwhelming majority of people aren't.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406209)

The math department of the University of Waterloo had a dean who literally wrote the textbook for statistics. And he made it department policy to not allow bell curves in any grading in any math course. A bell curve is one model of behavior, and it can occur naturally. But when it does not occur, making data fit a bell curve is throwing away the actual data and replacing it with information that meets your expectations. If a class or team has a bifurcated distribution, or a strange skew from expected values, you want that information rolled up. And that's why the bell curve is useless for rating people.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (1)

swan5566 (1771176) | about 10 months ago | (#45406313)

Bell curves "work" in academic settings because there's hardly any accountability imposed upon tenured professors for how they evaluate students. It's continually shown how grades (as of right now) are a poor predictor of success in the outside world, yet this continues to be ignored in the practical sense in academia.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405627)

Having 1 person in each of 5 categories is emphatically not a bell-curve (i.e., a normal distribution in statistical terminology), which by definition has more people occurring at the mean score or close to it than at scores closer to either the high or low tails. What you described is a uniform distribution. If the managers asked for a bell-curve distribution and instructed you to divide these 5 people all into equally spaced categories, they did not even understand that their instructions conflict with what they said they wanted. This alone should tell you who really needs to be fired.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (3, Insightful)

photo pilot (3425097) | about 10 months ago | (#45405695)

This makes everything a zero-sum game. I cannot get ahead without making sure you do not. Wrecking two other people's servers beats making mine better.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (4, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | about 10 months ago | (#45405791)

A bell curve for employees works well across a large enough pool. Given 5 people, it's silly. Given 500 people, you're going to have a bell curve of actual performance. That's not the problem with stack ranking,

It's firing the bottom x% every year that gets you into trouble. The first time you do it, it's probably for the best, but after that if you need to fire that many people you should probably get better at hiring.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (2)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 10 months ago | (#45405955)

I never had any math professors grade on a curve. They said we could all get As or all fail but the sample size wasn't large enough to justify any sort of curve.
Of course, most managers probably didn't take enough math classes to learn to think logically.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406063)

I never had any math professors grade on a curve. They said we could all get As or all fail but the sample size wasn't large enough to justify any sort of curve.

Of course, most managers probably didn't take enough math classes to learn to think logically.

I've had math classes graded on a curve -- the curve ended up negative because we had a half dozen masters students in the class who got 100% every test, and the rest of the class was mostly in the upper 90s. So if you got an 85 you would have failed the class. I got a B.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about 10 months ago | (#45406307)

I had a physics class graded on a curve. Labs were supposed to be 10 to 20% of the grade. If you got above a 40 on the final exam and attended labs you got an B. If you did not attend labs you failed no matter what your exam score was.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (1)

BigDaveyL (1548821) | about 10 months ago | (#45405987)

Or investing in better training/management programs.

moi? bitter? (4, Insightful)

Thud457 (234763) | about 10 months ago | (#45405839)

stupid HR fucks don't understand simple statistics.

Of course these are the same morons that want to play keyword bingo with your resume, think everybody in a 200,000 person company needs ethics training to make up for the moral deficiencies of the executives in the boardroom and want 5 years of experience with some technology that's only been around for 2.

Re:Encountered this kind of thing ... (1)

fermion (181285) | about 10 months ago | (#45406601)

In theory, if the job market is mobile and there is funding to hire and train new people all the time, this is not a horrible rational. The attrition of the bottom 25% assures that everyone has to be at their best all the time, and those who just want to slack get left behind. There is a new set of graduates every year, experienced people who want a lateral move, and internal promotions. This is, in fact, what some in public education propose as a way to improve the teaching pool. Any large organization can use this not only to improver overall quality but also to refresh and innovate. The theory says, statistically speaking, is the median will move to the right, while the standard deviation decreases or, in the best case scenario, remains constant.

However, theory is not practice. Highly competent professionals are not necessarily going to wait around to be arbitrarily fired or given a poor evaluation. Such things can effect long term earning. A proactive professional will look for ways to exit gracefully before any damage can be done. In other words, at a certain level of experience, the incentive will be to find another position. The result therefore is case where the median, best case scenario, remains constant while the curve skews to the left as less experienced people replace the high performers who can go elsewhere.

Expect an up-tick in workplace harassment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405271)

The new review methodology will have subordinates placed in a grid of multi-sized squares and force management to use their fingers.

Hmmm interesting (5, Insightful)

Nov8tr (2007392) | about 10 months ago | (#45405289)

OK we know from MS history they treated customers poorly. We know they treated mom & pop shops poorly. They treated the companies that make apps for them poorly. Now we find out they even treated the employees poorly. Honest question, did they ever treat anyone right? I mean besides the management figures making 7 figures. Wait, that might not even be true. Wow, sure am glad I never worked there.

Re:Hmmm interesting (3, Interesting)

gtall (79522) | about 10 months ago | (#45405451)

I think in the beginning, there were plenty of employees that got rich off stock options. However, to my eye, management and stockholders got greedy. Management also considered themselves techno-stars when in reality, technology had passed them by and they never got the memo. Considering themselves techno-stars, many lessor employees must be techno-weenies and hence stack ranking was born.

The only poetic justice was that Ballmer was stack-ranked as a non-performing asset and deemed expendable. They should have sacked Gates, he's the one who gave MS their sclerotic management culture, but he bailed before them chickens came home to roost.

Re:Hmmm interesting (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405483)

Wow, sure am glad I never worked there.

That's probably a win-win.

Re:Hmmm interesting (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405507)

I don't think a single group with whom that company interacted was not penetrated anally with a titanium cactus.

You are a sucky manager. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405311)

You are a shitty manager if you need to resort to "stack ranking" or whatever.

1. Your recruitment policies suck - that's a given for all of IT/Development/Software - industry - if you can't find qualified people, it's YOUR fault. If you do find "qualified" people and you still fail - look in the mirror.

2. If they get hired and fail, then WTF is the problem? Unrealistic deadlines? Changing scope? Death marches?

3. Every problem is management's fault. Period. End of story.

Don't get me started on the idiocy of Silicon Valley: Kids, don't work there. They are milking the reputation of true innovators like the Dave Packard (Business guy) and Bill Hewlett.(engineer) - today, they are a bunch of marketing phony assholes and cunts - looking at your camel toe Ms Mayer .

Silicone valley is for posers. Pass the word.

Re:You are a sucky manager. (1)

Shados (741919) | about 10 months ago | (#45405653)

I'm confused about #1, unless you include "decided to make an office in an area where tech people like to be....and everyone else did the same thing" as being your fault, but then what else can you do...

There's limited amount of qualified individuals in any given region, and you have the choice between opening office in the middle of nowhere (and actually having a shortage of good people), or open office in SF/SJ, Boston or NYC, and compete for good people with everyone else.

It IS hard to find them, no matter how much you pay, how cool your culture is, and how awesome the benefits are.

Re:You are a sucky manager. (1)

dave562 (969951) | about 10 months ago | (#45406561)

+1 to the points above. I work in IT operations for a moderate sized corporation (~3500 employees) and we struggle to find qualified talent. We pay well (~$85-90k for a mid-level sysadmin position), have good benefits, regular bonuses and yearly raises. The practice I work for is a technology / IT centric practice where IT is a core component of the business model. That means that we do not have to fight for resources and get to invest in good technologies like auto-tiering storage, massive virtual infrastructures, Hadoop, APM tools, etc.

While we get plenty of eager candidates, very few of them are highly qualified. We often settle for average candidates and hope that we can train them up to the level that we need them at. There are a lot of "IT professionals" out there, but, based on my experience, only about 10-15% of them are truly competent to the point where I can trust them to be more or less autonomous.

