Dick Grote and the “C Bucket”: “Messy Performance Reviews” Document Explains Forced Ranking Relies on Abuse of Managerial Power and Denial of Information to Affected Employees

This blog covers “rank and yank” , and its apologist, Dick Grote, because of the raw, deceptive use of managerial authority that forced ranking performance management programs permit in the name of being “tough”.

But on whom is this toughness imposed? The vulnerable employee who is left out of the near-conspiratorial management calibration meetings and is completely unaware of the management’s coalition-derived decision to fire the employee.

“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 (a quote from a previous post). (Note: Consider this statement from Grote with the ever-present and persistent legacy of slavery and Jim Crow subjugation in the United States of America.)

Take, for example, Dick Grote’s PowerPoint presentation (titled “Messy Performance Reviews”) to managers about so-called messy performance reviews. Grote’s document presents an internal inconsistency, considering employees imperfect and managers as perfect, although both are imperfect human beings.

Grote argues differently. Employees, on page 26 of the Grote PowerPoint, are self-deluded; however managers (also supposedly human beings) are not subject to self-delusion and are deemed to be objective and to act with integrity (page 24). I suggest that mere job titles does not change human behavior.

Because of this reality, I would consider as suspect any mere supervisory “opinions,” which are the exclusive basis of the performance appraisal. Grote notes that expectations of quantifying performance with firm facts is a “myth” (page 10). Moreover, no one but the management determines whether the ranking is fair or objective (page 22). And, the employee has no real ability to change or contribute to the document (pages 28, 29, 30, 33, 34).

The inhumanity and psychological cruelty of forced ranking is revealed in the treatment of the so-designated “low performers. (That numerous organizations have adopted this financially destructive plan to apply exclusively to their subordinates is galling.)

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

Page 51 explains that low performers (the “C bucket”)–

  • Are not provided a copy of the appraisal in advance (A- and B-designated employees are provided with the appraisal in advance (page 34). No explanation is provided for this difference in treatment.).
  • The point is delivered bluntly: there is “bad news,” the appraisal is not good, and the affected employee, now flustered and surprised, is given the document to read (while the manager has long prepared for such an ambush (unacceptable abuse of authority)).
  • The subordinate then reads the document right there in the meeting.

This is unacceptable treatment based on an arbitrary ranking. Close examination of the operation of rank-and-yank programs shows why these rank and yank systems simply do not work because of institutional abuse of authority and rampant lack of accountability or fairness.

What it [rank and yank] does depend on is the willingness of managers to fight for valued employees during what can swiftly become a brutal horse-trading session. “Even if everyone did great,” says the former Enron employee, “someone has to fall into the ‘needs improvement’ category.” (John Greenwald (2001). “Rank and Fire.” Time. (June 11)).

Here is Grote’s method of dealing with so-called messy issues (page 54, seemingly the manager’s justification for the low rating, established in a secret calibration meeting):

  • Manager’s perception the crucial factor for deciding whether the issue is important (one of the issues is “credit grabbing”),
  • The targeted employee is responsible for managing the manager’s perceptions, and
  • The targeted employee is responsible for finding and implementing a solution (to the manager’s own perception (!))

Employees often are unaware at the level of planning that is involved in the execution of targeted employees’ careers and financial security. Hence, there is a need for all people who work for a living to be aware of the rickety mechanics underlying rank and yank programs.

[Author’s note: Enron declared bankruptcy on December 2, 2001.]