Dick Grote: “Poor Performance” as Cover for Persistent Unstable Employment and Institutionalized Managerial Bullying

Dick Grote, of Grote Consulting (“strategy-based performance management”), is an apologist for a forced-rank performance evaluation. While a system that is used in large private-sector organizations, whose main purpose is to provide profit to the shareholder, it seems that the practice is entering other organizations, government, health care, or education, whose main purpose is to provide service to human beings. As a result, use of the bell curve system in any non-private-sector organization is akin to a hammer looking to make nails that it could strike.

The whole system of performance appraisal is destroyed with bell curve systems. The goal of such systems is not the improvement of staff but rather the assurance that a certain percentage of staff will be fired each year through assignment of employees to so-called buckets by line management and those choices are reinforced by upper-level management. Fair treatment of the rated employee goes out the window because the only concern is the rigid consistency of the bucket assignments regardless of the workplace situation, including managerial abuse or incompetence.

Bucket

 (rank)

Percentage(amounts can be adjusted) Effect
A 20 Lavish rewards, encouragement
B 70 Little to paltry increase
C 10 Pressure to quit or firing

If the selection seems to overload the firing group with protected class members, there is no failsafe; the filigree of “poor performance” is used as a justifying and protective cover. This cover can be questionable with the overwhelming of protected class members in the group slated for firing without any substantive review by any member of management, to the insult of all the civil rights laws, which were all hard won.

But what if a company’s forced ranking procedure, honestly and objectively done, reveals that the blacks or women or disabled employees just aren’t as talented as the white ones? Should they do what some Harvard professors are said to do and award A’s to all the blacks, just to keep them from squawking?” (Grote, page 4).

If the concern is to ensure a rigidly applied performance system, then you cannot have a truly honest and objective forced ranking procedure; the only concern is the ranking process itself, not its effect on the targeted employee, which can include the (secret) managerial targeting of protected class members to be placed in the C bucket and fired.

Nowhere in any of Grote’s writings does he address managerial misbehavior, which is quite likely given that the C bucket people do not have any realistic chance of reversing the (secret) decision (Grote, page 11) and the script for C bucket personnel is so witheringly negative such that it encourages abusive, bullying behavior toward the people forced into the C bucket (people who are dehumanized consistently in Grote’s writings) in order to support and justify the rigid, top-down, take-it-or-leave-it system.

For example, the manager documents the C bucket employee’s “failures” for an extended period,

Phase two is execution. One of the most important things here is to keep an ongoing performance log. As much as we talk about that, it is one of the toughest things for managers to do on an ongoing basis. A Web-based system is so powerful because it makes it easier for managers to do this. When we designed the Grote System, we created an email reminder system that signals managers to do this on a regular basis. By doing this throughout the year, you overcome the most serious of all rating errors, recency effect. With the recency effect you only base your rating on the most recent outcomes that you can remember. Managers should also update goals and objectives as conditions change. My third tip is to conduct a tough mid-cycle review. We know that a review half way through the year is important. If a manager has a particularly tough employee, the mid-year review is the opportunity for them to lay out difficult expectations before the end of the year. Managers should err on the side of being excessively tough in the mid-year review as a way of building performance.

but the targeted employee is given only short notice for a “performance review” meeting.

The final stage of the performance appraisal is the performance review. One tip I have is to give the appraisal form to the employee for review an hour or two before the meeting. By doing this, employees have a chance to review the comments and prepare a list of questions to help them fully understand the evaluation. This helps to reduce the defensiveness that tends to come out in performance discussions. Another quick tip is to gain understanding from the evaluation process, not agreement. The tougher a manager´s expectations and demands are, the less likely you are going to get full agreement from an employee. That´s OK because your purpose is not to gain agreement, but to gain understanding.

Finally, remember the words of John Dillinger, the bank robber. He once said, “Before you rob your first bank, knock off a couple of gas stations.” If you´ve got one person amongst your subordinates that is going to be a particularly difficult review, do not start with the tough one. Start with the easy employees and work your way up.

Employees of all organizations need to be aware of the negative consequences of secretly applied forced-rank performance systems.

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