Dick Grote and “Rank and Yank”: Ranking and of “Calibration Meetings” Provoked Chaos at Yahoo, Inc.; Another Warning to Avoid or Remove Forced Distribution Evaluation Systems

The story of the damaging effects of forced distribution rating systems (“rank and yank”) are rarely discussed. But, because of the ill effects on employee’s livelihoods, policy makers must thoroughly investigate and examine forced distribution performance evaluation systems, primarily advanced by Dick Grote and similarly minded apologists.

The quote from the New York Times Magazine illuminates the chaos of forced distribution and corrosive effect on collaboration and on the organization itself. Simply put–forced distribution, in whatever form, does not work. The reasoning for being forced to give a negative review (that is, an effective notice of termination) to somebody on arbitrary and capricious reasons in so-called calibration meetings is an absolute notice of warning before using such rating systems. (Emphasis, in bold, is from the blog author.)

[Marissa] Mayer’s largest management problem, however, related to the start-up culture she had tried to instill. Early on, she banned working from home. This policy affected only 164 employees, but it was initiated months after she constructed an elaborate nursery in her office suite so that her son, Macallister, and his nanny could accompany her to work each day. Mayer also favored a system of quarterly performance reviews, or Q.P.R.s, that required every Yahoo employee, on every team, be ranked from 1 to 5. The system was meant to encourage hard work and weed out underperformers, but it soon produced the exact opposite. Because only so many 4s and 5s could be allotted, talented people no longer wanted to work together; strategic goals were sacrificed, as employees did not want to change projects and leave themselves open to a lower score.

One of the uglier parts of the process was a series of quarterly “calibration meetings,” in which managers would gather with their bosses and review all the employees under their supervision. In practice, the managers would use these meetings to conjure reasons that certain staff members should get negative reviews. Sometimes the reason would be political or superficial. Mayer herself attended calibration meetings where these kinds of arbitrary judgments occurred. The senior executives who reported to Mayer would join her in a meeting at Phish Food and hold up spreadsheets of names and ratings. During the revamping of Yahoo Mail, for instance, Kathy Savitt, the C.M.O., noted that Vivek Sharma was bothering her. “He just annoys me,” she said during the meeting. “I don’t want to be around him.” Sharma’s rating was reduced. Shortly after Yahoo Mail went live, he departed for Disney. (Savitt disputes this account.)