Employee Ranking Systems LO16752

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@compuserve.com)
Thu, 29 Jan 1998 07:20:58 -0500

Replying to LO16726 --


Yes, I make lots of assumptions, and perhaps you have identified them all.
However, you are making a few yourself, and in the spirit of understanding
each other, let's see if I can identify yours.

First of all, the discussion has been about why ranking, evaluation, etc
does not work. A number of alternative approaches have been brought up,
but fundamentally, their purpose is identical. Most of the discussion has
been about sub-par performers, so that is where I focused in my response.
However, that is not the entire focus of ranking, or even the major focus.
More important in all evaluation processes is an understanding for all
participants about what their strengths, weaknesses, developmental
opportunities. So the overall purpose is much broader and richer than
_just_ identification of sub-par performers. That is the area that seems
to generate the most dissension.

You say, >>1. the identification of "sub-par performers" is a neutral,
value-free process.

No, the identification of sub-par performers is not a value-free process.
Values are extremely important, and people are understood and evaluated in
the context of values. It is not objective. And neither is the primary
goal to move them out, as I have made clear in two preceding posts.
However, that is a last resort if the problems they have -- that no one
else is having -- continue.

An assumption you appear to be making is that all performance problems can
be resolved if only the manager is smart enough. In principle I agree
with that. I also agree that in principle all performance problems can be
resolved if the individual is smart enough. The responsibility is shared,
and both parties own a piece of it.

However, I also know from direct experience that when a performance
problem affects organizational functioning, my first responsibility is to
the organization, not the individual. When 20 people can do it, and 1
can't do "it" whatever "it" is, and if, despite responsible efforts to
help that person do a better job, nothing changes, then I must do
something, both for the 20, and for the 1. He or she is not happy in that
position, I can guarantee that.

You also assume that I am evaluating something other than performance.
You say,

>Is it the fact that our ranking processes reward a particular
>kind of behaviour, communication style, personality, gender or ethnic
>origin and literally don't "see" other approaches or other outcomes?

These may be issues in other people's execution of performance processes,
but they are not in mine. This goes back to my original statement. Don't
blame the process if the execution is the problem. There is nothing
inherently wrong with the process if the user insists on assessing
personality, gender, ethnic origin, and so forth. The problem is with the
user. Specifically, in the process I use, the individual agrees with me
on performance outcomes that appear to both of us to be achievable. 99
times out of 100 the goals are met or exceeded, or a close approximation
of success occurs, or additional complexities came up that we did not
envision. Those are all either successes, or opportunities to learn.
However, when the pre-agreed outcome is not met, and there is no good
reason, that is different. That, too is worth noticing. Please don't
make this more complicated than it is.
The question is not why isn't this working, but why isn't it working when
we both agreed it should work, when nothing overwhelming prevented it
working, when others in the same position achieved the outcome. These
points are pretty rare.

You know, the issues you raise in this paragraph are properly classified
as prejudice. You won't make prejudice go away by eliminating evaluation.

I like your point that people respond to the expectation. One of the
things I like to say is that everyone starts out with a 5 rating
(perfection). The rest is up to them.

You say, I assume

>that our ranking systems have served us well in the past even though we
>on lists such as this spend much time criticising management for lack of
>vision and talent etc.

Some people on this list do criticize a lot, but that does not mean they
are right. I am not one of them, nor do I particularly agree with their
criticism. It is a lot easier to be a critic than to be an author, and
this list qualifies as the former. Frankly, I have used consultants, who
presumably do not use evaluation schemes for their employees or
themselves, and I am underwhelmed with their performance. They will not
get any business from me again. Is that good for their organization, do
you think?

You said, I assume

>that the identification and ranking of "high performing" individuals is
>more important than the identification and ranking of "high performance"

Not at all. Even the team members want to cull the weak members, and they
also want to reward the strong members. I am not talking about
Aborigines. We are discussing in most cases a fairly homogeneous group of
people with similar educations, similar values, similar goals, similar
agreed-on outcomes. When we deal with teams, cooperation is a valued
skill. Some people are individual performers, and we value different
abilities for them. Depends on the person and what they want to do.

>4. that low rankings are a motivation for high performance not for
>plummeting personal morale

Nope. Evaluation -- as I said in the beginning -- is a pre-requisite to
understanding, insight, and learning. Individuals can do it (I do it for
myself), and in addition, it is a supervisor's job to do it with -- not to
-- the people who work for them. People never know their ranking until it
gets to the point that they are being considered for added responsibility
or for added work to get them up to the same level of performance as
everyone else who has the same job. Evaluation, when balanced, thorough,
and insightful, is a motivating experience.

You seem to be assuming that sub-standard performance is ok. Can you
comment on that?

>5. that staff actually know in terms related to their day to day work
>what is expected of them and receive regular feedback on their
>performance towards those goals

Absolutely. If this is not the case, then you have a failure of
management. This does not mean that the process is faulty.

>6. that management always sees its role as "clearing the deck" for staff
>to perform at a high level and works towards aligning sytems, structures,
>values and policies to that end.

Yes, same comment as above. I actually see this as everyone's
responsibility, but when it comes to cross-functional systems, and so
forth, those are particularly the responsibility of management.

>In my experience the highly political nature of many organisations
>constantly works against point 6 as ranking and performance systems still
>often give the tacit message to managers: "strive first to look after
>yourself and your patch..."

We live in an imperfect world. Political interaction exists. So what?
Do we just throw in the towel because the world is not perfect yet?
Management may also see its job correctly, but be unable to follow-through
and actually execute. That is an opportunity for management to be held to
the same evaluation system, to learn from the process, and to try again.
Should we use ranking on managers and not on individual contributors?

If your point is that evaluation is never perfect, then we agree. We seem
to differ on how to respond to imperfection. I say make it as good as you
can possibly make it, celebrate the grand successes (there are far more of
those than of the failures), feel a lot of pain when a person fails,
recognize that when an employee fails then you as a manager have failed as
well, do what is best for the organization, and learn from every event so
you will hire more effectively, train more effectively, provide better
learning in the future.

It is hard work.

Rol Fessenden


Rol Fessenden <76234.3636@compuserve.com>

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