Brian Birmingham, who until recently was co-lead developer on World of Warcraft Classic, is out at Blizzard after refusing to abide by an employee rating policy that could unfairly penalize some workers. The policy forces managers at the company to downgrade even well-performing employees’ ratings in order to meet a quota.
According to a report from Bloomberg's Jason Schreier, Blizzard uses what is known as a stack ranking policy, where about 5% of a team needs to be rated as open quote developing, which is a performance level that equates to a poor rating and penalizes those employees who get that rating by lowering their profit sharing bonuses and could even prevent them from getting promoted.
This type of policy is not unheard of of in the technology field or in other markets, and in fact, Microsoft, which is trying to buy Activision Blizzard, had its own version of this policy up until 2013. Blizzard allegedly started using this process back in 2021, which involves grading your employees on a curve with some needing to receive low ratings, at about 5% of the staff, according to the report. Ultimately, this results in cost savings for the company, regardless of whether or not it unfairly damages an employee's reputation.
Birmingham and others at managerial level were frustrated with having to use this policy. Even when they volunteer to give themselves "developing" ratings in order to save their employees from downgraded evaluations, they were told they weren't allowed to do that.
In an email detailed in the report, Birmingham expressed frustration with this policy and recently having had to downgrade an employee's “successful” rating to “developing” just to hit that quota. Critics of these types of policies maintain that they make enemies compete with each other and even sabotage each other's work instead of fostering a working environment that is collaborative and creative and allows in place to trust each other.
IIRC, the first year we were asked to meet a specific quota of "Developing" ratings was in the 2020 evaluations, across the winter of 2020/2021. IIRC this was also the first year they tried to unify the review/appraisal systems across all three child business units.— Brian Birmingham?? (@BrianBirming) January 24, 2023
Birmingham himself has made comments on his Twitter account to confirm the dispute, that the forced policy exists, and that he is no longer a Blizzard employee. “I'd at least like to set the record straight,” he said. “Everybody at Blizzard I've spoken to about this, including my direct supervisors, expressed disappointment about this policy,” he says, before going on to discuss what he sees as the reasoning behind the policy and alleged pressured put on developers.