Forced Rankings

Johana Rothman maintains two must read blogs – Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People. I have been following her blog for more than a year now. In her latest post she comments on a paper published in Workforce Management on Forced Ranking.

If you force rank — even once — the people who find this offensive
leave. (I did when I worked for a VP who believed in forced ranking.)
So, you quite successfully build a culture where forced ranking is
valued. In my experience, you create a cut-throat culture, where it
matters more who gets ahead rather than making great products.

Perfect. Most IT organization’ have blindly adopted this model of forced ranking without even bothering to weed out the bottom 5 or 10% – that was the intention at GE when they started forced ranking. (Correct me if I am wrong out here).  Having been through so many cycles of appraisals at various organizations, all that I see at the end of each cycle is a large pool of employees, red eyes, dejected, heart-broken, shoulders drooping and defeated just because they haven’t found a fitment into the right slot (which is always the top 5%)! While some like Johana quit and go, others tend to adapt themselves quickly to the system and play the game. I have seen so many employees engaging themselves in an engagement with a single minded view of managing their appraisal (cover your back…) …can’t blame them though.

The worst affected are the one’s who go through their first performance appraisal in life. Coming out of college, they expect their Managers to be like their college professor awarding grades and when they get a rating less than what they had expected, their self esteem crashes! My only piece of advise for rookies is not to equate performance appraisals with their exam grades and to remember that life is not always fair!

However I wonder as to why organizations cannot go through a more simplet process than this yearly tamasha of Appraisals and Ratings. I think that there is a much simpler way of going through the entire appraisal lifecycle instead of predetermining the percentages of exceptional, good, and bad employees and trying to retrofit the employees to the ratings and that is going the other way round that is:
– accept the fact that every employee is a human being and not a number.
– treat the employee with all fairness.
– set goals for the job she is supposed to do.
– when the job gets over, appraise her against the goals.
– If a manager comes back and says that the employee needs improvement, then he/she should state what actions he/she has taken to improve the employee’ performance during the time she was associated with that manager!
– A team is as good as its manager.
– Reset goals and iterate.
– Don’t predetermine the target of employees who would fit into a bell curve.
– if at all let the bell curve come out of a fair exercise, delight when you see that it isn’t a bell curve after all!

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