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.”
So, let us set things in perspective: That in spite of his loss at the Olympics and just when everybody had written him off…
- He won his record 17th Grand Slam title and a record-equaling 7th Wimbledon trophy, tying with Pete Sampras
- He broke Sampras’ record 286 weeks atop the tennis rankings. As of this writing, Fed has been at the top for 290 weeks and counting.
- He is still the highest paid athlete in the world, year on year and holds the biggest career earnings $70+ million
- He holds the most number of ATP World Tour Finals titles at 6 (and counting).
- He holds 75 career titles, including 20 ATP World Tour 1000s.
All these at the grand old age of 30. No asterisks required. And he’s not even done yet.
Happy birthday, Roger!
The importance of theory of mind reaches far beyond confectionery. It is crucial for social success, largely because of its role in empathy: in order to relate to other people, we must first be able to recognise their thoughts and emotions. Of course, just because we have theory of mind, it doesn’t mean we always use it well. Incredulity at another’s ignorance or different opinion is not worlds apart from a three-year-old insisting everyone knows there are pens inside a Smarties tube. We easily forget former ignorance, and overestimate how much our own thoughts and emotions are visible to others. It is nonetheless true that we use theory of mind constantly and automatically, and that without it human interaction would be fundamentally altered.
“…The problem is not just the hazing, it is the fraternities themselves. Why do law students join fraternities? One lawyer put it this way: “When you take the bar exam they take care of you in terms of review materials and billet you in a hotel to prepare you for the bar. After passing it, the chances of a neophyte lawyer to enter big law firms are big with the help of frat brothers. Let’s face it, it’s hard to get into big law firms and practice law if you have no connections. This is where the brotherhood comes in.”
“And that is where the monstrosity comes in. There and then you see what’s horrendously wrong with Philippine law and lawyers. You get to become a lawyer through your connections, you get to thrive as a lawyer through your connections, you get to become justice or chief justice through your connections. Your loyalty is to your fraternity, your world is your fraternity, you serve the fraternity.
“Especially in a country like ours, ravaged—yes, ravaged—by kumparehan, barkadahan and blood ties, real or ritual, with their culture of pakikisama, walang iwanan, sa hirap at ginhawa, sa tama o mali, that is the most dangerous thing in the world. That is a recipe for inbreeding. That is a recipe for tribalism. That is a recipe for blindness. There and then you see why we have too many lawyers and too little law. There and then you see why we have too much law and too little justice.”
– PDI, Wild Beasts
Here is the Wimbledon 2012 finals match between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.