Dick Grote: Forced Ranking Procedures Empowers Managers to Take Advantage of Subordinates; Exemplifed in Grote’s Document titled “Performance Appraisal: Solving Toughest Challenges”

Dick Grote advocates for rampant abuse of employees in the forced-ranking process. Specifically, employees are responsible for doing the manager’s job of supervision and of satisfying the whims of their supervisor, and managers are merely expected to pass judgment on their subordinates and then presumably to sit in judgment at the calibration meeting.

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

At this calibration meeting, some of the beleaguered employees will then be selected for termination, abused during an “improvement period,” then likely fired. It seems that the best method for targeted persons to respond to this abuse is silence after a blanket denial of all accusations.

Selected quotes from Dick Grote (2000), “Performance Appraisal: Solving the Toughest Challenges,” HR Magazine, July.

There are two themes of management abuse of authority in Grote’s advice, which is detailed in the following chart. [My comments are in brackets.]

Abuse of Authority Situation Grote Quote or Proposal (and Page Number)
Responsibility shifting
Distant subordinate “The mistake appraisers make in this case is to assume that it’s their job to figure out an answer to the question [how to review someone the manager does not see very often]. It’s not. Make it the subordinate’s job.” (page 2)
Technically superior subordinate The same idea carries to this issue as the distant subordinate–the technically superior subordinate is expected to develop a plan for reviewing. (page 3).In addition, a group assignment is proposed–teaching the manager how to assess their work. (page 3) [Author’s note: Should not the manager be expected to do this on the manager’s own? Because the manager will be the only voice at the calibration meeting, all of this “education” may well be for naught.]
Older, more-experienced subordinate “The best way to deal with the highly experienced individual is to get right to the point at the start of the appraisal discussion: ‘Frank, you’ve been through this drill many times before. Let’s not waste any time on small talk. How do you think your department compares with where it was last year?’ Then shut up and listen, and proceed as you would with anybody else.” (page 4)[The manager should be on top of the business (and not expect the subordinate to do management work on top of his or her other duties (without extra pay)). That is why the extra pay for management is being paid.]
Power and Control; Ambush
Highly compensated individual (situation where the subordinate earns more than the manager (commissions)) [Why would a commission-sales-compensated person need a performance review, especially when earning good commissions?]Regardless, advice is provided: “The answer is also classic: just do what needs to be done. The fact that his compensation structure is different from yours is irrelevant. He’s paid to peddle potatoes (among other things). You’re paid to manage his performance (among other things). Do your job.” (page 4)
Dealing with unrealistic expectations (1) No self appraisal, unless required by company policy. (page 4)(2) For good solid performers [A and B buckets], give the appraisal in advance. (page 4)

(3) “For non contributors [C bucket]–give appraisal (negative) to person in manager-scheduled meeting: “Instead, wait until the person is actually sitting in your office before you give her the evaluation to read. You need to break the bad news face-to-face at the exact moment you’re going to discuss it. Forewarned is forearmed–and you don’t want to forearm a marginal performer.”

[This is an institutionally sanctioned ambush, which is totally unfair, especially since the calibration meeting is conducted in secret.]

Coping with defensiveness [When giving bad review and the response is bad.] “To start, do what every smart manager has learned to do. Put a box of tissues in your desk drawer. If tears start to flow, simply pull it out, put it down, look away for ten seconds or so, and then get back to the matter at hand.” (page 5)Moreover, Grote suggests when a rater faces ratee’s “defensiveness” (page 6)–

  • Allow the ratee to vent and listen to what is said.
  • Agree with the ratee’s right to have his or her own point of view.
  • Restate the ratee’s position, using pauses liberally.

Nowhere in this approach is the place where the rater expected to make any adjustments; therefore, this so-called listening is useless to the ratee. Indeed, the rating is fixed once established in the calibration meeting. [This is manipulation masquerading as managerial authority; companies that use forced ranking must be exposed.]

Dealing with discussion difficulties Grote’s general idea is that the rater accuses and the ratee responds to the accusations. (See page 7.) Should the ratee not respond, this action breaks the expected pattern Grote has established. Thus, Grote recommends asking a question then waiting. Should the ratee maintain his or her silence, Grote suggests repeating the question, and, if that does not work, conclude the meeting and define “insubordination” [?] to the ratee.[This is another example of the rampant abuse of authority present within forced distribution. The manager plans an ambush on the so-called C-ranked person and not only is the manager supposed to control the conversation, the manager is supposed to control the ratee’s reactions as well, as if the ratee was property of the rater. This process is disgusting and unacceptable.]

Should the ratee (unwisely) offer an excuse for the poor rating (implicitly agreeing with it and the bad treatment that will follow for a C-ranked person), Grote advises to make the issue one of “personal responsibility” and turn to the ratee and ask the ratee how they will deal with the comment.

[This is manipulative, especially within the context provided in the document: deadlines changing in the middle of the project. Silent is the reason for the changing deadlines. The situation leaves me with a strong suspicion that it is the rater that created a “crisis” in order to down rate the ratee. Then, this same rater has the gall to make the ratee responsible for the rater’s whims. See the definition of “gaslighting.”]

Focus on choices In the case of a discussion that veers away from the offloading of blame on the targeted C-ranked person, Grote offers a way for the rater to dismiss and redirect the conversation. (See page 7)

  • Acknowledge the topic’s importance, then
  • Consign it to the nether world of irrelevancies, and
  • Return to the primary issue on your [the rater’s] agenda
Ultimate solution Grote suggests that the rater develop a clear core message to deliver to the ratee. The ratee is supposed to repeat this core message upon request of the rater [insulting and childish]. (See page 8.)