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Ask Slashdot: How Does Your Company Evaluate Your Performance? 525

jmcbain writes "I'm a former Microsoftie, and one thing I really despised about the company is the 'stack ranking' employee evaluation system that was succinctly captured in a recent Vanity Fair article on the company. Stack ranking is basically applying a forced curve distribution on all employees at the same level, so management must place some percentage of employees into categories of overperforming, performing on average, and underperforming. Even if it's an all-star team doing great work, some folks will be marked as underperforming. Frankly, this really sucked. I know this practice gained popularity with GE in the 1980s and is being used by some (many?) Fortune 500 companies. Does your company do this? What's the best way to survive this type of system?"
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Ask Slashdot: How Does Your Company Evaluate Your Performance?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @04:54AM (#40549019)

    The best way to survive is not to play the game.

    • Re:Like nuclear war. (Score:5, Informative)

      by flyneye ( 84093 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:08AM (#40549883) Homepage

      How Does Your Company Evaluate Your Performance?

      Seldom! Reviews are the time that raises are brought up.
      Betting most places are like that. Our "yearly" reviews come every 18 months, if at all.
      Wanna see someone sidestep like a politician? Ask a suit " when are reviews coming?"

    • by hal2814 ( 725639 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @10:37AM (#40551439)
      Indeed. I survive just fine using the Ty Webb method:

      Judge Smails: Ty, how was your evaluation?
      Ty Webb: Oh, Judge, I don't keep score.
      Judge Smails: Then how do you measure yourself with other workers?
      Ty Webb: By height.
    • Re:Like nuclear war. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by methano ( 519830 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @11:36AM (#40552189)
      I used to work for lly, a big pharmaceutical company. Somebody there was a big fan of Jack Welch and they instituted that curve fitting thing. The big problem was that I worked at a remote site under a director at the main site in Indianapolis. So when they needed to get bodies to put in the bottom bucket, they always got them from the remote site. Eventually, they nuked the entire site. That's why I replied to "Like nuclear war" post.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @04:55AM (#40549021)

    What's the best way to survive this type of system?

    It's called a union.

    • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:11AM (#40549067)

      Or bombing the car of the guy who proposed it.

      But a union is better.

      And if it comes to it, a union can hire the bomb guy.

      • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @07:59AM (#40549847)

        As with almost every problem the answer comes down to liberty. Unions are great IF they don't have laws written to give them special rights. A union should exist as a group of people freely associating to promote their self interests. But when laws are written to force people to join if they want to work in an industry that leads to corruption. This goes the other way too. There are some laws which prohibit employers from basing hiring on union status. That violates the employees rights as well. If there is a free union of electricians and they provide member training and other benefits and their members have a reputation of excellence an employer should be allowed to require employees join that union.

        Problems always arise when you take something that is good when it's done voulentarily and use force.

        • by Kookus ( 653170 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:20AM (#40549967) Journal

          Just like with healthcare, unless you're forced, you don't want to join. Who wants to spend 70 bucks of their paycheck every month for something they perceive as doing nothing for them? The power of the union comes from the collective. If your collective is only 25 to 30% of the working force, guess what? You're expendable.

          • Most people (that could afford it) chose to get health insurance of their own free will; they didn't need to be forced.
          • Who wants to spend 70 bucks of their paycheck every month for something they perceive as doing nothing for them?

            I don't. And I resent people like you trying to force me to. If you think unions are so great, then spend your time convincing others that it's worth it.

        • Free unions would never work and never survive the first attempt to a strike. Those, not members of the union will claim the right to still work and the employer will finally just hire those which aren't member of the union or are not showing any interest to be member of a union. Sorry, but this game is a all or nothing game.

          Corruption exists everywhere and isn't particular to unions which aren't free. That's an oversimplification to say so.

          Corruption exists at the corporate level either.

          • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @09:37AM (#40550691)

            Let me get this straight. There are non union members that want to work for a company and the company wants to hire them. This is a two way voluntarily exchange. You somehow claim you have a superior right to a job with that company so you initiate the use of force to prevent those workers from working and prevent the company from hiring. And you claim this is good?

        • by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:50AM (#40550233)

          A union should exist as a group of people freely associating to promote their self interests

          Unions aren't social clubs; they exist so that labor can deal with management on a level playing field in the process of collective bargaining. The purpose of "right to work" laws is not to promote "freedom" from association for workers, as the name suggests. Those laws exist to destroy unions by permitting workers to benefit from collective bargaining without contributing to the process. If you look at who promotes them, you'll find precious little evidence that they were motivated by any concern for the rights, welfare, or safety of working people.

          • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @09:42AM (#40550743)

            Unions aren't social clubs; they exist so that labor can deal with management on a level playing field in the process of collective bargaining.

            Fine. Do it without the use of force.

            The purpose of "right to work" laws is not to promote "freedom" from association for workers, as the name suggests. Those laws exist to destroy unions by permitting workers to benefit from collective bargaining without contributing to the process. If you look at who promotes them, you'll find precious little evidence that they were motivated by any concern for the rights, welfare, or safety of working people.

            I am against "right to work" laws as well, I had a typo in my original post. You are right as to their purpose. They are a violation of the employers rights to hire who they want to. If an employer wants to only hire union members they should be free to do so. If the employees in a company organize a voluntarily union and negotiate a contract with an employer that states they will only hire union members that is a voluntary contract and should be upheld. But in that negotiation an employer should not be forced to bargain with the union. If they want to fire everyone and start over with new hires that is their right as well unless it violates an existing contract.

            • And in sane countries Employers are not able to fire you without cause

              Given the incredible imbalance in the employer employee relationship this acts as a check on companies abilities to fuck with society more than they already do.

        • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @11:31AM (#40552107)

          Unions are great IF they don't have laws written to give them special rights.

          Unlike corporations, then.

          Unions exist with special legal status precisely because corporations exist with special legal status.

          A corporation is not a "a group of people freely associating to promote their self-interests": it is an inherently coercive organization protected by the full legal muscle of the various Companies Acts around the world. When a person employed by a corporation interacts with someone outside the corporation they are protected by a shield of laws that completely over-rides the ordinary operations of free behaviour.

          So, if you really want unions to not have special legal protections, you need to eliminate the special legal protections given to corporations, which means you need to eliminate corporations as such, and go back to the situation before 1850 or so when the first modern Companies Act was passed in Britain. That system was unwieldy and inefficient, as no single entity with quasi-individual legal status (the corporation) could do anything like sign contracts, etc.

          Yet for some reason I have never heard anyone who makes the kind of arguments you do against unions point any of this out. Why is that?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nerdfest ( 867930 )

      From what I've seen, unions only ensure than people end up not being fired even if they *are* completely useless, while paying them the same regardless of ability. It's not a solution, just a different problem. A sane company would just evaluate their employees and keep them (or not) based on their individual merits.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:13AM (#40549363)

        Unions grow in power where employee rights legislation falls short of what people expect. Unions become a problem when they start to see companies as being the enemy, rather than something they're in partnership with.

        They are the solution of last resort, that people turn to when there is no other way to protect themselves.

        The correct way to deal with problematic unions is to have reasonable employee rights legislation and maintain it for long enough that nobody cares about joining unions anymore.

        • by guises ( 2423402 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:37AM (#40549461)
          This is well said. Nobody wants a union, they add bureaucracy, inefficiency, and they cost their members dues, but that's where people are sometimes forced to turn when employee abuse gets out of control. They're not great, but they're better than the alternative.
          • by Gonoff ( 88518 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:12AM (#40549919)

            Nobody wants a union.

            You are either from the USA or bizarrely uninformed - possibly both.

            • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:50AM (#40550235) Homepage Journal

              The point, which you appear to have missed my several thousand feet, is that if you have decent management (or at least a set of laws which compel them to act in a decent way) there'd simply be no need for unions.

            • by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @09:06AM (#40550417) Homepage

              Nobody wants a union.

              You are either from the USA or bizarrely uninformed - possibly both.

              1. Tell that to the UAW.

              2. How long have you been waiting for an opportunity to say that?

              If existing labor laws protect me sufficiently, why would I want to join a union? Yes, unions have their place (in particular where labor laws have been defficient), but their place is not universal (and in our recent history, they have proved to be detrimental, degenerating themselves from worker unions down to self-perpetuating cartels of nepotism.) I have no problems with unions in, say, Brazil. But here (the way many unions act), you bet I do have a problem.

              Don't just look from the POV of your country's conditions. Look at it from our current conditions. We Americans typically get accused of looking at the world strictly from our biased eyes, but you don't seem capable of acting differently (at least in this particular topic.)

              • by s73v3r ( 963317 )

                If existing labor laws protect me sufficiently

                That's just the thing: In the US at least, they typically don't.

        • by bazorg ( 911295 )

          I don't know about ending the need for unions. We don't need to have permanent pain to go to the dentist and we don't need the threat of permanent litigation to have a lawyer retained. Why should we dismiss the services of unions when things are going well? When the litigation or conflict arises, it is certain that the company will have a legal representative, why should the employee think it's all going to be friendly and everyone will be complying with the relevant laws because the legislation is clear an

      • by amck ( 34780 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:20AM (#40549383) Homepage

        Get involved in the Union.

        Seriously. Any powerbase will be abused.
        Unions are democratic (or at least are supposed to be) representatives of their members. You don't get to stand back and do nothing, and pretend the unions doing silly things aren't you're fault or you're problem.

    • But... but... socialism!

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:23AM (#40549397) Homepage

      What's the best way to survive this type of system?

      A race for the bottom.
      If everybody performs badly, they still have to label some as overperformers.

      • You've correctly identified this as a problem in game theory. Alas, it is the same as the prisoner's dilemma. If you convince everyone else to slack and then you actually work, you are guaranteed to be the overperformer and get the raise/bonus. So everyone ends up promising to slack while working to try to stab the others in the back. This is also why every time Opec gets together to fix oil prices it never lasts more than a year.

    • by TimeOut42 ( 314783 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:57AM (#40549551) Homepage

      I agree, unions are awesome. I allows mediocre employees to receive the same compensation as the excellent employees.

      • I agree, unions are awesome. I allows mediocre employees to receive the same compensation as the excellent employees.

        I've worked in several places (in the US, even) that were unionized, and none had policies (whether as part of the union contract or otherwise) which forced that. They all required justifications for a wide array of decisions, which might have the effect of levelling salaries with lazy, unmotivated managers -- but those managers probably wouldn't be making salary decisions that would really

      • I agree, unions are awesome. I allows mediocre employees to receive the same compensation as the excellent employees.

        As opposed to stack ranking, which allows excellent employees to get the same evaluation as mediocre employees.

    • Self employment.

      • Self employment.

        This is spot on. You can't even be ``fired''---the worst folks can do is not extend your contract (just as bad for you, but technically, not ``fired''). I've also never seen consultants escorted out the door by security... yet I've seen that to TONS of employees on their pink-slip day. With corporations, its like that portal song, ``We do what we must because we can.''

    • Actually, I have seen Unioned companies more apt to layoff workers than non-unioned ones. Unions self interest is based on increasing the number of Union Members, so it will tend to agree at the bargaining table, to layoff the expensive skilled workers, so it can bring on twice as much unskilled labor. For the unskilled labor there is the usually 90 days, if we like you we will keep you other wise you are out, which means after 90 days if there is any question on the employees skill, they are out, because

  • How to survive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BSAtHome ( 455370 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @04:56AM (#40549023)

    "What's the best way to survive this type of system?"

    Find another job where they treat you as a human being.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This. A hundred times this. So many times I hear people complain about their situation and how they can survive it. When the easiest and most powerful option is to just walk away from it. What's the point of just surviving it. If you want a better work environment. Look for one or create one. It's possible, people do it all the time. You just have to want it. If you don't then suck it up and live with the crap.

    • Re:How to survive (Score:4, Interesting)

      by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:18AM (#40549949) Homepage Journal

      My understanding of these systems is that they are simply budgeting protocol.

      Company X plans to allocate Y funds to a bonus incentive pool. They have 5,000 employees. How do they distribute the payout?

      This is where ranking comes in.

      There are a known quantity of employees at various plan levels. There are a known quantity of teams of qualified employees.

      Do the math to come up with an annual bonus payout and include that in your budget and your SEC filings as a component of operating costs. Keep a small buffer for surprise superstars.

      It's not possible to do the math if you payout soley on merit unless you budget the highest payout for all employees. That is not rational and could hurt the company.

      So ranking it is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @04:59AM (#40549031)

    If you've got some serious skills, tell them to stick it and go work for a smaller company that's been around a while. Right now it's an employee's market so to speak with respect to certain technology skills (I've been off the market over a year and still get 10+ recruiters calling me a week, and I'm not all that great at all!). My thinking is that you've got more choice than they do, and that after you and hopefully everybody reading this reply, and then some, tell their HR departments that this kind of performance review bullshit is why you're leaving, things may eventually change.

    If employers start seeing their very-hard-to-replace talent walk out the door because of draconian, 30+ year old management paradigms, they may be forced to change.

    • by Xacid ( 560407 )

      Wait, how is it an employee's market?

