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Back to High School: Microsoft Gets a Low Grade on Employee Engagement

Posted on Categories Branding, Internal Communications, Savage ThinkingTags

Top performing companies are ones who focus on their purpose (the reason why they exist as a company) and empower each employee to deliver on that purpose.

Employees who are engaged in their company’s purpose perform better than those focused on meaningless performance evaluations. It’s how your company will thrive in both good economies and bad.

Let’s contrast this with Microsoft’s current practice on employee performance – one that mirrors the same demoralizing bell curve grading system that we hated in school. No need to worry about teamwork or group success. And let’s forget about employee empowerment.

In a recent article in Vanity Fair, Kurt Eichenwald discusses the ineffective HR stack ranking practice at Microsoft. Like high school, it evaluates employees against each other, and seems to ignore effort, attitude and teamwork.

“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,‰” Eichenwald writes. ‰”If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,‰” says a former software developer. ‰”It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.‰”

As a corporate manager, if you do not know who is imaginative, productive, encouraging, helpful, dependable and interested in the success of your company, then you need more help than something like stack ranking can give you.

Most of us hated the singular focus on grades in school. Why would any company believe that an effective way to motivate their employees would be to pit them against each other for a score on a bell curve? This is counterproductive to building cohesive teams that know what the company stands for and how each individual contributes to the company‰’s success.

Consider instead this recent Forbes’ article on employee engagement:

“This is a Eureka moment for employee engagement: we‰’ve cracked the code on what truly inspires employees. The source of engagement has nothing to do with breaking bread (or bread sticks) and everything to do with the extent to which trust, values and mission actually inspire and drive daily activities and interactions.”

It‰’s time we graduated. Putting your company’s “purpose” to work is a better way to engage your employees instead of meaningless performance evaluations. It’s about aligning employees with the values and mission that support your purpose. This is more than just my opinion, it’s becoming the reality for business leaders everywhere.


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