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.)
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Dick Grote: Favors Unjust, Unfair “Rank and Yank” Performance Management, Despite Practical Evidence that Rank and Yank Is a Failed System

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).

GROTE

11:17:12

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.

GROTE

11:17:50

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.]

 GROTE

11:26:00

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.

GROTE

11:26:30

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.

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.