      • Because certain skills are in high demand in the tech industry, so if you have those skills, companies will try to recruit you. The OP already said this.

        Yes, the job market really sucks right now for people with no skills, or who only know how to work retail or wait tables, or who have other professions that aren't in high demand, but many tech jobs are open right now, such as mobile software development.

      • It's always an employee's market for the top talent, who are usually in demand regardless of the rest of the job market. The trick is knowing whether or not you're in that special pool. A lot of people think they are ... most are wrong.

  • Get even (Score:5, Funny)

    by BSAtHome ( 455370 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:00AM (#40549035)

    1. quit job
    2. build start-up
    3. ???
    4. Profit!
    5. hire jerks that gave you bad stack result
    6. treat them stack performance game
    7. Revenge!

  • The only solution is to get another job because you cant win. You can get higher up but by then all you really do is internal politics, stabbing your friends in the back and running around PR-campaigning for yourself. Work, not so much. If you really like politics, lies, distortion and stuff, get a job in politics instead of masquerading as a coder when you in reality is doing politics full time.

    • by fatphil ( 181876 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:28AM (#40549153) Homepage
      Agreed. The only way to win is not to play.

      I've just finished a job with what used to be a great company and more importantly with a great team with common sense (immediate) management (so no bullshit metrics). The whole atmosphere in the team was to share all knowledge, 100% cooperation, no competition. Holes in knowledge were filled very quickly, everyone loved work, and everyone ended up an over-performer. (So kudos to the recruiters for getting the right kinds of people who thrive in that kind of environment in on the project.)

      I suspect I'll not find a company like that again, which is a real shame. (Having said that, the seeds of a start-up are forming...)
  • by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:11AM (#40549071) Homepage Journal

    1. create dummy identities in your team
    2. make those dummies look underperforming compared to you (I know, this is the hard part)
    3. next stack ranking comes, they get in the pool, so you are above average.
    4. profit!!!

    I believe this technique is called "stack overflow" and I bet it will work for microsoft for another 30 years at least.

  • Benner Model (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pvt_medic ( 715692 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:13AM (#40549077)
    I work in healthcare and the model often used is Brenners Novice to Expert. This looks at the development of an individual in their practice. While a great model since it allows one to compare themselves to themselves and looking for improvement, it also promotes team work. Of course this is a little difficult to apply many software firms. Another model is using a 1-5 scale, where 5 is exceptional, 1 is unsatistifactory, 3 meets criteria, 4 is exceeds criteria, and then they tally these for whatever metrics used and divide to get an average. Comparing staff to each other does not develop team work and only works in competitive environments like sales where you want people to outdo each other.
  • by Madman ( 84403 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:14AM (#40549087) Homepage

    At a former employer I joined a team that was under-performing. I worked hard to get things back on track and I did my absolute best. At my bonus meeting my boss told me that I had done a great job and I was the best performer on the team by far, but he had to give a certain number of people a good review, some a fair review, and one an under-performing review. He didn't do this by job performance but by length of service, and since I was a new guy he gave me the poor review so I got almost no bonus! After that I didn't work so hard....

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      Performance review outcomes purely on the basis of length of service? That's abysmal! Sure sounds like you had a very good reason for making them your former employer. What a bunch of total jerks.

    • by fatphil ( 181876 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:36AM (#40549191) Homepage
      Oh, man, that sucks. At least it's a /former/ employer.

      I remember a job 10 years ago when the "metrics" were rolled out one year. I had basically taken over the work from ~8 student workers, and had spent almost all of my time rewriting clumsy buggy code with tight maintainable code. In so doing, I was working at about -5 kloc/year. Therefore I was the "least productive" person remaining on the team. My manager laughed as he delivered the news. We laughed. However, my request for them to "stop even taking meaningless metrics" was met with "sorry, ain't ever gonna happen".
  • Grand poobah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:17AM (#40549101)

    What's the best way to survive this type of system?

    Set up your own religion like L. Ron Hubbard.You could also found your own Fortune 500 corporation but that's more work. Which ever path you choose it boils down to the same truth, if you are the grand poobah you don't have to perform, only punish your underlings for not doing so.

  • Gamify (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eennaarbrak ( 1089393 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:27AM (#40549149)

    Does your company do this?


    What's the best way to survive this type of system?"

