Reader Sriram from Chennai (India) asks,
A multinational recently acquired our 35-employee software testing company. Our personnel department sent an email on how this purchase affects us. The email mentioned a new forced ranking system for performance evaluation. Can you describe this system?
Every organization needs a formal approach to track individual contributions and performance against organizational goals and to identify individual strengths and opportunities for improvement. Typically, this system involves placing employees along a performance curve or classifying employees into categories of percentiles for performance.
Jack Welch, General Electric’s former CEO, is often associated with a 20-70-10 distribution: the top 20 percent is rewarded for best performance, the middle 70 percent is rated ‘average’ and the bottom 10 percent is coached for improvement. The ‘rank-and-yank’ system, also associated with Jack Welch, automatically terminates employees in the bottom category, allowing organizations to purge the worst performers.
Although an individual’s supervisor conducts the formal performance review discussion, management higher-ups assign the individual’s ranking following debates on performances of comparable individuals from across the organization. Often, these higher-ups are not knowledgeable enough of an individual’s performance. An individual’s ranking then depends on the supervisor’s willingness to fight on behalf of the individual. The ranking is ‘forced’ because an individual may be ranked in a lower category regardless of whether the direct supervisor (and hence the most knowledgeable reviewer) would have rated the individual that way on his/her own.
In intent, the forced ranking system is an excellent method for rewarding top performers and setting specific deadlines for improvement for poor performers. Despite its appeal, the system has several drawbacks. For instance, the system promotes individual performance over teamwork and often leads to dissatisfaction among ‘average’ and poor performers. In my opinion, most of this dissatisfaction stems from poor administration of the system at the ground level. I will cover this in another blog article.