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How Microsoft turned its workers’ performance reviews into steel cage death matches

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:32PM EST

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Former Apple executive and current Guardian columnist Jean-Louis Gassée has spotted some particularly interesting details stashed away in a long Vanity Fair piece about Microsoft’s (MSFT) decline from its position as a top innovator. While the Vanity Fair piece lists several reasons for Microsoft’s woes, one of the most jarring is its practice of “stack ranking” employees during performance reviews that transforms a routine HR practice into a “Gladiator“-style death match where workers are encouraged to back-stab one another at the expense of cooperation.

“[E]very unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor,” reported Vanity Fair. “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.”

The results were fairly predictable as many talented people felt too stressed out by the entire process and fled Microsoft for companies whose HR departments didn’t count “Lord of the Flies” as their chief influence.

[Via The Guardian]


Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.