    Gamify. At my company, what makes things even worse is that to be considered in the top 20%, you have to show initiative and contribution *outside* of your core responsibility. This involves:

    • - Attend all social events. Even better if you can get yourself onto the organizing committee, because you will inevitably get to talk to various team members. Also, it is a really good excuse if you fail to deliver on your core responsibilities (which is inevitable if you want to maintain your "extra-team" influence.
    • - Start supporting a football (or whatever applies to your region) team, regardless of how dull and pointless you think sports is. Choose one that is doing well (you must look like a winner!), but not the same as the boss - you need to engage with him and show him how "independent" your thinking is. It is incredibly satisfying to have the boss, or the boss's boss, stand at your desk to discuss the weekend's results - and you are magically remembered later as a person that "contributes outside of your team".
    • - Always mention in the hallways to managers and developers from other teams how incredibly difficult your team's deliverables are, and how smart your team members (i.e. you yourself) have to be in order to simply be in it.
    • - Yeah, do get involved in other teams, but don't overdo it. Try to sit in on design sessions - then it looks as if you are part of the "solution", but you don't actually have to do the actual work. Leave those for the guys in the trenches who will get the "middle of the road" rating, because they are not involved outside of their teams. If the project goes badly, tactfully remind the boss that you did mention these risks during design, but the development team must have screwed it up somehow.

    Whatever you do, absolutely never, ever get your head down for long periods and just get things done. That is the road to, at best, an "average" rating. You see, by doing your job well, you are simply doing what is expected of you. It does not matter how complex or easy your job is - no one knows or cares. All they see is someone doing their work.

    • Re:Gamify (Score:5, Insightful)

      by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:40AM (#40549225)

      A 10 minute talk during your coffee break with your boss can influence your rating just as much as that report you've been working on for 4 months. Your boss will spend about the same time on both (10 minutes).

    • Re:Gamify (Score:5, Funny)

      by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:08AM (#40549339) Homepage Journal
      Come on, you made this list and didnt include George Costanza's accidental discovery of just leaving your car parked in the parking lot 24/7? Your boss will always think you are at work
  • by Confused ( 34234 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:41AM (#40549231) Homepage

    This might be a difference in work-place culture, but whenever I choose a job I always only considered the fixed salary part for comparison. If I was happy with that, the job is ok. If I need some bonuses to make a decent living, it was re-negotiation time. The nice consequence of this is, that I don't care much about the rigmaroles with performance reviews to decide on the bonus. That makes me very relaxed and whatever comes in is just a nice bonus and nothing I really need. In the end by not caring, I swim along with the average, but I still can tell them to get stuffed if the idiocy becomes too rampart. And being the one to stand up and voice what everyone is thinking sometimes makes you popular or someone to be consulted beforehand.

    In the companies I worked for, the more formal and stupid the system was, the easier it was to gamble. I liked best the system with self-defined yearly goals, where the road to success was in the skill to formulate impressive sounding goals where the non-performance was hard to verify. Or to be part in projects that get shut down because of reorganisation before being delivered. That never got me top rates, but before going through the hassle of digging through the bones for some real data average success and bonus (or slightly above average, if I bickered too much about my valuable contributions) was assumed independent of the actual performance.

    For me that gives the best results for a minimum of exposure to the whole idiocy.

  • by Coeurderoy ( 717228 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:50AM (#40549275)

    This ensure that the company only keeps burnt our overachiever and political sharks.
    With a little bit of luck it'll drive them into the ground.

    And anyway anybody working for microsoft deserves "advanced corporate management techniques" being applied to him or her.

  • by Balthisar ( 649688 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:02AM (#40549317) Homepage

    I think we're still a Fortune 10 company... we manufacture consumer products globally, and have a global performance evaluation (PE) process. I will be as generic as possible in the terminology. Oh, I'm a manager who conducts PE's, and also a volunteer on the personnel development forum (PDF) for non-management personnel.

    For PE's, we have a top-tier level that's limited to 15% of the eligible pool. In my department so far this year, we've not nominated enough people to meet that 15% (we're in a new region, and all of the local employees are new). Then there's 70% to 85% of people that are achievers. This bracket is slightly open because there's an allowance of 15% of under-achievers and non-performers. The key is, we're *not* forced to bracket anyone into the lower tiers. And like I said for the top tier, we're not forced to bracket people into that tier, either.

    Our system makes sense. Not everyone can be a super-star; even when everyone is a super-star, there's always a small percentage that have a little bit of an edge. And because we're not forced to rank anyone as under-achievers, we recognize that even the weakest link might be carrying his or her weight -- and carrying weight (do your job) is all we ask!