Er... (1)

brunes69 (86786) | about 10 months ago | (#45406997)

First of all.. the first line managers do not decide these kind of ranking systems. The upper-levels and HR execs do. The best managers try to work AROUND the system they are forced to live in.

Second, stack ranking is not common in silicon valley companies at all. It is old-school large companies like GE, Microsoft, Accenture, IBM, etc. that employ it.
 

What happened (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405317)

to the "freedom to innovate," did Microsoft finally buy up all the fledgling their ideas management could stifle?

My ex-employer KPN also does (did?) this (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405347)

My ex-employer KPN (Netherlands) also does (did?) this; each manager was telling it just had to be in any group of at least 8 employees, and would then show a Gauss curve to prove it ... I'm happy I'm not there anymore.

Re:My ex-employer KPN also does (did?) this (1)

PPH (736903) | about 10 months ago | (#45405541)

You were lucky. You had a manager that knew what a Gauss curve was.

Yahoo's New Corporate Slogan.... (5, Funny)

Grumpinuts (1272216) | about 10 months ago | (#45405475)

...Yesterday's Solutions Tomorrow.

Stack ranking is operating by the old saying (5, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | about 10 months ago | (#45405515)

"I don't have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you."

Re:Stack ranking is operating by the old saying (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405897)

"I don't have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you."

Well, except that the bear in this case isn't chasing anyone. It's happily eating salmon and berries. Plus, the campers have more than enough supplies to stay out in the woods for months. But some camp counselor has the strict order to agitate the bear so it'll maul the lowest-performing camper to conserve supplies. So then they tie up that camper and throw them on top of the bear's cubs. When the spectacle starts, the counselor points it out as an example of how dangerous bears are in nature. Then the counselor shoots the camper a few times just to make SURE they die, since that's clearly what's important here. Lesson learned!

Re:Stack ranking is operating by the old saying (1)

rwyoder (759998) | about 10 months ago | (#45406753)

"I don't have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you."

You don't even need to outrun your peer if you just deliberately trip him.
From what I've read of M$'s stack-ranking, this is how it works in practice.

It's horrible (4, Interesting)

nightsky30 (3348843) | about 10 months ago | (#45405583)

Lockheed Martin also employed stacked rankings. The local manager had no clue who people were. How can you even rank your employees when you have no idea who they are?!?!? I was called by another coworker's name multiple times. I finally called my manager out on it in front of everyone at a picnic. He didn't confuse me with the other individual after that... There was so much turnover we basically lost a contract due it and having to retrain new people ALL THE TIME. I don't blame those of us who left. Many people busted their asses and did an excellent job, only to be rated average or below because the manager had a certain number of slots to allocate certain rankings. AND THAT'S IF HE KNEW WHO THE FSCK YOU WERE!!!!!!

Lots do it (4, Interesting)

koan (80826) | about 10 months ago | (#45405611)

I worked at a large corporation whose name started with an A and ends with an E.
They too had a ranking system, the lowest got sent to a certain team in our general group where they were needled to death over their stats and either quit or accumulated enough "black marks" to get canned.
When the team rotation came around, the lower ranking people got suicidal, dread is the word of the day, when your name appeared on that "special team" list it was like getting sent to a death camp.

That person is now tainted and must be shunned.

I saw good techs go down for not having enough "personality" (flashbacks of *37 pieces of flair* from Office Space) and it was a dismal atmosphere.

I left that sh*t hole, never got my turn on the death team.
Frankly every large corporation I have worked for is the same in that they have all the makings of a cult... I mean if they wanted to go that way.

Re:Lots do it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45405705)

I worked at a large corporation whose name started with an A and ends with an E.

Allstate?

Re:Lots do it (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406407)

Abercrombie was my first thought. (Screw Fitch, he just messes up the end letter match.) I dismissed it quickly.

Accenture was my second. This would be entirely possible. I've worked for ex-Accenture VP's, and they're pretty cutthroat. But then it came to me...

