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Forced Ranking in the Workplace
Old 09-29-2016, 05:28 PM   #1
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Forced Ranking in the Workplace

For those still w*rking, in OMY syndrome or recently retired, how did you handle the forced ranking of your direct reports at MegaCorp.....that is the corporate mandate where 70% of your direct reports have to be rated "at expectations", 20% above expectations, and 10% have to be rated "below expectations" whether they met their goals or not.
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Old 09-29-2016, 05:46 PM   #2
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I was on the other end of it - I was one of the direct reports being forced into categories.

It was tough - we had a great group of really hard workers The bosses would get together and pull their hair out because no one deserved to be in that bottom bucket and there were usually several candidates for the top bucket. (Maybe this is why our group was rarely hit during layoffs.... we were a great team that got stuff done.)

The system was what it was so they would decide on a sucker and rank them in the bottom, and they'd randomly pick the person to get the "top" rank.

Add in the fact that there were years with no raises... One coworker actually asked "how little work do we need to do to lock in our non-raises".... We knew the manager hadn't set up the system... but he had to deal with us engineers who were tired of working weekends to meet ridiculous deadlines and getting squat for recognition.

I am so happy to be retired.
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Old 09-29-2016, 05:48 PM   #3
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We don't have this hard and fast percentage rule. But our guidelines are similar. Truth is it sounds like a terrible practice and maybe it is. But I've always found reality works to match similar percentages fairly closely. So I've never had much trouble with it.

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Old 09-29-2016, 05:55 PM   #4
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We had it. And I had to do it, kicking and screaming. While it sucks you also know there are some managers who will say all their people are amazing and walk on water and deserve the top rating - all of them! And then you try to push for your true top person, and they slap you down with "well one time they looked at me funny so..."

I used to also think of the exercise as performing for my own ranking as well, as we usually did it with the group of directors in the room with our VP. It's such total BS as you spend 90% of the time arguing over the ones at the very top and the few at the very bottom. It's a great way to realize you hate your colleagues.

"Mine's better" etc. "My teams goals are more important so our results at better no matter what your team did". All about who was exposed to senior leaders and pet projects as well. You could suck but be on the right project and you're golden. Or be awesome but do stuff that isn't glamorous and be average.

I used to love to remind my peers that once we were done, our boss was gonna have to do it on us. "So, which one of us is the bottom 10%?"
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Old 09-29-2016, 05:56 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by freedomatlast View Post
For those still w*rking, in OMY syndrome or recently retired, how did you handle the forced ranking of your direct reports at MegaCorp.....that is the corporate mandate where 70% of your direct reports have to be rated "at expectations", 20% above expectations, and 10% have to be rated "below expectations" whether they met their goals or not.
I had 60 people working for me at one point. When I got the job, the top to bottom ranking of all 60 people was handed to me. There were few, if any, surprises. Much like rankings in College Football or Basketball, there could be slight arguments for a few spots, but they were generally what I expected.

The bottom 10% were the ones that were subject to layoffs when times got tough. My supervisor just told me to, "Put on my business hat." It was challenging, but if I didn't do it, I am sure they would have found someone else to do it.
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Old 09-29-2016, 06:02 PM   #6
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I remember this from my working days. Thankfully, by working part-time for the last 7 years I was exempt from this slotting. But as a supervisor, I still had to help slot others (but I didn't have much say).


The one thing which bugged me the most was when a low-ranking performer happened to quit, that meant someone else who was otherwise doing an okay job then became the "subpar" performer even though he wasn't doing worse work than before. I mean, if the purpose of this slotting is to get the subpar people to leave, then why can't we have nobody in the lowest group if the lousy performers actually DO leave?
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Old 09-29-2016, 06:06 PM   #7
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The bottom 10% were the ones that were subject to layoffs

Since I am retiring next year anyway I think I'll try for this bucket.
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Old 09-29-2016, 06:13 PM   #8
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I am retired now, but have been in this game. Believe it or not, my experience with the outcome was mostly positive. Because we were a "flat" organization, I had many interactions with those reporting to others. Games were played, but when you got 6-7 managers in a room, and they all had direct interactions, the end results were actually pretty fair. Sure, you could argue +/- a few positions, but generally those near the top belonged there, and those near the bottom did as well.

One difference from the OP, we were not required to have a certain percentage in any category, and the ranking was primarily the basis for bonuses, not layoffs.
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Old 09-29-2016, 06:23 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by freedomatlast View Post
For those still w*rking, in OMY syndrome or recently retired, how did you handle the forced ranking of your direct reports at MegaCorp.....that is the corporate mandate where 70% of your direct reports have to be rated "at expectations", 20% above expectations, and 10% have to be rated "below expectations" whether they met their goals or not.
I had 50 people working for me. HR gave me a template to do the ranking that made it fairly easy except for when it came to ties or "protected" people.
Did they give you a guide or template?
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Old 09-29-2016, 06:23 PM   #10
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I don't believe in literal 1-thru-n forced ranking, but I do think buckets that form a bell curve is a good idea.

I think it's a difficult process -- but fundamentally a good one if you're in a healthy culture overall. If the leadership team has honest conversations across teams and drives for a shared level of discipline in the approach it does help sort out the talent.

This is particularly sound if raises are also distributed based on performance. If the difference between middle of the bell curve and top of the curve is a 0.25% change in the raise, then the whole thing is sort of a punch line. If it really drives both salary and bonus outcomes, it forces a good discipline.

Every org has a bell curve of performance. It's a management cop out to say "all my people are great!" Wanna bet? Everyone on the team knows who pulls their weight and who does more than their share. People who have weak bosses that are unwilling to really promote the top, really coach the middle and really deal with the bottom performers generally get pretty bitter over time.

