The 4th of July brought another beautiful patriotic display over Seattle’s South Lake Union. But those weren’t the only fireworks going on in the city.

Microsoft’s employee ranking system (and the company itself) came under direct fire after Kurt Eichenwald, a two-time winner of the prestigious George Polk Award, penned an article for Vanity Fair titled “Microsoft’s Lost Decade.” The story set off a passionate reaction to say the least, including a critique from GeekWire’s Todd Bishop who noted that it skimmed over the positive things Microsoft has accomplished in recent years.

“It feels more like a caricature, highlighting Microsoft’s worst qualities and overlooking the stuff that actually has gone well over the past decade,” Bishop wrote. As you can imagine, GeekWire’s pages were full of comments about the story, many of whom took aim at Microsoft’s stack ranking system. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite comments from those stories as well as others from the past week.

Stephen Toulouse
Stephen Toulouse. (Erynn Rose photo)

“It’s an incredibly demoralizing message to hear someone say, ‘During your review period you worked 80 hour weeks, exceeded your documented tasks, and to top it off you fed a multitude with only a fish and a loaf of bread! Unfortunately someone else in your peer group did all of those things plus walked on water and therefore you will be getting a lower compensation ranking,’ Never mind having to come home to a spouse and explain that your work/life sacrifice the past year isn’t going to yield what you thought it would thanks to an arbitrary model. Now imagine you’re a manager and you have to deliver that message!”—Ex-Microsoftie Stephen Toulouse responding to a Vanity Fair article in which the software giant’s system for evaluating employees was criticized.

“Any time you have a fixed budget for compensation, you have to make trade offs – it’s by definition a zero sum game. You don’t have to call it stack ranking and can give it a more politically correct term I suppose. How else do you divide up a fixed bonus pool? Do we do what they do in pre-school and give everyone a ribbon and money?”—A former Microsoft manager commenting on the GeekWire story about stack ranking.

“GE practices should not be copied in IP companies.”—Concur CEO Steve Singh in a Tweet weighing in on the discussion about how Microsoft evaluates staffers.

HasOffers' chef Chris Blanco

“Time really gets away from you in a startup environment. We found that being intentional about eating quality, fresh, and healthy meals was almost impossible for most of us.”—HasOffers Chief Marketing Officer Peter Hamilton explaining why the Seattle startup company decided to hire a personal chef to cook meals for employees.

“I don’t always take breaks at work… but when I do, I eat ‘Baked polenta with buffalo-fennel bolognese and sauteed swiss chard.'”—A GeekWire reader commenting on one of the menu items that HasOffers’ chef Chris Blanco plans to make.

“Between family trips and some other travel I’ll be doing this summer, I probably have more reading time planned than I think I’ve had for a very long time, maybe ever since I started work. Still, I’m probably being too optimistic about what I’ll be getting to, because I’m taking a ton of books with me.”—Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates writing about some of his favorite books for the summer.

“There’s no line to stand in.”—QThru CEO Aaron Roberts describing the benefits of the company’s new mobile app that allows grocery shoppers to scan bar codes as they shop and then checkout with a QR code.

“I’m famous, I’m notorious.”—FunnyJunk lawyer Charles Carreon after claiming “mission accomplished” this past week in a lawsuit he dropped against Seattle Web comic Matthew Inman, aka as The Oatmeal.

“Matthew Inman spoke out against Carreon’s threat of a frivolous lawsuit, in a very popular and very public way. This was nothing more than a meritless attempt to punish Inman for calling attention to his legal bullying. We called him out on this in our briefs, so it’s no surprise that Carreon was left with no choice but to dismiss.”—Electronic Frontier Foundation Attorney Kurt Opsahl commenting on Carreon’s case.

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  • vj7439

    When a company is large like MSFT, artificial means are used to rank and reward employees. In other words HR rules and not business. So why are folks surprised by this? The curve decides who gets an A get used to it!

  • Blah

    Does anyone really think that Microsoft’s problem is that it has too many highly talented people, particularly leaders? And that a forced raking review system is to blame for more than a decade of bad, non-innovative decisions and failures to capitalize on potential market opportunities?

  • Ronald S Woan

    The abuse of a stack ranking system is symptomatic, not cause of MS’s woes. MS is where they are because they haven’t been able to react to disruption in the industry by Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook in areas they originally deemed inconsequential to their core business. Classic Innovators’ Dilemma fodder.

    • guest

      When you’re reacting to your competitors you’ve already lost. MS’s problem is it hasn’t been the disruptor, even when it had a decade head start in areas like smartphones and tablets.

  • Matt Wass de Czege

    This is the reality of working for a big company. Unfortunately, what it means is that if you are not your bosses go to guy, you wont be getting the top rating or the bonus. The company will eventually realize that they are losing a lot of good people to competitors and they are left with one hot shot and a lot of duds. This is what leads to inovation stagnation and loss of good people who can identify and react to market transitions.

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