First, we will simplify the way we work to drive greater accountability, become more agile and move faster. As part of modernizing our engineering processes the expectations we have from each of our disciplines will change. In addition, we plan to have fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making. This includes flattening organizations and increasing the span of control of people managers. In addition, our business processes and support models will be more lean and efficient with greater trust between teams. The overall result of these changes will be more productive, impactful teams across Microsoft. These changes will affect both the Microsoft workforce and our vendor staff. Each organization is starting at different points and moving at different paces.
We were mostly white, and all men. Each of us had between three and six “direct reports”: nonmanager programmers who we oversaw. We were the direct reports of our manager. There were lots and lots of managers at Microsoft—it was the only path to advancement, so the company structure became more and more steeply vertical. Once or twice a year, we would all get together and decide how good each of our reports was, by ordering them from best to worst.
The system was called the stack rank.
Following Friday’s news of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s imminent retirement, postmortems of his lackluster 13-year reign have pointed to stack ranking—which, to be entirely fair, predated him—as both a cause and a symptom of the corporation’s decline. As a software developer and later development lead at Microsoft between 1998–2003, I had to evaluate others and be evaluated myself under this system. And I can say that yes, stack ranking is as toxic for innovation and integrity and morale as media reports made it out to be, and then some.
Each report’s name was written on an index card and put on the table. It was a two-step process. First, reports were broadly sorted into four buckets: excellent, good, mediocre, and awful. Then, within each bucket, people were paired for comparison and bubbled up or down. Managers would argue whether a particular report was better or worse than some other manager’s report in the same bucket. Our manager would adjudicate the debates. Some managers were better fighters than others.
The revolution is successful. But survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives means slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is . . .
Think of it this way — since Elop took over as Nokia CEO, the company has cut over 50,000 jobs (if you include today’s announcement.) That is just mind boggling. That bumbling strategy which was the hallmark of Elop’s Nokia tenure still continues — in other words, Microsoft doesn’t really have a Nokia strategy.
His resume is that of a short-tenured opportunist who has left little mark on his employers except of course Nokia where he presided over the company’s collapse and ultimate exit from the mobile handset business.
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