How to lose your corporate mojo

By 2002 the by-product of bureaucracy—brutal corporate politics—had reared its head at Microsoft. And, current and former executives said, each year the intensity and destructiveness of the game playing grew worse as employees struggled to beat out their co-workers for promotions, bonuses, or just survival.


Microsoft’s managers, intentionally or not, pumped up the volume on the viciousness. What emerged—when combined with the bitterness about financial disparities among employees, the slow pace of development, and the power of the Windows and Office divisions to kill innovation—was a toxic stew of internal antagonism and warfare.

“If you don’t play the politics, it’s management by character assassination,” said Turkel.

At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

“If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” said a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

Supposing Microsoft had managed to hire technology’s top players into a single unit before they made their names elsewhere—Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon—regardless of performance, under one of the iterations of stack ranking, two of them would have to be rated as below average, with one deemed disastrous.

For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. And the reviews had real-world consequences: those at the top received bonuses and promotions; those at the bottom usually received no cash or were shown the door.

Outcomes from the process were never predictable. Employees in certain divisions were given what were known as M.B.O.’s—management business objectives—which were essentially the expectations for what they would accomplish in a particular year. But even achieving every M.B.O. was no guarantee of receiving a high ranking, since some other employee could exceed the assigned performance. As a result, Microsoft employees not only tried to do a good job but also worked hard to make sure their colleagues did not.

“The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.”

Worse, because the reviews came every six months, employees and their supervisors—who were also ranked—focused on their short-term performance, rather than on longer efforts to innovate.

“The six-month reviews forced a lot of bad decision-making,” one software designer said. “People planned their days and their years around the review, rather than around products. You really had to focus on the six-month performance, rather than on doing what was right for the company.”

How to Use Business Intelligence Intelligently

Research firm Gartner Inc. has predicted that in two years, more than thirty-five percent of the world’s top 5000 companies will make significant decision errors about business and market growth. On the flip-side of the coin, internal decision-making will encounter roadblocks as the results of incorrect or incomplete information because employees often get bogged down when it comes to reporting the minutiae of their day-to-day work. In fact, it is not surprising to find that among the largest global corporations, there are some people that stick to age-old data gathering, reporting and analysis by spreadsheets. The challenge is in how to wean organizations from the old ways of dealing with business intelligence.

When business intelligence is not smart enough to survive in today’s environment, it is time to rethink Business Intelligence strategies – here are some tips.

Capability Model of the People for the People by the People

Many organizations’ practices have matured over time particularly in the area of software engineering. However, practitioners observed that workers must appreciate their roles and responsibilities in the larger organization. This is where P-CMM comes in. Human resources and workforce managers used to hire workers on the strength of technical knowledge alone; but in order to harness the technical knowledge of workers into tangible products (for example: a piece of software), managers have realized that staff development within the company must be compatible with internal process improvements.

In a nutshell, it means helping workers help top managers steer project processes according to current and target capability levels and project directions, as well as providing a framework for optimizing employee competencies for greater measurable value. For human resources and worker development practitioners, P-CMM serves as a framework for developing employees from mere knowledge workers to knowledge managers.

To do so, it is important to always revisit P-CMM’s five-level capability architecture. Most organizations with little to no established internal processes, aside perhaps from those related to administrative matters, manage employee development in mostly ad-hoc fashion where workers are designated to positions and projects without much consideration for the impact on the long-term vision of the company.

Read the rest on ExecutiveBrief: Why is People Capability Maturity Model Necessary?

Blacklist my foot!

I received two text messages yesterday that sounded like one of those push SMSes. Knowing that I did not apply for any jobs in recent months and thinking that it might be spam, I deleted the message immediately. I should not have, and instead called them up to check the name of the company and ask what the invitation was about. The sender mentioned, by the way, that the job was for a “col center.” Jeez.

Today, I received an e-mail apparently from the same people, but with a threat for blacklisting:

“Please come for a job interview, on friday [sic], July 31,2009, 9:30am, [sic] Unit 4501, Summit One Tower, 530 Shaw Blvd. Mandaluyong City [sic].

“We were able to got hold of your resume from jobsdb [sic], those who will not be able to come on said date, [sic] will be tagged AND listed as “THOSE WHO DO NOT USUALLY COME FOR INTERVIEW “, [sic] to inform other EMPLOYERS who are registered on jobsdb [sic].

I replied this time that I did not apply for a job with their firm (or whatever possibly fly-by-night operations they’re running). The way that they invite people to come for job interviews is terribly unprofessional enough, but to threat those who do not express interest in joining them in the first place with blacklisting is taking it to another level, a lower one. The sender did not even take the effort to hide the names of invited interviewees by using BCC.

On the other hand, maybe I should have copied everyone my reply. And why on earth are they sending e-mails through Yahoo! mail?