Dick Grote, owner of Grote Consulting (“strategy-based performance management”), spoke on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” on March 19, 2014.
I have covered Grote’s unworkable and organizationally destructive “rank and yank” system in this blog. It is the sole basis of his company’s existence–to profit himself and also managers and those employees deemed “high performers” at a cruel and immoral expense of other people’s (80% of the workforce) livelihoods–so it is unsurprising that he zealously defends it in the face of two organizations (Adobe and CEB) that stopped using it because rank and yank inhibits collaborative work practices.
At its best, rank and yank encourages unjust, artificial comparisons of employees with each other (not their work assignments) and permits total and unaccountable managerial power over powerless subordinates. Rank and yank is a system that is properly avoided by rational firms. In addition, employees are not rated against goal achievement (absolute comparison), they are rated based on their relative worth to the company compared with another employee (relative comparison). Grote deceptively skirts the issue knowing that deep analysis of relative comparision will lead to people rejecting it.
Thus, I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Grote uses double talk to present rank and yank’s inherent negativity (displayed in red font color) as positive (dark blue font color).
Yes, it is. And what forced ranking is is a pejorative term, and actually, organizations have almost abandoned the use of the term, forced ranking, because it carries so much negative baggage. But the fact is, what forced ranking involves is relative comparison. When we look at evaluating how well a person on a job is done, there are basically two ways we can do it. One is, absolute comparison. How good a job did George do against his goals and objectives and expectations? The other way we can evaluate the performance is through relative comparison.
How well did George do compared with how well Mary and Sam and Bill did? And I think both of those are important spectacles to have in the lens, to understand just how well someone has performed.
The issue that causes rank and yank to be a flawed system is managers are given absolute power (in secret) to rate others without facing any sort of accountability. Indeed, Grote expects that the managers will determine for themselves whether they are objective and fair in giving their opinions over a subordinate. The power disparity in the relationship permits rampant, unchecked abuse of the employment relationship in the rank and yank process. [Note in the discussion, below, how Grote pivots from the observation that a supervisor’s opinion is subjective to a nongermane discussion of objective and fair. Without accountability for their “opinions” on subordinates, “opinions” from these supervisors will most likely be unobjective and unfair.]
Yeah, well, let’s take a look at the fundamental question, what is a performance appraisal? And the answer to that question is, a performance appraisal is a formal record of a supervisor’s opinion of the quality of an employee’s work. And right away that word opinion seems to vibrate in neon lights because people believe that if it’s someone’s opinion, then it’s necessarily subjective.
And, Frank, every time I hear someone say that, I feel sad because what that says is that the person doesn’t know what the word objective means, what it means to be objective. What it means to be objective is to be uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices. It means to base your opinion on facts and present those facts — present the examples factually. It means to be fair. And so of course what we want our supervisors to be is to be fair in rendering their opinions.
In order to be truly objective and fair, one solution is to have the subordinate rate the supervisor. This check will resolve the power disparity and provide instant accountability.