Why Stack Rank Doesn’t Measure Up

In this two-part guest series, Ellen Chisa shares her experience at Microsoft and how its review system affected her psyche and productivity. (Read part 1 for an overview of Ellen’s time at Microsoft.)

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Stack ranking is a performance review system that ranks employees against each other. Critics point out that a review process that creates inevitable losers and requires managers to fight on behalf of reports is unfair and disconnected from the quality of the performance itself. Microsoft recently decided to get rid of the stack rank.

Stack ranking hurt Microsoft employees. It negatively impacted the work and damaged people’s views of themselves and their ability to improve.

Here’s how:

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My Microsoft Experience: from Promising Start to Personal Hell

In this two-part guest series, Ellen Chisa shares her experience at Microsoft and how its review system affected her psyche and productivity.

This first part gives an overview of Ellen’s time at Microsoft, providing  insight into the company’s environment as well as the successes and failures of everyday management. The second part discusses stack rank specifically.

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Recently Microsoft decided to get rid of the stack rank system they used for reviews.

Stack ranking is a performance review system that ranks employees against each other. Also referred to as “rank and yank”, stack rank creates a zero-sum management system in which one person’s positive ranking means another person’s loss. Critics point out that a process that creates inevitable losers and requires managers to fight on behalf of reports is unfair and disconnected from performance quality.

I’m really happy with this decision: the stack rank negatively affected me, and many people I know. I saw multiple people have the same experience:

1.  Promising start (say, 1-3 years)
2.  Something goes wrong (a project, big manager conflict, etc.)
3.  The issue isn’t addressed when it happens and festers until review.
4.  Bad review, general angst, uncertainty
5.  Talented person quits and moves on to a great career elsewhere.

One obvious takeaway is that Microsoft was probably hemorrhaging a lot of talent. The more insidious one is the toll on its employees’ self-perception and effectiveness.

I wanted to write about how that feels. Here I outline what happened in my first eighteen months at Microsoft, which were interesting and challenging — to how things started to go wrong.

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The Boss Doesn’t Always Know Best

Bosses:  sometimes your team is going to go above and beyond the call of duty, and you’re not even going to notice. It happens. Unless you spend your days micromanaging — and nobody ever wants this — you’re not going to see every amazing thing they do.

Why is this important? Because it means you’re lacking important information about how people are doing and so, are less able and likely to give feedback.

Feedback in the workplace is essential for making progress. So if you can’t know everything that’s going on at work, how can you create a great culture of frequent, helpful feedback?

That’s where peer feedback comes in.

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Stop Fooling Yourself by Changing Your Mind

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Here’s a way to arrive at what you believe: first, decide that you believe something. Then, throw your very best arguments against it until you believe something else. Repeat as many times as possible.

Most people do this in some capacity, probably subconsciously and very quickly, but I recommend doing it consciously, slowly, and deliberately. You may be surprised by what you find.

Now, no blog post by a (former) physicist is complete without a Feynman quote, so let his words enlighten us here:

  • “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
  • “We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”
  • “I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong.”

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3 Surprising Reasons Why You Need to Rediscover Slow Growth

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We all have goals that we’d like to reach. And, if we had the choice, we would prefer to reach them sooner rather than later.

There’s nothing wrong with achieving a goal quickly, but the insatiable desire to enjoy results now — with little regard for the process — is hurting our health, our happiness, and our lives in general.

When we continuously glorify the end result (earn more money, find love, win the Super Bowl), it becomes dangerously easy to think that the goal is what validates us and not the struggle of the process.

If you want to fulfill your potential and become better, then you need to rediscover the power of slow growth. Here’s why:

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The Science of Why It’s OK to Fail at Your New Year’s Resolution

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New Year’s resolutions may be losing popularity. Only about a third of Americans made New Year’s resolutions for 2014, down 10% from just two years ago, according to a CBS News poll.

Maybe people have wised up to the fact that most resolutions don’t succeed or think there’s a better way to embark on habit changes and goals than this annual tradition.

That doesn’t mean New Year’s resolutions are completely useless. Let’s take a step back and look at the science of why New Year’s resolutions still make sense, how to make them stick, and why it’s okay if you fail.

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2013 iDoneThis List of Awesome

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At iDoneThis, we aim to help people get more of the stuff that’s important to them done.  In 2013, individuals and teams who use iDoneThis accomplished some amazing things, so we thought we’d ask some of them to tell us about what they accomplished in 2013 that they’re proud of.

Their inspiring answers:

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The Best 20 iDoneThis Blog Posts of 2013

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‘Tis the season of end-of-the-year lists!

We dug into the iDoneThis blog archives to bring you a collection of our most popular and favorite pieces from 2013 to enjoy amidst the hustle of holiday festivities and some much deserved, hot cocoa-fueled relaxation.

There are also handy save-to-read-later options to jumpstart your reading in 2014.

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7 Essential Online Business Tools that Power You Forward

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As a distributed team, we find tools indispensable because we rely on them so heavily to collaborate and create our collective office space in the cloud. We know the beating heart of running a successful business is successful communication internally as a team and externally with our customers — and without helpful tools, we can’t connect.

We’ve rounded up our seven favorite tools that keep us moving forward. What these seven tools have in common is that they’re easy to use and responsive to our needs. And when tools can evolve as we evolve while retaining their simplicity and effectiveness, they have great staying power.

Here’s the quick list:

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The Science of Motivation: Your Brain on Dopamine

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I spent an hour on this opening paragraph:

The hour wasn’t time well spent, mind you. Sure, I was working — writing, deleting, fiddling with words here and there — but my paragraph-per-hour pace was more the byproduct of a stubborn lack of motivation than of indecisiveness.

I spent five minutes in email, ten minutes on Twitter, and fifteen minutes doing who-knows-what on Tumblr. Just kidding, I know exactly what I was doing:  looking at dog pictures.

Sound familiar?

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