    To prevent abuse, all of the top 15% and the lower 15% (if any) all go to the PDF committee that I mentioned I'm in. There, my fellow managers and I review the proposals for the highest-achiever rankings, and we all have to agree. Basically, you can't screw your way to the top, or other methods of brown-nosing.

    And as a low-level manager (organizationally-speaking), I'm subject to the same process at my pay grade. And I'm fairly happy with it.

  • 360 degree reviews (Score:4, Interesting)

    by brockamer ( 2677497 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:23AM (#40549401)
    On my team, we use a sort of 360 degree review process. The people I manage meet with me and my boss on a quarterly basis, and we use the time basically to check in on any issues we've identified, check on any goals set in the last quarterly review, talk about training / certification progress, listen to any concerns they bring up with people / processes / environment, etc. At the end of the review, I leave the room and the employee gets to talk to my boss about me, without me in the room. Then I come back in, my boss leaves, and we talk about my boss without him in the room. My boss and I aggregate and anonymize the top 2-3 things that people mention about us, and that becomes a part of our reviews.
  • best way to survive (Score:4, Informative)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @06:39AM (#40549467) Homepage Journal

    Within: Is to remember that the ratings are subjective. Make friends. Particularly make nice with the boss. Then perform competently so they have no reason to downrank you, while having reasons to rank you above the other competent people.
    Without: Is to leave for a place that uses a sane management system. There are plenty. Some of them are eating Microsoft's lunch right now. People who are actually competent software engineers are in extreme demand right now, there's no shortage of jobs for that skillset. A recruiter can get you a list of a few hundred positions for you to choose from on a moment's notice.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @07:00AM (#40549561) Homepage

    Most competence systems I've seen has a 1-5 performance rating where 3 is performing okay, 4 well and 5 exceptionally. On occasion there's a 2 for underperforming and very rarely an 1 which is basically fail but it's rare because you shouldn't get promoted to that level if you aren't already performing like one. That's usually reserved for total mishires or people who've had some kind of personal breakdown. Saying that X% of your workers are underperforming is saying that your hiring process fails X% of the time - that figure should be close to zero.

    Of course before that there's usually a set of skills that your employment level should have, so the demands on a "Senior Developer" is different from a "Junior Developer". Usually these are set up in a competence matrix, so when they're looking at possible promotions they can say yes, you're coding at a Senior Developer coding level but you lack skill X which is required to be a Senior Developer. Skills development is related but actually quite distinct from your work performance, you can have done your job excellently but done very little to improve your skill set.

    Sane companies also look at professional development, if you're a first year Senior Developer whose performance has improved but still is below average you're probably a better choice than the 5th year Senior Developer whose performance has declined and is now equal to yours, those two are connected. It was probably a better idea to promote him to an okay performing Senior Developer than for him to be an overachieving Junior Developer. That's another reason 5s are so rare, if you are that good you should be in a position with higher demands.

    That said, when it comes down to it managers can pretty much manage to tweak the rating however they want. That said, even the worst of managers want to look good to their team/departments bosses and customers. If they know you're critical for them to deliver on time and in good quality, you'll survive most of the office politics. But without trying to kiss too much ass, make sure your boss knows what you're doing for him. Don't expect him to find out on his own.

  • by niks42 ( 768188 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @07:08AM (#40549599)
    First-line managers who have to deliver against HR policies like this have my every sympathy. I was made a manager in a certain very large IT company. I managed a team of mixed fixed-term contractors, contractors and permanent staff. My manager came to me at the start of the new year to tell me that during the upcoming staff performance review, I had to make 15% of my permanent staff a 1 performer, 75% a 2 performer, and 10% a three performer. When I complained that I didn't have enough permanent staff of a low caliber (c'mon now, I was doing the hiring!), I was quite neatly told that if I couldn't make up the numbers from my workforce, then it would be OK as from his level he would meet his overall target for 3 performers by making ME one.

    Actually, that's what ended up happening, not that any of my workforce found out about that 'deal'. I lasted a further four years of management in increasingly Kafka-esque circumstances until I decided that I should stop trying to rise up the ranks of management, give up and go back to being a techie. I've never regretted the decision, and I can sleep at night.
  • I don't know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mrsam ( 12205 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @07:09AM (#40549605) Homepage

    I have no idea how my current employer does performance review. I haven't had to deal with performance reviews in over 15 years. This is one of the benefits of working as a consultant on a contract, and one of the things I don't miss about working as an employee.

