Microsoft Kills Its Hated Stack Rankings. Does Anyone Do Employee Reviews Right? Joshua Brustein  November 13, 2013 — 11:26 AM EST

Stack and forced ranking models of evaluation are not necessarily bad models of evaluation.  When evaluating these models is easy to see the pitfalls much quicker than the benefits. The article by Joshua Brustein in November 2013 does a good job of pointing out the bad, but comes short of identifying the benefits Microsoft was able to reap at the time it used these models.  The original intent was not necessarily to weed out the weak; I think this is more a perception issue by the weak, more than anything else.  Microsoft fully intended to identify their top performers in order to justify and reward productivity at the level of excellence required within the spectrum of innovation.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the opening of new Microsoft headquarters in Berlin, Germany on Nov. 7

cvcvcPhotograph by Britta Pedersen/dpa via AP Photo

“Microsoft has been known as the ur-example of pitting employees against one another in an attempt to reward the excellent and weed out the weak, which gained widespread popularity in the 1980s after then-Chief Executive Jack Welch brought the ranking system to General Electric. The problem is workers generally aren’t thrilled about having to play Game of Thrones at the office. David Auerbach, a former Microsoft employee, recently told Bloomberg Businessweek that the practice had employees feeling helpless and “encouraged people to backstab their co-workers.” http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-11-13/microsoft-kills-its-hated-stack-rankings-dot-does-anyone-do-employee-reviews-right (Joshua Brustein November 2013)


What I believe was flawed and still is flawed with the “Rack’m and Stack’m” system is the access given to the employees to know how others were rated, hence the pitting against each other theory explored in the article in question.  A better model that I’ve come to rely on, is a goals oriented model where participation is not only encouraged at every level, but also required.  The challenge of this model, or pitfall if you would; is that it requires the manager, and or first line supervisor to be well trained in the process of both goals setting and accountability using an approved counseling process.  This goals based system only waits for the Executive leadership team to publish its annual goals before the rest of the organization is compelled to initiate their process; a process in which the Human Resources Department is not only the lead function but also the approval authority to link departmental goals to corporate goals before the employees are engaged in it.  Here is a sample process:

  1. Corporate rolls out annual goals to HR and HR distributes Corporate goals to top level managers
  2. Managers develop departmental goals in harmony with corporate goals and approved budgets
  3. HR reviews and approves department goals based on the linkage between corporate goals and internal budgets
  4. Managers schedule individual sessions to share goals two levels up with individual at which time individuals develop their goals. Individual goals are then approved by the managers
  5. Managers conduct periodic counseling sessions using the goals achievement process to measure and ultimately rate level of individual performance which subsequently is tied to bonuses, promotion opportunities and local reward systems


Jorge is an accomplished and experienced Executive Adviser, Author, Business Coach, Leadership Development Coach, Sales Trainer, and Radio Host of the Business minute. Certified to conduct individual and organizational assessments to identify and provide gap analyses and solutions for non-profits and for profit organizations. Jorge’s passion and purpose is to serve others and develop human capital through leadership development and quality of life improvement. Jorge is Co-Author of The Change 7 Insights into Self Development, available in Amazon

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