Stack ranking systems work well at companies with competitive environments that compare employees on objectively measurable performance, according to Alexandra Michel, professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies work culture. However, the system tends to break down and cause distrust among employees and create a political atmosphere when applied by companies that measure performance subjectively, or companies that demand employee loyalty in exchange for benefits and the promise of career advancement, Michel said.
"If you have an environment that is completely cutthroat like Wall Street, this system works pretty well," Michel said. "But if you have employees who come in and want to be taken care of, want to learn, want to be part of a warm group and people who care about them — that's a very jarring mismatch."
Since early 2017, Facebook has become more rigorous in distributing grades by specific percentages, according to multiple former employees.
"I had a boss literally say to me 'You don't have enough people in 'meets some,' 'meets most,' and 'meets all,'" said a former director who left earlier this year. "I was finding myself making up things to be hypercritical of employees to give them lower ratings than they really deserved."
These twice-yearly reviews encourage employees to be particularly productive around June and December, working nights and weekends as they race to impress bosses before reviews, which are typically completed in August and February. It's especially true in December, the half Facebook predominantly uses to determine which employees will receive promotions.
This rush causes employees to focus on short-term goals and push out features that drive user engagement and improve their own metrics without fully considering potential long-term negative impacts on user experience or privacy, multiple former employees said.
"If you're up for promotion, and it's based on whether you get a product out or not, you're almost certainly going to push that product out," a former engineer said. "Otherwise you're going to have to wait another year to get that promotion."
As employees begin gathering peer reviews and buckling up for their next round of calibrations in February, the process will reveal how employees are thinking of the company after a bruising 2018, according to employees who left recently.
There will be an extra level of anxiety around the process this time, one person said. Folks who have been wanting to leave will be hoping to notch a high rating so they can depart on good terms. Others who are committed to the company will be torn between speaking up about their concerns or staying in line for the sake of their careers. Any changes to company's grading process this time could reveal whether Facebook is taking special steps to keep valued employees around, or continuing along the same lines.
"This review cycle will be particularly colorful for them," according to a director who left recently.
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