    I personally find consulting to be a more civilized, sane way to earn a living. My total compensation gets negotiated up front, for some prescribed period of time. Then, when the time is up, we just negotiate again(1). Simple. No fuss, no mess. You know how much you're making, and you don't feel shortchanged when the bean counters decide to cut down on some fringe benefit.

    I guess that periodic contract extensions would count as a periodic performance review, of some sort. But there's no bureaucracy involved, and I don't need to dance like a pony, in front of someone. It's purely a business transaction, and nothing more.

    The oft heard suggestion of unionizing is a joke. It's never going to happen. If you want to unionize, sure, but good luck to you. On the other hand, if you want to become a consultant, that can happen today. Your choice.

    (1) Yes, I've went through an occasion of an 800lb corporate gorilla deciding, by fiat, to cut all their consultants' rates, for budgetary reasons, assuming that everyone is going to accept it and that they have no choice in the matter. As my then-managers discovered, that assumption was wrong. One of the other benefits of consulting, you see, is far fewer questions of what happened at your last job. Naturally, contracts come to an end all the time, and one's services are no longer required. Nothing wrong with that. Perfectly understandable, and expected.

  • by james_van ( 2241758 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:04AM (#40549865)
    im not overly popular with typical HR people, cause i ask lots of questions during the initial interview, such as: how do you handle performance reviews? how is management reviewed (top down, 360, etc)? it weeds out bad places to work real quick. plus, its really fun to see the look on an interviewers face when theyre put on the spot.
  • by chthon ( 580889 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:09AM (#40549899) Homepage Journal

    I got introduced in this system twelve years ago. In the nineties I had never worked for a company which did such evaluation.

    I have no qualms about evaluations per se, but when I heard how this worked, my immediate reaction was a real WTF moment.

    I have in the course of school and my career been introduced into statistics several times, and I know the Gauss curve. So my first reaction really was, wtf. you do not go measuring and plotting your data, and then expand your bell curve. No, if you want to know if there are outliers then you do this match against your mean and your standard deviation. That way you can see the underperformers, but also the people who are really, really good (or one should investigate the matter).

    However, the biggest wtf is really that I am working in a company with many engineers (master level engineers). I expect these people to understand these issues in probability/statistics and made a statement against this misuse of mathematics a long time ago, which is absolutely not the case.

  • subject (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Legion303 ( 97901 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @08:10AM (#40549903) Homepage

    I believe my company has the same system, only the complete gutting of bonuses years ago and the fact that a stellar rating gets you around 0.3% more on the pathetic annual salary increase means that no one cares.

    My last performance review contained two directly contradictory statements from my manager, in what I suspect was an uncorrected cut-and-paste from the previous year. I didn't bring it up, because either way I was getting the same shitty raise. That's motivation for you.

  • by tbg58 ( 942837 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @09:53AM (#40550859)

    When it comes down to it EVERYONE has their own business. When you are traditionally employed, your business has one customer, and if you lose that customer by quitting or getting fired, you're out of business. Start your own business and remember each customer is an income stream. Multiple income streams mean more money and more security, and also give you the ability to fire customers you don't want to do business with.

    This doesn't mean it's easy or even possible for everyone. My business was much harder to start than I ever thought it would be, but the challenges have been worthwhile both in income and in getting out of corporate BS like the stacked ranking game.

    Middle managers who have no skills beyond playing office politics and self-promotion are pretty much stuck in the corporate rat race, but people with real skills that translate to marketable goods or services can make it on their own if they can learn how to build business structures and processes to run their business and a marketing plan to get customers.

    The Slashdotter who said the best way to win is not to play the game was right. This post suggests one way HOW get out of the game.

  • by buddyglass ( 925859 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @09:57AM (#40550909)

    I've worked for big companies (IBM) that had twice-a-year reviews that involved goal setting, evaluation of whether goals were achieved, and rating yourself on a bunch of silly categories. Bonuses were tied to your score. I've worked for small companies that tried to do the same, and I've worked for even smaller companies where there was no review system (or performance bonuses) whatsoever. I vastly prefer the latter. If I'm doing a crappy job and am in danger of losing my job then tell me. If I'm doing an awesome job and you're especially pleased with my performance then tell me. If I'm meeting expectations but not doing anything awesome then don't waste my time (and create awkwardness between manager and employee that needn't exist) by making me go through performance reviews.

