What Microsoft’s Elimination of Employee-Ranking Program Means for eLearning

Microsoft’s controversial employee-ranking program met its end this week as the company strives to build a more collaborative culture. While this internal move won’t directly impact consumers, the shift illustrates a larger change in corporate culture and the elearning industry towards a more personalized approach.

Microsoft leadership and employees alike have blamed the ranking program for the cannibalistic and turbulent atmosphere at the software giant over the last decade. The technique, known as stack ranking, dictated managers rank a certain percentage of employees as top performers, average or poor performers. Since Microsoft’s system had set percentages, this meant some employees had to be given poor reviews in order to match the ranking method.

In discontinuing this program, Microsoft is hoping to increase employee retention and attract new hires. Under the new initiative, rewards and incentives will now be awarded at the manager’s discretion. Additionally, Microsoft is placing a greater emphasis on employee growth and development through a process called “Connects.”


Microsoft’s move away from a universal system to a more collaborative, autonomous and personalized approach is similar to what is being seen in the elearning industry. At the recent Learning 2013 conference, the term used for this trend was “one-size-fits-one.” Essentially, employees are looking for more personalized development opportunities that have them competing against only themselves. Microsoft, and other corporations, are recognizing these types of individualized programs see better results, as opposed to lumping employees into categories, groups or training tracks based on leadership-defined characteristics.

The elearning industry has recognized this shift and has made moves to meet the increasing demand, such as building more mobile-friendly courses and adding collaboration tools to learning management systems. Additionally, gamification has also been successful over the last few years as a technique to encourage individual participation in development programs.

Microsoft’s axing of its employee-ranking program illustrates a need for better approaches to developing and evaluating employees, one that respects the differences of each staff member. Fortunately, eLearning programs are able to provide more individual training while still being able to scale.

How has implementing elearning affected your company culture? What tools or strategies do you use to encourage collaboration during development? Share your story with us in the comments!