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.””
Managers: be careful what sorts of incentives you set up. Very often, as Ben Horowitz points out, you’re encouraging highly politicized behavior you never intended.
Incentives are bunk. Either people work because they like it (they like being good at what they do to be precise and you can either help them or hinder them if you want a hot management tip) or they fight against what they dislike. Fighting away from dislike got our species where it is today (for good or ill) so it’s a brave manager that works against the weight of history.