I’m Cutting Into Bone, Here. You People Are Crazy.

SkyeTeam Leadership Development

We’ve heard the requests from management. “They just don’t get it. What do you mean I’ve got to force-rank my tiny group of 8 employees? 15% 4’s and 5’s, 70% 3’s, and 15% 1’s and 2’s. Are you kidding? After the RIFs we did this year, I don’t HAVE any more bottom performers. These people are crazy!”. Does this sound like your workplace at performance review time?

Forced distribution is a relic of a bygone age. It’s all Jack Welch and no Mark Zuckerburg. It is a system that drives the wrong behavior, and incites management to get creative with how it deals with employee performance, rather than actually rewarding employees for their actual contribution.

Forcing a ratings distribution also pushes employees to act with enlightened self-interest, versus doing what is best for the team, group, or company. If only 15% of the population is eligible for the top honors, why would I help my coworkers? I’m going to hunker down and make sure that I position myself for the biggest potential bonus.

As leaders, is this what we want? Don’t we want to be empowered to reward our employees for their actual contribution? If I’ve got a team of “A” Players, shouldn’t I be able to reward them appropriately? If I’ve got a team of bottom-feeders, they won’t work here come review time! Forcing me to work through this charade isn’t helping anyone.

In working with organizations that have ditched the forced distribution model, we face a different set of challenges. Managers often times, are not comfortable having difficult conversations, and as discussed in my recent blog post, (“There Are No Ties At The Olympics”…which should have been titled, “There are no ties at the Olympics – Except in sports like skiing where the clock only measures to the hundredth of a second – then sometimes there are ties) they could avoid these conversations entirely and award ratings that are not at all, merited. In an environment where the forced distribution model is eschewed, the company has to get really good at articulating what it expects from its management team, as it relates to performance management.

Treating managers as adults is a good thing, but allowing them to manipulate the system to avoid situations that they don’t like, is not. Without the guardrails of a forced distribution system, executive leadership must rely on its strongest players to model this behavior and ensure that it is baked into the company’s culture.