On Quotas


I just read that a Classic WoW tech lead developer (Brian Birmingham, pictured) “Left Blizzard […] under protest” after refusing to give a lower than deserved evaluation to one of his  subordinates’ performance review in order to fill quotas.  Let me unpack that for you so that you understand … that this kind of evaluation process is evil.

So, it works like this.  At my company, you could get a ranking from one (worst) to five (best). One was “recommended for termination” and Five was “recommended for promotion.”  Three, as you might expect, was the general average rating (recommended for retention).  I personally was always happy with a 3 as I felt I wasn’t really exceptional – just a grinder, grinding away, and moving one day to the next.

Now the trick was, upper management and HR determined that you could have no more than x employees at a 5, y at a 4, and so on.  A variant of this is, of course, that you must have between x and y percent of your team in each bucket.  But let’s simplify to illustrate with this example.

  • 1% 5 – recommended for promotion
  • 4% 4 – recommended for advancement
  • 85% 3 – recommended for retention
  • 4% 2 – recommended for remediation
  • 1% 1 – recommended for termination

This is, I again emphasize, an oversimplified example but illustrates the situation quite clearly.  It’s not that you can’t have MORE than 1% as a 5 or a 1, for example – it’s that you are REQUIRED to have that number.

This is called rating stacking, and basically means that every team is competing against themselves for performance ratings.

But what if you have a really great team? I mean, sure, we all realize it’s competitive and they are competing against each other, but if they’re all great employees then why would you want to fill that lower 5%? Imagine you’re the unlucky one that is performing objectively well, but comparatively worse than others on your team?  You still want to keep the guy. But due to quota buckets, you have to put them in a 1 (recommended for termination) or 2 (recommended for remediation).

This is what Birmingham refused to do, and I applaud his moxie.  His unemployed moxie, that is, because Blizz just canned his ass and transferred his team under someone that they expect will be more pliable (especially considering the example of Brian right under their nose).

Again, I want to emphasize that I have no insight into Blizzard’s managerial playbook, but I recognize the performance eval type and absolutely loathe it, and know how it works to a point.

Apparently, Brian refused to continue to work under these conditions, and intended to resign, but was fired instead. Joke’s on them, that makes him eligible for unemployment (a fund he has been contributing to all his time there, so essentially he at least gets his own money back).  There are reportedly other managers there that asked if they could be assigned a ‘2’ so that one of their people could avoid it (they were denied).

To me, Brian is a Hero of the Revolution, even if the Revolution hasn’t quite happened yet.  I wish him Godspeed, and hope the rotten-ass managers that pushed him out get flea infestations in their public hair.

By the way, I can pretty much guarantee that there will soon be layoffs at Blizz, and that this “tool” will be used to guide who gets the axe. This is really what it’s all about.

Posted on January 24, 2023, in I don't wanna get off on a rant here but, Seizing the Means of Production, We're not in Azeroth anymore and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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