Saturday, October 8, 2005

Bad Reviews from Bad Bosses

An interesting topic erupted on its own in the comments over the past couple of days: you get a crappy review score that you don't agree with. Options of what you can do at point vary, including the following:

  • You sign it and that's that, other than any new strategies you put in place to get a better score next time.
  • You refuse to sign it and begin conversations up the chain, pulling in HR.
  • If you do sign it, you ask to have your rebuttal comments for this review be attached.

Sometimes, it works out to at least flush your manager from the corporation:

I didn't sign my 04 review (an undeserved 3.0) and my former boss was out of his job in a few months. Sometimes it really gets people's attention.

Regarding the feedback portion of your review (if you feel it overly harsh or unrealistic):

A good manager will work with you until you're both happy with the feedback (often it's just a wording issue). However, ultimately, nobody cares if you don't sign your review. Your PHB can tell HR "I've given the feedback but they still wouldn't sign..." and that's pretty much it unless it's an endemic problem with them. Plenty of folks don't even write their review let alone sign it.

Ideally, though, you want that pit-bull of a manager who is on your side to get the review score he/she believes you deserve:

[...] I know of a situation in the past where a manager gave someone some unfair comments, and that was used as part of the reason to push that manager out of the group (unfortunately not fire the person from the company - it's always easier to pawn them off on another group).

I also want to say this: if, as a manager, you don't believe in a score you think you need to give because of the curve, you can find a way to not give them that score. If you think you need to give them a 3.0 but you think they deserve a 3.5, you can find a way to give them a 3.5. It requires a backbone, and requires work in making the case to upper management, but I've done it. In short, it requires the manager in question to actually care.

It's interesting to get this perspective from various folks in the company. The rebuttal letter is considered the unspoken kiss of death in my group, for instance. It's not going to prevent you from going out on informationals (nothing should ever prevent you from doing that) but it has the potential to raise a flag in the mind of the hiring manager (some ask for access to your review history before meeting with you). But perhaps you don't want to work for that kind of manager, anyway. If you're coming out of a bad review situation, I think you should touch on it briefly during your informational and not dwell on it more than, "I'm looking to grow and contribute beyond what I can currently do in my group," and be ready to follow-up positively where that might lead the conversation.

The review comments erupted out of people taking exception to Mr. Sinofsky's post, e.g. on having a dissenting view:

Absolutely positively no one has ever received a poor review for merely having a dissenting view.

Yeah, right.

In my FY05 mid-year review, my manager told me to my face that I was tracking to a 4.0. A few months later, I made an "emperor has no clothes" statement in a "private conversation" with a colleague. Without an e-mail message, conversation, or even a performance improvement plan having been set up, my manager ambushed me in my written review. He/she quoted confidential e-mail messages and conversations in the written review, and he/she gave me a 3.0. He/she had this look on her face that pretty much said, "I am f**king you over right now, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it." He/she was actually satisfied with his/her very personal attack against me.

And this one:

"The first part is true, they're just 2.5'd and let go for performance reasons even when they don't deserve it (I know several people who had this happen)."

I was a lifetime 4.0 and current 4.0 when I was "asked to leave" because I raised issues. This wasn't unique. I saw it happen to literally dozens of people before me (not all 4.0's but all at least 3.5s) and know of it happening to several since. His comment is just flat out incorrect and shows how divorced even well-meaning snr mgt can be from the day-to-day realities at lower levels.

And how are you supposed to improve things given a current management culture like this? Lisa Brummel, is this the kind of management you want to keep in place? I don't. I want management dorks like that fired with a high-visible vengeance. I want people to speak their mind. Again, the important lesson I picked up from Bob Herbold's book: people quickly learn what it takes to succeed in their group. Right now, we're teaching them to shut up, get along, and have some sort of high visible successes (real impact inconsequential) in comparison to their stack-rank peers so that they can get that 4.0.

I'm really surprised at one-commenter saying he's been prevented from looking at an internal transfer for over 11 months under a "stop-loss" state in his group. Which groups are putting folks into such a horrible state of servitude? If you're not going to leave the company (which how can you not expect people doing) the only option I know of is to actually do an informational and an informal interview (like, if I pass this first interview, let's set up a real interview loop). If things are a success at that point, you'd have the other potential group bearing down on your current manager / HR rep and usually that's enough to set the gears in motion to at least get an interview.

And your group's HR is just not your friend here. As people have noted, perhaps cynically, HR's one and only priority is to prevent Microsoft from being sued. HR usually acquiesces to anything management wants to do around reviews, promotions, transfers, etc., as long as it isn't too shady. Another thing: when you leave Microsoft, they set something up called your "exit interview." By golly, you'd think that might be something HR uses to understand, if you're bad attrition, why is it that you're leaving and whether you'd be inclined to come back. Nope. Just about everyone I've been in contact with post-Microsoft said no one looked to understand why they are leaving. I guess they're too busy praising the Nero-esque stylings of our senior management's fiddle playing. The exit interview typically is just a paper signing formality, and let's say they don't exactly put the best and brightest in the HR seat to conduct the session.

Following on Steven Sinofsky's management postings, KenMo's call-out of MSN's good traits, and Kevin Schofield's various praises of Microsoft and it's current state being just swell, we have a comment from Bill Hoffman stating:

Mini, I think you need to give more specific examples of where you see useless process. I would be curious as to where you think we should cut process.

I'm a Dev Manager in MSN. I don't see any useless process. All I see is my team cranking out code as fast as we can... innovating as fast as we can... shipping software every couple months. In the past year, we have launched a completely new backend for Hotmail. We are embarking on a next generation backend now, a totally new architecture.

I'm not seeing any middle management getting in my way. All I see is my VP, GM and PUM asking the world of my team, supporting us, and telling us "Go."

What matters more to me is hearing from the Microsofties with their boots on the ground. It matters the most when they get out there and call me out and say where I'm wrong and specifically call out where things are right. The specific folks that I'm complaining about - not having a clue and supporting an inefficient system - are probably not the ones I'm going to look towards giving me a good, honest assessment about the problems people have noted here (and in the blogs of the Microsoftie dearly-departed to more effective work environments).

For instance, in my last post, I questioned the feature crew process that Mr. Sinofsky mentioned in his "bureaucracy gooood" post, based on what I'd heard. Some folks followed up saying how it worked well for them and they thought it was a good idea. Hmm. Furthermore, Ben Canning, who it would seem to be where the buck stops at Office for feature crews, posted a very honest comment here about feature crews, even going so far to call out where cumbersome usage of an infopath form was indeed going too far and how he knows there are improvements to be made and that he's open to hearing about them (Mr. Canning also posted similar comments in Steven's original post). What I like is the idea that the individual contributors are the decision makers.

And as for forms, an unrelated comment notes:

I assure you that the Bureaucracy the other ills of MS have reached far outside of Redmond. I am in the EPG sales organization and the sheer amount of process that we need to hack through to get anything done is mind blowing. Sieble entries and internal meetings and ROB ( Rhythm of the Business) has become the business. I often feel like I am at the DMV... no wait, they streamlined that..... I often feel like I am at the doctors office... no, they stream lined that tooo....

I know, I often feel like I am in microsoft spending my entire life filling out infopath forms, in triplicate.

Well, maybe the first sign that you have too much process is that you're using infopath. Is your process saving collective time or just feeding someone's need to track everything their way?


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