Apple. That's the one. The word "cult" should've tipped us all off.

Re:Lots do it (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 10 months ago | (#45406071)

I saw good techs go down for not having enough "personality"

The people who deserve to go down are the ones who included that in a rating. It'd probably make sense for sales or marketing, but techies are supposed to be surly and anti-social. All kidding aside, "doesn't play well with others" is a legitimate black mark, but that's a long way from "not having enough 'personality'". It does go a long way towards explaining that "nameless" company's products though.

You're still fighting over the same money (3, Insightful)

Atrox666 (957601) | about 10 months ago | (#45405629)

While they don't have to be ranked so strictly you're still fighting over table scraps against your own team.
If everyone surpasses expectations and achieves a good result then everyone deserves to be compensated fairly.

Re:You're still fighting over the same money (1)

PPH (736903) | about 10 months ago | (#45405863)

But if the manager decides everyone did equally well (contributed their own strengths to the team), then they all get the same raise. That seems fair. Except that if the raise pot is known, everyone will grumble if they fall short. And they'll try to figure out who got the big bonus.

We had a system like this at Boeing. Most managers were to spineless to do anything other than spread the raises around like peanut butter. Then they added a 'retention pot', to reward the top 10% that might otherwise leave. This was distributed organization-wide, but managers had to nominate candidates. So it was much more difficult to figure out who got/didn't get the big bonus.

Re:You're still fighting over the same money (1)

photo pilot (3425097) | about 10 months ago | (#45405869)

When I was at XXX, we had say 50 bonus checks for 500 people. It was like what if 300 of the 500 were superb? What if 499 sleep all day? Nevermind, find 50 and give them out.

Re:You're still fighting over the same money (2)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 10 months ago | (#45405991)

I like the system of the company I work at. Did the company meet all its goals? Everybody gets a bonus! Then the management team gets more bonus if they achieved all their goals. Company had a terrible year? Well, sorry, no money for anyone.

Should be 1% not 10% (2)

Alomex (148003) | about 10 months ago | (#45405785)

Stack ranking works great if you use it to get rid of the bottom 1% every year. Surely in a department with 100 people there is at least one hire who didn't turn out great.

The problem is when it is applied at a 10% threshold. It is not hard after a few hiring/firing rounds to end up with teams of over 10 people all of which are very good, yet stack ranking still demands that you fire the "bottom" perfectly OK person-decile.

Re:Should be 1% not 10% (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 10 months ago | (#45406017)

There is always a lowest 1% or 10%. But that's irrelevant.
If one of your employees didn't work out, deal with it personally and realize it is a one-off event.
If 1% (or 5% or 15%) of the people you hire aren't working out, perhaps that's normal or perhaps you aren't hiring well or managing well or matching employee talents to business needs.
Don't try to let math do your thinking for you (like MS used to and Yahoo is apparently going to start doing).

Re:Should be 1% not 10% (1)

Alomex (148003) | about 10 months ago | (#45407061)

Don't try to let math do your thinking for you (like MS used to and Yahoo is apparently going to start doing).

In a perfect world yes. However sometimes you need strong incentives to have managers do the right thing in a world where time is a finite resource.

If one of your employees didn't work out, deal with it personally and realize it is a one-off event.

It is also less demoralizing if the slackers are let go once a year, as part of a transparent process.

Re:Should be 1% not 10% (2)

Jiro (131519) | about 10 months ago | (#45406113)

Stack ranking works great if you use it to get rid of the bottom 1% every year. Surely in a department with 100 people there is at least one hire who didn't turn out great.

Except that if you use it every year, then the one that didn't turn out great was already fired last year. You're really saying that in a department of 100 there are 5, or 10, or 20 who didn't turn out great (depending on how fast your natural turnover is).

Re:Should be 1% not 10% (1)

Alomex (148003) | about 10 months ago | (#45406981)

Except that if you use it every year, then the one that didn't turn out great was already fired last year.

