Curve Your Enthusiasm

Marissa Mayer eats employee angst for breakfast.

Just when you thought corporate malaise might creep back into the annual performance-review process, Marissa kicks it right in the ‘nards.

The rather transparent and well known “secret” in most corporations is that the “Bell Curve” is alive and well, albeit not publicized. In most cases, the “curve” is used in determining compensation distribution, but rarely results in someone losing their job.

But Marissa plays Hardball (shameless self-promo). Forget the guise of compensatory distribution, performance rating “targets,” and other corp-speak… no ma’am, not for Marissa—she wants to know the winners, and she wants to know the losers. Yahoo managers are now being pushed/forced/mandated/”encouraged” to stack-rank employees, and the parting prizes are rather severe, i.e. pink slips.

There will be a bell curve at Yahoo this year, and that’s causing some significant discomfort for managers and employees alike. There are valid reasons why this is a bad idea—manager objectivity is always in question, and a ranking system does discourage risk, which in turn hampers innovation and creativity. At Yahoo, several hundred employees have already been dismissed after successive quarterly reviews that placed them on the butt end of the curve. Why would Mayer implement such Machiavellian measures, and why would she be so transparent about it?

Because Marissa isn’t done cleaning her house.

Rattling the cage of the telecommuting employee population served notice… as Yahoo continues to grow via acquisition, the focus on upgrading the talent base continues in a more obvious manner via the “QPR” (Quarterly Performance Review).

For a clue as to why this might be a culture shift for Yahoo employees, consider these comments from an internal employee message board:

  • “At no point was it messaged to people managers or employees that low ratings would impact job status.”
  • “More often than I’d like, I’m told we are executing a certain way ‘because Marissa said so’.”
  • “I was forced to give an employee an ‘occasionally misses,’ and was very uncomfortable with it. Now, I have to have a discussion about it when I have my QPR meetings.”

Do you see a theme? There’s a few fundamental issues to be addressed when managers are a) confused about the connection between poor performance and job status, b) when “Marissa said so” is their explanation for the process, and c) when they are dreading a discussion about said low performance.

Make no mistake, this is not an action that was implemented without foresight.

Marissa Mayer eats employee angst for breakfast. She’s still hungry.




FOT Background Check

John Whitaker
“Whit” is an HR Business Strategist and Staffing Professional: he primarily works in the healthcare industry, because... healthcare. A Texan, he tends to amuse us (okay, he amuses himself) with colloquialisms and a cowboy’s view on our industry. John honed his HR chops at Alcon Laboratories and CVS Caremark before starting HR Hardball™ in 2010. He currently hangs his sombrero at DentalOne Partners where he has been fortunate enough to lead a world-class team of recruiting professionals. You can email Whit, find him on LinkedIn, or read more of his brain-droppings at


  1. Paul Hebert says:

    I’m not one to institutionalize any “one” style of management – and I’m on record as someone who likes the idea of forced rankings for the very reason outlined here – it makes you take a stance and requires an evaluation without hedging. Whether you use the results to fire people – or you use the results to counsel and coach – the idea of forcing a manager to confront the idea that performance is part of the process is the real lesson here.

    Gripe on you want – managers get paid for judgement – if not – they don’t belong on the right side of the curve and that is where THEIR boss is slotting THEM right now.

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