I will preface this blog article and say it will target mainly people who are at Microsoft or have been at Microsoft. For those who have no association it may be a bit dry, but hopefully my writing can make it a bit entertaining!? Just a thought. It’s time to talk reviews. What do you mean reviews Hans? Well the time of year has just passed at Microsoft where people receive their annual review. This determines their level, pay scale, bonus and future growth at Microsoft. Are they invaluable or are they expendable. The review process was new this year going from the Exceed – Meet – Below format of previous years to a 1 is great and a 5 you suck. format. The irony of the new format is it’s the inverse of the of format of 5 your great and 1 you suck format of years.ago. There are differences, however, and ramifications.
In the old format I can say a score of 5 was rarely if ever attained. A great score was 4.5 and above avg was 4. Many strove for a 3.5 and 3.0 was the average employee and most employees in the end received the 3.0 score. If you got a 2.5 (which was the lowest I ever heard of anyone getting) you had to work your way back and those few who received, many did fight back for a better day. In those days it was policy and pretty much everyone followed the rule that you did not discuss your review score. Fast forward to today and you have a strictly applied bell curve for each group and so that there are those who can get anywhere from a 1 to a 5. If I understand correctly you could have an over performing group, but some people will still have to fall under te “bell” and receive a score of under performing.
The new bell curve is pretty hardened in the sense that a few will get 1 a few will get 2 many will get 3 a few will get 4 and a few will get 5. It does not matter how well the group did as a whole, there will be one of 5 scores for everyone. It’s almost a bad thing to work for a high performing group as you could do really well and still get a 4 or 5. A big change is how open people are about review scores these days. I have heard from many either directly about their own score or that of a colleague. It’s as if some do not care or have accepted their fate. The problem is, when you get these low scores your future is reduced to pretty much zero. Many groups will not hire anyone with a low score of 4 or 5. It is a group policy. If you are a 4 you have a limited set of options. Maybe you have an old co-worker or manager willing to vouch for you and take you into their group. Or you work hard for two years (hiring manager’s always ask for your last two review scores) and get high scores and live for another day. If you get a 5 you are next in line to either get fired or laid-off.
In the end, of your 85,000 employees nearly 20% will fall into the lowest tiers. In all honesty for them there is no road back. They will just exist at Microsoft. The good news is they will be paid, The bad news is their days are numbered. they are what I term “The Walking Dead”. Some work hard trying to make up for their mistakes. Hoping to make enough of an impression that they will be allowed to stay. Others see the writing on the wall and plan their escape. Looking elsewhere for work, but in this difficult economy that is not easy to do. Then there are those who do not see it coming and one day they walk into work only to discover an HR rep waiting to greet them and then point them to the exit. On the latter I seem to get emails monthly from former Microsoft friends now out on their own looking for the next big job opportunity. If you read the Microsoft blogs, part of this apparently is an effort to “youthanize” Microsoft, however I refer to it as the effort to euthanize Microsoft.
In the end these walking dead will have an impact on Microsoft. When you are talking about up to 20% of the work force what type of attitude do they bring to their day-to-day jobs and what type of impact does that have across Microsoft? It concerns me as if I look back in the day when things were growing fast people came inspired to make a difference in the world, it was not just a job but something bigger. For such a huge revenue generating machine I am constantly amazed by the low moral. I am also shocked how readily middle and upper management by into this new system, without question. Finally probably the saddest thing is just the concern and fear that has gripped many in the company. I think we all know fear is a great motivator. To be innovative, though, you need passion. Passion is driven out of love for what one is doing. It’s hard to love anything when you are scared. It’s hard to walk away from a job these days, with no prospects, however is it better to live or just exist?
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann October 11, 2011