Not really. Most departments have enough turn-around that you will be hiring 5 people a year, every year.

Microsoft used it too long (1)

BigDaveyL (1548821) | about 10 months ago | (#45405963)

It sounds like Microsoft used this for too long and caused a lot of infighting and back stabbing in the long run.

I can understand why Yahoo! wants to try it - new management, and they want to cut the dead weight. Hopefully they do not do it for too long.

Re:Microsoft used it too long (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 10 months ago | (#45406221)

Pretty much every proponent of stack ranking says the same thing: it is to be used only for a limited time.

One of the dumbest things ever... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406033)

Stack Ranking came out of Jack Welch's management style at GE. Get rid of the perpetually lousy 20% at the bottom of the heap. What idiots like Balmer didn't understand was the nuanced nature of Jack's model. Somewhere in your company there is a bottom 20% - it may be a group of people, it may be a change in business direction, it may result in the elimination of a resource sucking internal policy or program. In short, get rid of that which is not contributing to the business. It doesn't mean that each team should have 20% let go - it means you should be able to get rid of 20% of the organization somewhere. Bring in new talent that drives the new business growth forward. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Stack Ranking was tried by us (begins w/ A, ends with N, Go Man-U!). We ended up getting rid of 20%... not because of stack ranking - but because 20% left on their own accord. What management didn't realize is that the 20% that left were the ones that knew how the systems were glued together, where the actual problems were, and could treat the customer right. In short, as soon as word of stack ranking came out they didn't loose the bottom 20% - they lost roughly the top 20%. Those marketable to get work somewhere else. The rest of us are still slaving away.

I hope MS pulls it off and can recreate themselves back into relevancy. It will be good for both Apple and Linux to continue to have the good, solid, stiff competition.

Microsoft 2.0, huh? (1)

Escogido (884359) | about 10 months ago | (#45406089)

I'll wait for the first service pack before I install this, thanks.

Can we get rid of the "grading on a curve", please (4, Insightful)

janoc (699997) | about 10 months ago | (#45406101)

Someone wrote that grading on a curve works in academia but not in industry. Why should it work for grading exams when it doesn't for ranking the workers? Especially the academics that are using it should know better.

Grading on a curve (or the MS stack ranking, which is the same) is one of the most unfair and vile ranking/grading systems invented. Why? Because your actual skills don't matter. What matters is how many better (or worse) colleagues you have. If you have are in a large team (or class) of good performers, you are screwed, even if you are good - someone will be given the short end of the stick only because there are only so many "good marks" available. An extreme example are students "hacking" their exams by handing in blank sheets. Even if they all (or sufficiently many) do that, with curve grading they are guaranteed some 75% chance that they will pass - by doing nothing, because only the low 15-20% fails. Shouldn't we be marking their skills and knowledge instead?

This system also demotivates the good learners/workers - what is the point of trying to work hard, when you will not get that good mark only because there is only a limited amount given out and simply too many comparably good candidates. Essentially the system forces (undeserved) bad marks on people even though they performed equally well as the best ones. This sort of thing does wonders for morale.

Finally, the second fallacy why this is fundamentally broken is the assumption that the skill distribution in a work team or class is normal (follows a bell curve). There is absolutely no guarantee of that, because, heck, you aren't hiring the idiots, are you? I am sure that the company is hiring only "rock star" developers. Same with the students - they have to pass stringent exams and fulfill admission criteria that the majority of the population isn't able. So you have a sample here that isn't representative of the entire population (where the bell curve would be valid) and all bets are off, because the system was built on an invalid assumption. The most extreme example of this is the constant distribution - the case when all students turn in blank sheet of paper (identical "skill" level) for their exam and still pass. You would have to pick the students or hire employees randomly out of the entire population if you wanted to have a normal distribution of skill. Not very practical, though.