All that said, if the management team is doing a solid job of weeding out poor performers as the year goes along, there should be allowance that there no one is in the bottom bucket.

Allowances also need to be made for very small teams. You can really have a group of 4 superstars. A group of 50? Unlikely.
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Old 09-29-2016, 07:09 PM   #11
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I managed a fairly small group of employees (generally less than 10) in a department of about total 120 people. But, my people had some very specific skills that weren't common in the larger organization and I felt that we were the "elite" group in the organization. It was generally a battle with my peer managers at the ranking meetings, but I usually got far more than my fair share of the top rankings. I think the other managers grudgingly recognized the contributions my people made as compared to theirs. Looking back on these experiences, I'm so happy that I don't have to go through this any more. Retirement is very good!!


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Old 09-29-2016, 07:18 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by freedomatlast View Post
For those still w*rking, in OMY syndrome or recently retired, how did you handle the forced ranking of your direct reports at MegaCorp.....
How did I handle it?....basically just learned the system and tried to represent the folks I had input on the best I could. Spent a reasonable amount of time before ranking talking to the main customers (at least those involved in ranking) of my direct reports and trying to come to a mutual understanding of a reasonable ranking for my reports. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes not.

I hated this system with a passion. Thought it quantified a differentiation between people's performance that often wasn't there. Found it was a huge demotivater of good people, both those who had to do the ranking and those that didn't get the ranking they felt they deserved (the majority in other words). This system was the single biggest thing I DON"T miss now that I am retired.
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Old 09-29-2016, 07:28 PM   #13
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Being able to identify the challenges associated with the forced ranking systems did allow you to build your team with a different view of the criteria. It was OK to have a couple people in your group who were not stellar performers. It took me a little while to figure out why a few of the 'retired on the job' folks were being traded around.

The flip side of the coin- I believe that a few people who were ranked poorly or who did not receive a raise adjusted their performance to justify their ranking. A few of the folks who were within a couple years of retiring really went off the grid. It didn't help that mega-corp had been successfully sued for age discrimination.
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Old 09-29-2016, 08:22 PM   #14
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We mostly had suggestions from HR, not hard quotas. Obviously much easier to hit.

The few years Megacorp demanded hard numbers some people made it easier(works best for larger groups); you know the smart person who is too good to help underlings, the technical person who won't compile code for X platform....

I sometimes think in large groups a percentage of people do perform to a standard.
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Old 09-29-2016, 10:13 PM   #15
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I was subject to this, and it really sucked when your Manager was a yellow-belly to put it politely.

I loved it when I contracted, as it was much cleaner, if you were happy you kept me or renewed the contract. If you were unhappy, terminate the contract.

I found full-timers liked having contractors around when times got tough, as they always felt the contractors would be let go first as they were not "family or company folks".
Sometimes it didn't work out that way so they must have been in the bottom 10%
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Old 09-29-2016, 11:43 PM   #16
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I remember when I first got out of college and was in a big accounting firm... all of us were required to rank ALL the people under us... in order of how we felt they were (as someone else mentioned, like football ranking)... they then looked at all the rankings to see if there were some mgrs who ranked people outside of the norm of others... IIRC, there was only one mgr who ranked people different than others... in general... IOW, if I had someone at 20, most everybody had them at 15 to 25.... if I had them at 50, same... 45 to 55...


I do hate the forced ranking of putting a certain percent of people in the below expectation category.... I rarely had anybody working for me that I would rank below expectation.... if so, I would talk to them and they would either get better, move on or I would talk to HR about getting rid of them... surprisingly I never did get rid of anybody as they usually moved on...
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Old 09-30-2016, 05:07 AM   #17
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W Edwards Demming (TQM) argued correctly that performance appraisal is cardinal among the seven deadly sins of management.
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Old 09-30-2016, 06:26 AM   #18
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The organization that I retired from recently completely eliminated performance reviews 20 or so years ago. We just met with our manager and talked about what we worked on once a quarter or so. NO documentation. The pay was set by our 'market reference'. It was really nice, as long as your market reference was appropriate. All the time and energy that used to go into the paperwork was now spent on REAL work.

Then a new CEO came in and here come the performance reviews and the forced rankings. I quit a previous company after I was picked to the the '2' one year (ok there were other reasons, but this was the last straw). It started all the noise again. What a waste of time.

Kudos to donheff for bringing up Deming.
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Old 09-30-2016, 06:49 AM   #19
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All that said, if the management team is doing a solid job of weeding out poor performers as the year goes along, there should be allowance that there no one is in the bottom bucket.

Allowances also need to be made for very small teams. You can really have a group of 4 superstars. A group of 50? Unlikely.
Agreed on both counts. In my last job, I had 5 people reporting to me. Four were superstars, one was a loser. (After we fired him and I got access to his e-mail, I found things he had promised people in the near future that he hadn't even started, and lots of personal e-mails including bathroom humor and e-mails from his Dad who was propping him up financially.) I never could have chosen a person from the remaining 4 for the bottom of the ladder.

In my job before that, I swear they kept weak performers around so that when cost cuts (which always work out to downsizing) were mandated they wouldn't have to get rid of anyone really good.
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Old 09-30-2016, 06:57 AM   #20
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Another tool invented by HR to justify their existence I hated this, and while it may have some purpose if downsizing is needed, its a real motivation killer in other situations. It seems to me, that corp america is finally waking up to the rating and rankings not being such a great idea after many years of fallout from such exercises. Just give me my budget for annual salary treatment and I will spread it accordingly.
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