Salesforce will “exit” underperformers and force employees back into the office

According to an internal Slack message viewed by Business Insider, Salesforce’s annual strategic plan was recently revised by CEO Marc Benioff. Among the changes are eliminating the 5% minimum for stack ranking – that is, cutting the bottom 5% of underperformers in the company annually – and reinstating return-to-office mandates. But the “softening” of the company’s new stack ranking policy doesn’t have many Salesforce employees convinced. 

In a note to Salesforce employees posted on an internal Slack channel, Benioff wrote that rather than stack ranking with an eye to cut the bottom 5%, "Managers rate their employees, reward top performers, and exit under-performers to ensure our prosperous new future," according to a copy of the message viewed by Insider. Benioff also wrote in the message that the concept of "ranking" will be removed from performance evaluation going forward. 

Some employees feel skeptical that the change in language will actually shift managers away from labeling people as underperformers in performance evaluations. 

"He's still pushing performance culture," one Salesforce employee told Insider. "Just by removing that 5% target doesn't mean he won't still do it. He'll just look for a different management method." 

Return to the office mandate 

Salesforce is also mandating a return to the office for at least three days a week for non-remote employees. For “customer-facing” employees, it’s four days a week. Not long ago, Benioff was disparaging other companies for forcing employees back to the office, but pressure from new activist investors has meant doubling down on productivity and margin growth in recent months. (On Investor’s Day last year, the company announced it would increase its operating margin to 25% by FY 2026). Salesforce’s activist investors are also pressuring the company to increase its stock price, which has dropped to nearly half its value at the height of the pandemic.

Perhaps related to its operating margin goals, Salesforce has asked Bain (Bain, not Bane) to help it implement a restructuring that will "drive solid operating margin improvements and sustainable growth," according to the revised annual plan. This could indicate that more layoffs are ahead, as some Salesforce insiders already suspect.

Given all the recent events at Salesforce, it seems ironic that Marc Benioff would make reference to the company’s "Ohana" culture in his recent Slack message, saying that it would factor into performance evaluations in future. “Ohana” is the Hawaiian word for family and refers to treating those in your community who are not necessarily blood relatives as such. 

"Can execs commit to never referring to Salesforce employees as 'family' again?” one employee wrote in a Salesforce Slack channel. 

“You don't fire family to compensate for your own mistakes," another wrote.

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