To conclude, if you are responsible for examining students or for evaluating employees, for the grace of God, stop using relative ranking schemes like this. Comparing people to each other is certainly easier than to evaluate their "absolute" skill, but it isn't fair, doesn't represent what you think it does and it creates a toxic environment for everyone.

Microsoft Kills Stack Ranking... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406133)

and is replacing it with a new scale. Employees will now be ranked on a scale of Kind of Works (ok to ship out) to BSOD (doesn't work; ship it out anyways).

How about we grade management on a curve? (1)

BLToday (1777712) | about 10 months ago | (#45406211)

Not against each other in the same company but against their peers across all companies. At the end of the year, the bottom 20% gets sent to the Thunderdome. 2 goes in, and hopefully zero comes out.

The symptoms instead of the disease (3, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | about 10 months ago | (#45406223)

If you have to fire someone it can only mean one of two things. Either you didn't train the person well enough or you hired the wrong person. If you abstract what is going on enough all firings ultimately fall into one of those two categories, both of which are a ultimately the responsibility of management. This is why stack ranking is a bad idea. If you didn't train the person well enough then improve your training program. If the person was the wrong person for the job (insufficient work ethic, incompetent, unethical etc) then improve your recruiting program. Stack ranking treats the symptom instead of the disease. It takes emphasis away from focusing on hiring the right people and training them well.

No company will get every hire right (some people just aren't what they seem to be) but creating a culture where everyone is playing a game of "devil take the hindmost" will get people to worry less about getting the right person because if they are wrong they won't last. Hiring someone only to break them off later means someone made a very expensive mistake.

Rank & Yank (1)

gallondr00nk (868673) | about 10 months ago | (#45406237)

This was a practice also done at Enron.

Hey, Steve Balmer is leaving.. Jeff Skilling left Enron just before it imploded...

Quick, sell your shares now!

What about transparency? (2)

srijon (1091345) | about 10 months ago | (#45406275)

While I was at Microsoft, at one point my manager instructed me to stop having ideas that were outside my assigned area, because it was making another team member look bad, and this would impact the stack ranking of both the team member and my manager. So I saw up close how stack ranking sucks. Still, if I was still at MSFT today, I would be very concerned that the new system drives even more of the compensation process into closed-door management sessions, along with the horse trading and cronyism that invites.

One wonders.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406303)

One wonders what MS is going to replace stack ranking with? I think the answer is obvious, they're going to move to queue ranking! I've got no idea of the benefits, but it will clearly be the biggest thing yet! (I'm guessing they've already filed patents)

Collaboration (1)

Kylon99 (2430624) | about 10 months ago | (#45406421)

There was a joke about this I read from somewhere. In Silicon Valley, collaboration means working together to achieve. In Washington DC, collaboration means being shot for treason.

Make sure your company encourages the former.

Re:Collaboration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406603)

In Washington DC, collaboration means f*#king everyone and keeping your job.
FTFY

Might lead to a needed influx of talent... (1)

ndykman (659315) | about 10 months ago | (#45406447)

After all, it is a large enough company that you could make a career out of working there and not get too bored. I think there are some people that are tired of hopping from job to job just to get any advancement may find this appealing. And if the board makes a good pick for CEO, it could get really interesting. There always has been some talent lurking there, they have resources and a real R&D department and if they can cut through the management stagnation, we could see some neat stuff coming from Redmond.

At any rate, the fact that a major company has abandoned stack rating is great news. It's a terrible HR practice that needs to disappear for good.

You need rankings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45406855)

I'm a Marketing Analyst but also am called upon many of times to assist in KPI's for Employee Stack Rank's. Stack Ranks work out fair when the known objectives are ranked on a weighted scale that is agreed upon by all. Granted when you have knowns objective and metrics (Think a Call Center) then a stack rank works out in favor. I do understand in positions that allow much greater flexibility, where your daily activities can vary greatly or not directly influence or contribute to a specific goal of outcome, ranking your value becomes more difficult, but this is when a good Director or Manager understands you and accomplishments or failures.

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