Employee Ranking Systems LO17500

Brock Vodden (brock.vodden@odyssey.on.ca)
Mon, 23 Mar 1998 02:43:02 -0500

Replying to LO17496 --

The discussion on employee ranking systems has been both enlightening and
frustrating for me. Enlightening in that I have encountered several cogent
descriptions of ranking systems which apparently result in improved
performance individually and corporately. I have also read postings which
support my bias against the use of ranking. Frustration arises from those
doctrinaire postings which insist that there is only one way to manage
performance - and it happens to be "my way".

Over the past 25 years, I have been invited to assist many organizations
to create a new system, usually a replacement for an old system which is
not working. Most of those broken systems have involved some form of
ranking. More significant than the ranking element however is the fact
that these broken systems were not based on any kind of clearly
articulated rationale. Their objectives were unclear and often mutually
contradictory. They were often based on ulterior motives such as
"providing documentation in case we have to fire somebody"; mere lip
service being given to the objective of maintaining and improving

PA systems fail because of a lack of alignment between a set crystal clear
purposes, and practices and procedures which support those purposes. This
is true whether or not ranking of employees is involved.

My assessment of some of these systems has shown that they were not only
ineffective, but were counter-productive. In other words, the company
would perform better with no system.

My work has demonstrated that one can create a high performing
organization without ranking employee performance. These organizations are
just as rigorous in their performance standards as those that insist on
ranking. These systems, in my view, are made simpler and more effective
by virtue of the fact that they avoid the hassle of trying to appear to be
completely objective, fair and equitable. That's my bias.

This discussion has convinced me that, it is also possible to devise an
effective performance management system which involves some form of
employee ranking. I suspect that there are certain occupations or
industries in which this type of system might be more practicable.

Perhaps the ranking vs. non-ranking argument is not the crucial point in
this debate. Could it be that the determinant of effectiveness is the
soundness of the overall design and the underlying philosophy of the
system. Perhaps a given system works well - not because of the ranking or
the non-ranking - but rather despite the presence of the disadvantages and
the absence of the advantages of either?

Brock Vodden


"Brock Vodden" <brock.vodden@odyssey.on.ca>

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