  • by Cute Fuzzy Bunny ( 2234232 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @10:46AM (#40551557)

    My company used to do this and yes, it does suck. Not only because it does force unnatural rankings depending on the mix of people, but because the good old boys and people who have connections don't get weeded out as part of the process. I remember one of my good employees getting 'targeted' to land in the bottom of the rankings and having to haul the rank meeting manager and the HR person into a different room and asking if they wanted to continue tarring and feathering the good employee, or should I go back in and bring up the couple of 25 year plus employees who did nothing more than recirculate the air in a cubicle. Turns out they didn't.

    How do you defeat this? Pretty much perception, perception, perception. To succeed in one of these things, the managers in the room folding, spindling and mutilating your annual contributions should all know who your employees are, approximately what they do, and have a favorable impression of them. This is a year long marketing effort to get recognition for your people, name them in staff meetings and in written status reports when they do something good. Death is some manager in the meeting that one of your employees did something to during the year, but they decided to wait until the review process to bring it up.

    The difference between the guys at the top and the guys at the bottom are the ones at the top got talked about and everyone in the room said "Yep, good guy" while the ones at the bottom were people nobody knew, someone had a bad experience with them, or nobody understood their accomplishments.

    So the marching orders are a) make sure you know what you're working on and that what you're working on has measurable value and is important to the business. If you cant identify the value and importance, simply stop doing it. Make sure everyone knows what you're doing. Make sure every time you interact with a manager that its a positive outcome or bring it up with you so you can repair the situation in advance of the review session. Market the heck out of your people and put them in front of as much management as possible. I used to send employees in my stead to meetings or have them make major presentations where most managers want to do it themselves.

    Done properly, this could be a good tool. Not done properly (and it usually isnt done properly) its a stress inducing sales job and whoever has the best skills at presenting employees and hardballing the HR people will get the results.

    There are also a number of other little things to pay attention to. I found out that each of these sessions has a hunk of money and stock options to give out to the group, but that they rarely allocate all of it and if it isn't allocated, that falls back into the general pool. So I found out that if I approached the HR person and asked if there was any residual we could divvy up among the top 2 or 3 people, they'd often do it.

  • by Greg Hullender ( 621024 ) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @11:53AM (#40552459) Homepage Journal
    I worked at Microsoft for 14 years (up to 2008) and was a manager for most of that period. The Vanity-Fair article doesn't really describe the system accurately, so I'll offer my own view. Given that I participated in it 25+ times, that ought to be worth something. :-)

    The first thing is that, as a manager of a small team, you do NOT have to meet a curve. That's only required at high levels with hundreds or thousands of employees in the pool. You DO have to rank your people in order and argue for them at a meeting with your peers. If you have a team of 6 or 8 people, I'll be very surprised if you don't know who your best person is--and who the worst one is. As a general rule, you ought to be able to rank your whole team in order from best to worst, with perhaps a few ties. (Generally, though, I didn't end up with ties.)

    So together with your peers, you now try to slot 50 or so people into three rankings: 4.0 for the best 25%, 3.5 for the bulk of the people and 3.0 for the bottom 20%. (There is special handling for superstars at 4.5 and total losers at 2.5, but that's a post-process with no quotas.) The argument always revolves around strong 3.5 people who "ought" to be 4.0 and weak 3.5 people who "don't deserve" to be 3.0. Not a surprise; every manager overrates his/her own people. The pressure to meet a quota forces people to have hard arguments about how valuable each person's work really was. It can even help a manager see the importance of putting people on the highest-value tasks. At the end of it, there are typically two or three borderline individuals, but everyone else pretty much has the rating they actually earned. The General Manager takes the result up to the stack ranking at the next level, armed with appropriate arguments for the borderline folks.

    One time, I worked on a project with high-visibility and lots of pressure. At review time, we told management we wanted to give about 50% 4.0 (instead of the usual 25%) and only one or two 3.0 reviews (out of a team of ~100). They pushed that up, and it was granted. We did exceptional work, so they let us blow out the curve. But it only happened once in 14 years.

    What are the alternatives? Have a Union that gives everyone the same rewards regardless of the work he/she did? Doesn't seem like a winner to me.

    So to answer the OP's question, how do you succeed in such a system, the answer is: work hard, do good work, help others who get stuck, and BE SEEN DOING IT. When your manager says "Jane is my best worker," you want all his/her peers to nod and say "yeah, Jane is great! She helps us out all the time!" When your manager says "Jack deserves a better rating," you don't want his/her peers to say "that lazy bum? He couldn't find his ass with both hands!" But most important of all is for your manager to actually see you as someone who gets stuff done. Whatever anyone tries to claim, most teams only have a few such people on them. They rarely go unrewarded.


Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.