Commitment Calibration


At Microsoft, we set commitments regularly for all employees. These are basically goals and focus areas that are written down to help employees remember what to work on and to clarify how their work is being measured. Here are some guidelines on verbosity that help when I review others' commitments:

  • Some people get carried away with this and write these commitments as all-encompassing text, almost like an super job-description with absolutely everything that they do written down and measurable. It's a maintenance nightmare and very difficult to make sure the correct work is being focused on.
  • Are they memorable? In 2 months from now assuming that they aren't looked at regularly, would the individual remember what they are supposed to be focusing on? Too many commitments and they won't remember any.
  • Are they truly goals? Commitments about individuals attending meetings or giving status to their managers in many cases are fairly regular expectations (like brushing your teeth in the morning), so they don't need to be written down as commitments (unless the individual is one that forgets to brush their teeth in the morning). Too many items cloud the real work that needs to be focused on.


As a manager, I find it valuable to not do each employee's commitments in isolation. For the employee, it will be an individual experience, but as the manager, to make sure everyone in the same type of role and experience level has the same level of goals to aim for, some calibration needs to occur. I have both leads and individuals on my team. For my leads, I typically calibrate them myself, compare them to their counterparts in dev, or calibrate across other test orgs in the division. I find the best approach for the rest of my team members is to combine commitment text from all individuals in each job level into one document (one doc for level1s, a separate doc for level2s, etc) and review with my leads. I print-out these docs for my leads and we meet and read through these commitments. Sometimes this ends up being a lot of text so the calibration is more of a scan of the text to see what jumps out as different or unusual instead of reading through every detail. What comes from doing this is that:

  • We can make sure that we aren't setting expectations too high or too low for people at the same level
  • We usually find some commitments or measurements for success worded really well and pull those phrases into other commitments
  • We find places where we should set stretch goals or that some individuals may be close to promotion
  • Grows leads ability to see the different levels of expectations between experience levels of employees
  • We create some standard commitments as a template that each person can then customize


For Test, the general high-level template would be: 1). Testing and shipping the product, 2). Writing automation and tools, 3). This third one usually is interchangeable depending on the team and individual focus but could be about Being the Customer or Driving Cross-group Collaboration. The 4th commitment is always a private one for the individual around areas of improvement. This may be a theme through all the other commitments, but it's spelled out clearly in this commitment specifically made to address areas that need improving. These are just my high-level descriptions, there would definitely be more text describing the plan on executing on these commitments and the ways to measure success of these commitments to make sure lead and individual are on the same page.