By 2002 the by-product of bureaucracy—brutal corporate politics—had reared its head at Microsoft. And, current and former executives said, each year the intensity and destructiveness of the game playing grew worse as employees struggled to beat out their co-workers for promotions, bonuses, or just survival.
Microsoft’s managers, intentionally or not, pumped up the volume on the viciousness. What emerged—when combined with the bitterness about financial disparities among employees, the slow pace of development, and the power of the Windows and Office divisions to kill innovation—was a toxic stew of internal antagonism and warfare.
“If you don’t play the politics, it’s management by character assassination,” said Turkel.
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.”
Supposing Microsoft had managed to hire technology’s top players into a single unit before they made their names elsewhere—Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, Larry Ellison of Oracle, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon—regardless of performance, under one of the iterations of stack ranking, two of them would have to be rated as below average, with one deemed disastrous.
For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings. And the reviews had real-world consequences: those at the top received bonuses and promotions; those at the bottom usually received no cash or were shown the door.
Outcomes from the process were never predictable. Employees in certain divisions were given what were known as M.B.O.’s—management business objectives—which were essentially the expectations for what they would accomplish in a particular year. But even achieving every M.B.O. was no guarantee of receiving a high ranking, since some other employee could exceed the assigned performance. As a result, Microsoft employees not only tried to do a good job but also worked hard to make sure their colleagues did not.
“The behavior this engenders, people do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People responsible for features will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.”
Worse, because the reviews came every six months, employees and their supervisors—who were also ranked—focused on their short-term performance, rather than on longer efforts to innovate.
“The six-month reviews forced a lot of bad decision-making,” one software designer said. “People planned their days and their years around the review, rather than around products. You really had to focus on the six-month performance, rather than on doing what was right for the company.”
To celebrate his birthday, one of my teammates, David, decided to visit Singapore and invited me to come along. I thought since I had only been to the city-state four times, why not make it five? Just because.
We were lucky to catch a good deal with Singapore Airlines, as airfare for the same flight a few weeks later nearly doubled. It was my first time to fly with SIA and the PHP12,000 or so that I paid was well worth the excellent service, fantastic food, free-flowing wine, and entertainment aboard the aircraft. Oh yes, we left NAIA3 on time, too.
Day 1 – Arrival and Marina Bay
After clearing immigration, we took the Airport Shuttle that brought us directly to our hotel. We stayed at Amara Hotel on Tanjong Pagar Road, just on the outskirts of the Central Business District.
We arrived two hours earlier than check-in time, so we decided to walk towards Chinatown, which was just three blocks away, to have lunch. Afterwards, we decided to take a bus going to Alexandria Road to check what we could buy for our respective apartments from Ikea. Verdict: Nothing much, except for the usual kitchen utensils. I wouldn’t want to have to ship stuff all the way back to Makati.
We got back just in time for checking in and freshening up, then off we went to Marina Bay. We took another bus going to Marina Bay Sands. I was glad I took the trip, as I had never been to Marina Bay before, and this was the first time I set foot on the other side of the bay area.
|Marina Bay Sands is lovely at dusk, when the setting sun is reflected on its west facade.|
We walked around Marina Bay and were lucky to catch some air show of sorts–there were half a dozen fighter jets flying over Marina Bay / CBD. It looked like they were celebrating a national holiday, but what it was, we did not bother to ask around anymore.
|The Helix Bridge, 7PM|
Day 2: Sentosa, Universal, and Chinatown
We left early-ish for breakfast at Tanjong Pagar Plaza. For SGD4.70, I got a plate overflowing with fried noodles, fried rice, eggs sunny side up, fish cakes, and luncheon meat, plus the famous drink, teh. That was all I need to get me through a day lining up for rides at Universal Studios.
And the rest:
After Universal Studios, we took the monorail going to the next station, near the beachfront. After a quick look-around, we took the Sky Ride going back to the top of the island where the cable car station was located. The cable car was the best (though not the most affordable) way to cross back to the City, as it provides stunning views of Sentosa and Singapore.
For SGD26, the cable car takes passengers from Imbiah Lookout Station on Sentosa to Mount Faber, where they were provided with free non-alcoholic drinks. Of course, we opted to pay for beer instead. After about an hour at Faber Bistro, we took the Cable Car going towards the nearest station to Harbour Front where we took the MRT to Chinatown for dinner and souvenir.
Hawker’s dinner on Smith Street
Smith Street in Chinatown district is famous for super cheap hawker’s food. You just have to be a little less queasy about the idea of eating your dinner on the street that can get pretty crowded. The tough part, however, is choosing what to have for dinner, as there are so many dishes offered at various stalls. I usually get either the chicken
|Singapore’s ubiquitous beer. Unfortunately, they only sell this fantastic brew in 500ml bottles, and there was no way I could down that much in one go.|
|Pork and chicken skewers with peanut sauce.|
I wish I had discovered this kitschy neighbourhood just across Chinatown going to the CBD direction. I just love looking at the facades of the small buildings around the city, as if their government made a conscious effort to keep things sort of old-world in some districts, where things hark back to the 60s (or earlier) before skyscrapers started to change Singapore’s skyline. These structures house cafes, restaurants, boutiques, delis and pubs.
|The Scarlet boutique hotel.|
Day 3: Breakfast in CBD, Last-minute shopping on Orchard Road and Bugis, and flying back home
Since we lived in a metropolitan peppered with massive shopping malls and bargain centers, it did not make a lot of sense to do a lot of shopping in Singapore. The only reason for me to visit a shop was because it was not available in Manila, so H&M and Cotton On were worth checking. Otherewise, there was good old-fashioned window shopping and comparing Manila, SG, and Australia prices. For the most part, SG prices were even steeper than Australia. Really??
|Prices at bargain center Bugis is way way waayy more expensive than, say, Greenhills. Their stuff are less interesting, too.|
|Ion Orchard is always worth a visit.|
“In schools, it’s the bolder kids who get attention from teachers, while quiet children can too easily languish in the back of the classroom. ‘Our culture expects people to be outgoing and sociable,’ says Christopher Lane, an English professor at Northwestern University… ‘It’s the unstated norm, and against that norm introverts stand out as seemingly problematic.'”
“But that unstated norm discounts the hidden benefits of the introverted temperament–for workplaces, personal relationships and society as a whole. Introverts may be able to fit all their friends in aphone booth, but those relationships tend to be deep and rewarding. Introverts are more cautious and deliberate than extroverts, but that means they tend to think things through more thoroughly, which means they can often make smarter decisions. Introverts are better at listening–which, after all, is easier to do if you’re not talking–and that in turn can make them better business leaders, especially if their employees feel empowered to act on their own initiative. And simply by virtue of their ability to sit still and focus, introverts find it easier to spend long periods in solitary work, which turns out to be the best way to come up with a fresh idea or master a skill.”
—The Upside of Being an Introvert, TIME, February 6, 2012.
I never thought this would be possible. No, I am not okay. I need my True North.
No matter how painful some of my memories are, I’d still like to keep them. I learn from them and when the pain is over, knowing that I overcame them becomes a source of inspiration and courage. What doesn’t kills you can make you stronger, right? Of course it is different from many others.
WIRED: The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever