You can tell which people listed blogging as a performance review goal

I had been kind of baffled by some of the Microsoft employee blogs that appear to consist almost entirely of rehashes of Knowledge Base articles, or sometimes even just “A new Knowledge Base article on topic X has been published.” Now, that’s useful information to have if you’re interested in topic X, but is it really something you can build a blog around? Can’t you just sign up for KB notifications manually? (That’s probably how the blog author found them anyway.) And then there are the head-scratcher blog entries like There are no new KB articles this week.

But I never really thought too much about them. They merely registered as noise to me. Baffling noise, but still noise.

And then I learned why these types of blogs exist: Because somebody put down blogging as a goal on their annual performance review. If you want to say that one of your goals for the next year is to maintain a blog, you have to specify how to determine whether that goal was met. As I’ve noted earlier, Microsoft is obsessed with measurement, so the way to tell whether your blog was a “success” is to come up with some sort of metric for success. These people naturally chose Number of blog postings per month as their metric. Running behind this month? No problem, just crank out a few Hey, here’s a Knowledge Base article you might be interested in postings and you’ve filled your quota.

This is another example how deciding how you’re going to measure something affects the people you’re measuring: They alter their behavior to maximize the metric rather than the concept the metric is supposed to be tracking. If you decide that you want to expand the Knowledge Base and set numeric goals for employees on how many Knowledge Base articles they should write each year, don’t be surprised if you find that in the waning weeks of the year, there’s a spurt of largely useless Knowledge Base articles.

In an internal discussion of this topic, I wrote, “Blogging to improve your review score is like entering politics to get rich.” While it may be true that politicians tend to get rich, and many people enter politics in order to get rich (or more legally, enter politics in order to exit politics in order to get rich), I believe that getting rich shouldn’t be the motivation for entering politics. And improving your review score shouldn’t be the motivation for blogging.

Comments (36)
  1. Alexander Grigoriev says:

    Speaking of KB articles. It would be nice if using KB search were not like finding a needle in a stack of hay. If it could return the results sorted by publication or update date, or by KB number. etc. And if it had an opion to skip all those MSDOS 3.10 articles.

  2. Patrick Leong says:

    This reminds me an article Joel Spolsky has written about how incentive programs for employees could actually hurt the company and the customers.

    And in the case of Raymond’s post today, it’s the performance evaluation metric that forces/lures the MS employees to do so. Quite the same effect.

  3. Nawak says:

    Everybody knows that the real motivation for blogging is collecting nitpickers

  4. John says:

    I thought blogging was just an exercise to see who could get the most page views with the least content.

  5. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    I find this quite the interesting topic. I definitely don’t agree with the typical management approach of "Find something, even if it’s not what we want, and measure it!"

    Joel Spolsky seems to advocate the other extreme "No performance metrics!". I freely admit I may be oversimplifying his position here, but that is the impression I’ve picked up from some of his blog entries (Back when his blog was more than Hey, I’ve got a new article over here, and a new podcast over there!) and various articles. Now, Joel is massively more successful then I am at being a CEO, but note how he lost the services of a programmer who quite literally handed him a million dollar idea, over Joel’s own objections.

    You can see shortfalls in both extremes. At one company, many years ago, one of the metrics I had was how many times I said "Thank you" and used the customer’s name on a phone call. Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t make it relevant.

    Joel lost the services of someone who demonstrated the ability to think of new revenue streams, independently research and support the viability of these streams, and the confidence and ability to convince the CEO he is wrong. If your system leaves no method of recognizing excellence, you cannot retain truly excellent people.

    Perhaps a middle ground, with intelligently designed and regularly reviewed metrics, with the view that whatever is lost to gaming of the system before the review catches it needs to be made up for by the retention of the truly excellent?

    But that would require managers to manage…

  6. someone else says:

    This is called “perverse incentive.” And This is not quite as bad as “No, new hardware comes only as replacement for defective hardware. What do you mean, your CRT mysteriously fell off the desk?”

  7. Patrick Leong says:

    While I do not agree on everything about Joel Spolsky’s opinion, both Raymond’s post today and Joel’s article are pointing out a weakness of the numeric metric system in terms of performance: anyone can jack up the number in any way s/he wants, but that does not necessary mean that the real goal, or the philosophy of the performance evaluation, has been achieved appropriately.

    That is the same as telling programmers that they will be paid by how many lines of code they have written. :)

    I am a little bit curious though. Could Raymond or anyone please explain, what is the philosophy behind using blog posts as performance evaluation parameter?

  8. DEngh says:

    > I am a little bit curious though. Could Raymond or anyone please explain, what is the philosophy behind using blog posts as performance evaluation parameter?

    There’s no rationale for Microsoft per se, but when an employee writes up their performancce goals for the coming year, and one of those goals is "blogging", how do you determine if they’ve met the goal at year-end?  One simple and misguided measure is "X blog entries per month".

  9. says:

    Why MSFT employees only, I have seen that with some of the MVPs too (Pinal Dave is one good example –, I initially liked his blog but over a period of time I learnt he was only "cut-and-paste kind of guy" OR "read this url" type, with NO NEW substance in his blog.

    I believe its not their (MSFT employees or MVPS) problem, its the problem of those who se the direction & expectation. Especially in the case of MVP, I believe they need to partcipate more in FORUMS, answer questions, write white-papers…

  10. mikeb says:

    @Mark (the other Mark): >> Joel … lost the services of a programmer who quite literally handed him a million dollar idea, over Joel’s own objections. <<

    Do you have a pointer to this?  It sounds like an interesting story.

  11. Mike says:

    due to a lack of work around here, i don’t work in IT (however it’s a very dedicated hobby… hence my following this blog!), however this sort of measurement of success is also a problem where i work

    we do stock takes – for example we might go in to a clothes shop and our job is to scan the barcodes on every item… then their measure is "productivity", which they classify as "how many scans an hour" – i’m sure you can imagine what happens when 4 or 5 tshirts next to each other look the same and at a glance appear to all be the same size – yes, the odd one in the middle somehow got scanned as having the same barcode as the rest – how on earth did that happen?

  12. Keith says:

    It looks like this is the story on how Joel Spolsky lost his $1MM idea-generating intern:

    Besides that, who says politicians don’t go into politics to get rich?  Ask about former (now convicted) PA state senator Vince Fumo and his patronage machine.  

  13. Bob says:

    There’s a difference between an intern who generates a million dollars a day, and an intern who has one idea that can be profitable but relies on all the years of work the company had already done.

    In any case, if your "million dollar idea" is "host job advertisments on a site where they’re relevant" and then you get a choice between working for that company and working for google, trying to argue that the owner of the company "lost your services" because the bonus was too small is simply retarded.

    Also, Joel’s "objections" that were so huge and significant amounted to "really, you can charge that much per advertisment? cool! let’s do it" and that’s hardly the most enthusiastic objection possible. To suggest he fought against a free million dollars then fought to keep the genius out is simply wrong.

    Performance metrics, or the lack thereof, did not cost Joel the services of the einstein of the software industry. However, performance metrics of the "reward the squeaky wheel and ignore the other wheels on the car but pay bonuses according to how far the car moves" have this amazing tendancy to make the other wheels want to leave.

  14. Fed says:

    This is TOO funny! We have a similar problem at our company; however, in our company EVERYONE has a yearly performance goal to submit at least 4 safety violations! As you have already imagined, the results is a flurry of incredibly laughable safety violations… Oh wait, I just spilled coffee on the floor, need to report that! :D

  15. Michael says:

    This page:

    copied the content of this entry entirely with no reference to this posting.

  16. configurator says:

    @Michael: Unbelievable! They did make a change though; all links became headers, sort of, making the text just a bit more unreadable.

  17. pete.d says:

    Reminds me of when I worked at Microsoft as a developer.  One of the primary review metrics at the time was bug-fix count as measured in the RAID database.

    Of course, it’s a lot easier to fix bugs in your own code than in someone else’s.  So, of the developers who wrote very buggy code and then spent a lot of time fixing their own bugs, versus the developers who carefully wrote relatively bug-free code and then spent a lot of time fixing other people’s bugs, guess who had the "best" bug-fix count!

    This strongly encouraged developers to ignore code quality, as there was no incentive for avoiding bugs in the first place.

  18. Josh says:

    I love that the linked article (No KB Articles this week) has a pingback spam that is this article… except it’s a scraped copy by some waste-of-bits site out there.

  19. mikeb says:

    @pete.d:  So someone actually uses ‘Dilbert’ as management guidance. Did Wally get his minivan?

  20. Barry Leiba says:

    I find it interesting that Microsoft even allows blogging as a performance-review item.  Had I tried that at IBM,[1] I’d have been laughed out of my manager’s office.[2]

    I do have to disagree with one thing, though, but it’s a small point:

    "And improving your review score shouldn’t be the motivation for blogging."

    I should say that any motivation for blogging is fine, if the blogging is good.  If the idea of improving one’s review score is what it takes to get one out there doing it, well, why not?

    What I’d say is that poor (or downright useless) blogging is a bad thing, no matter what the motivation.  Something worth doing is worth doing well.

    (And, by the way, Raymond: you do it well; thanks.)

    [1] Not there any more; I was laid off in February.

    [2] No, not really; my manager was not that rude.  I’m being figurative.

  21. Robert Konigsberg says:

    I also use it as a permanent place for reminders of things I find interesting. I surely don’t have blogging as a goal, and sometimes it’s not the place where I write effective prose. Sometimes, sometimes, it’s just a link that I can refer to later on.

  22. KBSux says:

    When The Powers That Be put a freeze on KB article production because blogs seemed to be so effective at… well, being the new hotness, I knew it was the end of days. And that our Content Strategy wasn’t actually based on a strategy. Or content.

  23. DriverDude says:

    Don’t managers have to approve the performance goals? Is maintaining a blog is actually a worthy goal at Microsoft?

    [Many people view a blog as a way to meet their community involvement performance goal. -Raymond]
  24. Falcon says:

    This reminds me of the speculations about quotas for parking and traffic fines.

  25. Susan says:

    Do you know I actually read those posts because it’s one of the few ways I get raw KB articles because the KBalerts doesn’t work well?

    There’s a couple of times that I’ve found gems in there and it’s worth wading through it.

    One person’s blogging performance in your view is this IT admins godsend for finding the stupid KBs that are hard to find.

    Google still out googles live search when it comes to finding the needle in the haystack.

  26. Worf says:

    Joel didn’t lose an employee with the million-dollar idea. The employee was an intern. He had to return back to school, but upon graduation, should he want to return, he’d be given stock (private company, so there’s no monetary value… yet).

    The reason he didn’t come back was someone made him a job offer he couldn’t refuse. Like Google.

  27. Gnu says:

    Well this brings up a sore point for me. I’m employed as a senior level support person – I get all the really bizzaro wierd stuff to sort out. So I spend most of my day thinking, it’s what I do – picturing in my mind how the F*** did they get in this mess and how do I get them out. As a consequence I often sit with my eyes shut, try to ignore my ears, close out the world and sort it out.

    Consequence – other employees who don’t know what I do see me as a lazy SOB and complain, I just love open plan offices – my manager’s solution was to just "open a document and just keep typing rubbish" and then wonders why my success rate has gone down.

  28. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    Bob, we can disagree all we what about the value of the actual contribution- In the end, the fact that you’re arguing about how valuable it is shows that if an idea is valuable enough, it should be rewarded.

    If you check into what makes money at any big company, you’ll be able to characterize most of the big money ideas as being as simple as "Let’s put ads on our web page". That doesn’t mean that they are, just that you can oversimplify them down to that the same way Noah’s idea could be oversimplified down.

    Even then, this intern A) Came up with an idea no one else had thought of, and B) Overcome Joel’s objections (And no, you quoted his reaction after he initially said "No" and was shown the data backing up Noah’s idea, he did have to be convinced), and C) It made him about $1 million, most of it profit, at the time of the article. I’m fairly sure C) is likely to be part of a valid measure of what you want the business to do?

    The meat of the point being, Joel had no way of rewarding a million dollar idea. He had to hem and haw and finally came up with a "solution" on the spot, violating his oft-stated "No Performance Bonuses" principle. Mentioning that it also failed to retain the developer drives home the point a little better, but the point would be made just the same if the developer stayed. Not even Joel believes in "No performance bonuses", and while it may not have cost him the Einstein of the software industry, it arguably cost him a developer with more business sense then his current team.

    (For all we know, Noah hated New York and wanted to move to California and marry his high school sweetheart, and that’s why he chose Google over Fog Creek. But I believe it’s because Google valued, in salary and benefits and potential to advance, Noah more than Joel did.)

    Also, I don’t see where anyone said Joel drove the developer away. I said he lost his services, and I stand by that. Discussion I do not have the link to suggests Joel wishes Noah had stayed- I recall a post on the Joel discussion boards saying Noah was welcome to a job any time in the future. IE, Joel wanted this guy to stay, but was unable to retain his services.

    Joel may or may not be on to something with that Intrinsic versus Extrinsic motivation stuff he goes on about, but if extrinsic displaces intrinsic as he says, and other people offer extrinsic while you offer intrinsic- who will win?

    I believe my point stands- Rewarding random behavior because it’s easy to measure is bad. Failing to reward top contributors to the company’s bottom line is almost as bad.

    Your point about squeaky wheels, etc, would be covered under the first one.

  29. manicmarc says:

    What really gets me mad is those sites that just mirror KB article or forum and blog posts. I just want to pour coffee on their servers and watch it go up on smoke.

  30. Brian Tkatch says:

    Just read the Mythical Man Month.

  31. Anonymous Coward says:

    Actually, the KB article notification blog is pretty useful.  The blog is specifically for KB notifications and doesn’t try/pretend to be anything else, and I don’t really see what’s wrong w/ having such a service, given how unreliable (and ad-infested) KBAlertz is.

  32. Igor Levicki says:

    If Microsoft was so obsessed with measurement than how is it possible that Vista file copying ended up slower? And how about DirectDraw and GDI?

    Well I guess nobody bothered to measure performance of those, after all they are irrelevant to the end user.

  33. This is true, and the example/relation with the KB articles is also an important point, as it takes me to the next thing: the issue with this metric is not just blogs re-posting KB articles… sometimes also the opposite is true: there are very useful blogs that pretend to be authoritative and become a substitute for KB: they present very useful information and "howto’s" about products – all stuff that does not exist on official documentation… but this information ends up being scattered around the web, more difficult to find. In those cases, writing a KB article would be best, IMHO.

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